Commentary from Robert S. Ellwood, Jr.

Excerpted from Religious And Spiritual Groups In Modern America by Robert S. Ellwood, Jr. Copyright (c) 1973, Prentice-Hall, Inc. Chapter 5, "The Crystal Within," pp 164-167. Used with permission of and thanks to the author and publisher.


While basically inspired by Gurdjieff's concept of a "Fourth Way School," The Prosperos has developed its own variations on his sadhana, and has as its founder and leader a man who is a modern magus in his own right, Thane Walker. As is typical of the magus, no one knows the tale of his life or his age, but all agree he is an unbelievably magnetic personality, not warm so much as awe-inspiring and dynamic. He is always a presence and a catalyst. Those close to him say that, like Gurdjieff, he can play any role, but is always consciously in control of a situation, and by his presence can govern the interaction of people in a group from an observer's position. He never "lets down" but is always the magus, whether as teacher, "devil's advocate," or father figure to the band of young enthusiasts around him.

To The Prosperos, there is only the One Mind. Reality can be experienced only by seeing from its perspective . . .

Thane, as he is always called, was born in Nodaway County, Missouri, probably in the 1890s. No one knows his age, unless he does, but he enjoys telling funny stories about his hometown. He has been married twice, and has been teaching for some forty-five years. He has been all over the world. He claims to have been one of the first psychologists in America, to have been put in a Nazi concentration camp for writing an article entitled "I Saw Hitler Make Black Magic," to have been a Marine Corps officer and to have entertained American troops in Japan during the Occupation and all over the Pacific. Hawaii was home to him for some years and has a special place in his heart.

Mr. Walker also claims to have been a pupil of Gurdjieff, and to have modeled himself as a teacher on Gurdjieff more than on anyone else. He follows Gurdjieff's idea of teacher-student relationship; he wants to disorient the student, which he does through stories and making unreasonable demands. But he feels that more scientific methods of therapy are demanded today than Gurdjieff's music and exercises. He has drawn from the New Thought literature, Freud, Jung, and other modern schools of psychology, and from the occult and astrological traditions.

The Prosperos, named after the magician in Shakespeare's The Tempest, was chartered in Florida in 1956. The Founders were Mr. Walker and Phez Kahlil. The headquarters were subsequently moved about the country with extraordinary frequency.

The Prosperos emphasizes verbal instruction. In the words of a periodical:

In ancient times, The Prosperos would have been called a "Mystery School" and the Master of the School a "Teacher King." The popular phrase in our era is a "School of the Fourth Way" and Thane is simply called, "Teacher."

The awesome lineage which is the heritage of The Prosperos has always been transmitted through one key-method: the oral tradition - the "ear-whispered word."

There is no precise public statement of teaching. It is something which has to be experienced in classes, activities, and living together, although some of the classes have mimeographed texts. But a fairly accurate picture of the doctrine can be deduced from lectures and material which is available. Basically, a monistic idealism is assumed.

Consciousness, as Prospero, is all reason, and he must through the aid of Ariel, the transcendent superconsciousness (Reality), control Caliban, the unconscious, who is all memory . . . .

To The Prosperos, there is only the One Mind. Reality can be experienced only by seeing from its perspective, but most people are generally forgetful of the true self and allow their vision to be clouded by the senses and the memory. This is the immemorial teaching of the mystics, but their ways of overcoming it have generally been those which Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and The Prosperos would term the first three ways: the fakir through the will, the yogi through the intellect, and the monk through the emotions. The "Fourth Way" both transcends these and is available to the person in the world. The Prosperos calls this method for identifying the individual with the One "Translation."

In Translation classes, the student is taught that God is simply the capacity to create and govern thoughts, that is, consciousness. But the thoughts of the Absolute mind, the "Reality Self," are not the same as the way they come out in the "beliefs" of the finite "human-equation mind." Straightening out this disequilibrium is the function of "conversation in heaven," (rather surprisingly, Walker uses much Bible allegory) or applied ontology, which enables one to see his situation as God, the Reality Self, not as he sees it from his partial, finite perspective. The Translation process has five steps: (1) Statement of Being (What are the facts about reality?); (2) Uncovering the Lie or Error (What do the senses claim?); (3) Argument (I'm going to test these claims); (4) Summing up results; and (5) Establishing the Absolute, the only point from which Truth can be demonstrated (seeing things as God sees them).

The delusions of the memory are also attacked. Consciousness, as Prospero, is all reason, and he must through the aid of Ariel, the transcendent superconsciousness (Reality), control Caliban, the unconscious, who is all memory. Subduing memories and liberating one's true self from them is called "Releasing the Hidden Splendour."

The Prosperos experience happens through lectures, classes in "Translation," "Releasing the Hidden Splendor," and other topics, and in intensive sessions. In his classes, Walker creates many kinds of experiences.

Perhaps the most significant part of the Prosperos experience, however, derives from the nature of the group. Most members are now in California and number perhaps 3000. They tend to be young, successful, employed in business or entertainment, liberal, expansive in life style. They talk strongly against orthodoxy in anything. They are optimistic, oriented toward change, enjoy talking about the future, the need for new attitudes toward sexual morals, and for creating a "transcendent society." Some members live with Thane in the headquarters building or in a co-op. They say that young people of the "hip" type are "proto-mutants," the first of a new kind of man with a new way of relating to the earth, and that The Prosperos is trying to help them find a way to do it.

The Prosperos has an inner circle called the High Watch, made up of those who have completed three classes ("Translation", "Releasing the Hidden Splendour", and "The Crown Mysteries"), submitted two theses, and delivered an oral dissertation. The Trustees are elected by the membership of the High Watch at the annual Prosperos Assembly. Nonetheless it is evident that Walker, the "Dean," is the real center of cohesion for the group; he is magus and father-figure to the many young people around him. He has trained one personal student, a lady; the future fate of The Prosperos will no doubt depend on her ability to catch the Dean's charisma.

Reading Selection : The Prosperos

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