A few months before his death, G.I. Gurdjieff drove with a group of students from Paris to a recently opened series of interconnected caves in Lascaux in southwestern France. His student J.G. Bennett told him about extraordinary Paleolithic paintings that had been discovered by accident in 1940, by four teenagers and a dog. In spite of being in much pain, Gurdjieff was determined to see them. As the great teacher stood in looking up at the great stag with many antlers and the other extraordinary figures of bisons, horses, cows, and at least one Sphinx or unicorn-like imaginary figure–figures layered on top of one another as if by succeeding generations– he is reported by Bennett to have looked as if he completely belonged there.
Curious, that impression of belonging–not just of being present and having presence which Gurdjieff reportedly always had everywhere, but belonging? Gurdjieff reportedly said that the depiction of an imaginary looking creature was the emblem of a brotherhood that appeared seven or eight thousand years ago, and that the stag with many antlers was a way of depicting attainments in consciousness and being. Gurdjieff strongly disagreed with Bennett’s claim that the art was possibly 20,000 to 18,000 years old (a Metropolitan Museum essay dates them at possibly 15,000 B.C.E.). Gurdjieff believed the paintings were made by humans who had inherited an ancient knowledge about our inner human possibilities that had existed long before their own “prehistoric” time–that the artists were the survivors or inheritors of an advanced civilization that had been lost. That impression that Gurdjieff seemed to belong in the caves–it was a profound recognition. He had dedicated his life to the search for the aim and significance of life on earth and human life in particular–beyond mere survival. After much search, he believed he picked up the thread of ancient knowledge that he formulated and reformulated for contemporary beings. In the stone chambers of Lascaux, he found evidence of the lineage of that knowledge, evidence that there were fellow humans who had tried to live as he had tried to live, who bore witness to the vibrancy and sacredness in life.
I have always taken heart from our ancestors capacity to survive. Years ago, as I’ve written in this blog, I sent a sample of my matrilineal DNA to the National Geographic “Genographic Project.” I don’t think I’ll ever get over the amazement that a small scrape of cells from inside my cheek could produce a genetic map that stretched around the world and ultimately back to a single woman who lived about 150,000 years ago, our common genetic mother, in East Africa. At moments when I have had to face fear and difficulty, when I had to go “off road” into uncharted territory, I would think of my mother and my Danish grandmother and women stretching back in time who have had to brave loss and danger, who have had to flee earthquakes and deluges and head off into the unknown. Survival itself often seems miraculous to me. I have often taken comfort in the thought that being a good human being has always meant the same thing in all times and places, and that creativity and spirituality have been in evidence since the caves at Lascaux (that last bit I picked up that thought from a book by Karen Armstrong).
After encountering the writing of Madame de Salzmann, which fulfills and advances Gurdjieff’s own work, it dawns on me as if for the first time that there has always been more to life than survival–at least for some of the “family.” I was never one of those who got a charge out of thinking about secret brotherhoods or lost Atlantis or any of that. As I write this, however, I feel a quiet…not certainty but a definite sense of possibility. Having read the excerpts from Madame de Salzmann’s upcoming book, it strikes me that it just might really be the case that something extraordinary is possible for humans, that a “way” has always existed and that it is waiting for us.
8 thoughts on “Lascaux and Lost Knowledge”
Tracy says: “that a “way” has always existed and that it is waiting for us.”
” it dawns on me as if for the first time that there has always been more to life than survival–at least for some of the “family.””
“he found evidence of the lineage of that knowledge, evidence that there were fellow humans who had tried to live as he had tried to live, who bore witness to the vibrancy and sacredness in life.”
These words bring me to understand a little more clearly the need for a ‘family’ that works to move in the same direction, to see our possibilities together to manifest in ways more worthy of Man; and to see just as clearly our awful manifestations.
It is not easy. The unbecoming manifestations stir so many thoughts and emotions in me and what then? Where do I find my way. I sit in the midst of anger that has persisted for twelve hours. In quiet I begin to see that the anger is a force which in Quiet finds a new path, a new direction. I have been touched by an influence from a higher source. On my own I cannot bear the manifestations of man. In desperation I am just sitting and perhaps because of my need, my real need, help comes. I do not expect this to change my life forever or that how man is will no longer affect me but a new energy, new understanding has come into me and as it is an energy from a higher source, a higher vibration and a less dense matter its life and force is longer.
In the midst of a world of billions of humans who know nothing of a way of life that seems to have been almost totally lost how does one find one’s way? No preaching of any system will help me nor blind attempts to follow ‘the way’. But there is something which leads me, calls me to Another Attention in the midst of chaos and darkness. It is perhaps a tone.
In Exchanges Within Lord Pentland said: Do you expect to collect a group of friends around the answer to a question? Have you ever tried to get some people to agree to a formulation? Don’t think you can get all these people in yourself to follow a thought. You never can get then to integrate. But around a question, a search, yes, they will follow. When they hear the right note, they will follow. That is what it means to control, to be master.
i feels true, what you share. also challenging.
This source, this current is the ancient sacred knowledge about which all great traditions speak. It is ancient because it existed even before the birth of Man.
Here’s a link to an article that gives a further description of Mr. Gurdjieff’s trip to Lascaux. It gathers together information from several books by J.G. Bennett and his wife Elizabeth. It also ties in what Gurdjieff wrote about Atlantis in All and Everything.
thank you. i read this. interesting.
This is purely subjective but I don’t think Gurdjieff’s statement to Bennett about going separate ways had anything to do with the exchange in the caves. Perhaps Gurdjieff was saying goodbye to him in this life.
As to Atlantis I’ve wondered for a long time about it’s location and remember vaguely, but am unable to find the source, that Gurdjieff placed Atlantis off south eastern coast of North America; somwhere in the vicinity of the Bahamas. I believe that Edgar Cayce also places Atlantis at that location.
Of more significance, perhaps, is that a great civilization such as Atlantis fell apparently by way of natural cataclysms.
Humanity, seems to me, to be about to fall and it is in large part due to our own ‘way of going’.
The article referred to above is very touching. When I read it, and again this is probably subjective, but I had the feeling that Gurdjieff was feeling the loss/companionship of other Humans with real Knowledge and was perhaps feeling, in the midst of sleeping humanity, alone.
hmmmmmmmmm. i sometimes think about the loneliness he must have felt.
It is remarkable that even while pursuing the hunt and being pursued as the hunted, early man had the urge to create, to paint, to wonder. And it is that quality that separates man from other species – this wonder at existence, this reflective quality.
As Unamuno, the great Spanish author, often reflected: consciousness is a blessing and a curse. It allows us to ponder something beyond ourselves but also reminds us of our mortality and the finite nature of this particular life.
But to think that while man was in his most primitive incarnation, with minimal tools and enormous threats to his survival, that he had the need to create art, to communicate with spiritual forces, to pause and reflect and record his journey.
While most of man’s time on earth has been spent as a hunter, gatherer, nomad, and while that is deeply imbedded in our genes, there is also this need to reflect, record, and leave some sort of message in the bottle to future generations.
It is all mystery to me but the thrill is in trying to communicate with that mystery.