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Fourth Way Perspectives

Rosie, Sharon, Alex, Robert & The Work

Rosie, Sharon, Alex Talk show host Rosie O'Donnell's recent televised outage on hearing allegations that the Sharon Gans-led 'Fourth Way' group barred gays and African Americans from its membership was understandable. Rosie, who had only recently "outed" herself, had earlier narrated a film for the Gans group. While her reaction to what she termed "cults" could be expected, it was unfortunate in that she condemned all Fourth Way groups in the name of one.

It's not unusual that a group not in conformity with contemporary mainstream culture is branded a cult. Originally, the word was neutral and simply descriptive. It referred to the worship of a deity, as in ancient Egypt where the various gods had their cults—their group of believers. However, like the word myth, which once meant wisdom and now means lie or illusion, the word cult has undergone a similar deterioration. It's a smear against any group one does not like or understand. One could as easily talk about a money cult for those who work and give their lives to money, or a fame cult, or a war cult. The word is simply a propaganda tool.

If the McCarthyesque brandings of earlier times are not to be unintentionally repeated, a crucial distinction between authentic mainstream and faux Fourth Way groups must be recognized and emphasized. Authentic mainstream groups have a genuine connection with the ancient teaching of the Fourth Way. That is, those who take the role of teachers stand in a direct lineage that begins with G. I. Gurdjieff, who in 1912 introduced the teaching to the West. In contrast, faux group leaders not having this direct connection and the accompanying transmission necessary for inner understanding can at best have only 'book knowledge.' Their 'teaching' is composed of bits and pieces of The Fourth Way gleaned from books and other secondary sources. Discarding what doesn't suit them, they take what they will from other teachings, salt in, knowingly or not, their own peculiarities and biases, and so concoct an eclectic and distorted stew that is Fourth Way in name only.

Faux Fourth Way the Source of Controversy

That all scandals attributed to The Fourth Way are entirely due to the excesses of faux groups is therefore not surprising. But in the public mind all Fourth Way groups are blackened with the same brush. The public can't be expected to distinguish between the genuine Fourth Way and faux Fourth Way. The news media, harried as they are for profits, pushing reporters for maximum production, honing and spinning their own slant, can't be expected to do so either. Rapacious for controversy and whatever easily gets attention, the media serve the secular and corporate culture and oppose and ridicule all that does not (especially the esoteric).

That the authentic Fourth Way has not defended itself, that its policy has been to remain silent however specious the charge or attack, is understandable. Unfortunately, in so doing it has allowed itself to be defined by those operating at its margins. What is risked is if wrong views are allowed to crystallize in society, then the teaching will be forever stained and scorned. The necessary result will be that the Fourth Way will go the way of the Shakers. Thus it is time to speak out.

Sharon Gans & Alex Horn

To begin with, whether Sharon Gans does or does not accept blacks and gays into her groups isn't known. What is known is that Sharon Gans was never a member of an authentic Fourth Way group. A stage actress with one film credit—she played Valencia Merble in the film version of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five—Gans' only connection with the Fourth Way is through her former husband, Alex Horn, who also was never a member. Horn's first wife, Anne Burridge, as a teenager, is said to have attended one of John Bennett's groups in England for about three years. Three years or not, her training can at best only have been preparatory, as no deep understanding can be assimilated in such a short time. Vanity and self-love are simply too strong. During her time with Bennett, sometime in the 1960s, Anne met Alex Horn who had come to England in the hopes of working with Bennett. Bennett refused and warned Anne against any involvement with the American.

The Theater of All Possibilities

Horn, a charismatic personality with a strong stage presence and an uncanny knack for spotting people's weaknesses, convinced her to marry him. He then apparently took what he learned of the teaching from Anne, combined it with what he understood from books and started his 'school,' The Theatre of All Possibilities (the name derived from Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf), first in New York City and later in San Francisco's Mission District. As a former student recalled:

He could intimidate people easily and would alternate bullying tactics with warm and friendly demeanor. He knew how to instinctively play on a person's soft spots to get control over people. There was a lot of male 'challenging' and emotional bullying at the meetings and occasionally it would break out physically— usually between students. Although Alex intimidated people physically, he would always step aside and let someone else get physical for him. We seemed to be learning how to be 'Alex,' and he liked that. One of his regular themes was 'feminine influence' and how we had to avoid being dominated by women. He encouraged men to take advantage of women and tried to get the less adventurous of us to 'sleep around' as a way of freeing ourselves psychologically. I think Alex was an imposter who used the Work to con people out of much money and energy.

Remembered another student of those early years:

Alex was definitely not a simple man, but a very intelligent Solar type, i.e., incredibly charismatic and smart. He had a vast knowledge of not only many Work books but seemingly much of the philosophical and poetic works of the Western world and plays going back to the Greeks. His teaching used Fourth Way terminology and also quotes from Ibsen, Whitman, Blake, Bal Shem Tov and others.

On weekends we would go up to a ranch his wife had bought up in Sonoma. I remember the camaraderie and laughter but in large part most of what I remember is Horn talking, talking and talking. He often spoke in sexual terms. People would feel 'loose' and often meetings ended with much hugging and effusiveness. Horn said this was due to 'C Influence.' We worked at preparing and planting a vineyard, building a sauna and staging plays. Besides this we also went on a 50-mile hike through the Nevada Desert that was cut short to probably 30 miles and ended with a ride on a Greyhound bus to a brothel. There were a lot of rich experiences but there was no daily practice of any kind taught, and behind all the philosophical quotations there was something important missing.