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What is Odinism?, Part IV:
Odinism as an Esoteric Path

5,637 words [1]

Editor’s Note:

This is part four of a four-part essay that first appeared in Tyr: Myth, Culture, Tradition, [2] vol. 4. [2]

So far, I have essentially argued that to be an Odinist is to be a lover of wisdom – one who puts nothing before this love, including piety towards Odin. Odinism is the path of divinization – the Odinist seeks to become “God” (supreme, all-powerful, all-knowing), just as Odin did. I then went on to make a striking cosmological claim: that the universe exists in order to be known, and that the Odinist is the vehicle of the universe’s self-knowledge. Further, I have argued that Odin is the archetype that expresses the Northern European identity, and that Odinism is fundamentally a Western path. This path, however, is fraught with dangers. It is the source of all that is great about us, and all that is terrible; of all the tremendous achievements of our past, and the terrible problems of our present. What the Katha Upanishad says about the path it teaches is also quite applicable to our own: “Arise, awake, and learn by approaching the exalted ones, for that path is sharp as a razor’s edge, and hard to go by, say the wise.”

The foregoing account, however, may not fully satisfy some of my readers – a very special, select group of readers. What I have argued thus far is that we Westerners are, in a sense, all on the Odinic path, very broadly construed. I stated near the end of Section Two [3] that it is possible to be on the Odinic path – to embody the archetype of Odin – unconsciously. Such men as Paracelsus, Fichte, Hegel, Wagner, Nietzsche, and Heidegger were, arguably, “unconscious Odinists.” But what of the conscious Odinists among us? I mean those of my readers who wish to consciously and deliberately follow this path, and who are steeped in the lore of our ancestors. They will want something more than just the exhortation to “pursue wisdom.”

This is where we must enter into a discussion of what I will call “esoteric Odinism.” But it must begin with a reconsideration of the “cosmological” argument of Section Two [3], and approach these matters on a deeper level. This will lead, in the end, to a discussion of the practice of Odinism.

In the foregoing I have argued for the thesis that it is man that brings the whole (the universe) to completion through his quest for knowledge of the whole. Through man, in other words, the universe achieves knowledge of itself: it holds a mirror up to itself. In order to fully understand why this is the case, one must keep squarely in mind that man arises out of nature; he is a natural being, though of a peculiar sort.

As Aristotle saw (and later Hegel, following Aristotle) man recapitulates within himself the rest of nature, in possessing the appetitive and nutritive functions (plant nature), and the sensory and locomotive (animal nature).[1] [4] Biologically, we comprise the whole – in a sense we combine all creatures within ourselves; we are all things. We are the microcosm that reflects the macrocosm. But we step beyond all other creatures at the same time, in being capable of achieving self-knowledge.[2] [5] Thus, in striving to know ourselves – which always necessarily involves, as Hegel makes clear, finding ourselves in the world around us, taking an interest in all – we are the whole knowing itself. Man occupies a privileged position in nature, reigning over all as the highest terrestrial being – in virtue both of his knowledge, and his power. Man is part beast, part god (as Aristotle recognized).

The above only puts the argument of Section Two [3] in a slightly different way. The next step is to recognize that man’s knowledge or consciousness of the whole (which is simultaneously his self-consciousness, in the most profound sense) is purely impersonal. Each man is, to one degree or another, the “carrier” of this consciousness, but it is something radically distinct from my consciousness of myself as an individual. To achieve knowledge of the whole, I must go beyond the personal ego and its attachments, and identify myself with a “higher self” that strives to embrace all. In other words, I must sacrifice myself to myself.

A different way to put the same point is to say that I must shift my sense of identification from the personal self to what I will call, following Thorsson, the Self. Thorsson writes,

The ‘birth’ of Ódhinn and the World-Tree sacrifice are essentially simultaneous – without it Ódhinn is not Ódhinn. In this process Ódhinn gives his self to him-Self while hanging on Yggdrasill (the steed of Yggr [ = Odin], or the yew column). The subject has turned upon itself and has successfully made itself the object of its own work.[3] [6]

The Self is equivalent to what is sometimes referred to as “cosmic consciousness” (though this term has certain unfortunate associations with New Age authors). The Self is, again, the whole’s consciousness of itself. And it is my true Being – who I really am. But it is not reducible to me, since it is not the same thing as my personal ego (my small “s” self). Again, each man – insofar as he realizes the Odinic ideal – is the carrier of this Self. It lives through us – but it does not die when we die. Thorsson writes, further, “Ódhinn’s being teaches the way of the ‘whole-I,’ the ‘all-self,’ as well as the ‘higher self.’ This higher self is a supraconscious entity, the ‘holy self’ or the magical ego of the runemaster.”[4] [7]

The Self is therefore a being distinct from us, though, as I have said, it is realized in the world through us alone. To draw a philosophical analogy, it is similar to the Aristotelian understanding of form as actuality. The form or being of an object is not reducible to the object (since other, similar objects share the same form), but it is realized in the world through the objects that actualize or exemplify it. Similarly the Self is something distinct from me, but it is possible – by disengaging myself from identification with the finite me – to realize my fundamental identity with it. (Just as Odin does in the sacrifice on Yggdrasill.) When this occurs, the Self is “actualized” in the world and the world itself is actualized, since, as I have argued, the telos of the whole is its consciousness of itself.

The Self is thus not just my Being – it is the Being of all things. Everything comes to be out of the universe’s drive for manifestation. Of course, it is not as if the universe is a “thing” that manifests itself. Rather, the universe is this manifestation. If we ask what is doing the manifesting, the answer is the Self. This may at first seem like an odd answer, since what I have said earlier seems to imply that the Self is realized later in the process of creation, through human beings who, in their pursuit of knowledge, constitute the universe’s self-awareness. But it is vital to understand that the Self is there from the beginning, prior to manifestation – logically, but not temporally prior, as the Being or essence of the universe itself, which is only fully actualized through human knowledge. The picture that emerges is that the entire world is an infinite Self coming to consciousness of itself, and that each and every being in the universe plays a role in the manifestation of the Self to itself. But the crucial role is played by the one being who is capable of self-awareness and of knowledge of the whole: man.

There is thus a great “World I” that my own “I” is but a reflection of. And I have a fundamental choice that is not faced by any other being. I can behave as if my personal I exists for its own sake, abiding in perfect aloneness, detached from the whole. This is the path of foolish “attachment” to things that do not last. It is the path of egoism and self-aggrandizement; it is the path, in fact, of non-being. My other choice is to shift my sense of identity from that petty, personal I to the World I – the ideal aim being to realize that World I in myself; to make myself the Self. To sacrifice my self to my Self. Thorsson writes, “The Odian does not seek ‘union’ with Odin but seeks union only with that with which Odin sought union – the Self.”[5] [8]

The left-hand path cannot mean the exaltation of the limited, imperfect ego. It cannot mean, for example, that that ego attains “special powers.” That is the dream of an adolescent, or of a petty egoist. The left-hand path must mean the transmutation and perfection of the ego; i.e., not the aggrandizement of the self, but the identification with the Self. It is not an “annihilation” of the self and an absorption into the Absolute (this is the “mystical path,” what Evola calls the “wet way”). The left-hand path (the “dry way”) means that here, now, in this world I become the Self. It is a path of self-mastery and divinization that is lived within time and in engagement with the world.

But how do we do this? There are two ways, which are not mutually exclusive, indeed they should accompany each other: the way of theory, and the way of practice. “Theory” derives from the Greek verb theorein, “to see, or behold.” A theory is therefore a “seeing,” or better “a beholding.” The way of theory involves, first of all, seeing the world in the manner I have described above: the purpose of existence itself as our quest for wisdom. The way of theory thus, in part, amounts to adhering to a certain philosophical outlook. But it is not enough simply to accept these ideas: one must actively be a seeker; one who searches for wisdom as Odin did. One must, in other words, theorize – i.e., strive to understand, or to behold more and more.

The way of theory is extraordinarily liberating. If we can learn to find ourselves in the world by realizing that that world is there for us, and for our seeking, then we recognize that nothing matters save that seeking. And if we can free ourselves from everything that would hold that seeking back or confine it, then we become the freest of men.

But theory and theorizing are not all. There is also practice. I am using that term in the sense in which it is used in esoteric, initiatory traditions. Is there a spiritual practice of Odinism?

The key to this question is to be found in the story of Odin’s self-sacrifice on Yggdrasill. I have dealt with this matter in another essay.[6] [9] Here I will approach the same material in a different and much simpler way.

A student of that most Odinic of philosophers, J. G. Fichte, left behind the following remarkable account of one of the great man’s lectures, delivered in the winter semester of 1798/1799 at Jena:

I cannot deny that I was awed by my first glimpse of this short, stocky man with a sharp, commanding tongue. Even his manner of speaking was sharp and cutting. Well aware of his listeners’ weaknesses, he tried in every way to make himself understood by them. He made every effort to provide proofs for everything he said; but his speech still seemed commanding, as if he wanted to dispel any possible doubts by means of an unconditional order. “Gentlemen,” he would say, “collect your thoughts and enter into yourselves. We are not at all concerned now with anything external, but only with ourselves.” And, just as he requested, his listeners really seemed to be concentrating upon themselves. Some of them shifted their position and sat up straight, while others slumped with downcast eyes. But it was obvious that they were all waiting with great suspense for what was supposed to come next. Then Fichte would continue: “Gentlemen, think the wall!” And as I saw, they really did think about the wall, and everyone seemed able to do so with success. “Have you thought about the wall?” Fichte would ask. “Now, gentlemen, think him who thinks the wall.” The obvious confusion and embarrassment provoked by this request was extraordinary. In fact, many of the listeners seemed quite unable to discover anywhere whoever it was that had thought about the wall. I now understood how young men who had stumbled in such a memorable manner over their first attempt at speculation might have fallen into a very dangerous frame of mind as a result of their further efforts in this direction.[7] [10]

What Fichte was asking his astonished students to do was to shift their attention from the objects around them to attention itself: to remember the self that attends to the world. In our daily lives we are always occupied with this object or that. The object may be a physical something, such as the keyboard in front of me, or it may be an idea, an expectation, a hope, a fear – anything that, for whatever reason, presents itself to us and “catches” our attention. (Even absence may present itself to us and preoccupy us, as when – to use the sort of example Sartre would have used – we arrive at the café at the appointed time expecting to see Pierre, but register only his absence.) The self always has some object or other. But there is, in addition, “another self” that can step back from one’s attachment and reflect upon it. A self that is aware of the self that is aware. It remains detached and observant, whereas the characteristic of the mundane self is that it is always “attached” in one way or another.

The key to the Odinist “practice” is the identification with this detached self. Just how to do this is hard to describe. We could say that we must “shift” our identification from the mundane, attached self to the detached, observing self. But what does the shifting? It might be better to say that we must simply become this self, though this hardly sounds like giving instructions at all. In practice, one will find that one can simply do this – though how we do it is mysterious. And the practitioner will find at first – and for a long time – that shifting to the perspective of this detached self is hard to sustain for very long. Something will always come along to “grab” us and suddenly we find ourselves attached again, and identified with the mundane self.

The teaching I am describing here is perennial, and one finds traces of it in many different sources. In the UR material edited by Julius Evola (and published as Introduction to Magic), “Abraxas” writes that

the secret . . . consists in creating in yourself a dual being. You must generate – first by imagining and then by realizing it – a superior principle confronting everything you usually are (e.g., an instinctive life, thoughts, feelings). This principle must be able to control, contemplate, and measure what you are, in a clear knowledge, moment by moment. There will be two of you: yourself standing before “the other.”. . . All in all, the work consists of a “reversal”: you have to turn the “other” into “me” and the “me” into the “other.”[8] [11]

Abraxas goes on to comment upon “you have to turn the ‘other’ into ‘me’ and the ‘me’ into the ‘other’” as follows, and his words are worth quoting at length: “Depending upon which of the two principles the person focusses on, you will have the Dry Way or the Humid Way, the magical method or the mystical method.” In the mystical method, “the mind creates an ‘other’ that still remains ‘other.’” One loves or yearns after this “other.” Abraxas refers to this standpoint as “feminine,” “negative,” and “dependent” (“it has the character of need”). He states “To turn [this standpoint] into the purely affirmative, central, and self-sufficient solar nature requires a qualitative leap and a daring that is very difficult for a mystic to achieve, considering the contrary nature of the previous mortification.”[9] [12]

This “daring leap” is, of course, what is required of the Odinist. Abraxas continues:

In the magical, dry, or solar way, you will create a duality in your being not in an unconscious and passive manner (as the mystic does), but consciously and willingly; you will shift directly on the higher part and identify yourself with that superior and subsistent principle . . . Slowly but gradually, you will strengthen this ‘other’ (which is yourself [i.e., your Self]) and create for it a supremacy, until it knows how to dominate all the powers of the [lower] natural part and master them totally. What is required of you is a discipline of firmness and sobriety until an equilibrium is created, namely the quality of a life that owns itself and is free with regard to itself, cleansed from instinct and from the obscure appetite of the natural being, in both flesh and mind.[10] [13]

In sum, the first step of the work consists in dividing consciousness into an active, watching self, and a passive, experiencing self. The aim of the Odinist is to identify with the superior, detached, watching self. Now, very simply, this superior self just is the Self discussed earlier. It is not you. It is an infinite consciousness in the sense that it is not finitized through attachment or absorption in this object or that. It is the “World I” gazing at itself: the consciousness of existence itself, born through you. In these moments in which we achieve identity with this detached, observing consciousness, the Self is “actualized” in the world and – as I argued earlier – the world itself is actualized, since the purpose of the whole is its consciousness of itself. In these moments of identification with the Self, you are the whole knowing itself.

And you are Odin – or, more specifically, you reach the Odinic goal. Just like Odin, you have arisen from nature, from the all, and brought consciousness of the all into being. But before Odin could do this, he had to “negate” the nature from which he had arisen. In order to achieve the Odinic consciousness, you must do the equivalent: you must sever your consciousness from finite attachment, and infinitize it.

As I have noted, remaining identified with the Self is extraordinarily difficult. There are a number of different sources which contain hints about how to go about achieving this. These include the works of Edred Thorsson and Julius Evola (though they offer only hints; both writers know more than they are willing to say openly). There is, in addition, a great deal of practical information to be found in works dealing with the so-called “Fourth Way” teaching of the Greek-Armenian mystic G. I. Gurdjieff (1866-1949), a decidedly Odinic figure.[11] [14] For all intents and purposes, Gurdjieff’s “self-remembering” is identical to the practice I have described here.

The Fourth Way is practiced in the world, not in separation from it. Gurdjieff contrasts it to three other paths: the way of the fakir (who works to master the body), the way of the monk (who masters the emotions), and the way of the yogi (who masters the mind or intellect). These paths not only tend to involve the isolation of the practitioner from the world, they lead, so Gurdjieff believed, to one-sided development. The Fourth Way works on mastering all aspects of the self and, again, it requires that this self-mastery be sought while the practitioner is fully engaged with life. And we must take special note of the fact that Gurdjieff offered his teaching as a mystical path for the West. It is also easy to see that the Fourth Way belongs to the left-hand path.[12] [15] It uses the distractions and pressures of modern life as a means to mastering the self. For just this reason, it is obvious that this path is well-suited to the present time: the Wolf Age, Iron Age, or Kali Yuga. Finally, it is a tough way: there is nothing “touchy-feely” about it (which is why many New Age types tend to be put off by Gurdjieff).

The Gurdjieffian way is not without its pitfalls (and my discussion of it here does not in any sense constitute an “endorsement”). So-called “Gurdjieff groups” are often uncomfortably cultish, and sometimes – in their efforts to “remember the self” – members develop a cold, emotionless quality (ironic, given Gurdjieff’s insistence that his teaching was about overcoming the “robot” in all of us). The Fourth Way has probably harmed about as many people as it has helped, and driven some people quite mad. This is undeniably part of its allure (at least for the dauntless Odinist). It must also be noted that Gurdjieff’s initiatory teaching of self-mastery is coupled with cosmological speculations that strain credulity.[13] [16] In my eyes, these are more objectionable, in fact, than his claim that the Fourth Way is “esoteric Christianity.” (The simple reason being that “esoteric [i.e., mystical] Christianity” in certain ways bears a passing resemblance to Odinism, especially in the hands of the classical German mystics.)

Nevertheless, the Fourth Way has much to teach us about the practice of Odinism; i.e., the technique of identification with the Self. But Gurdjieff’s followers are also notoriously guarded about the actual methods of what they call “the Work,” insisting that it can only be imparted through “group.” To an Odinist, this is nothing more than a gauntlet thrown down, for we are not “joiners.” One must therefore “read around” quite a bit in Fourth Way literature and connect many dots in order to uncover what the actual practice consists in.[14] [17]

I can summarize the basics of it as follows.

What is required, first of all, is the simple act of “self-observation.” In this act, the self – as described above – bifurcates into an active, watching self, and a self that is watched. (This watching self and the Self, I have argued, are metaphysically identical.) Just what do we observe? Begin with the practice of grounding yourself in the present moment. Focus on bodily sensations: on the experience of touch, sight, sound, smell. Thoughts will come to you about what you are touching, seeing, etc. Observe this, and then gently draw yourself back to the experience of the sensations themselves. Properly practiced, this will give rise to a very special sort of realization which, if put into words, would simply say “I am.” It should be obvious that what is involved in self-observation is a very special form of attention or awareness in which you become intensely present to Being. This almost inevitably leads to the experience I have described elsewhere as Ekstasis – wonder in the face of Being, in the sheer fact that things are – which I have argued is equivalent to óðr of which Odin is the personification.[15] [18]

When you practice self-observation you will note such things as tension in the body. Most of the time, you will find that this tension is unnecessary, given the circumstances you are actually in. You may also notice emotions that are not appropriate to those circumstances. But what you will notice especially is unnecessary thoughts: the constant chatter of the mind. Self-observation is extraordinarily frustrating at first, because as soon as one has achieved a state of observing without attachment, some stray thought will come along and suddenly one will find oneself “absent” from the present, and thinking about some petty concern. The particular danger for the lover of wisdom is that the experience of self-observation will give rise immediately to “insights,” and the attention will then shift from observation to theorizing. Theorize later. But make no mistake, self-observation deepens theorizing – and vice versa.

It should be obvious by now that this practice requires extraordinary patience. It is a constant struggle between finite and infinite attention; between attachment and detachment; between the ordinary, mundane self or I and the World I or Self. But, with practice, it gets easier.[16] [19]

One must also resist the temptation to change what is observed, for then one loses the perspective of the detached observer and becomes involved. So if, for example, there is tension in the body, merely observe this. What you will find, oddly enough, is that this very act of observation releases the tension. The simple reason is that in observing it, one is not identifying with it. One is saying, in effect, “that is not me.” And the tension often simply melts away. It is equally important not to judge what one observes for then one gets caught up in judging rather than observing. But according to the Gurdjieff teaching – and this is one of the most profound insights it has to impart – the simple act of self-observation will, in time, change one’s undesirable or unhealthy features. The reason, again, is that the act of observation detaches one from these features; one ceases to identify with them. Performed repeatedly, therefore, self-observation has the power to weaken the hold that these features have over us. This leads us to the obvious conclusion that self-observation is a path to freedom and to power – over oneself and circumstances (for without self-mastery, no other mastery is possible). (Again, the Odinic nature of this practice is obvious.)

Further, one must be totally, ruthlessly honest with oneself. There may be no blind spots in self-observation. This leads to what is called in Gurdjieff’s teaching “voluntary suffering,” because inevitably much that one observes about oneself is negative. But one must always keep in mind that the Odinist path is the love of wisdom – and that it is simultaneously the quest for knowledge of the whole, and for self-knowledge. The Self that we strive to identify with or to actualize is, again, an infinite openness: it sees all, and attaches itself to nothing. Because it is all. Thus, if we close ourselves to any aspects of reality, no matter how painful, then we remain identified with the finite self. (The Gurdjieff teaching also cautions us, however, that we have erected many “buffers” that prevent us from seeing the truth – and if too many of these are removed too quickly, the result can be traumatic.)

It should be obvious from all the foregoing why the mind resists self-observation. Not only is it difficult, it leads to pain and, ultimately, the radical transformation – or overcoming – of the self. But the self (the ordinary, mundane self) does not want to be overcome. The self is to the Self as nature is to Odin. Nature issues Odin; it gives rise to its own overcoming. But the Titans do not want to be overthrown. Ymir does not want to be killed and dismembered. Yet, this primeval murder is, as I argued much earlier, all part of nature’s actualization as a cosmos – as an ordered arrangement – through the arising of Odin. Similarly, on the level of the individual Odinist, our mundane, finite self must be “killed,” and dragged to the void that is the infinite, observing Self, which is nothing and all. And it must be taken apart, it must undergo “voluntary suffering,” and be rebuilt. But we resist this. We hide from ourselves, just as nature conceals itself from us, forces us to dig deeper, always holding something back. (“Nature loves to hide,” Heraclitus said.)

It is inevitable that there will be resistance to self-observation, but the Fourth Way teaches that in fact there is no progress without this. And the more truths about yourself that you awaken to, the fiercer the resistance will become. Then you will feel an extremely strong temptation to give up. This must be resisted at all costs. For the Odinist path is the path of the awakened being; we cannot settle for a return to sleep. This is the path of Self-realization, and it is extraordinarily hard. But it is the only path to true freedom and awakening. It is the perfection of the human individual – and, as I have argued, simultaneously the perfection of the world itself.

Clearly, the Odinist path is not an easy one – nor is it without its dangers. I will conclude with a warning from “Abraxis” in Evola’s Introduction to Magic:

If you want to approach our Art, be aware that this is a painful struggle and somewhat like walking on a razor’s edge. You may win or lose, and two things lead to certain disaster: to be afraid and to interrupt the operation. Once you have begun, you must go all the way, since an interruption leads to a dreadful reaction, with the opposite result. You can easily understand why: at every step you take, an increasingly higher quantity of swirling energy is arrested and pushed upstream; having been excited and provoked, it is filled with tension. As soon as you give up, it will come crashing down upon you and sweep you away. . . . One does not have to embark [on this path], but once you have done so, there are only two alternatives: succeed or perish.[17] [20]


[1] [21] It can also easily be argued that we possess “mineral nature” as well, in that most of the elements found in the earth’s crust are also found in the human body. The “mineral” aspect of the human body is most readily apparent in bone.

[2] [22] Aristotle expressed this point by saying that man, and only man, possesses a “rational soul,” in addition to a “vegetable soul” and “animal soul.”

[3] [23] Runelore, 191.

[4] [24] Runelore, 198.

[5] [25] Runelore, 198.

[6] [26] See “What God Did Odin Worship?” in Summoning the Gods: Essays on Paganism in a God-forsaken World (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2011).

[7] [27] From the memoirs of Hendrik Steffens, quoted and translated in J. G. Fichte, Introductions to the Wissenschaftslehre and Other Writings, trans. Daniel Breazeale (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), 111. I have amended the translation slightly.

[8] [28] Evola and the UR Group, Introduction to Magic, 48.

[9] [29] Evola and the UR Group, Introduction to Magic, 49.

[10] [30] Evola and the UR Group, Introduction to Magic, 50-51. Abraxas’s entire essay – and the volume itself – handsomely repays multiple readings.

[11] [31] Stephen E. Flowers (a.k.a. Edred Thorsson) writes, “If we were to measure the magnitude of ‘occult leaders’ by the greatness achieved by those whom they taught or in some positive way influenced, then certainly the greatest such teacher of the twentieth century would be George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff.” See Flowers, Lords of the Left-Hand Path (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2012), 272.

[12] [32] Flowers writes, “From a structural and methodological standpoint, the Fourth Way generally presents a picture in complete harmony with those of the left-hand path. It is only in the lack of recognition of the historical and archetypal analogs of the system with Satanic symbolism that the Fourth Way may fall short of the criteria of being a school of the left-hand path, but this is practically a matter of aesthetics. Fourth Way teachings, and even its methodology, are often antinomian. There is a constant ‘going against the grain’ – of nature, of God, of the mechanism of the universe. Its aim is the attainment of an awakened, independently existing intellect and relative immortality (self-deification). This is individualistic, it comes in initiatic stages . . . and its chief technology is doing: the use of the will to cause the mechanism to conform to its volition (i.e., ‘magic’).” Flowers, Lords of the Left-Hand Path, 292-93.

[13] [33] Flowers gives a concise and accurate summary of Gurdjieff’s theories in Lords of the Left-Hand Path, 272-93.

[14] [34] Perhaps the best book with which to begin is Self Observation: The Awakening of Conscience, by Robert Moore, writing under the pen name Red Hawk (Prescott: Hohm Press, 2009). There is some off-putting mushiness in this book, but it is filled with practical instructions and reveals far more than most Fourth Way texts. Also of great value are the posthumously-published notes of Gurdjieff’s chief disciple, Jeanne de Salzmann, published as The Reality of Being (Boston: Shambhala, 2011). The book with which curious readers most often begin is P. D. Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1949). This contains valuable information, but the reader must be patient with Ouspensky’s fixation on some of the more incredible aspects of Gurdjieff’s theories. Ouspensky’s The Fourth Way (New York: Random House, 1957) is also helpful, though extremely dry. The writings of Gurdjieff himself are not the place to begin. I find his magnum opus, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, to be completely unreadable. There is more than a little Loki in Gurdjieff, along with the Odinic element. He was a grand trickster, as were many figures in the occult and esoteric traditions. I am sure there is a teaching in Beelzebub, but Gurdjieff did his best to bury it under material that would make the average reader dismiss him as a madman. More accessible is Gurdjieff’s Views from the Real World (New York: Dutton, 1975). And his Meetings with Remarkable Men (London: Penguin, 1985) is quite interesting as autobiography, though it strains credulity. (This book was made into a film in 1979, directed by Peter Brook, and is worth seeing despite its flaws.) Finally, a great deal can be gleaned from a source that is not technically part of the Fourth Way, but is most definitely aligned with it: Julius Evola’s Introduction to Magic, op. cit. The reader would gain a great deal by reading this latter text alongside any of those mentioned above. Also quite useful is Evola’s The Hermetic Tradition (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 1995).

[15] [35] See my essays “The Gifts of Ódhinn and His Brothers” and “The Stones Cry Out: Cave Art and the Origin of the Human Spirit,” in What is a Rune? And Other Essays.

[16] [36] It should also be obvious at this point that what I am describing is a kind of “active meditation.” The exact same principles apply to meditation practice. In my view, both the active, Fourth Way meditation and the classical “sitting still, doing nothing” meditation should be practiced. The former is practiced throughout the day. The latter is reserved for a specific time of the day, for a delimited period of time. I prefer to meditate upon awakening each day, for thirty minutes or more.

[17] [37] Introduction to Magic, 20, 78.