Saturday, October 1, 2011


The first time I saw the image of Leary's head mentioned in the Talking Heads post I had the intuitive flash that he was trying to create a legominism, a lasting impression that communicates a great deal of extremely useful information for one brief but eternal moment.

A legominism is any kind of artifact that fufills such a purpose. The most well known legominism is the cruciform cross aka "the man on the cross." A quick, honest survey of the Christian religion clearly shows that this communication device can get misapplied and distorted into an authoritarian instrument of ideological restriction. It's not a given that the information in a legominism will get unlocked and decoded. Rosicrucians have been working with this same image, minus the dogmatic Christian associations, for a few hundred years at least.

Initiates in ancient times wanted some way to preserve and transmit their research notes, techniques and other relevant data that would be immune to barbaric destruction. They did pass on their information via books, and certain books definitely count as legominisms, but books have a tendency to periodically get destroyed enmasse. A lot of knowledge gets lost in that form. One of the blogs I follow, Michael Johnson's Overweening Generalist recently had a post about this here. The part I had in mind starts about 2/3rds of the way down with a mention of a book, A Universal History of the Destruction of Books by Fernando Baez, and continues into the comments section.

I first heard about legominisms from Gurdjieff's epic magnum opus Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson:

"My dear and beloved Grandfather, tell me, please, what does the word Legominism mean?" Hassein asked. "This word Legominism", replied Beelzebub, "is given to one of the means existing there of transmitting from generation to generation information about certain events of long-past ages, through just those three-brained beings who are thought worthy to be and who are called initiates.

This comes from chapter 25. Later, in chapter 30 he talks about making a legominism.

"'In any case, for the interpretation itself, or, as may be said, for the "key" to those inexactitudes in that great Law, we shall further make in our productions something like a Legominism, and we shall secure its transmission from generation to generation through initiates of a special kind, whom we shall call initiates of art.

Robert Anton Wilson and myself have expressed the opinion that Gurdjieff and Crowley presented the same system in two completely different ways. A qabalist would see evidence to support this in the last quote.

I found further elaboration on this method of transmission in Visions in the Stone by E.J. Gold in chapter 17, The Ancient Science of Legominism:

Several esoteric societies through the ages have claimed to have discovered the psychometric secrets of the artifact - "Soorptkalknian Thought-Tapes" intentionally recorded in the mineral-kingdom-bodies of various ancient artifacts. ..

Soorptkalknian Thought-Tapes had for many years been attributed to contemporary intitiates in the Himalayas as the "telepathic-source-of-data" invountarily perpetuating the myth that artifact transmission of data is not ancient.

On the other hand, one cannot talk back to these recordings, nor ask questions. The data on how to implant these thought-tapes is embedded in some of the recordings.

The technique of reading these artifacts is called psychometry. Reading the images of tarot cards is a form of psychometry; the tarot itself counts as a legominism. Unlocking knowledge from artifacts is something anyone can attempt and eventually develop a skill at. It doesn't require advanced psychic abilities to begin. I liken it to skrying in the spirit vision after an Enochian invocation.

Various combinations of physical posture, mood, psychological attitude etc, can serve as keys for opening artifacts. This is explained, with examples given in Visions in the Stone. From chapter 16, Artifact Psychometrizing:

The man of will is able to voluntarily arouse emotions for the opening of artifacts. Every important esoteric artifact has its own obscure, humorous, or absurd key, some quite ingenious in their originality.

In his "autobiographical" account Meetings with Remarkable Men, Gurdjieff claims to have received much esoteric wisdom from observing the sacred dances and sacred music at the Sarmoung monastery. After Gurdjieff died, J.G. Bennett went in search of this alleged Sufi Brotherhood based on information from Meetings... and was unable to locate it. Current wisdom holds that the Sarmoung Brotherhood was allegorical rather than literal.

From here:

Mark Sedgwick, the Coordinator, Unit for Arab and Islamic Studies at Aarhus University writes:

Although few commentators in Gurdjief would put it so bluntly, it seems clear to me that the Sarmoung are entirely imaginary. No Sufi tariqa of such a name is known, and in fact "Sarmoung" is a typically Gurdjieffian fantastical name. It is immediately obvious to anyone who knows anything about regular Sufism that there is nothing remotely Sufi about the Sarmoung Order described by Gurdjieff.

We could surmise that the name 'sarmoung brotherhood' was not any formal institution but instead a title adopted by Gurdjief as a metaphor for great traditions handed down from the past that he had discovered in his travels, thus providing greater legitimacy and a historical anchor for his teachings.

His attempts to establish a link between the Brotherhood, ancient Sumer, and even "pre-sand Egypt", was an intriguing attempt at acquiring esoteric knowledge that had been passed down from antiquity

No one knows the source of Gurdjieff's teachings. It seems possible that he may have received his data from legominisms of various kinds particularly sacred music of which he appeared a lifelong student.

Perhaps he was more truthful or literal with this statement:

In Meetings with Remarkable Men, Arkana 1985, p. 90 Gurdjieff writes: "What struck us most was the word Sarmoung, which we had come across several times in the book called Merkhavat. This word is the name of a famous esoteric school which, according to tradition, was founded in Babylon as far back as 2500 b.c., and which was known to have existed somewhere in Mesopotamia up to the sixth or seventh century a.d.; but about its further existence one could not obtain anywhere the least information.

The author of this site, Reijo Oksanen, then comments:

Merkhavat can most likely only refer to Merkavah, which is part of Jewish mysticism, thought to have existed from 100 B.C. until 1100. It is related to Gnosticism from those times and the Kabbalah, which is of medieval origin from Provence and Spain. The literature describing Merkavah is called Hekhalot, which means "heavenly hall" and this literature describes the seven chambers, their guardian angels, the Merkavah (chariot - the chariot is the one in Ezekiel's vision in chapter one of the book of Ezekiel) itself and the auditory and visual hallucinations induced by the Ma'aseh Merkavah.

It appears that Jewish mysticism played a prominent role in both Gurdjieff's and Crowley's systems.

It was suggested to me once by Jerry Berman, a curator of a museum of ancient artifacts, and an authority on ancient Egypt, that people who saturate themselves with knowledge and experience of a particular kind could be considered "artifacts" to be unlocked. I have found this approach quite useful on my rare encounters with extraordinary people. For an example, I'll repeat a story I told sometime back in this current context.

In 1990 or so I was fortunate to be in a group invited to have dinner with the famous expatriate writer Paul Bowles in Tangier, Morocco. I was there preparing to record the Master Musicians of Jajouka. I had researched Bowles' life before coming over. Besides earning a livelihood as a writer of such works as The Sheltering Sky, he had worked as an accomplished music composer writing music for Orson Welles' Mercury Theater group and Tennesee Williams among others. Bowles had established his bardo credentials translating Jean Paul Sartes' existential play No Exit into English. For a period in the 1940's, he had even worked as a field recording audio engineer traveling around Morocco and documenting the highly diverse local music. These recordings still exist in the Library of Congress. It was his field recording work that interested me the most. I was there to do the same thing.

Most of the time people in our group elicited from Bowles famous stories and adventures he had taken part in, stories well documented, information I already knew from research beforehand. All I got out of that was his confirmation of the written accounts. I hoped to unlock this "artifact" and learn something new. I felt this to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. When the chance came, I asked Bowles what he did, if anything, to inspire creativity in the musicians he records. His answer was very simple but is still something I follow to this day.
"Make them comfortable," he said. He then told a story of recording some female singers in a fundamentalist part of the country where alcohol was strictly taboo. They had requested some whiskey to help them sing. He risked his life procuring some for them but said the end result made it worthwhile.

Next up, I'll recount my adventures attempting to psychometrize the Stele of Revealing in Cairo.

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