Orage’s Commentary on Beelzebub

I have now completed reading every word of Orage’s Commentary on Gurdjieff’s ‘Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson’. I am almost in awe of the man’s mind and his understanding. I am profoundly grateful to Lawrence Morris and Sherman Manchester who took the notes, and to Book Studio which published them. I have made page after page of my own notes, but how to convey something of the richness of this volume? I have decided that I can probably do nothing better than to set out some of the ideas I found there, beginning with those which were culled from several places. This, I think, might be a contribution.

I shall commence with what Orage says about the position of man, but future posts shall address his interpretation of Beelzebub, however, before attempting that, it might be better to examine some of these ideas about man.

The first concept which struck me is this: that man is the note “si” in a larger octave which he calls the “biological scale”. It is found on pp.191, 198 and 346 (where it has been misheard and reported as “C”). On p.191 we read this: Why is a dog always a dog? Why does it always behave like a dog? Why in certain circumstances does it go to its own death? … It behaves as it does because it is obliged to be what it is, be the outcome what it may. A dog is indifferent to whether it’s rising or dropping in the scale, whether multiplying or becoming extinct. It is innocent; has objective conscience. Mineral, vegetable, animal, instinctively obey the law of their species. No need of psychological effort. A fixed species, no evil. Man is fixed internally, but psychologically has in him every species. He can on occasion be a dog, mouse, lion, etc. Examine yourself and others. Elasticity produces doubt as to one’s real fixed nature. Man is note “si” in the octave in which all other notes are fixed but with the potentiality of other notes. Man is an elastic species with possibilities of dropping or rising psychologically. This introduces the problem of objective conscience as a matter of choice and responsibility. Consciousness that no other animal possesses as a possibility.

The beginning of the next paragraph is also significant: “Animals are incarnate actualities. The note “is” is precarious, a responsibility. Now it’s possible ascent or descent, the realisation of possibilities … Objective Conscience is the awareness of possibilities latent in us.” Some of what follows expands on this, but the point has been made.

On p.198 we have another report of the same meeting. It is similar, but this paraphrase is interesting: “(Dogs) cannot do what is wrong for they obey the law of their being.” It is here that it is said that man is the note “si” on the biological scale.

What are we looking at here? Is it not a statement that we hold a critical place in life on the earth, that a new force must enter to help us to evolve to the note “do” so that the entire scale of biological life can complete its octave? More than that, it specifies the nature of the new force which is needed: objective conscience. Further it explains why we do not have ready access to objective conscience, although the animals, which are all lower than us, do. It is because their role is fixed. Being fixed, they have no freedom. The carpenter who wants the leg of a chair to remain where it is has to fix it in that position with a nail or a screw. But our role is not fixed, at least not in the same way. We can move up or down, precisely because the force we need to move up can only be elaborated within us by resisting a downwards force. And we resist that by producing or opening to the entry of the neutralising force.

One can think of it like seeds. If you wish to make an ornament out of a seed, you have to fix it where it can be seen, and be sure not to allow it access to soil and water. However, if you want the seed to grow, you have to place it in the soil, where it can receive the elements and the nutrients it needs: you have to place it in a dynamic environment. The analogy is not perfect, but neither is it  entirely useless. We are in a dynamic environment, and are open to the influences flowing through it in a way which other life is not. Animals, then, are obliged to be what they are, but we are not – however, we can consciously assume that obligation, only in our case it will be an obligation to become what we can be.

How down know what we can become? Only, perhaps, by trying. Orage makes the perceptive statement that there is a difficulty for us: Elasticity produces doubt as to one’s real fixed nature. This explains the ideas behind gender theory – they have been made to doubt their own real natures by the presence of some elasticity. This is just the elasticity or flexibility needed in the seed’s environment.  This also ties in with our position as “si” in the biological octave: the notes which have preceded “si” are still sounding, and so those influences are available to us. Again, how often resemblances have been noted between people and animals – and here is a penetrating explanation, the animals are available to us as part of the biological scale of which we are almost the crown. This relates, I think, to the statement Gurdjieff made to Solita Solano that simplistic ideas of the descent of man from animals were wrong: “man is a different formula” he told her. On this basis, we can say that man is very different: he is a higher note with the vocation of calling for and receiving the shock necessary to fill the interval and bring the octave to its climax.

I am trying to keep these posts down to about 1,000 words if possible. But clearly, this line of study is worth pursuing.

Joseph Azize, 23 April 2019



  1. “It is innocent; has objective conscience.” This extract from your piece above appears to refer to an animal, a dog to be precise. I’m surprised because objective conscience is a function of the higher parts of emotional centre which is not part of a dogs makeup/possibilities. I don’t have the book to do further reading but did find some typed notes in an online PDF which appear to be the notes that the book is based on. In those notes in a different section there was a statement to the effect that; no animal can posses an objective conscience.

    Perhaps I’m misunderstanding or misreading it. Could you clarify what the author is referring to?

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