Panic: An Elemental Force

Panic is an elemental force. It is an unconscious influence upon us, and it is inimical to consciousness in us. Its only positive value is that we can use it as a reminding factor not to lose ourselves in the panic, but rather, to collect ourselves, and maintain the highest state of reason we can.

Let us go over this. “Panic” is defined by the Short Oxford Dictionary as follows: “terror … from Pan the name of a deity part man part goat, whose appearance or unseen presence caused terror and to whom woodland noises were attributed … 1. Contagious emotion such as was attributed to the influence of Pan … 2. A sudden and excessive feeling of alarm or fear, usually affecting a body of persons, and leading to extravagant or injudicious efforts to secure safety.” This is an extraordinarily good definition, and it is quite correct: all those nuances really are contained in this English word.

Skeat provides the additional information that the word “panic” was originally an abbreviation of the fuller phrases “a panic fear” and “a panic horror.” That is, it was a way of describing a special kind of fear. So, when we speak of “panic” it is not just any fear, but one which seems to have an inhuman power.

Next, panic is an “elemental force.” The Shorter Oxford has several definitions of this word, but the relevant one is “4. pertaining to the forces of nature.” But the deeper understanding of elementals comes from Gurdjieff. The first indication in his teaching that fear can constitute an entity of some description comes in Ferapontoff’s Constantinople Notes, now being reissued in a second edition by Beech Hill. At paragraphs 50.6 and 50.7, he wrote: “Even used up emotions can reincarnate. … The medieval fear of the Normans now lives in the guise of bacilli” (p.183).

But these concise jottings only tease at what Bennett would reveal. I am fairly sure that he refers to these ideas somewhere in Witness, but a quick search could not find it. However, I could locate where he deals with the concept of “elementals” in Creation and The Dramatic Universe, vol. 2. We know from Creation p.45, that Gurdjieff spoke about elementals in 1923.

In DU, he states: “To express the cosmic character of uncertainty, we shall use the term elemental, with the significance of that is primordial, but without shape or pattern. The elemental natures are not organised, nor do they have the coherence of thinghood … they are manifested in the conflict and striving of existence on earth (p.257).” He provides examples in Creation, of pestilence and famine (p.45).

Returning to DU, he states that they must exist on every planet, and in every entity. They are not entities any more than they are living, they are a disturbing force of uncertainty; a “perverse cosmic force acting universally to oppose the evolution of existence towards higher states of consciousness. … We cannot give form to the formless nor describe that which has no manifestations of its own. Nevertheless our intuition does not lie when it warns us that there are inert forces with which we have to reckon (p.257)”

He then adds this sombre note: “The elemental forces are concentrated at the surfaces of planets, where the act upon life as a disturbing factor; but they are not planetary in nature. They have no pattern of their own, but can adapt themselves to disorganize all patterns everywhere (p.258)”

I shall need to repeat some of that in setting out what Bennett wrote in Creation, but is was necessary in order to provide a fair idea of what he was saying in DU. It is quite important, and sheds light on the ancient idea of demonic forces which dwell between the earth and the moon: exactly where Bennett places the elementals.

Now, in Creation, a collection of materials posthumously collected and edited by A.G.E. Blake, we read:

“Elements are not living. They are not beings or individuals. … These elementals are the spirit of materiality or the unmanifested powers of the material forces. These have no consciousness. … I (earlier) spoke of the spirits of living things – tree spirits, monkey spirits and so on. There are also the spirit of the mountain, the spirit of a river, and the spirit of the sea. In the times when going to sea was a very dangerous thing, people still could not resist its call … We can be aware of the elemental force in a great storm. Though it lasts a short time, we can be aware of its effect on the psyche.”

“One of the strongest elemental forces is connected with money. Why does gold have such an extraordinary effect on the human psyche? … Gurdjieff emphasized in his lecture that some of the elementals are hostile towards life: war, pestilence, and famine. They have no form but they can act on us. The force of war is something different from the desire to kill and before it people do not know how to defend themselves. In famine, there is a force that is not the same as hunger. People feel an extraordinary kind of helplessness in front of it, as they do before an avalanche, a storm or an earthquake. Something happens to one’s psyche that is out of all proportion to the physical things that are happening(p.45, my italics.)

Bennett makes some other observations, including some interesting ones on the elemental of rain, one to which I have always been quite susceptible. Very significant is his conclusion: “We need to be sensitive to them and know when it is possible to oppose them and when it is necessary to submit to them (p.46).”

Just before I conclude, how much understanding then, was there in the ancient idea of panic being induced by the half-man half-goat Pan? It is not a human force, it is lower than that, but it an and does enter humans, and its source is something in the world of nature. Incidentally, Arthur Machen the esotericist (1863-1947) may have had an inkling of this, see his short story “The Great God Pan.”

In fact, I could be wrong, but I would be fairly sure that succumbing to the elemental panic would make one more likely to catch the virus, and to develop a worse case than might have been. The answer would be, then, to use the panic as a reminding factor, that is, to transform the elemental force. This is not purely intellectual: one surely needs to be collected, with a sense of one’s own common presence (mind, feeling, and organic instinct). On a practical note, the critical thing is to transform whatever is within my atmosphere; which means I have first to be able to sense myself within my atmosphere, and to sense the quality of the energies circulating within it. For further details, follow the references to “atmosphere” and “Atmosphere Exercise” in the index to my book Gurdjieff: Contemplation 

I am cancelling plans only where necessary, changing only what I need to. This includes external consideration for others who are either especially susceptible to the worse effects of the virus, or whom any man with feeling would compassionate in their panic. I will, where possible, avoid large gatherings, and of course, if I had any reason to think I was a carrier, I would go into quarantine. I saw a physician who gave me the all-clear and said I belong to a low-risk group. Still, I am being cautious, washing hands more often and so on, but not panicking.

Joseph Azize, 10 to 14 March 2020

5 comments

  1. It is still wise to be prepared for a panic but not be identified with it. Need to be observant to what is going on. Another name for the conditioned realm of the elementals should be Chaos. When consciousness, conscience, and reason are strong then Chaos disperses. But we are not at that point, yet, so we must play the ‘game’. But do not be stoic, do not be indifferent, in preparing ourselves we are also protecting our future and more importantly the Work. We can still help others when we can but if we remain isolated and have nothing the only thing left is ‘wishing everyone well’. If we are intelligent and practical about all this, everything will be as it should be.
    – Harry

    1. Thank you, Harry. Last night I realised that I could have made the post a little more practical, so I have updated it just now. I expanded on the significance of the word deriving from the name of “Pan,” and – more importantly – on the last paragraph. Incidentally, I shall one day have to write about Pan and the Dioskouroi among other Greek mythological figures: his name “pan” means “all,” which leads to other considerations.

  2. Very deep thinking. I shall persevere and reread this. We are isolating and increasing meditation and reading.

  3. Thank you for your articles.

    In order to develop consciously Gurdjieff constantly highlights the need for a Teacher or Master to whom the person essentially submits. This is highlighted, for example, in the use of the ‘STOP’ exercise.

    What possibility does any person have of becoming more conscious if they work by themselves. If there is no external highly developed consciousness to guide them it seems , according to Gudjieff, very limited progress can be made. In fact, one may be contributing to one’s own self-delusion.

    At the same time there are many ‘schools’ out there. However, Gurdjieff points out that 4th way school are only temporary. After the passing of the Teacher they become only imitation and psuedo-esoteric.

    What is a way to approach this? Should one go into the world and move from school to school and gamble that a Teacher many be True?

    1. This is a critical question. It is not by any means straightforward. Some of what G. is reported to have said to Ouspensky was meant to highlight one particular principle. When that principle is grasped, then another one might be imparted which showed the first principle in a different light. I think that is the case here. Certainly, it is a massive advantage to have someone with greater understanding and a more reliable being to help one. It is not always clear, however, who that is. No register of “approved teachers” is possible. Also, the one who can teach or guide is not obliged to accept me. So this relationship is not something I can demand.

      Then, Gurdjieff’s requirement is for understanding, not submission. the “submission” of the Stop Exercise is not “submission” as it is usually understood. It is more a question of (1) trust for a temporary time and a limited purpose, and (2) cooperating because of a congruence of aims. Mr Adie sometimes used the Stop Exercise. It was very powerful indeed. But there was no question of submitting. We were all making efforts for a shared aim – awakening. I recall once, we had frozen, and he walked among us. It was as much a work for him as for us. “Submission” does not describe it. And then, the demand for submission can so easily lead to abuse. Submission is, in my opinion, inimical to conscious work. I could tell you some stories, but you can, I am sure, guess.

      But then there is something which can cut through all this. If you were willing, you could ask me my opinion. Write to me at my email address, let me know where you live, and I can tell you if I know of anyone I can recommend you to. Of course, you must then use your own judgement, and my opinion is not guaranteed by God to be correct.

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