Towards an Obituary for Mme Solange Claustres

It was 23 May 2007, almost ten years ago to the day, when I met Madame Solange Claustres in her Paris apartment, not far from Notre Dame. I have never forgotten her, or ceased to thank her for her kindness to me. I even wrote to her recently, but then today, I learned that she had died over a year ago.  

It is odd, because just yesterday I had been examining the galley proofs for my next book, The Constantinople Notes of Boris Ferapontoff, and I paused for a while over the dedications page, offering my homage to Annie-Lou Staveley, John Lester and to Solange herself. 

She was a great woman, and to use that overused phrase, she was a great soul. This news makes it all the more imperative that I use the material she gave me, not least an internal exercise from Gurdjieff of great power. 

I can never forget how I asked her about a difficulty, and her first words were that everyone had that difficulty. This was such a help because something in me had felt I was a monster to have such problems. Also, realising that of course every person has this issue, it helped me to see that the arising of the difficulty was lawful, and so the harmonisation, too, would be possible in accordance with law. 

Then she explained to me that one should look on the “dog” (the irrational and neurotically unbalanced guilt-ridden attitude) from above. See it, from above. And seeing it, love it, for the function it came into being to fulfil. But now that function has been achieved. This guilt is no longer needed. This lesson has been learned. The dog may go now, lie quietly, and even pass on. Then she gave me the exercise from Gurdjieff. 

As I write, I can see her dark but fiery eyes. I relive what it was to be in her presence, her sensing and knowing where she was and what she was about. There was an intensity about her. There was also a kindness, a deep kindness which only wanted to help what was true in me. 

There is a story about her, told to me at second hand, about how a woman met her and gushed: “O Madame Claustres! I am so honoured to meet you!” And Solange replied: “That won’t last long.”

It would be unreal not to mention how hurt she was by many of the people at the Foundation (the Institute in Paris). I have one story to tell of that: when I read her book, something in it so struck me that I was shocked into being relatively awake for three days. For three days, I was man number 4. Someone from the Foundation in London was visiting. He was on the Council there. I have decided not to name him for two reasons. I will mention only the second reason: it is because his name does not matter, what counts is the principle that status and position do not make the man. I started to tell him of this experience, a minor miracle, and in his self-important way he interrupted me to say that “one has to be careful with Solange”. I asked him if he had read the book, and he portentously replied, no, he had not, but others on the Council in London and in Paris would agree with him that “one has to be careful with Solange”. That ended that conversation. He had no curiosity about the experience of inner work I was reporting, he was identified with the fact that it was Solange whose writing had helped me. I know that this attitude of blind opposition pained her. She gave her life and her considerable talents for something higher than herself. And the opponents did not see their role in her sometimes pained reactions.

It is a very sad anecdote, but it is absolutely true, and the point is that conscience must never be suffered to be silenced, even for “authorities” in the groups. And Mme Claustres spent her life learning and striving to be true to conscience.

And so, today I learn that her body has been buried in peace. May the Lord receive her soul, and may she serve Him, with her diligence and fire, as a saintly cosmic individual.

Joseph Azize, 9 May 2017


  1. Thank you Joseph – We did not know that she had died. This is a wonderful recollection.
    I very much appreciate reading your writings to Keith . . .
    We have made wonderful use of Mr.s Adie’s Morning Preparations, as I mentioned to you in Salem. You mentioned at that time that your had more material to share and we would very much welcome that!
    With Affection,

    1. Thank you. I mentioned to her that in her book she related that Gurdjieff would often say to them: “You must be the adult for yourself.” It made quite an impression on me. She said that G. had said it to them very often. Yet isn’t it odd that such a small but significant statement, which apparently he frequently said, has not otherwise been reported? Isn’t it sobering to think how close this came to being lost. In respect of the other matter, yes, I shall write separately. Regards

  2. Thank you for this, Joseph,

    I had the privilege of attending a long seminar with Solange Claustres in the late 90s. The impact of her presence is one of the strongest memories of my 25 years in and around the work.

    We had gathered ostensibly to study Movements, in a seminar organized by her then-student and pianist, Wim van Dullemen. About 60 people had come to Amsterdam from the North America and Europe.

    We gathered and Solange spoke in French, with someone translating. She had a cigar in one and and a glass of sherry in the other as she spoke. She was animated, and also still, as though something in her core remained unmoved by her outer activity. She was like the ocean with waves on the surface and stillness below.

    She said she would not be teaching Movements, as she had been forbidden to teach this group by Michel de Salzman. Because, she said, there were people in the assembled group who were teaching Movements outside formal groups.

    Many people were visibly upset, and began to protest. After some time Solange acquiesced and said she would correct Movements people already knew. Thus ensued nine days of intense work.

    At one point the group was practicing turning, in the Gurdjieffian fashion, to the right, and with a rhythmic foot pattern. I was really enjoying the experience, feeling the pleasure of the turn. I could see Solange coming toward me. She stood in front of me and said “stop!” I stumbled as I came to a stop, facing her. Though I looked down at her and she seemed immense. Her face was stern and her eyes burned with intensity.

    “There’s too much you in the movement,” she said. “Now turn, but be clean.” I tried again, and again, and again, and the more I tried the less she seemed to be satisfied. Finally something broke and the turning ceased requiring a force of effort and became nearly effortless, as though I could go on forever, and seemed occupy a place of complete stillness spaceless point at the center.

    “Stop,” she said again, much more gently than the last time. When I arrived facing her she was smiling and I felt awash with a golden love.

    That evening I wept as I went back to my hostel and reviewed the events of the day. I wept because I realized I had been graced with a profound gift, and it was the gift of love. Solange had given her full, robust attention. She had been merciless in her corrections and criticism, and that the same time deeply loving and concerned. I could receive her assaults because everything she said was true.

    Being with Solange, and witnessing her being to the degree I was able to perceive, gave me an impression of someone who had realized a great deal in the work. She was intensely individual—passionate and completely herself—and also objective, both in her awareness and in the impartiality of her love.

    Even now my heart is full as I feel the generosity of Ms. Claustres’ regard, the completeness of her service.

  3. Merci de faire part publiquement du décès de Solange Claustres. Je l’ai rencontrée cinq fois et ai reçu ses manifestations comme des grâces qui donnent à penser et dont je me souviens encore.
    Patrick Négrier

    1. For those with limited French, Patrick says that he met Mme Claustres on five occasions, and was unforgettably touched by her. His research shows that she was born on 20 October 1920, and died on 5 February 2015. Thank you, Patrick, and may the Lord receive her into His heart.

  4. Monsieur Azize,

    Je viens d’aller au bureau de l’Etat civil de la Mairie de Paris. Solange Claustres était née le 20 octobre 1920 et elle est décédée à son domicile 111 boulevard Ney à Paris (75018) le 5 février 2015 à 13 h 30. Bien amicalement à vous,

    Patrick Négrier
    auteur de 3 ouvrages sur Gurdjieff

  5. Monsieur Azize, vous écrivez de manière très intéressante : “Someone from the Foundation in London… interrupted me to say that ‘one has to be careful with Solange’ ”. Je pense que cet incident est très révélateur du phénomène d’entropie qui a pénétré dans certaines Fondations Gurdjieff où visiblement l’enseignement de G. n’est plus compris. Je viens de re-lire crayon en mains l’ouvrage de Mme de Salzmann intitulé The Reality of being. Je suis effaré de constater qu’elle n’a pas compris l’enseignement de G. car elle développe une mystique de l’inconnaissance qui, au lieu de déboucher sur la conscience philosophique des intelligibles du « centre intellectuel supérieur », aboutit au contraire à un culte du silence intérieur qui se réduit à un acte d’auto-tranquillisation, ce qui présente certes un intérêt ascétique mais ne vaut rien du tout pour la « conscience de » qui ne peut être que, et doit toujours être une conscience des intelligibles, c’est-à-dire en somme une véritable gnose au reste évoquée par G. au chapitre 27 de Belzébuth lorsqu’il y décrit la 3ème obligation êtrique en ces termes : “connaître toujours plus à fond les lois de la création du monde et de l’existence du monde”. La spiritualité de l’autruche bourgeoisement développée par Mme de Salzmann dans la lignée de certaines mystiques orientales (avec résorption et extinction des facultés psychiques) ne trahit pas seulement l’enseignement de G. et la tradition en général : elle stérilise le Travail de G. et anéantit les efforts des élèves des Fondations G. pour s’éveiller à la conscience. Je condamne très sévèrement cette rupture opérée par de Salzmann avec le Travail de G. Ce qui explique en fin de compte qu’au chapitre 35 de Belzébuth G. ait averti de l’existence du système solaire « Salzmanino » qu’il relie à des concentrations de « zilnotrago », c’est-à-dire à cet « acide cyanidrique » qui empoisonne l’Enseignement ; et ce qui explique aussi que lorsque Solange Claustres me dit que son ouvrage allait bouleverser la Fondation G. de Paris, elle faisait allusion précisément au fait que son témoignage sur la notion de « prise de conscience » allait directement à l’encontre de l’extinction de la conscience résultant en fait de la version salzmanienne de l’Enseignement de G.

    1. Thank you once more, Patrick. Here is a translation, based on the DeepL translation, with some amendments based on my reading of the French:

      … you write, interestingly: “Someone from the Foundation in London… interrupted me to say that’one has to be careful with Solange'”. I think that this incident is very revealing of the entropy phenomenon that has penetrated some Gurdjieff Foundations where G.’s teaching is obviously no longer understood. I have just read again, pencil in hand, the book by Mme de Salzmann entitled The Reality of Being. I am appalled that she did not understand G’s teaching. because it develops a mystique of unknowledge which, instead of leading to philosophic awareness of the intelligibles through the “higher intellectual centre”, leads on the contrary to a cult of inner silence which is reduced to an act of self-tranquillisation, which is certainly of ascetic interest but is of no value at all for the “consciousness of” which can only be, and must always be, an awareness of the intelligibles, that is to say, a true gnosis as mentioned by G. in Chapter 27 of Beelzebub when he describes the 3rd being-obligation in these terms: “to know ever more deeply the laws of the creation of the world and the existence of the world”. The spirituality of the bourgeois ostrich developed by Mrs. de Salzmann in the lineage of certain oriental mystics (with resorption and extinction of psychic faculties) does not only betray G.’s teaching and tradition in general: it sterilizes G.’s Work and destroys the efforts of the students of the G. Foundations to awaken to consciousness. I condemn very severely this rupture operated by de Salzmann with the Work of G. which he explains at the end of chapter 35 of Beelzebub, where G. warned of the existence of the solar system “Salzmanino” that it links to concentrations of “zilnotrago”, that is to say to this “cyanidic acid” which poisons the Teaching; and which also explains that when Solange Claustres told me that her work would upset the G Foundation. of Paris, she referred precisely to the fact that her testimony on the notion of “awareness” went directly against the extinction of consciousness resulting in fact from the Salzmanian version of G’s Teaching.

      Translated with

  6. Thank you Joseph. I did not meet Solange Claustres. I like her book. The effects of her work can be seen in Wim’s excellent teaching of the Movements. The Society in London is very keen to guard their knowledge of the Movements but the understanding of them has apparently decreased with the passing of Jessmin Howarth and Rose Mary Nott and others. Mrs Nott taught the Movements also for the Bennettskiis, which produced some able Movements teachers. We got a contact via Wim for our own Work from Germany and started arrangeing classes in my wife’s centre in Stettfurt CH. She had been involved about 15 years with the leading of the Zürich group when the contact was with Nicollskiis in the UK. Later the society took over. She invited some of the Society-connected group to join us. Five of them turned up a few times but I suppose were found out of their illegal activity and stopped. We wondered what went wrong.

    As we all know, Madame de Salzmann led the Gurdjieff Work over 70 years, which against Gurdjieff’s 40 years is a great achievement. I met her a few times and listened to her lectures in Bray. The youthful feminin I detected in many of the women I met in the Work was lacking in her. The post by Patrick is the first one I have come across that says bluntly what he thinks. I cannot read the book, allhough there are some raisins in it that I can pick up.

    Criticism aside, we all need to find the Work for ourselves and when we find the spirit of it, give it away to others. Gurdjieff Work is just right for our time – he was well ahead of his time. It is up to ourselves as Dushka put it.

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