Gurdjieff’s “Help for the Deceased”Exercise

My academic article on Gurdjieff’s most unusual exercise, that of “Help for the Deceased” is being published, this week, by the Alternative Spirituality and Religion and Review. I open with a short summary of Gurdjieff’s life and ideas, simply as background for the main thrust of the article. I have been developing my ideas about Gurdjieff’s career. Three of these are mentioned for context. First, as I explain, it seems to me that, in the Russian years, Gurdjieff was teaching the ideas as a preparation for the practices; but by the 1940s in Paris, he was teaching the practices as a preparation for grasping the ideas. Second, it is tolerably clear that he had the transcripts made in order to have a record of not just his teaching at this time, but more precisely of his exercises. Gurdjieff knew their importance, and he wanted them used (in one 1944 transcript he says that he was thinking of inserting material from the groups into the Third Series). Third, he was developing his ideas and practices right  up until 1947, if not to the day of his death. These practices have a certain initiatic ritual, and most of them depended on Gurdjieff himself.

Now for the exercise. I marshal all the available sources, to examine the various exercises he gave for helping the deceased (sic). The key source was generously made available to me by Professor Paul Beekman Taylor. It comprises notes of the late Donald Whitcomb (1900-1976). If anyone has any information about him over and above that recorded in Prof. Taylor’s books, including anything he may have said about his inner work, or any photographs (I know of the one in Dushka’s book, but a good copy would be appreciated), please let me know.

There is also important material in J.G. Bennett’s Witness, Kathryn Hulme’s Undiscovered Country, and the Paris transcripts. I set it all out and comment on it. I use the material in In Search of the Miraculous to try and piece together the principles. I venture the opinion that at the beginning of his career, Gurdjieff taught the principles of these exercises, while at the end, he taught the exercises but said less about the principles. Perhaps, I conjecture, he intended his pupils to put them together.

But what are these exercises? They are exercises to put people in contact with each other via means we might consider paranormal if not supernatural. This contact was such that one person could help another. In one exercise, it seems Gurdjieff would help the living recover from illnesses. We know so little more of those that we might as well say we know nothing. But some were to put a living person (e.g. Donald Whitcomb) in a position where he could help his deceased father. That is the one which interests me the most. However, in the 1940s, he taught his Paris pupils, and later Whitcomb, Bennett, and Hulme, a means of making contact with Gurdjieff’s deceased mother, and with their departed parent, and she would help them. One important qualification is that when Gurdjieff taught Hulme this exercise, it seems her mother was alive.

I think that we cannot do this exercise just as it was given with his mother. Certainly, I have not attempted it and could not imagine the circumstances which could induce me to. But the principles, especially those concerning contact with the aid of something which had belonged to and been touched by someone are most interesting, and what he said to Whitcomb in 1939 may provide a clue.

Finally, I tried to find parallels. There is some fascinating material about the “psychopomp” or spirit guide, but I can find no real parallel. For example, the academic reviewers thought of Catholic prayers for the deceased in Purgatory. But while the Catholic tradition has the angels act as equivalents to the psychopomp, there is nothing comparable for the “help to the deceased.” Catholics pray to God to have mercy on them, we do not try to send energy to any human being, alive or dead.

If you wish to read the article, then it may help you to know that on 9 September the journal advised me: “your article will be uploaded to our Online First site within the next five days. The full article will be available to subscribers, and everyone will have access for free previews and searches. Subscribers can see your article here:

The posted article will have an active DOI. After the issue is completed, the same DOI will automatically point to the finalized version on our website.”

If anyone has more information, about this or similar practices, I would be most grateful.




  1. Hi Joseph, thank you for your inspiration. I’m not sure if you know this but you’re kind of a celebrity on facebook pages dedicated to gurdjieff. People respect your views and your work, just thought I would throw that out there.

    For a while now I have been contemplating the idea of life after death. This year furthered that study when I experienced a death very close to me.

    I would like to bounce some ideas off you and maybe pose some questions if that’s ok.

    One of my thoughts is connected to what Gurdjeiff mentioned… that man is born without a soul.

    After looking at some resource material and comparing it to other ideas Gurdjieff introduced, do you think it’s possible that Gurdjieff meant that the soul humans are not born with refers to the soul body of the first series or, the third world mentioned in his third series.

    I’m thinking that since we are all born in two worlds, in the second world, the possible kesdjan body vehicle survives no matter what even if it is not crystalized before death. I think this could happen in degrees which depend on the coating of that vehicle.

    I know that this area of our being does accumulate to different degrees in life. Which led me to believe maybe something does survive death but depending on its development it can either be more or less a formed vehicle. And if this is the case is it maybe possible to help those souls develop more in the kesdjan world.

    I see how different asian cultures respect their dead and keep somewhat of a contact with these individuals. Gurdjieff said in many places that its healthy to respect our heredity and such.

    I had an experience which it seemed to me that by these exercises you spoke about we are bringing in a connection to the dead and I thought when we do this are we bringing in a new experience to the dead which could help them? idk. I personally think, in part, coating as an action that layers experience in the perspective body which each experience coats another layer to that life of the developing body along with the substances needed for it to accumulate.

    This also led me to believe if that’s the case could we not help the deceased when experiencing different aspects of life. Like if I travel to Cambodia and bring about contact with the deceased this would produce an experience for the dead but through me. In a way coating a new experience onto their kesdjan world.

    Do you know of any Legominism that explains something of this nature or even the nature of the kesdjan world itself.

    Anyway, any help is appreciated and thanks again.

    1. So far as I can see, Bennett knew more about this than anyone else, excepting Gurdjieff. See chapter 16 of Roth’s book Sherborne. My forthcoming book on Bennett, I am completing the fourth draft now, is an answer to this. Having said that, to a significant extent, this is best answered in a group, and we will work at the Help for the Deceased Exercise. Then, each of us will be helped to see more than we otherwise could. I will be in touch.

  2. Hi Joseph, probably you already know this quotation but in case you don’t it has some sort of relevance.

    “After Mrs. Dorothy Wolfe’s father died, she mourned for a very long time. She simply could not get over her grief. Thinking that perhaps there was something not quite right about this, she asked Gurdjieff what to do. He told her to select a prayer that was special for her and recite it regularly, with the intention of sending help to her father. He said it would reach him for twelve months; after that he would be beyond reach. Mrs. Wolfe took his advice and reported to her husband that it helped a great deal.”
    (Further Episodes with Gurdjieff, Number X, Related by Edwin Wolfe, Recorded, with an introduction by Marvin Grossman)

      1. No, unfortunatelly I don’t. The “Episodes with Gurdjieff” that were initially published are dated but these “further episodes” aren’t. In the initial published episodes it says that Wolfe last saw Gurdjieff in America in 1932 and then he visited them again in 1939. One would assume that the aforementioned episode was dated after 1939 when Dorothy’s father would have aged. Also, Wolfe probably married Dorothy somewhere between the days of Prieure and 1932. Wolfe’s last memories of Gurdjieff are dated in 1948-49 so the episode with Dorothy’s father could also be dated then. But my guess is that it happened around 1939 when Wolfe probably spent a longer time with Gurdjieff (there is an “episode with Gurdjieff” dated in 1939 where Wolfe “defends” his wife honour against Gurdjieff). But this is only a guess.

      2. Either way, in my eyes his advice to Dorothy is in strict accordance to Orthodox Christianity which places emphasis initially on the first 40 days of the departed and then again in one years’ time (twelve months). Gurdjieff’s stance on the departed brings strongly to mind Orthodox Christianity’s stance (I believe it’s always important to remember that Gurdjieff was brought up as an Orthodox Christian). They don’t use the word “energy” of course but it’s clear that they believe that something is sent to the departed ones through the prayers of the living. They also use praying to saints, to Mother Mary (and Jesus Christ of course) and memorial services as their “medium” in order to reach the departed ones. Some general information:

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