The Gurdjieff Journal—Fourth Way Perspectives

Beloved Icarus


All lives have their peaks of experience. Mine was a high spot in more senses than one. It took place 14,000 feet above sea level, near the crater of Popocatepetl, the second highest mountain in central America, as the sun was rising.

Rodney Collin and I had climbed throughout the half darkness of the Mexican night, plodding up through lava dust, gasping in the rarefied atmosphere. We entered the Cortes Pass, where Hernando Cortes and the Conquistadores looked down in 1519 on the golden domes and pinnacles rising among the waterways of Monctezuma's city of Tenochitlan. Above, a blue spiral of smoke could be seen coming from the quiescent but still living volcano. The snow was pink tinged in the morning light.

We turned and looked across range upon range of uninhabited mountain landscape, strange as some other, empty world. And then from behind the great peak of Orizaba there rose the enormous bronze disc of the sun, pulsating, quivering, vibrating with life. Rodney had always maintained that to mankind, here on earth, the sun is to all intents and purposes, God. In that moment it certainly seemed to be so.

Rodney was my husband's elder brother. He was to me a beloved friend, and in some senses my guide and mentor. So he still remains, though he died in 1956. He is best remembered in astrological circles for his major book, The Theory of Celestial Influence.

His books cover great fields of knowledge, and vast ideas on the nature of the universe, man's place within it, and the possibilities of man's evolution. Although they are scientific, precise and mathematically detailed, Rodney was not a scientist, an astrologer or an astronomer. He was a journalist, with a first rate intellect. His books were written, at very great speed and under tremendous pressure, during three crowded years.

A Vast Sweep of Colour

They are like impressionist paintings—a vast sweep of colour and movement and life. They inspire and stimulate, and are frequently mentioned where people of astrological, philosophical, or occult interests gather together. Much of the basic material for them was gleaned when Rodney worked on the small research staff of the Daily Express Encyclopedia (1934) and later this became rubble for the roadway he was to tread: his roadway to the stars.

Rodney Collin-Smith was the elder son of Frederick Collin-Smith, a happy extrovert wine importer, who retired to Brighton at the age of 50, and married Kathleen Logan, who was young enough to be his daughter. Rodney was born on 26 April 1909, and my husband Derry, four years later. Unfortunately the birth times are not known, although my mother-in-law was interested in astrology, and was a member of the Brighton Theosophical Lodge. Her papers dispersed when she died during the war.

I offer a chart with a Speculative Ascendant—early Scorpio—for which I do not make any adamant claims.

Rodney was a tall, thin, blue-eyed, dark-haired boy. He was active and extremely creative. We have home paintings, drawings and illustrated journals dating from his childhood. He used to wander round the antique bookshops and junk shops in the lanes of Brighton, sometimes with his fair, curly-headed little brother.

When he left school he visited Spain and came back with notes for Palms and Patios which was published when he was nineteen. Encouraged, he continued to write while taking his degree at the London School of Economics, and then became a freelance writer for the Evening Standard and the Sunday Referee.

A Time of Desolation

He was well liked for his warm smile, his sense of humour and his readiness to listen to others. But he always tended to be something of a loner, mooching off by himself. He became increasingly troubled by a sense of purposelessness.

Years later, sitting with me on top of the great Pyramid at Teotihuacan under the strong Mexican sun, he told me that the inner question 'Who am I?' had troubled him continually in his youth. He remembered having sat on a case of books, in a flat he had just moved into, while waves of desolation came over him.

He had always believed in omens and portents, and the word Oberammergau having caught his eye, he took it as an indication that he should attend the Passion Play. He had a feeling for Christian mysticism. In Oberammergau he met Janet Buckley, daughter of Wilfred Buckley who bequeathed to the nation the Buckley collection of glass, housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Janet was ten years older than Rodney, and interested in Eastern Religion and philosophy. She opened out new lines of thought and ideas. They fell in love, and were married in 1930, soon after his twenty-second birthday. (His Sun progressed then sextile the radical Moon perhaps indicated the timing.) From then till the end of his life they were rarely parted.

Esoteric School

Until this time, Rodney had only come across orthodox books and orthodox Western thought. He knew nothing of esoteric schools or hidden teachings. In 1936, through a contact of Janet's, he attended a lecture by the Russian philosopher, P.D. Ouspensky. He had an immediate sense of the importance of this man. Later, he and Janet bought a house at Virginia Water, to be close to Lyne Place, where Ouspensky then lived with his immediate followers. Rodney worked in Fleet Street by day, and laboured in the gardens at Lyne Place in the evenings, while Janet worked in the kitchens there. (His Moon progressed was conjunct Moon radix that year, and Mercury progressed was conjunct Pluto in Gemini when he moved to Lyne.)

Almost all that Rodney did later was due to Ouspensky's influence, and the teaching that Gurdjieff called The Fourth Way. It is a system of self-development with roots in Sufi tradition, and probably very ancient. It is said to be a way for people who have commitments in life, as distinct from a way for yogis, monks, or fakirs who have renounced the world in their efforts to evolve.

Man is described as a self-creating being, in a self-perpetuating universe, and the teaching stresses that Man's possibilities are largely unrealised. His mind is like a house wired for electricity, but not yet connected to the mains. Great efforts are needed to awaken the higher centres of the mind, and exercises and disciplines are required to bring up the level of consciousness to the point where the 'house will become illuminated.' Two lines of work are required of the aspirant, the one leading to increased knowledge, the other directed to raising the level of a man's being—what he is, in himself.

Rodney had a leaning towards effort, struggle, and self-discipline. He was by nature a schoolman and he took to The Fourth Way teaching with enthusiasm. It was a required part of the system that a man should drive himself, periodically, sufficiently hard to get his 'second wind', his third and fourth wind, and—having overstepped the mark of normal fatigue—reach a point which Gurdjieff described as 'tapping the great accumulators' of energy of a much finer and more powerful level than the 'small accumulators' used in ordinary occupations.

In these efforts, largely unobserved by the members of the household of which he was as yet a young and immature outsider, Rodney regularly worked himself to a state of extreme exhaustion. However he was happy and full of a sense of purpose. He wrote later:

'Today the word evolution...had been distorted into a kind of manufacturer's guarantee that every individual octopus shall one day develop into a Buddha, and without any effort or intention on their part, all men shall inevitably become wise. This is as fantastic as to believe that by letting his canoe drift down some river, a traveller will inevitably be carried to the top of the highest mountain. Relying on the current alone, there is only one direction a man can go—downwards. To remount the stream needs a different understanding, a different energy, and a different effort.'

—Joyce Collin-Smith


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