Inside an Idries Shah Group by Bruce Main-Smith

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JP George

Jun 17, 2002, 8:55:52 PM6/17/02
There have been some requests for an Idries Shah biography on this group,
however, biographies and such were never what he was all about. To anyone
who wants to know more about Shah, I suggest you read the books he wrote
himself, and "The Sufis" is an excellent place to start.

If you want something a little more personal, then the following is a first
person account of one individual's experience with Idries Shah originally
posted by Bruce Main-Smith ( in five parts to the group in November and December of 2001.


Inside an Idries Shah Group

(Part 1)

In the interests of countering mis-information I share experiences whilst
respecting privacy. There seem myths that IS was weird, that people took to
wearing ankle-length robes, grew long hair, adopted Jesus sandles, subsisted
on lentils, saffron rice and boiled water. Maybe even shuffled along in
groups of 3 in the gutter of Oxford St, chanting, and hoping for handouts.
And yes, other than the robe colour, there are ectatics who do just that.

I found an IS group to be normality itself. If a spy camera was to have
filmed us for an exposee documentary there would have been poor pickings
indeed; would have seen mid-20th century Home Counties Man doing his
suburbia thing!

Here is an account --- avoiding all names of others --- of a typical Tuesday
meeting of The Association for the Study of Traditional Teachings, "our lot"
having been invited to choose our own name. That procedure incidentally
occupied possibly three full meetings and was done with great care and
seeking for a harmonious agreement amongst all. I cannot say if it was
officially approved or if it would have been disallowed if we had chosen a
wrong name because there was no comment made on it. Maybe it caused Shah a
small smile? I thought it was rather apt and well-described our objectives
and material. A small noticeboard was requested by the deputy which was
fudged up and duly displayed at all meetings.

Membership had been by selection, was closed and was of course Sufic under
Idries Shah as the Director of Studies.

We arrive at a nice house in the West End of London from 7.45 onwards for an
8pm start. No late comers. Everybody is dressed totally normally. Some knock
on the window next to the doorbell, others ring. Outdoor clothes are left in
the hall, the downstairs toilet is used, 13 to 15 members enter the large
meeting room. Its floor is of polished strip wood with a carpet or two. Big
deep armchairs, a brace of settees, some hard chairs for those who prefer. A
sidetable or two, a chest of drawers, some table lamps. Furnished
expensively. This was Englishness of the times.

Surroundings and people were like an amateur dramatic society gathered to
discuss their upcoming production of A Midsummers Nights Dream. No light
being turned on or off, no b&w chequerboard design on the floor, no music,
no prayers, no incense. No religousness of any kind whatsoever. It could
well have been a meeting of my 2nd wife's Girl Guide Trefoil Guild !

Present are 3 doctors, 2 in general practice and 1 a consultant psychiatrist
at a famed London teaching hospital. A Guildford consulting psychologist
(who also spoke German and had studied under Freud in Berlin & was actually
a Professor though he never used the title). A seamstress in a major theatre
company. A restaurant cook. An ex-racing motorcylist cum journalist (me).
Just ordinary-enough folk. Have you got the scene?

Most were aged 35 upwards. Four women. One married couple. One divorcee. One
Spaniard, One Portugese. One Italian. And one true mongrel (guess). This was
a pretty normal cross section of the Sixties and Seventies for Britain had
not yet become a refugee camp. All spoke adequate English, had no problems
with reading same, and there was a goodly admixture of the usual
impoverished circumstances of most people everywhere; no obvious affluence.
I would say that the education level was "grammar school" or better.

Nobody was screwball nor displayed strange habits or clothes, no odd
behaviour, nor had anti-social armpits, physical disabilities or grave
deeply maladjusted attitudes. If standard unregenerate man/woman is mentally
stable then our lot were par for the course. We were all either outright
barmy --- or all boringly conventional. I never spotted any psychological
misfits amongst any of his students, in my lot or others (present company
excepted of course).

The group secretary (me) was elected democratically. There was no treasurer
(for no money was ever involved). My duties were almost notional. The deputy
was of course appointed from On High and he may have also sat in an inner
Shah circle for all I knew.

The group deputy would then ask who is going to start and somebody would. No
more formality than that. Some had notebooks and kept notes. Others not. All
had brought their personal copy of whatever book we were currently studying.
One member wrote continuously throughout. For myself I made no notes of any
kind, ever; I had adopted the principle that either it "took" or it bounced
off and that notetaking was a cheat but this was a personal view and may be
right or wrong. Notetaking was never commented on and was neither encouraged
nor discouraged but see below.

IS had prescribed our material. It did not include all his books. Other
reading that was adjudged in the general field was temporarily prohibited.
We mostly concentrated on the Nasrudin stories, Tales of the Dervishes,
Caravan of Dreams, Reflections. I do not recall The Sufis nor Destination
Mecca as being on the study list and of course The Commanding Self etc had
not at that date been published so please note that later newcomers to the
field had an edge on us; our dissolution came circa 1976/77.

After a goodly while of immersion in the material we developed a species of
verbal shorthand. The title of a piece was alone sufficient, it not being
necessary to allude to the actual passage the speaker was utilising.

The method of selection of the previous fortnight's study material varied.
Suppose it was The Story of Fire. Each student (if that was our true
category, perhaps we were merely probationers, not yet accepted, I recall
nobody ever having undergone a formal induction ceremony), each would speak
in turn. Comment on the story was mandatory even if nothing could be said
beyond agreeing with so-and-so's earlier account.

We never heard what was the officially correct understanding, no judgemental
comments were ever offered on any of many differing kinds of effort, and no
student criticised the contribution of another. Indeed the degree of harmony
amongst members was extraordinary. I believe today that the deputy's own
notes were kicked upstairs and IS or another Sufi looked for what had been
missed out, NOT what had been got right or wrong. I believe (today) that IS
next made good the missing insight(s) by further appropriate material, not
necessarily written maybe practical, and not necessarily immediately either.
Further, OsMoses was allowed to cause it to permeate amongst all if the
missing insight had been supplied only to a few?

I believe that by a process akin to osmosis all members shared all
interpretations and that disharmony sabotaged that process. Our friend
OsMoses has to carry the burden of a very great deal?

The order of speaking was left to the individuals. There was no leadership,
no one person deferred to and the deputy, other than saying so to say Go,
left it to us to sort ourselves out. He himself contributed as a member.

Some material was occasionally supplied in roneo form (pre photocopiers)
prior to book publication. Making copies was forbidden. One time Shah had
taped The Gnat's Weight and another story title forgotten. We were asked to
listen and without making any notes whatsoever, go home and write from
memory, next meeting to hand our attempts to the group secretary (me) and
they were forwarded presumably to Langton by the deputy. No feedback was
provided. I did not even glance at members' submissions so do not know "how
well" they did. I do know I did Badly spelt with a capital T as in Tragic.

I had the 1st story off pat, verbatim I reckon. The 2nd I could not recall a
single complete sentence and countered this by submitting my own concoction
based on the then current effort of the British Gas Boards to convert the UK
to natural gas and I think entitled Comprehensibility Entails Comprehensive;
doubtless Shah wept, or split his sides laughing? You see, I had assumed on
hearing A Gnat's Weight (Heavyness) the upcoming story was to be about A
Gnat's Wait (elapsed time) and by halfway through I had at last begun to get
my ducks into line --- much too late. Ironically to this day I remember that
story ultra-well, the other one not at all........

Having dealt with whatever study story(ies) were the subject matter of that
meeting, other than formal notices concerning say a skip over Xmas, the
meeting closed. Members dispersed quickly. There was no face to face
interaction before or after other than polite how-do's. This was after all
not a social occasion.

Members were enjoined not repeat not to contact each other and to stay out
of all touch with each other, other groups, other occasions, unless
specifically asked so to liase (e.g. monthly gardening, painting etc, at
Langton House with Saturday evening assembly and meal of which more anon).
They could of course phone their group secretary with an apology for absence
(e.g. sickness). I have no reason to suppose it was much different in other
groups to what I have described but I abstained from comparing notes.

I am not in touch with anybody today and cannot pass on any current comments
of others. I am telling how it was, for me.

I am at pains in posting this, and other similar stuff, to counter
mis-information, dispel myths that we sang Hail to the Chief and frothed at
the navel whilst grovelling on the greensward. It was all so very ordinary,
so very English. And there is the point? English
teaching for the English ? The doctrine of Sufi "Regions" in operation?
Speak to people not only according to their understanding but in accordance
with their cultural mores?

I have no objection whatsoever to this material, or anything else bearing my
name, being re-posted elsewhere, forwarded to loners, saved to hard drive or
even paper. Just make sure my full name is quoted as the attribution! Why?
Because that is the provenance. This stuff comes from an actual trooper he
was actually in the actual trenches under actual fire. And doubtless he will
suffer an actual courts-martial for snitching out of school? Bruce
Main-Smith, The 37th Thief, November 29th 2001 +++

(Part 2)

It would be wishfull thinking to hope that a Yahoo-type list could promote
itself into a genuine Sufi development group and my previous post supports
that contention. A dynamically maturing group of Idries Shah's kind
commences from harmonised teacher-selected probationers and has its material
supplied, indicated and/or disbarred by the teacher's prescription, itself
based on his knowledge of the needs of the full situation. Both time and
place must be correct of course. It also requires at least some physical
face to face. That is not able to happen with even the most sincere of
electronic chatrooms; nor those set up by prestigious dervish orders on the
internet. But right thinking is always useful, and better than wrong. So
there is value in sites such as this --- provided mis-information is

I now continue, blithely hoping you have read part one........

I dealt last time with the usage of written material and we saw that it was
not just a mere matter of reading this or that? Some of the printed words
were actually read out aloud under correct circumstances & I mentioned other

What else went on in a group in its meeting place away from the Langton
Green Idries Shah HQ? (Later I shall deal with the at-Langton setup)

Material was "delivered" in other places. A story was read from the pit of
the professorial operating theatre at a Euston, London, teaching hospital. I
recall neither which story nor the reader. There was a mass attendance of
many (?all) Shah students. Instead of the demonstrator addressing serried
ranks of medicos on their tiered benches, a story was read. Was the reading
of it so very important -- or was the extra dimension the massed presence.
Think OsMoses again?

Teaching material was delivered by a speciallymade film in a private cinema
in Wardour St. This time in batches, group by group.

Students were asked to attend the Watson Hall in Langton village to listen
to seemingly irrelevant talks by important people. Interesting --- but not
apparently on the beam. The first lecture of all was given by newly-retired
BBC newsreader Robert McDougall and mighty entertaining it was too but I
could not quite see the point. On some of these, IS (who was present)
allowed discussion, and on at least one he stopped questions in their tracks
before anybody could pose one to the speaker. Shah sat in the audience, not
on the platform. McDougall must have been very expensive to bring on; IS
carried all costs himself.

You recall the small orange book, Reflections (Table talk)? Each of my group
had their own copy and the deputy announced anybody who wanted theirs
autographed by IS could give it to the group secretary next meeting. I
collected only one more to add to my own. Please think deeply about this
one? The options! The revelations about people's character! Who was afraid
of being flattered ! Having the ego massaged! Consider please the reasons
for wanting/not wanting and then responding. What would YOU have done.......

Frankly I thought I had failed this test but the other (lady) requester was
a member whom I thought if anybody was going to make the grade it was her.
So if we were both wrong, I was in good company? Was it a test at all? Was
it akin to whether or not for the visitor to deadhead the roses growing
outside the teacher's front door? What was the right response? We were never
told ! What did Shah write? Simply his name, no dedication. What was going
on? Did "love" enter into it? Perhaps you care to post a comment.

But I do know this much. That the activity of a literature-oriented study
group was much more than reading Mushkil Gusha and other stories. That one
could steep oneself in the entire corpus, running down footnotes even ---
and still have an unbridgeable interstellar gulf between what one is doing
and the real thing.

Again we can see that methods were ordinary enough. The application had the
extra dimensions. No weird behaviour, no ascetism, sojurn in cold mountain
caves, self-flagellation, dancing, chanting, singing, taking on Middle
Eastern nicknames, wearing woollen robes, carrying staves or beggingbowls,
etc --- just rather straightforward almost mundane procedures. No grist for
the sensation-reporter's mill here.

You may post this elsewhere, save it, print it, quote it. But attach my full
name (Bruce Main-Smith) as this establishes the provenance as coming from an
authentic footsoldier who was really in the trenches from the start. Was
this of interest? The 37th Thief +++

(Part 3 A)

There is so much misinformation about what went on. Rumours abound, one even
that Idries Shah was a witch. Just how far out, weird, decidely screwy, were
his students? What strange practices did they get up to? So I post facts to
correct myths. This keyed in by an actual student who had some (minor?)
participation as a lance-coporal in the trenches, up at the front line, and
under fire. But it is trixxy being useful whilst preserving privacy; either
stuff gets emasculated & that helps not one iota or I risk blabbing when I
didn't outa?

This treatise is about the exoteric mimicing of esoteric material. If that
mistake is made, you have a sham, though the ersatz may appear genuine

Try this for size! I return to 1962/3. I live by purest coincidence 3 miles
from Coombe Springs. It is a winter of very heavy frosts. As a bona fide
member of JGB's establishment I discover Bennett is holding pre-breakfast
"bonding sessions" in his Djamichunatra (9-sided building about 60ft across,
90ft high) so I crank up my Morris 1000, chip the ice off the screen, and
arrive about 7.15 am, park, walk to building and enter. Find colleagues
sitting on the perimeter benching, each last arrival taking the next vacant
seat. I sit. The person already seated & next to me passes me a sweet
chestnut. I am baffled. Amazingly Bennett enters at that moment and sits
next to me, whispers, think of the togetherness, the joining, etc, and pass
the chestnut on to him as he is the next arrival. Then he does likewise.

Now what is happening? The nut has no intrinsic power. It is a psychological
prop. It is no different to giving a group member a badge (think Boy
Scouts). Or Dutch resistance supporters wearing a concealed safetypin behind
their jacket lapel. Or military personnel having battalion insignia, company
signs, even a regimental mascot like a goat. Any worker in the field of
support groups (alcoholics, abused wives) too would recognise the technique.
It works.

But the emblem is simply a symbol. OF ITSELF it can do nothing. It is a
focus, a reminder, a token, an icon. Such symbols can be actual (a lapel
badge, pendant, sorority ring). And they can be virtual like the Yahoo icon
at the top of this site. Promote recognition, even safety. They bond, they
foster togetherness, a sense of community. They have a solid value but they
are nonetheless symbols.

How about a "keepsake" that could actually DO SOMETHING?

I shall be referring again to the near-emptiness of that kind of symbol, to
its strictly limited usefulness.

Now I stop to post this chunk and start composing the B-section of Part 3 of
Inside an IS group. Bruce Main-Smith, UK, 3rd Dec 2001 +++

(Part 3 B)

We have just looked at ordinary group symbols, be they pieces of metal or
visual icons etc. We have agreed (I hope) that OF THEMSELVES they cannot
actually DO anything. Their importance/value is however not derided. Let us
now look at an object which could actually do something!

I want you to think of a polished small stone from the beach. They are
usually not quite spherical, very smooth, and can be of a small size. Think
about the top of a woman's index finger from tip to first joint. Egg shaped.
Ultra smooth. Whilst some might call it a dervish stone I prefer the term
pebble to avoid such connotations. I do not anyway know what a dervish stone
is though I have read of same.

Making a guess at the date (?1970/1) the group deputy produces a small box
(2 oz tobacco tin?) holding about 15 such pebbles, one for each member of
London's The Association for the Study of Traditional Teachings ("my" lot).
The box is passed round and possibly as fourth in line I choose mine, having
had a dekko at the remainder. They all seem of a muchness. Did choosing
first then paralyse the starter, did the finisher who had no choice at all
feel offended or relieved etc? Did it matter anyway.....

We all immediately held these glassy pebbles up to the light, examined,
expressed puzzlement. No instructions or advices were offered except the
cryptic command to keep it "on us" at all times and above all not to display
it as jewellery or body adornment.

At no subsequent date was any further information ever given, at least that
I was party to.

What did it look like? Possibly glass but extremely highly polished. I
examined mine with a magnifier and saw turning marks which as a one-time
lathe operator I thought I recognised. But it was polished ultra smooth; I
stress this (see below). Not quite spherical, it might be said to be
slightly egg shaped. Emebedded in it were whitish strands of what looked
like glassfibre or perhaps asbestos.

I took mine to London's Geological Museum, eventually located similar stuff,
and was none the wiser. Of no mineralogical value, probably quarried, having
no ornamental interest, nor curious properties. It was not magnetic,
dia-magnetic, para-magentic, a resonator, a light-resolving prism and so on.
If I had identified it aright, it was more or less a no-no. It wasn't even a
volcanic tekktite nor a meteoroid from Mars.

Somebody however had gone to some expense in manufacturing several hundreds
of these and so far as I could tell (later) handing them out to all IS
students and with the same cryptic instructions.

Was it a talisman? Could it function as a communication device? Was it an
Open Sesame (tried that, not the 37th thief for nothing!). Could it
beam-me-up-Scotty, solve my financial problems, sweeten my cocoa or
disinfect polluted drinking water? Would it cause my eyes to glow in the
dark or initiate halo development? Did it hold baraka?

It certainly was useless as the kind of bonding-agent I discussed in 3A ---
because we were told not to display it. We were specifically commanded not
to mount it and wear it as a finger ring or a pendant round the neck. Yet I
saw people at Langton (not any of "my" group however) perpetrating just
these transgressions. [Were they reprimanded? Dunno.]

And it made such a garish, monstrous finger ring that any hope of IS keeping
the project secret was blown straight out of the water or I would not be
posting this material........

How was one to keep it "on" one at "all times". When showering? If so, men
have one place to carry it, women two! Would that solution be expected?
Could it be left on the bathroom chair? Was in a pocket good enough? Since I
sleep naked how could I keep it "on" me? I put it under the pillow. Was it
OK to keep in in the trouser pocket or in a handbag? The questions abound.

After more than a year of this, that damnably slippery highly polished,
small round pebble had been jammed down the side of the settee times without
number, lost amongst the floor mats in the car, fallen under the bed and
been kicked behind the wardrobe, laughed at by visitors, cursed by me, had
my two sons thinking it all a hoot and Dad gone ape for sure, seen as
pathetic by 1st wife (who was not into Shah), caught in the laundry, caused
searches of the tumbledrier drum, the dustbin, and seen me make various
attempts to carry it in medicine bottles, film cassettes, and often tied
into a well-knotted handkerchief.

This innocuous requirement was proving very hard to comply with. One darling
lady in "my" group, a professional seamstress, made us each a washleather
pouch. So I was not the only one having problems then! This to a small
extent helped. It did not slide about so much.

Matters progressed for another year or two. It was such an elusive object
technique never became routine. I even at one stage wondered if some power
was apporting it from my pockets to cause me consternation and further
intense effort, such is one's imagination and paranoia.

It then BEGAN TO DO SOMETHING. And as each single day passed, that something
became more intense.

It was not like the first kind (Part 3A) of object at all!

Now in case others may come this way, I will not say what it started to do.
After all, we are now in times of mass communication, the global village,
and lengthy survival power of written words. No longer can events,
procedures, techniques, be confined to a single small community, a monastery
in the hinterland of the Matto Grosso....

I did not like what it was doing. Oh, not evil, nor anti-social, subversive,
etc. I just thought that the effect it was having on my call it "attitude"
was not something my marriage vows had catered for and my 1st wife was a
signatory to. For myself I would have let the thing run its distance. But I
was not a free agent and was suffering conscience. By no means all Shah
students were married, and very very few if married were both couples

So I packed mine in a matchbox and sent it to Langton with a brief covering
note for IS. It was never acknowledged (maybe the GPO lost it?), nor
referred to, and the next time I saw him & we locked eyes he didn't even

Would I have so responded today, with benefit of hindsight? Absolutely not.
I can these days see I should have discussed it with my wife despite our
alienation and/or gone to Shah and asked him for fatherly advice. Well, I
didn't. I blew it, failed. Had I kept the object another mere 24 hours it
would have done something extraordinarily powerful and I was not a big
enough person for it!

For all I know he was by then swamped with hundreds of glass pebbles up to
his armpits? Or mine was perhaps more or less the only one to be sent back?
Was I premature or tardy? Had others given up and chucked the wretched thing
away? Or truly lost it and 'fraid to 'fess up? Was he going to hold a mass
assembly and call for those who still had the pebble to show it and so gain
entry to the Olympian Heights? Just WHAT WAS IT FOR?

But I tell you this with all plain speaking. This was a pebble that DID
SOMETHING. It had an effect on me that made what Part 3A objects achieve a
parody of the real thing. It may perhaps be better described as a causative
agent but it nonetheless produced a solid affect. [I am nowadays reasonably
clear what it was doing, how that was being effected, and some of the reason
for it.]

Here is my point. Shah knows how to achieve, even if at that date I was not
sure what. Others create ersatz copies, myths, rumours and mis-information.
Sufi simply "is" --- other practices seem shallow, tepid, hollow. One is
real, the other the shadow. I am receptive to comments ! Bruce Main-Smith,
UK, 3rd Dec 2001 +++

(Part 4, the final part)

We now advance to the final part. I hesitate to say progress to it? That
would imply we were going somewhere, whereas all we can ever do here is get
our ducks into line a little better, clear up a few misunderstandings.

One that certainly needs clarifying is the behaviour of Shah in as much as I
saw him, and his students' behaviour again in as much as those of them that
I actually met. We are talking Langton House at Langton Green, Tunbridge
Wells, Kent, England, here --- not a sufi power house in the Hindu Kush or
any other address than Langton.

Shah's policy (it may not have extended to all students in all groups, I am
reasonably certain it did NOT) was to invite some students to a work weekend
at Langton. I do not know how the cycle interlocked, the mix was not always
the same. There did however seem a hardcore with a floating cadre, the
number and makeup of which varied. It was impossible to tell if some of
those present were one-shot visitors or regulars simply on another cycle
that was temporarily in phase with one's own.

I used to attend from early Saturday morning until late that evening and go
home. I did not come the following day; I had domestic responsibilities.
About 40 people might arrive. Some were assigned definite tasks, others left
to make themselves useful as they saw/did not see opportunities. Many people
complained Shah was "oblique" and would not assign people to tasks. I myself
never found him oblique; but it was a common criticism and I mean criticism.

The house is large, probably Georgian, lot of woodwork, spacious, ground
floor and one upper floor (in England we call the floor above the ground
floor the first floor, Americans please note). The upper floor was out of
bounds. So was his study and the kitchens. Many outbuildings. Two cottages
and one fullblown Kentish schoolhouse out of service. Large grounds, sheds,
small car park, and a narrow tarmac approach road over the village green and
Shah was indeed the squire. On the green was the village pub. It was
customary to stay out of the main house unless invited in.

The students' rooms were called The Elephant from the elephant in the dark.
A large commonroom cum eating room and kitchen and other facilities. You
brought your own food for your lunch and ate more or less collectively when
hungry; nothing formal. The usual tasks such as mowing, bottle washing in
the bodega, gardening jobs of all kinds, painting, building maintenance,
somebody was creating a herb garden, and so on. When Shah acquired the
premises, having left his residence at The Lodge, Coombe Springs, Kingston,
probably in 1966 (where he had the registered offices of the
briefly-existing Society for the Understanding of the Foundation of Ideas,
Langton was a bit threadbare. I was one of the very first arrivals and had
to do a building audit.

The place was a timewarp. Ironically one of my authors (I was a publisher)
had been a despatch rider calling there in 1944 during the D-day
preparations and he told me when we passed by once on an assignment about
1975 that it was quite unchanged. If you see it from the road today it still
looks just the same. It is constructed in the Kentish country style.

My task was often cutting rough grass with a dreadful Allen autoscythe or
mowing the back lawn. Once I pruned the huge magnolia over his front door by
climbing high into it and sawing where an expert lady told me to cut. I
don't think I need describe further this kind of task.

I was once asked to paint an excellent upright piano in psychedelic colours
for the nursery, a task that sat VERY badly with me and I informed his wife
as much. I was also asked to rub down, prepare and anti-rust a very rusty
car where such work was quite pointless and that I did mega reluctantly. I
STOLE one grape from his greenhouse and cringe today to recall that. I used
a chainsaw on rough wood outside his study and, with others, damp-proofed
Pine Tree Cottage for it to be brought into use for ther creation of the
Institute for Cultural Rsearch (which gave me a chance to become a member in
its founding month but I lapsed after a year because I could not then afford
the renewal subscription; I asked if my membership could be placed in
suspension but that was refused).

Several people helped prepare the evening meal under the direction of the
regular duty cook, a very capable member famous for her marvellous Belgian
chocolate refrigerator cake. Those who were so minded were welcome to bring
stuff for the evening meal. Sometimes I was sent on errands to local shops
to get more condiments or whatever. The meal was funded by I think a 30
shilling charge which would be £4 today? Shah would have made good the
considerasble shortfall from his own pocket.

The meal was the high spot of Saturday. The food was varied and excellent.
White and red Chateau Nasrudin, brewed on the premises, was provided foc and
of course tea and coffee. Those people who felt they wanted to be waiters
could serve and clear away, a role I saw I could cope with. When I offered
Shah more red wine he always refused. I did not notice how much he ate other
than he was abstemious with both food and wine. He smoked, considerably, but
always extinguished after only a few drags.

The room was laid out in The Elephant with long tables. Where did Shah sit?
Ask the MacGregor clan where is the head of the table and they will answer:-
Where sits The MacGregor, there is the head of the table. Shah however
sometimes sat at a sidetable and conversed with the other person and did not
join in the proceedings at all. On some Saturdays he did not even come in.
When he did attend he talked quietly to those near him and when we got to
the coffee stage gradually the conversation widened, his voice rose and he
was then addressing the entire room. He took questions. (Occasionally there
were Q&A sessions in their own right, outside of the social function). I did
not find him peremptory as is often related in stories from of old.

It is interesting to note that after we had all sat down and poured some
wine and the food began to appear, then Shah showed by some sort of sixth
sense --- the timing was absolutely impeccable. I do NOT mean because the
food was ready; I mean most emphatically because an Event, an Occasion, had
started to develop and he was master of its timing. I am very clear on this.
You could almost cut with scissors the demarcation line in the atmosphere,
it was so clearcut.

When Shah saw it was time to go, about 2 hrs after sitting down, he rose and
the room soon emptied. I stayed to help with the washingup and then went
home. Some people slept the night in the disused schoolhouse.

I have written this up as it happened, as I saw it, in those respects I was
a party to. It is pretty dull reading. It is all so ORDINARY.

Where were the prayers? The dervish chanting? Music? Movements? Rituals?
Special clothing? Arabic name giving? Incense? A light being turned on &
off? Where where ANY of the factors we have read about in the literature of
the classic era of sufi-ism? Indeed where was the Sufi stuff?

I suggest it was all around us, in us, with us, working on us. Because it
was ordinary does that make it invalid? Shah was EXACTLY what he is stated
to be by Martin Brackett in "The Mystics Choose a King" in Professor Leonard
Lewin's anthology "The Diffusion of Sufi Ideas in the West" Library of
Congress Catalog Card Number 74-182745. Published by Keysign Press in
Boulder, Colarado, this quite essential study material is no longer in print
(& my copy is not for sale). Shah was confirmed as the Chief of the Chiefs
of the Sufis at a convocation previously last held in 1865 the date of the
next meeting being set by several parameters which included the summer of
the year in which two men descended from the heavens, having left the world
completely, which rules out Yuri Gagarin, and is prophetic.

You will see I have stressed ordinariness in all these posts. Where the
ritual and the procedures of yesteryear? If as I submit, Idries Shah was the
Grand Sheikh acknowledged in 1965 by 15 Orders and was The Magnetic Pole of
the Age, the Founder of the first Sufi School for nearly 500 years, then can
we not accept that such a Teacher could well work with ordinary materials,
fashioning ordinary clay, and behaving in an ordinary manner? Did somebody
such as him NEED the extra-ordinary?

This concludes my posts. I hope I have cleared up a few misconceptions
harboured beyond this Yahoo site of course, and to a small degree have
repaid the great debt I personally owe him and the activity he re-presented.
This material may be saved, printed out, and re-posted elsewhere but I would
like my full name on it please as, footsoldier though I was, it does
establish the provenance --- it is a recitation of facts from somebody who
was in the trenches, not hearsay, not rumour, not mis-information. Bruce
Main-Smith, Southampton, England, 5th December 2001 +++


Jun 20, 2002, 9:22:08 PM6/20/02
Thank you JP George!

Dec 28, 2019, 9:52:08 AM12/28/19
Dear Sir,
Thank you for this. So much work, but very useful. I blinked reading about the rumours I've never heard about! People have so much capacity for creative fiction! I was an individual member accepted to the Society for Sufi Study in 1981. I only came to live in England in 1984, nearly straight from Polish communist prison.It takes time for the fog this world envelops you in to clear, but it is so worth while to wait.
May you have a learning New Year!
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