An Excerpt from “Undiscovered Country” by Kathryn Hulme

He was sitting on his divan and nodded as we filed past him and found places around the Christmas tree. He seemed rested.… He asked Canary [in later years, Gurdjieff customarily gave special names to his pupils] to put out all the lights and to plug in the contact that lit the tree. We sat in silence for several minutes. Then Gurdjieff said: “This I like. Such tree makes you quiet, peaceful inside. It is like sitting before an open fire. Coziness.”

The mirror over the mantel reflected the tree’s colored lights. Wendy whispered, “I see two trees …” and started our master talking about reflected light, a chapter out of his unknown past.

“It would be better if it was candlelight,” he said. “Candlelight blends better; electricity does not blend. But the most beautiful light I know, is the light I saw many times in Persia. They make a clay cup, fill it with mutton fat, put twist of cotton in, and this they burn for holiday, fete, wedding. This light burns longer than any other kind of light—even for two days one such small cup will burn. And such light—the most beautiful for blending. For Mohammedan fete, once I saw a whole house lit by such lights … such brightness you cannot imagine, it was like day. You have seen Bengal lights? This I speak about was even more bright. For man, it is the best light for reading …” A note of nostalgia for the Near East came into his voice. “In Persia, they even arrange rooms for such light. Once I saw one I can never forget. They hang mirrors everywhere, even floors and ceilings have mirrors—then around, in special places to make decoration, they put such clay cups with mutton fat, and when you see—it makes the head spin. Wherever you look, you see lights, endless, thousands. You cannot imagine how it was. Only, one must see—and when you see you would never imagine that such a beautiful sight comes from such small idiot thing as this clay cup of mutton fat.…”

“One other thing about such lights,” he went on, “is most original. When they make them with frozen fat, this they put together in layers, each layer with a special perfume, with separations between layers so that when they burn—first you smell, then the room fills with one perfume; after half an hour with another, and then another—all planned exact! Such knowledge they had before … such candles they made consciously and everybody had them. Such was life then! Now … they make them automatically …”

A sadness settled over our spirit after he had spoken, as so often happened when he made a glowing picture of how man once was—simple, unspoiled, aware of his soul and its needs.

—Kathryn Hulme, Undiscovered Country: A Spiritual Adventure, (Boston: Little Brown, 1966), pp. 131–33.