Gurdjieff International Review
n the year 1923, rats and mice had the run of the Prieuré. Even in broad daylight they paraded around like kings, and as twilight approached, our cat would no longer dare venture into the courtyard. These rodents had ravaged our food reserves, even those earmarked for the livestock and the henhouse, so we mounted a merciless war against them.
We had just finished the construction of the Turkish Baths, and we were still clearing away the building materials strewn around the worksite. Mr. Gurdjieff was with us, directing the operations. As we were getting rid of a pile of old planks that lay on a pathway and on the ivy bordering it, one of us suddenly yelled, “Mice!”
Everyone rushed over, and the hunt was on. We removed each board, one by one, until only the last one remained. Armed with shovels and sticks, we surrounded it. Two of us lifted it up abruptly. There were the mice, huddled in the ivy. Terrified, they tried to escape down the path. We raised our shovels and sticks, ready to strike.
“Stop!” shouted Mr. Gurdjieff.
Our arms froze, and we remained immobile as statues. A mouse hesitantly emerged from the ivy, dragging her babies clinging to her sides.
“Impossible,” said Mr. Gurdjieff smiling. With a solemn movement, he added, “Motherhood!”
The mouse calmly crossed the path and disappeared into the bushes, bearing her precious burden.
Once again, we had found ourselves touched by a simple human act—such was the magic of the Prieuré. And I can still see us taking up our work again with an extraordinary feeling—the feeling that creates a true opening to life.
But soon, a new misfortune fell upon the farmyard. The ducklings and chicks were being decimated, and each morning we found some of them newly massacred. It was verging on catastrophe. For some time, the ducks, the geese, the guinea fowl, and all the breeds of hens had been living happily with the peacocks. How was it that this idyllic farmyard life was being plunged into gloom by daily massacres?
Mme. de Stjernvall, who was in charge, seemed to have taken all the necessary precautions. At dusk, she rounded up all the fowl into their cages, making sure the doors were locked, and later, on returning from the Study House, she checked that everything was in order. Dr. de Stjernvall also kept a close watch on the farmyard, and even though traps were set all around, each morning new victims lay dead on the ground. What could this formidable predator be? Was it a marten, or maybe rats? Even though the bait was changed, the traps turned out to be useless. The uncertainty lasted a long time.
Returning to the Study House late one evening, we heard piercing cries coming from the farmyard. Lanterns in hand, we went directly to the spot. All the birds seemed paralyzed with fear. A hen lay slaughtered on the ground.
“This will be the last one,” said Mr. Gurdjieff.
From that day on, he asked that the birds no longer be caged in the evening and that all the doors be left wide open. To Mme. de Stjernvall’s great surprise, the next morning she found all the birds unharmed. We were amazed but could not stop worrying. We feared the worst.
Children playing with animals at the Prieuré
The next day, Dr. de Stjernvall rose at dawn to observe the result of this new stratagem ordered by Mr. Gurdjieff. On the third morning, he did not need to enter the farmyard; all the birds were assembled on the lawn, forming a veritable procession flanked by two peacocks seemingly maintaining order. The hens and guinea fowl fluttered excitedly in the middle, loudly squawking and snapping their beaks at an enormous weasel that was crawling forward in a pitiful state. The ducks also pecked relentlessly at the gashed coat of the wounded animal.
As Dr. de Stjernvall approached, he realized that it was already half dead, its eyes having been pecked out. Encouraged by our presence, the birds’ rage redoubled. Dr. de Stjernvall followed the procession until the vengeance was complete. Then he took the weasel by the tail and went into the farmyard. The birds followed him, waddling with legitimate pride. That day they received double rations.... As an epilogue, Mr. Gurdjieff ... said, “When human reason realizes its limits, it recognizes the laws of nature.”
I visualized as though in reality a picture which I had frequently seen during the short periods of rest from my active mentation. Namely, a picture of how from my left, in the company of two peacocks, a cat and a dog, there slowly strolled down the path my unforgettable old mother. At this point, it is impossible not to remark on the relation between my mother and the mentioned animals, as this was indeed unusual in the lives of contemporary people. These four differently natured animals would already know in advance just when my mother was coming out, and, gathering near the door of her home, they would await her appearance and afterwards, wherever she went, would very “sedately” accompany her. Always the cat would walk in front, the two peacocks at the sides and the dog behind.
Gurdjieff liked to designate certain people by nicknames, often borrowed from the animal and vegetable kingdoms. These nicknames were at times slightly outrageous but always amusing and brought to notice certain dominant traits of those so named who gathered around the master.
On my arrival in New Bukhara I had taken a small room.... I lived in this room with my devoted friend, a large Kurd sheepdog, Philos, who for nine years accompanied me on all my wanderings. This Philos, by the way, quickly became famous in any town or village where I happened to stay for a while, particularly among small boys, thanks to his talent for bringing me hot water for my tea from the chaikhanas and taverns to which I sent him with a kettle. He even used to go with a note from me to make purchases.
In my opinion this dog was so astonishing that I do not consider it superfluous to spend a little of my time acquainting the reader with his rare psyche. I will in any case describe a few incidents showing the associative ingenuity of his psychic manifestations....
One morning, several days after my arrival in New Bukhara, I found on my ... table a large Jerusalem artichoke. I remember thinking at the time: “Ah, that minx of a landlady! In spite of her weight, she is so perceptive that she has immediately detected my weakness for Jerusalem artichokes,” and I ate it with great pleasure.
I was quite convinced it was the landlady who had brought me this artichoke for the simple reason that so far no one besides her had entered my room. So, when I met her the same day in the corridor, I confidently thanked her and even teased her about the artichoke, but to my great surprise she made it clear to me that she knew nothing whatever about it.
The next morning, I again saw a Jerusalem artichoke in the same place and, although I ate this one with no less pleasure, I began to think seriously about its mysterious appearance in my room.
What was my astonishment when on the third day the same thing was repeated! This time I firmly resolved to investigate and find out without fail who was playing such puzzling but pleasant tricks on me; but for several days I could not discover anything, although punctually every morning I found a Jerusalem artichoke in the same place.
One morning, in order to clear up this matter, which mystified me more and more each day, I hid behind a barrel of fermenting kvass in the corridor. After a short time, I saw Philos cautiously stealing past the barrel, carrying in his mouth a large Jerusalem artichoke. He went into my room and placed it just where I usually found them. From then on, I began to keep a close watch on Philos.
The next morning when I was about to leave the house, I patted Philos on the left side of his head, which meant between us that I was going far away and was not taking him with me; but going out into the street, I walked only a short distance and then returned to the shop opposite our house and began watching my door.
Very soon out came Philos and glancing round he set off in the direction of the market; surreptitiously, I followed. At the market, near the municipal scales, were a great many provision shops and a crowd of people. I saw Philos quietly walking through the crowd and did not let him out of my sight.
Passing in front of a shop, he looked round and, when he was sure that nobody was watching him, he quickly snatched a Jerusalem artichoke from a sack standing there and set off at a run, and when I returned home, I found a Jerusalem artichoke in the usual place. □