Cambridge Centre for the study of Western Esotericism

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Monkey Junk”— Zora Neale Hurston’s Experiment in Oragean Modernism

Sophia Wellbeloved and Jon Woodson

Monkey Junk”— Zora Neale Hurston’s Experiment in Oragean Modernism   



A.R. Orage’s literary celebrity attracted a large following among the New York intellectuals of the 1920s including the Harlem Renaissance. He gave creative writing workshops and lectured on Gurdjieff’s esotericism, gradually forming his own version—Oragean Modernism. According to Gurdjieff, objective art is the only art that has value, and Zora Neale Hurston and other Harlem writers were engaged in the quest for objective art. Orage’s writing groups performed the contradictory functions of disseminating Gurdjieff’s ideas into society with the hope of raising the number of people belonging to the circle of conscious humanity, while at the same time preserving the teachings by placing them in a coded form in widely distributed popular texts. Hurston’s story, F was an attempt both to spread the Gurdjieffian teaching through objective art and to make sure that esoteric ideas would survive the collapse of the present form of civilization. In this story Hurston’s concerns are complex, being synthesized from anthropological research, the Bible, Orage’s teachings, and the literary model of Gurdjieff’s Tales.


1. Oragean Modernism

      Alfred Richard Orage, (1873 – 1934) began his professional life as a charismatic intellectual school teacher who lectured and wrote variously on Plato, Nietzsche, Theosophy, and psychoanalysis. His political interests included Fabian Socialism and monetary reform. He co-founded the Leeds Art Club, which became a center for modernist culture in pre-World War I England (Webb 200). Orage’s interests and concerns included personal and political well-being, eventually extending to a concern for cosmological and planetary well-being that would profoundly influence his pupils in New York. In 1916 he moved to London, where he edited the influential literary weekly The New Age, publishing G. K. Chesterton, H. G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Katherine Mansfield, and others including Ezra Pound with whom he wrote several issues of The New Age. During that phase of his life, he was considered by T. S. Eliot “the finest critical intelligence of our age” (Taylor 16).  However, in October 1922, having heard the Greek-Armenian guru George Ivanovich Gurdjieff give a talk in London, Orage left The New Age and England to work with Gurdjieff at his “Institute For the Harmonious Development of Man” in France.

    Gurdjieff (1886?-1949) offered a teaching that was a blend of Theosophy, a variety of predominantly Western esoteric sources, and hypnotism and other therapeutic practices. He used a methodology composed of practical work on the self and sacred dancing, along with alchemical, psychological, and cosmological theory, to “wake up” and develop human beings whom he defined as sleeping, hypnotized machines with no central “I” or soul. Orage remained a practitioner and assiduous disseminator of Gurdjieff’s teaching, known as the Work (and in America also as the Method), for the next ten years.

    When Orage arrived in New York in December 1923, fourteen months after leaving England for the Institute, he set about raising funds and arousing interest in the teaching. Gurdjieff himself arrived a month later in January 1924 for a highly publicized visit, during which he gave talks and demonstrations of his sacred dances in New York, Boston and Chicago. Orage’s literary celebrity attracted a large following among the New York intellectuals of the 1920s. He gave creative writing workshops, and lectured on Gurdjieff’s teaching, gradually emphasizing and moderating elements of the teaching to form his own version of it that differed from the Work as taught by Gurdjieff in Europe.  Orage’s modernism was imbued by Gurdjieff’s esotericism, and both elements were embraced by his pupils.


2. Esotericism — the Tales and Objective Works of Art

    Beginning in 1925, Orage became the principal editor of the first volume of Gurdjieff’s three volume work known as Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson (Tales) [1], and his continuing process of editing and interpreting the chapters as they arrived from France over the next four years was shared with his American pupils (Driscoll 3) and also with other pupils in France. The book became central to Orage’s teaching, especially of his Gurdjieff study groups, such as the Harlem group, led by Orage with the assistance of  poet and novelist Jean Toomer and psychologist and mystery-writer C. Daly King.

    The epic narrative of the Tales takes place during a voyage on a spaceship. Beelzebub tells his grandson of his own exile to our solar system, the creation of Earth, the multiple Gnostic Falls, the failures of men and their worsening state, the only remedy for which is remembrance of death.

Gurdjieff meant his reader or listener, the text was often read aloud, to be confused by the complex sentence structure of the Tales,by its many anomalies, contradictions, inconsistencies, and by the acknowledged deceptions within the narrative (See Wellbeloved 2002, 77-83). Gurdjieff warned his reader that he was unique in respect to “muddling and befuddling, the notions and convictions of everyone he comes into contact with” (Tales 26). Published posthumously in 1949, the book has 1238 pages, all of which he had intentionally made difficult to understand.  The text includes his reading instructions, but these are in themselves contradictory and so are impossible to follow. Gurdjieff said he had “buried” a secret that readers should search for, and gives an apparent clue as to how the secret was buried. He describes how a questioning attention can be drawn to decode a secret message by what he terms a “lawful inexactitude.” The secret is pointed to by placing something “out of place” or in the wrong scale, for example an otherwise perfectly proportioned sculpture might have hands that are far too big (Tales 461). The law in question in “lawful inexactitude” is the Law of Seven, a series of descending vibrations that represents the inevitably destructive nature of time (Webb 503; 40; 141-42). This has led his many readers to search through multiple readings for the one “lawful inexactitude” that might reveal Gurdjieff’s secret. Orage himself was convinced there was a specific secret that Gurdjieff was withholding from him, and the members of his groups also engaged in this search.

    The Harlem writers, along with the other pupils, believed the Tales to be an objective work of art.  According to Gurdjieff, objective art is the only form of art that has value. Its meaning cannot be mistaken, whereas subjective art made by “mechanical man” can be misunderstood. However, to understand objective art a person must have “at least flashes of objective consciousness” (Ouspensky  298; also see Wellbeloved 11). So, searching alone is not the way to find objective meaning in an objective work of art; this can only be found by raising the level of consciousness, becoming “an initiate of art.”  

    While the demand to make or write an objective work of art may have inhibited readers and writers immediately within Gurdjieff’s influence, this was clearly not the case with Orage’s group of writers who were intent on writing their own objective works of art (Woodson 9-10). They also related his teaching to Objective Drama as expounded by Orage together with Gurdjieff’s teaching on the necessity to play roles (Webb 537-41). Orage emphasized the central place of esotericists in the world especially in relation to evolution. The evolution or self-perfecting of individuals was said to be necessary also for the safe evolution of the planet. If there were not a sufficient number of evolved people within a certain time frame, the planet could be destroyed. Ideas of specially evolved members of a “conscious circle of humanity” were in accord with contemporary notions that extended Darwinian evolution to describe a Nietzschean evolution of man into a super-race. Gurdjieff’s teaching echoed that of Blavatsky’s specially evolved “Masters.” Orage’s writing groups performed the contradictory functions of disseminating Gurdjieff’s ideas into society with the hope of raising the number of people belonging to the circle of conscious humanity, while at the same time preserving the teachings by placing them in a coded form in widely distributed popular texts.   

    Thus Zora Neale Hurston’s short story, “Monkey Junk: A Satire on Modern Divorce,” was one of those attempts both to spread the Gurdjieffian teaching and to make sure that the ideas would survive the collapse of the present form of civilization. In order to serve in this capacity, the story sets out to entertain the reader, while also containing a highly concentrated hidden content. “Monkey Junk” entertains by performing a satirical treatment of the flapper phenomenon under the guise of being a satire on marriage, the flapper and marriage themes being treated through a comic parody of the Bible. The story exhibits little concern with marriage or divorce, and the depiction of the wife through French garters (verse 29) and silk stockings (verse 45) establishes that the wife was a flapper; the wife’s casual treatment of sex (verses 13, 14, 33, 39) also establishes her identity as a flapper. Dorothy Parker’s satirical depiction of the flapper in her poem “The Flapper” (published in Lifein 1922) parallels the wife’s treatment of the husband in “Monkey Junk”: the poem’s concluding couplet states “Her golden rule is plain enough / Just get them young and treat them rough” (Parker 113-14). Parker’s use of the Bible barely registers, though her reference to the golden rule relates to a specific verse, Matthew 7:12,

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (KJV). Hurston’s story is written in a parody of Biblical verses, and she refers to Matthew 7:12 directly in the first verse as “he knew all the law and the prophets” and in verse 14 with the mockery of “he that is so wise and knoweth all the law and the profits.” The passage occurs a third time in verse 25 of Hurston’s story:

25.“Thou art very dumb for nowthat I, thy husband, knoweth that thou art a flirt, making glad the heart of back-biters, I shall support thee no more—for verily know I ALL the law and the profits thereof.” (Emphasis added)

Not only must the reader conclude that Hurston has intentionally emphasized Matthew 7:12, but that when the word “now” appears instead of “know” that this also is intentional. Hurston has engaged the phonetic level of language, and prophet/profitand know/nowactively point to this altered interpretive convention.

While directly humorous treatments of the Bible were rare in the 1920s, we may see Hurston’s treatment of religion as being in step with the writings of Sinclair Lewis and H.L. Menken: Menken’s “nihilistic criticism of American culture—literature, politics and religionmade him among the most hated and admired men in America” (emphasis added; Cheatham “Provincial America in the 1920s”). Hurston’s blasphemy is moderated, because she has cast the language of the Bible into the black sociolect of the 1920s. Blind Willie McTell’s ragtime lyric “A Married Man’s a Fool” incorporates a similar parody of the Bible, though unlike the text of “Monkey Junk” it lacks a frame [2]. Hurston’s derisory treatment of the Bible is further made complex by the fact that she placed her story in a black newspaper, The Pittsburgh Courier,tacitly the national news organ for the black Americans of that era. The implication of the folk-parody approach is that the popular understanding and practice of the Christian religion is itself a parody of a more authentic version of the religion.

Hurston includes direct and indirect references to the Bible, which she knew would have been recognized by her readers. At the same time her exploitation of the Bible’s familiarity worked against the expectations of her readers, since Hurston’s use of these references is consistently ironic. Among others we find:

Then did he make a joyful noise saying, “Behold, I have chosen a wife, yea verily a maiden Ihave exalted above all others, for see I have wed her.” (“Monkey Junk” verse 5; emphases added)

A joyful noise” is made by the Psalmist in Psalms 95:1 and 98:4; while the maiden with the attribute of “exalted above all others” is referred to within Catholicism as Mary Mother of God.

And he gave praises loudly unto the Lord saying, “I thank thee that I am not as other men.”

refers to Luke 18:11:

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as

other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

In Matthew 13:45-46 the Kingdom of heaven is like a pearl of great price, for which a rich merchant sells all he has; in Hurston’s verse 13 the pearl refers to a woman who sells herself.   

    Then did his pearl of great price form the acquaintance of many men and they prospered her.

    It is difficult to assess the practical application of the Harlem group to the whole of Gurdjieff’s teaching, but in relation to their own writings all of them employed “inexactitudes,” in order to draw attention to Gurdjieff’s book and his teaching. Whereas Gurdjieff gives the visual example of a dis-proportioned sculpture in the Tales (Gurdjieff 1950 477), the participating writers of the Harlem group, Zora Neale Hurston, George Schuyler, Nella Larsen, Gwendolyn Bennett, Eric Walrond, Richard Bruce Nugent, Rudolph Fisher, Wallace Thurman, and Melvin B. Tolson began to look for ways to include unexpected insertions, absurdities, or apparent errors that might point to concealed texts within their texts that would lead readers to Gurdjieff’s book and to his teaching. Thus the Harlem group, believing that they had little time to save the world from destruction, operated at a high level of anxiety. The eschatological fixations of the Oragean Modernists drove them to create a considerable body of published writing in a very short time [3].


3. Gurdjieff and Literature


    Gurdjieff spent much time writing in Parisian cafés and so was not isolated from the cultural milieu of 1920s and 1930s Paris, a center for European esotericists and American writers. The conflation of these two groups can be seen in modernist interest in the occult, esotericism, and myth. Gurdjieff’s institute attracted many literary figures, and Gurdjieff himself collected an influential group of writers willing to translate and to edit his writings. Although Gurdjieff insists that the Talesis not a literary work, he was aware of modernist literary interest in myth, esotericism, and the desire for immaterial values that pervaded the inter-war years.

    Prominent literary pupils of Gurdjieff are well known in the Work, via the lists of participants in books by Louise Welch, James Webb, and Paul Beekman Taylor. For example, in the 1910s and 1920s, The Little Review—published in Greenwich Village from 1917 to 1929—was the most influential literary magazine in the world. It was the first to publish a chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, for which the editors, Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson were tried for obscenity. The editors became followers of Gurdjieff in 1924 after meeting him in New York and spending the summer at his Institute in France (Webb 276-285). Despite the centrality of Oragean Modernism to the creation and dissemination of modernist culture, the Gurdjieffian project is maligned and castigated when it is noticed, as in this discussion by Kristin M. Mabel Bloomberg:

Another notorious guru was the Russian mystic and dancemaster George Ivanovitch

Gurdjieff who turned from the idealistic tenets of Theosophy to a philosophy

of “barbarism and primitivism” (170) that highlighted the ideology of man as

the noble savage and encouraged its students to become conscious of their

true selves and to cease being human machines. For Gurdjieff, this practice

could not be a pleasant one, and the process was “enhanced” with an emphasis

on stress, pain, tension, and conflict. Gurdjieff ’s philosophy is one that is

linked explicitly by Peter Washington in Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon to the

Left Bank lesbian expatriate circle that included Jane Heap, Margaret Anderson,

Djuna Barnes, and Janet Flanner (288). Gurdjieff ’s ideals also surface in

Harlem, with Thadious Davis linking a study group led by Gurdjieff disciple

Jean Toomer to writers including Nella Larsen. (24-5)

4. Hurston’s Esoteric Content

Zora Neale Hurston was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, and studies of the movement describe her as a participant in Jean Toomer’s Gurdjieff groups (see Woodson 147-70). In the 1920s Hurston was in New York studying anthropology with Franz Boas at Columbia University, and during that period she came into contact with such important white cultural figures as Carl Van Vechten, Fannie Hurst, C. Daly King, her patron Charlotte Osgood Mason, and A.R. Orage who presided over the New York Gurdjieff groups. Orage organized writing seminars that attracted many important writers, and for many members of the Harlem group of writers the Harlem Renaissance was a subset of this wider, esoteric literary movement. Orage’s influence on these groups of writers has been acknowledged by writers on esotericism but not by mainstream scholars of literature. Academic adherents of American Studies routinely frames Oragean Modernists figures as nationalists, so that the esoteric content of the works produced by these figures has not previously been realized. It is not only Hurston who has been evaluated without reference to these fundamental components. Such writers as Djuna Barnes, Dawn Powell, C. Daly King, Carl Van Vechten, and James Agee have introduced into their writings the same esoteric elements (phonetic codes, roman a clef of esotericists, intentional mistakes, and esoteric vocabulary) as Hurston used in her texts. Hurston’s participation in the Harlem Renaissance and her affiliation with Toomer, Orage, C. Daly King, and Van Vechten turned her to esoteric influences that are evident in her writings once they are read with attention to this aspect. The esoteric content within Zora Neal Hurston’s writings is consistent from “Monkey Junk” (1927) to her incomplete novel, “Herod,” (snatched from a fire after her death in 1964). It is only through the well-documented disinterest of literary scholars in occultism [4] that there are such consistent misreadings of Hurston. Hurston’s texts make it clear that their many anomalies are signs of a coded, esoteric level. Hurston’s critics have detected this esoteric level but have explained it away by portraying Hurston as an eccentric. For example, on her Mules and Menwebsite Laura Grand-Jean states that “More than anything Zora Neale Hurston was the worlds greatest liar and her own duplicity explains why for so long she was lost to us”  (Grand-Jean “Introduction”).

It is likely that Hurston absorbed the system of esoteric literary coding from her close associate Carl Van Vechten. Van Vechten, a best-selling novelist in the 1920s, is acknowledged to have been vital to the publishing of Harlem Renaissance texts, and he befriended the Harlem writers. Moreover, there is a direct literary influence from Van Vechten on Nella Larsen who stated that Van Vechten’s novel, Nigger Heaven (1926)was one of the big influences on Harlem and its artistic life (Davis 212). Moreover, Thadious Davis states that when Larsen was writing her first novel, Quicksand (1928), she ceased writing, read Nigger Heaven, and then after destroying a good half of what was completed, returned to work on her novel keeping Nigger Heaven as a stylistic model (Davis 212). This account does not specify what is meant by matters of style. Since literary scholars do not recognize that Van Vechten was himself a follower of Gurdjieff or that Nigger Heavenis an esoteric text, their assessment of its influence on Larsen (and on Hurston) is incomplete [5]. The code used by Van Vechten and the other writers in the Gurdjieff camp was the phonetic cabala, the traditional code used by the writers of alchemical texts since the fourteenth century. (Research on the use of codes in Oragean Modernism is at a preliminary stage, and more papers will follow.) At about the same time as Van Vechten began to write his novels in the cabala, Fulcanelli’s Le Mystère des Cathédrales(1926) was published making the delineation of the alchemical code available to a wide audience. But as Van Vechten moved in Parisian artistic circles, he and his American associates may have had access to early copies of the Fulcanelli [6] book or even direct access to Fulcanelli.

5. Hurston, C. Daly King, and Van Vechten

Hurston’s reverence for Carl Van Vechten has long been remarked. They met when she was working as a secretary for the writer Fannie Hurst. They liked each other instantly and shared a close friendship thereafter [7]. But this association has dismayed Hurston’s scholars and has not stimulated them to make a close exploration of the literary consequences of their friendship: Van Vechten is seldom dealt with by scholars of the Harlem Renaissance writers and only insofar as his novel, Nigger Heaven, is found by them to be inescapable. Major treatments of the Harlem Renaissance (Amritjit Singh, Theodore Francis) make no mention of Van Vechten’s other novels, though Thadious Davis’s biography of Nella Larsen establishes that Larsen read Van Vechten’s Peter Wiffle(1922) and that by 1929 he was one of her favorite authors (Davis 165). Yet, Van Vechten was a prolific best-selling novelist, and his novels were the models for some of the Harlem Renaissance writers. More to the point, some of Van Vechten’s novels concern themselves with esoteric material, and Firecrackers(1925) is a thinly veiled presentation of A.R Orage’s organizing of the New York branch of G. I. Gurdjieff’s “Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.” Beneath the roman a clef, Van Vechten’s Firecrackersis more deeply coded using the cabala cipher.

In Firecrackers, Van Vecthen’s fourth novel, a character clearly based on Muriel Draper organizes Pinchon’s Prophylactic Plan, a school of self-development based on Ouspensky, Arthur E. Waite, Gurdjieff, Jaques-Dalcroze, and Einstein (175), so that Van Vechten cannot actually be said to have removed his fictional school very far from the actualities of Orage’s school. The list in the novel presents only Jaques-Dalcroze and Einstein as red herrings—though the former was, like Gurdjieff, a teacher of therapeutic dance and there is a great deal about science in the Tales. Van Vechten’s character, Miss Pinchon, the organizer of the fictional school, was based on New York saloniste and interior decorator Muriel Draper. Draper was a close associate of both Van Vechten and Orage. In fact, Draper was responsible for the running of the New York branch of Gurdjieff’s Institute, thus allowing A. R. Orage the freedom to organize an extensive movement that maintained an influential literary component [8].

    C. Daly King is another important influence on Hurston who has not been taken into account by Hurston scholars: he studied at Columbia University during the period of Hurston’s anthropology studies at that school. King wrote the “Obelist” series of detective novels, novels that are esoteric, written in code, and contain characters based on Jean Toomer and other Gurdjieffians; the word “obelist” is a variant of obelisk, a character used in ancient manuscripts to indicate spurious passages, so that the very titles of King’s novels declare their duplicity. It is of central importance that King compiled Orage’s teachings into The Oragean Version (unpublished, 1951), a widely circulated volume which contains the essential esoteric doctrines on which Hurston based her fictions.

6. “Monkey Junk; A Satire on Modern Divorce”   

Monkey Junk” is contained in faux-Biblical verses numbered from 1 – 62, but the alert reader encounters a number of anomalies, or what we are calling “lawful inexactitudes.” The first evidence of “lawful inexactitude” is Hurston’s question-provoking use of a title apparently unrelated to her story about a rich man who, imagining that he understands women, marries a wife who only wants his money, for it is not apparent that the words monkey junkconnote anything about divorce. When the husband doesn’t give his wife enough money, she turns to other men, and he is scorned for being a cuckold. The central action of the story is a trial in which due to her sex appeal and tears she is unjustly granted alimony. Her husband threatens her with violence, but she is scornful, and he returns to Alabama to pick cotton.

The titleMonkey Junk” reflects Hurston’s dependenceon self-educated, nineteenth century  Egyptologist Gerald Massey. In Massey’s Ancient Egypt, the light of the world, on page 889 he has a footnote that reads “The Ankh-key of life.” This corresponds phonetically to “monkey” in the title of Hurston’s story, and it gives the meaning of Hurston’s strange construction. Massey explains the word Ank as meaning “the living one,” in A Book of The Beginnings(209), and he connects the title of “the god Tum in Pithom as being the Ankh, the living; he being the sun of the resurrection; written in Egyptian … as P-ankh, Punk, or Punch.” Massey goes on:

 Punch and Nuk have their correlatives in Hunch, Bunch, and Junk. Punch means the short, fat, pudgy, thick-set fellow, whence the puncheon. So in the Xhosa and Zulu Kaffir dialects a short thickset pudge of a person is called isi-Tupana from tupa, the thumb. The “hunch” of bread is a thick lump; the junkis also a short thick lump (Massey 2007, 209; emphases added).

    Massey connects the English language to the Egyptian language in a manner that is original to Massey [9], so that it is clear that Massey is Hurston’s source for these inclusions.  It is also clear that Hurston has followed Massey’s disclosures, for the story emphasizes words that Massey has interpolated from “ankh” (“Monkey” [onk]) into the English words “hunk” (verses 20, 61) and “junk” (title).Furthermore,junk” was 1920s slang for opium, the drug that induces sleep, the condition that Orage was teaching his followers precludes possession of a soul and so leads to death unless a person “wakes up.” Because it was such a powerful metaphor for sleep, Gurdjieff inserted thirty-two references to opium into the Tales (see Anon, Guide & Index, 431), some of them extended: opium as a drug, as a civil evil, a religious doctrine formed to combat the use of it, its culture, and scientific inquiry into its chemical constituents.

7. The Verses: biblical lawful inexactitudes?

The biblical verse form used in “Monkey Junk” immediately suggests a biblical content or a biblical reading of the wife’s story, but there are also indirect references to the Egyptian Book of the Dead, to Gerald Massey’s writings, and to Gurdjieff’s parody of the judgement of the dead by “Mister” God in an invented religion (Tales 217-18) in Beelzebub’s Tales. The narrative of a trial, which results in an unjust judgement, allows Hurston to explore themes of the “fallen” woman, judgement, and justice in relation to these three “scriptures.” As we shall see, this short, short story contains references to a number of trials.

Lawful inexactitudes” also occur as willful errors in grammar and especially in the numbering of the verses, for in Hurston’s story the 15thverse is omitted. Somewhat more cryptic are the “lawful inexactitudes” that require the reader to realize that neither sweat nor mud come in hunks (verses 8 and 21), as the story relates. The text situates the reader in the same position as the jury is situated in the story; Hurston tells us that “the jury leaneth forward to catch every word which fell from her lips” (verse 46)and as in all such coded texts, this is meant literally, since listening is the key to the phonetic cabala of the alchemists.  

The absence of the fifteenth verse is a pointer. Given the biblical format and the subject of a trial, we are forced to question whether any of the fifteenth chapters of the Gospels refer to a trial? Yes, Mark gives his account of the trial of Jesus by Pilate in the fifteenth chapter. Pontius Pilate, the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judea, from AD 26–36, presided at the trial of Jesus. Despite stating that he personally found Jesus not guilty of a crime meriting death, Pilate pleases the “multitude,” by handing over Barabbas to them. In Mark 15:15 Pilate releases Jesus to be crucified. In her story Hurston’s character Miles Paige bears a phonetically-coded form of the  name Pilate (See note 11.). Hurston has pointed to this trial-within-a trial by leaving out the fifteenth verse of “Monkey Junk.”

     Hurston has emphasized the purposefulness of her omission by having selected the fifteenth verse, since Mark 15:28is not included in the earliest and best Greek manuscripts. Thus “Monkey Junk” imitates the handling of this dubious verse in some modern Bibles—as in the exclusion of the twenty-eighth verse in theNew Living Bible:  

Mark 15

27 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
29 The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Ha! Look at you now!” they yelled at him. “You said you were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.

The KJV verse 28 which had been left out is:

     28 And the scripture was fulfilled, which saith, And he was numbered with the transgressors.

This verse relates back to KJV Isaiah 53:12:

Therefore will I divide him [a portion] with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intersession for the transgressors. (emphasis added).  

Thus Hurston has also pointed out a missing link between the Hebrew Scripture and Mark’s Gospel.

8. Objective Drama  

Hurston’s interest in placing the trial of Jesus in her story as a subtext is in keeping with the doctrines that A.R. Orage imparted to the New York group of Gurdjieff’s followers: as Orage had it, the teachings of Jesus were far more ancient than Jesus’s historical period, having been formulated in what Gurdjieff called pre-sand Egypt. According toOrage, the re-emergence of those teachings in the narrative of the New Testament was a work of “objective” art performed by the Essenes.       

    So far, we see that there is a divorce trial in the surface text of “Monkey Junk” and a trial in a subtext, the trial of Jesus indicated through the missing fifteenth verse. In addition to this relatively obscure biblical subtext, there is yet another subtext containing yet another trial with an Egyptian subtext that corresponds to the Gurdjieffian reading of Jesus’s trail as an esoteric event. The Egyptian subtext is directly related to the Gurdjieff Work, for The Oragean Version [10] opens with the argument that Egypt is the source of the Hidden Learning:  


The Hidden Learning has existed (as it exists today) at all times of which we know….  And once it even appeared with accustomed clarity in Public History itself, in the official religion of Ancient Egypt whose complexities are rendered only the more dubious by the anthropological naïveté of professional Egyptology but which shine with an almost unbelievable illumination when a few key principles of the Hidden Learning have been achieved. (King 4).

Orage stressed the centrality of this ancient Egyptian Hidden Learning:

About us, in the creeds, the sects and the distortions of modern Christianity lay the

fragments, of another work of Objective Art, the life of Christ, so it has been said.

According to that account the story of the Christ, a messenger of God upon this planet, was

and is Objective Drama, played not on a stage but in life by the Essene initiate, Jesus. This

play had its origin far earlier, in ancient Egypt, as the drama of the life, death and

resurrection of Ausar (Osiris), the God-in-Man; its function was to present ultimate human

truths through the medium of consciously acted roles.For centuries, we are told, the later

Essene brotherhood, a School itself deriving from Egyptian origins, had held the aim of

presenting this drama in life rather than as a prescribed mystery play and for generations

had trained its postulants to that end. Eventually the cast of thirteen was complete with

Jesus, who had been sent to Egypt for temple training there, cast as the leading actor and

Judas, who must play the next most difficult role, that of the betrayer, fully prepared for his

part. With the necessary modifications demanded by the local scene and times, the action


It is difficult for us to appreciate the magnitude of such an undertaking. The

immediate audience is also without knowing it, the unconscious part of the cast and the

conscious actors must not only fulfill the requirements of their own roles, thereby

objectively demonstrating the truths they have self-selected themselves to manifest, but in

addition they must consciously and deliberately so affect their unconscious counterparts

(the priests and money-changers at the temple, Pontius Pilate, the Jewish mob, the Roman

soldiers, and all the rest) that the latter are forced to enact their own roles, too. Even with

all possible preparations made beforehand, it may well be imagined what hitches in the

performance unforeseen and unpredictable circumstances must threaten and what

consummate ability must be required in order to meet these difficulties and keep the drama

upon its course. No comparable type of acting, the playing so successfully of conscious

roles upon the objective stage of real life, has ever been reported. This was Objective Art.

(emphasis added; King 162-63)

9. Unjust Trials

The scheming woman in “Monkey Junk” is clearly “fallen,” and she prostitutes herself. But she is wrongly judged to be innocent even though it is clear that the wife has been unfaithful to the aggrieved husband. In verse 14, Hurston mentions the horns of adultery:

    “… other men posed the tongue into the cheek and snickered behind the handas he passed,

    saying, “Verily his head is decorated with the horns, he that is so wise and knoweth all the

    law and the profits” (emphasis added).

In the Tales, we find that among many other types of fallsof continents, of civilizations, of religion, and of learningthere is a long section on the degeneration of marriage in which a young Persian confesses to his vices. He has settled in Paris, where immoral women from all over Europe and other parts come “with the obvious intention of putting horns on their other legal halves” (Tales 990-94;emphasis added). Beelzebub finds them guilty.

The Biblical format of “Monkey Junk” will bring to mind Eve, the archetype of fallen woman. Eve is judged by God, and she is found guilty; as a consequence of Eve’s disobedience all mankind has been exiled from eternal life in Paradise into time, suffering, and death. Was this a just judgment? In the trial of Jesus of Nazareth by Pilate (and the judgment of “the multitude”), he is found guilty and so suffers a miscarriage of justice. We have seen that there is an Egyptian intertext in “Monkey Junk,” and there are several other unjust trials relating to the Egyptian Book of the Dead. In E. Wallace Budge’s Osiris and the Egyptian Resurrection(1911), the God Set wants to inherit Osiris’s kingdom and so must usurp Horus, the rightful heir son of Osiris and Isis. Set accuses Isis of being a whore who has conceived Horus with another after Osiris’s death.  Therefore, Set argues, Horus is illegitimate and cannot inherit the throne of Egypt. However, the Gods find Isis innocent. In a second trial Set accused Osiris, but his accusations are unknown; Osiris is exonerated and triumphs over Set. (Budge 309-12)  Here the gods give the correct judgment. The Trial of Osiris by Thot after which Osiris is made god of the underworld plays a major role in Hurston’s story and will be discussed below. Once Osiris becomes the judge of the dead he presides over a court in which the dead have to plead perfection: as this is impossible, they must rely on the mercy of Osiris. Both Osiris and Christ were resurrected after death, and each of their teachings shows how time and death can be defeated; this was also Gurdjieff’s teaching, and the fall narrative of the Tales confirms this necessity

    An esoteric text uses a masking text to provide an outward premise. Hurston used the contemporary 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial” (The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes) to give her story the title “Monkey Junk.” Since the Scopes trial was not a divorce, the fit between the Scopes trial and the fictional trial is not directly obvious, and the association of the trials as unjust trialsmay be thought of as another “lawful inexactitude” that points to the entire esoteric content of “Monkey Junk.” The reader in the 1920s may not immediately have seen how Hurston’s divorce trial related to the Scopes trial, and careful thought would have been required to reveal the connection through the common factor of injustice. In the Scopes trial a public school biology teacher was accused of illegally teaching Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  The prosecuting counsel, William Jennings Bryan, asked Scopes questions about Adam and Eve in relation to the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib, and in relation to her temptation by the serpent. “In his last words to the court, Scopes, the man who was reluctant from the start, said, “Your Honor, I feel that I have been convicted of violating an unjust statute. I will continue in the future … to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my idea of academic freedom’” (“The Scopes Monkey Trial).  This demand that the Bible be read attentively rather than literally relates to the necessity to read the Talesattentively, and Hurston makes the same demands of her reader in “Monkey Junk.”

10. The Scopes Monkey Trial    

The Scopes “Monkey Trial” was of great interest to the public, and it was especially of interest to anthropologists, in that it focused on the split between religious and scientific understandings of evolution. Although Scopes lost his case, his defending attorney demolished the prosecuting counsel by asking questions about Adam and Eve in order to demonstrate that belief in miracles and in the historicity of the Bible is unreasonable. Paul Beekman Taylor points out that in the TalesGurdjieff ridiculed the arguments of both the prosecution and the defense lawyer in the Scopes trial, when Beelzebub remarks to his grandson that evolution “was an American topic of interest. In a parable echoing the Biblical version of the fall of Eve, Beelzebub explained that apes are descended from humans” (Taylor 100).

Hurston’s two-word title “Monkey Junk” links Massey’s Egyptology, the Bible, Gurdjieff’s Tales, and the 1925 Scopes trial. The contemporary divorce trial in her story, like the modern inquisition of science, enacts a travesty in which superstition (for Gurdjieffians a form of “sleep”) triumphed over reason.  It is difficult not to see some racial connection being made to the monkeys in her story, but it remains to be worked out to what extent the levels of esotericism, irony, parody, and social protest can be discriminated.

11. Playing Roles

As we have seen, one aspect of the esoteric is the manipulation of reality. According to Orage, the most ambitious form of this activity was the intervention in history in connection with the story of Jesus Christ. This intervention took the form of conscious and unconscious roles acted in a public objective drama. One aspect of the divorce trial is that it depicts the activity of unconscious role playing, for the wife depicts herself in such a way that the finding is for her side of the case. That the wife’s role- playing is entirely given up to sex appeal is entirely in keeping with what Hurston learned from Gurdjieff, for Gurdjieff taught that sex is the driving force behind “sleep”:

[S]ex plays a tremendous role in maintaining the mechanicalness of life. Everything that people do is connected with ‘sex’: politics, religion, art, the theater, music, is all ‘sex’. Do you think people go to the theater or to church to pray or to see some new play? That is only for the sake of appearances. The principal thing, in the theater as well as in church, is that there will be a lot of women or a lot of men. This is the center of gravity of all gatherings. What do you think brings people to cafés, to restaurants, to various fetes? One thing only. Sex: it is the principal motive force of all mechanicalness. All sleep, all hypnosis, depends upon it.” (Ouspensky 254)

Orage also taught pupils how to experiment with playing more conscious roles in their everyday lives than the automatic roles that they usually assumed:

The automatic roles which one plays in life automatically and unconsciously

are dictated by one’s falsely subjective image of oneself ….  [To] alter such roles consciously

and to attempt to play other roles, not on a stage but in life itself, is an extremely advanced

exercise in its final development but a beginning can be made at this stage. Of course there is

nothing “better” about the artificial role which the subject selects to attempt than about the

automatic one he has always been playing; the whole value of the exercise depends upon

the practice of a different, not a better impersonation. Here also we have a field in which

outside confirmation is both possible and required; the criterion of success is not the opinion

of the experimenter himself but is based upon his demonstrated ability to impress others

who are not involved in the experiment, with the validity of his impersonation.

(King 119-20).

This conscious assumption of roles was often referred to by Orage as “experiment.”Clearly esoteric “experiment” is generated by radically different assumptions about morality, truth, and freedom. In short, since the Gurdjieffians saw mankind as being asleep, they did not limit themselves to the social conventions of the sleepers. With this type of model in her mind, there is no wonder that many of Hurston’s critics point to Hurston’s tendency to dissemble. As Laura Grand-Jean has observed, “Throughout her life she lied about her age, her place of birth, and often times her identity. She cloaked herself in the garbs of the many different identities that she created for herself and recounted in her work(Mules and Menwebsite; emphasis added). This is seconded by Henry Louis Gates in his Afterword to Their Eyes Were Watching God: “Hurston did make up significant parts of herself, like a masquerade putting on a disguise for the ball, like a character in her fictions” (202). These discourses account for these effects as being related to matters of Hurston’s individual personality and not to any greater purpose or to a more general group strategy. A similar duplicity was evidenced by the careers of Melvin B. Tolson (a vexing and enigmatic “Marxist” poet who wrote transcendent, complex, intellectually dense poetry) and George Schuyler (“a literary schizophrenic who created a conservative public persona for himself while expressing extreme leftist views through the pseudonymous Samuel I. Brooks” and “a skillful role player, who [created] an array of masks for himself” [Gruesser 679]), two other African-American writers who are were unacknowledged followers of Gurdjieff and who were colleagues of Hurston’s. Similarly, authoritative accounts of Carl Van Vechten relate that he published six bestselling novels during a brief period of several years during which he is supposed to have been habitually drunk night and day and not to have slept at all (Kellner 165); Van Vechten’s behavior also seems to be a case of what Orage called “experiment” in which Van Vechten played the role of a wastrel.

Hurston and her Harlem Renaissance colleagues were but imitating Gurdjieff, who recounted stories about his selling dyed sparrows as rare birds, passing off cheap wines as rare vintages, or conning

Parisian merchants into giving him credit with stories of Texan oil wells. Gurdjieff was enacting

a morality that departed  from the “sleep”-based activities of ordinary people, and his

followers were enthusiastically imitating him to the best of their capacities.   

12. The Trial of Osiris by Thoth

        One of the curious features of “Monkey Junk” is the number of times bodily organs are mentioned in the story. The Egyptian intertext provides a solution to this question. Here is the description of the trial of Osiris in Gerald Massey’s Ancient Egypt:

The highest verdict rendered by the great judge in this most awful Judgment Hall was a testimony to the truth and purity of character established for the Manes [the spirit of the dead] on evidence that was unimpeachable. At this post-mortem the sins done in the body through violating the law of nature were probed for most profoundly. Not only was the deceased present in spirit to be judged at the dread tribunal, the book of the bodywas opened and its record read. The vital organs, such as the heart, liver, and lungs, were brought into judgment as witnesses to the life lived on earth.Any part too vitiated for the rottenness to be cut off or scraped away was condemned and flung as offal to the powers who are called the eaters of filth, the devourers of hearts, and drinkers of the blood of the wicked. And if the heart, for example, should be condemned to be devoured because very bad, the individual could not be reconstructed for a future life. (201-206; emphases added)

As the whole outcome of the trail in Hurston’s story depends on the speech of the accused being true speech, it is fitting that the list of organs and parts of the body commences with the mouth in the second verse of “Monkey Junk.” Thence follow liver (verse 4); heart, tongue, cheek, hand (verse 14); back, tongue (verse 16); tongue (verse 18); teeth (verse 20); hands, hip (verse 22); tongue (verse 26);  (kidneys verse 27); head (verse 35);   heart (verse 38); stiff-necked (verse 41); eyes (verse 43); lips (verse 46);  lips (verse 47);  mouth (verse 51), skin (verse 58); and nose (verse 59).

    Thus, there is yet another trial being conducted in “Monkey Junk”—and it is very likely to have been in Hurston’s mind the most important of the trials. Namely, the trial of Osiris by Thoth by which he was “Osirified” and became the lord of the underworld, seems to be the esoteric focus of Hurston’s story. The drama of the life, death and resurrection of Osiris (the Egyptian theme) was not only fundamental to Orage’s rendition of the Gurdjieff Work, it was a near obsession of Hurston’s. Hurston’s  most ambitious works of fiction (Seraph, Moses, Their Eyes) are suffused with Egyptian lore taken directly from Massey’s Ancient Egypt, and her most highly regarded novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is a covert retelling of the Osiris myth.  It is only the determination of Hurston’s critics to construct preordained feminist and socio-cultural interpretations of her writing that have caused them to assign whatever Egyptian influences have been noticed to a sort of non-specific Afrocentric interest on Hurston’s part: as a sort of culmination of these efforts, Patricia Hill Collins situates Hurston in an “Afrocentric feminist epistemology” (“Race”). But this Egyptian influence is intricately worked into her writings, so that many words, motifs, and symbols were derived from specifically Egyptian sources. Not only that but these materials were specifically taken from the writings of Gerald Masseyparticularly from Ancient Egypt. Massey, for his part, studied the extensive Egyptian holdings in the British Museum and was able to read Egyptian hieroglyphics.  So tied up with Massey’s volumes is Hurston’s fiction that without reference to Massey, there is essentially no means of discovering what Hurston is getting at. On the other hand, by means of a sound knowledge of Massey most of the difficulties that are presented by Hurston’s writing can be cleared up rather efficiently—though here we are speaking of difficulties that proceed from her esotericism, not those presently framed by her critics. (Since searchable versions of Massey’s books are now available on the Web, Hurston’s references to Massey are readily ascertainable.) Hurston had good reasons to depend on Massey for her Egpytology, for he was a Gnostic, an esotericist, and a powerfully imaginative thinker and researcher who traced the entirety of Christianity back to the Egyptian cult of Horus. The work of connecting Egypt to Christ had already been done by Massey in exhaustive detail. Thus Massey served as a storehouse for the detailed lore that supported the Oragean version of Christianity. Leaving nothing to chance, Hurston pointed the reader toward Massey by coding his name into the text of “Monkey Junk, with Gerald in verse 59 and Massey in verse 58.

Hurston unites Biblical and Egyptian references to terrible and finite ends in her penultimate verse:

    61. And he desisted. And after many days did he receive a letter saying “Go to the monkeys,

    thou hunk of mud and learn things and be wise. (emphasis added)

This puzzling end to her story becomes clearer if we recognize it to be, firstly, an allusion to the King James Version of the Bible’s Book of Proverbs, though the entire passage must be consulted to reveal the entire sense of Hurston’s passage. Hurston’s conclusion also echoes both Gurdjieff ‘s exhortation to “wake up,” and the references to body parts discussed above in relation to the trial of Osiris by Thoth.


6Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:

 7Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,

 8Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

 9How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?

 10Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep:

 11So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.

 12A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.

 13He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers;

 14Frowardness is in his heart, he deviseth mischief continually; he soweth discord.

 15Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy.

(KJV Proverbs 6:6-15)

Secondly, Massey’s discussion of “Sign-language and Mythology” states that:

    Again, the Monkey who is transformed into a man is a prototype of the Moon-God Taht, who is a     Dogheaded Ape in one character and a man in another” (Massey 1995,15).

The monkey can be the source of wisdom, since through this sign Hurston points to the Egyptian god Thot (Thoth), the inventor of writing, the developer of science, and the judge of the dead. In volume two of Ancient Egyptthe profound character of the wisdom of the “monkey” is made manifest, for Massey reveals that the Bible is synonymous with Egyptian scriptures, (Massey, vol.2, 1995,  903). The hellish judgement and sentence is passed in the final verse:  “62. And he returned unto Alabama to pick cotton. Selah.”


In concluding, we will observe that the majority of research on Hurston’s writings continue to make self-fulfilling assumptions about Hurston and to proceed through circular and pre-conceived arguments and thereby does little to explicate Hurston’s texts meaningfully. For instance Hurston’s folk play “Cold Keener” presents a title that Alice Birney of the Library of Congress states “remains a mystery.” Birney then uses a concept of Hurston’s, “primitive angularity,” to explain why the play “with nine skits that are unrelated in their themes, characters, or even their settings” makes no discernible sense. The title uses the same code used in “Monkey Junk” and says “code key” (See note 11.): the play is esoteric and Hurston’s “primitive angularity” is an inadequate approach. While writing this paper we came across Miriam Thaggert’s Images of Black Modernism: Verbal and Visual Strategies of the Harlem Renaissance(2010). Attracted to Hurston’s provocative assertion that “the white man thinks in a written language and the Negro thinks in hieroglyphics” (Thaggert 2012, 48) in Hurston’s essay “The Characteristics of Negro Expression” (1934), Thaggert undertakes an analysis of Hurston’s “theories of black language” (Thaggert 2012, 47) with no basis for this discussion beyond what Hurston has said about black language. According to Cheryl Wall, Hurston’s “Characteristics” essay has become  “a protocol for reading Hurston’s novels”: Wall observes that “Many critics, including Henry Louis Gates Jr., Karla Holloway, and Lynda Hill have remarked on the intellectual boldness and the insightful brilliance of this essay (Wall 2005). Not only is Hurston’s “Characteristics” essay not anthropology in the first place, it is a parody of W.E B. Du Bois’s discussions of black culture in The Souls of Black Folk(1903) and in his later writings. Hurston took her title from a sentence in “Of the Faith of the Fathers: “The Negro church of to-day is the social centre of Negro life in the United States, and the most characteristic expression of African character” (191). The thesis of Hurston’s essay comes from a statement by Du Bois that “The Negro is essentially dramatic,” (Lorini 2001, 167), and Hurston’s “Characteristics” can in part be understood as a send-up of Du Boisian pomposity. Thus Hurston is fundamentally poised to deceive her trusting, sleeping reader. Even in a brief, early piece like “Monkey Junk” Hurston’s concerns are complex, being synthesized from anthropology, Massey’s long and dense discussion in “Sign-language and Mythology,” the Bible, the esoteric ideas of Orage, and the perplexing text of Gurdjieff’s Tales. Thus scholarship on Hurston is years away from a comprehensive understanding of Hurston’s theories of language and of her literary texts.

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1] The full title of G.I.Gurdjieff’s text was Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson or AnObjectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man, and it was the firstvolume of his All and Everythingtrilogy. The All andEverything trilogy also includes Meetings with Remarkable Men (firstpublished in 1963) and Life Is Real Only Then, When ‘I Am’ (first privately printedin 1974).

[2] Blind WillieMcTell (William Samuel McTier) began to sing “A Married Man’s a Fool” about1920. As this is a folk song, its distribution cannot be specified.

“A Married Man’s a Fool”

Had a friend, Louie Brown, he was a deacon
Just as wise as he could be
Now I realized he could read the good book
Back from revelations down to genesis
You know last Sunday morning we was over to the church
My buddy wants to take him a stand
And he looks out upon that whole congregation
The good book in his hand

Now he cast his eye about, and then he looks over in the amen corner
All the sisters commenced to shout [What’d he say? ]
He said a married mans a fool to think that his wife love nobody else but him
She stick by you all your life the chances is mighty slim
Now you read the good book, chapter twenty-one:
Every married woman got to have a little fun
Read on over chapter twenty-two:
Its a sin to let that woman make a fool outta you
Now you read a little further, chapter twenty-three:
She two-time you, brother, like she double-crossed me
Read on back, over chapter ten:
She shimmy one time, you got the problem again
cause a married mans a fool to think that his wife
Loves nobody else but him, I mean, loves nobody else but him

Well, a married mans a fool to think that his wife
Loves nobody else but him
She stands by you all your life the chances is mighty and slim
Now you read on over twenty-fifth page:
Married womens, lord, is hard to engage
Read kinda careful, chapter twenty-six:
Back door slamming you got to learn to get it fixed
Read on out, chapter twenty-eight:
Who’s that back slidin out through the back gate ?
I believe I’ll close on chapter twenty-nine:
Woman get tired of the same man all the time
cause a married mans fool to think that his wife love nobody else but him


[3] In 1926 these texts werepublished: Wallace Thurman, Fire!!; Carl Van Vechten, Nigger Heaven;Eric Walrond, Tropic Death, and these works marked the manifesto phaseof Harlem literary esotericism. Van Vechten’s novels were the models for theHarlem group’s novels. Two of their esoteric novels followed in 1928— RudolphFisher’s The Walls of Jericho; Nella Larsen’s Quicksand.  1929 brought two more novels from the Harlemgroup —Nella Larsen’s, Passing and Wallace Thurman’s The Blacker theBerry. In 1931 George S. Schuyler brought out Black No More. 1932saw the publication of Rudolph Fisher’s, The Conjure Man Dies andWallace Thurman’s Infants of the Spring. Thus seven novels were writtenand published by members of the Harlem group between 1926, when the esoteric publishingprogram was initiated, and 1932, a notable literary achievement.

[4] See Tom Hodd.

[5] As an example of Van Vechten’shandling of esoteric coding (see note 11), there is an extraordinary passagetowards the conclusion of Nigger Heaven. It is related that when patronswho appear to be wealthy arrive at a particular Harlem restaurant they aregreeted as “Mr. Gunnion” (241). This rude and intolerable handling of patrons couldnot have taken place, and it is clearly a “lawful inexactitude” meant toindicate that there is esoteric content in the passage. Since Gurdjieff wascommonly referred to by his followers as “Mr. G.” and since the goal of histeaching was to produce unity in the self (“one ‘I’”), the name “Mr. Gunnion”(Mr. G.—union) is a transparent indication of Van Vechten’s interest in theteachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff.

[6] Thissuggestion is supported by the word “alchemy” (90) and by the codedpresentation of Fulcanelli’s name  (90) inDjuna Barnes’s novel, Nightwood, —again, a poorly understood modern textwhich is Gurdjieffian (and Oragean) and extensively coded in cabala though notcritically categorized as being esoteric, despite Barnes’s association with aParis Gurdjieff group (see Rauve 53). The Orageanliterary code is a curious apparatus in a number of ways. It is a variation ofthe traditional alchemical cabala code. Speaking of the cabalaGleb Butuzov states that “the phrases, read aloud must be understood not justin the sense they have on paper, but also in that elusive sense they acquire onbeing ‘misheard’ (where, in common speech, we would ask our interlocutor torepeat the sentence, because we had heard something that seemed to beinappropriate to the context of the conversation). This second – reallyesoteric – meaning is often irrelevant to the first, and people who neglectthis level of the information–exchange actually read a very different book.”

[7] For her part, Hurston wastremendously fond of Van Vechten. “If Carl was a people instead of a person,”Hurston once said to Fannie Hurst, “I could then say, these are my people” (Hurst 19). Van Vechten’s copy of Hurston’s novel Jonah’sGourd Vine bears the inscription, “For Carl Van Vechten who blows the slidetrombone in the same band with Ol’ Gabr’el.”  (Hurston “Hurston to VanVechten”).

[8]See Welch 31; Taylor 71-2.

[9] Gerald Massey held an Egypt-centric position about the origin of the world’s early advancedcultures that he argued through a scholarly comparative analysis of language, names, and mythology.

[10] The Oragean Versionis the title of an unpublished manuscript by C. Daly King. He compiled thismanuscript during the nineteen twenties in New York to record the teaching ofAlfred Orage.

[11] Unlike a crosswordpuzzle, the coded text does not directly betray its presence. It shows itselfonly through some anomaly. Since anomalies do not necessarily suggest that theyare connected to puzzles, they often go unnoticed. In “Monkey Junk” one chiefanomaly is that Miles Paige is the only name attributed to a character, and heis the lawyer for the defendant. Thus there is no discernible reason for him tohave a name while the major players are nameless. By the rules of the Orageanliterary code Miles Paige has been marked as being of particular interest andthe name represents some other meaning.

The rulesof the phonetic code are simple but since they are not habitual, it isdifficult to work out what they are hiding. One clue has been provided—theproximity of Miles Paige to the word “multitude.” Once the solution has beenarrived at, the surrounding text points to the solution so as to confirm it.The verse where Miles Paige first appears reads as follows: “55. Thendid the multitude rejoice and say ‘Great is Miles Paige, and mighty isthe judge and jury.’” For Hurston’s the purpose, this was equivalent toMat 27:24—“When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but [that] rather atumult was made, he took water, and washed [his] hands before the multitude,saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye [to it].” Thisis not to say that this clarifies the matter since there are other allusionsand particularly since Miles Paige is not only associated with Pilate but withJesus. But the mainstay of the code it phonetic and the sounds of“Pilate” must be heard inside of “Miles Paige”:

Miles Paige





The objections to reading “MilesPaige” as “Pilate“ are as follows: M, e s, and I are remaindered and have to beignored. There is no t.  g is a poorsubstitute for t.  One word is made outof letters in two words. The beginning of the word is in the second word.

In answer it can be suggested thatthis is a code, and the solution is hidden by the extra letters and by the useof two words. Pilate has but one name and Americans have two names, so the useof two words was unavoidable; the deferral of the initial letter to the secondword is one of the rules for the code and has to be worked out over manyexamples: for example, Dust Tracks on a Road (the title of Hurston’sautobiography) reads as “trust code” by adding the tr of the second wordto the ust of the initial word. Only a few consonants (d,b, etc.) mightbe substituted for t, and the writer still has to make an English word fromwhatever is used.


Once the logic of the method has beengrasped, it is still difficult to know exactly where to draw the interpretiveline. Most inclusions, as with Massey’s name, are merely the names of theesoteric teachers of the writer, so that “Monkey Junk” also presents the namesOrage (verses 42 bear, 43 jury judge—compare to verse 48),Gurdjieff (verses 10 chaff; 28,59 ger), and King (verse 25 making), and these names are found in most ofHursrton’s texts as well as those of many other writers influenced by Orage.Massey’s name is original to “Monkey Junk,” so its inclusion is particularlyinteresting.

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