Preface by Cherry Gilchrist: The Babylonian Connection
After the original Soho Cabbala group dispersed in the mid-60s, the three main leaders - Alan Bain, Glyn Davies and Tony Potter – developed their own independent lines in the following years. As Glyn Davies began the process of reformulating his approach, he was drawn to the ancient Babylonian mythology as a way of illuminating the principles of the Tree of Life. His aim, as he stated it, was to open up a way forward which wouldn’t be dependent on the existing Golden Dawn teachings, or the authority of the Zohar. Out of this to start with came his book The Phoenician Letters. Sometimes, to renew a philosophy or indeed an art form, the necessary inspiration is found by digging deeper into the past– this was the case, for instance, with Renaissance music and art which turned to classical sources. Pre-Judaic Cabbala provided a similar springboard in this instance, and Glyn also found that some of the complex Assyrian glyphs which represented ‘the sacred tree’, (see below) gave a precedent for devising an ‘extended tree’ within modern Cabbala (see The Extended Tree).
This occurred in the early 1970s. At this time, as a newcomer to Cabbala and esoteric interests, I was avidly buying up old books on mythological subjects, and I happened to give one about Assyrian and Babylonian mythology to Glyn. He accepted it with interest, and it seemed to act as a trigger for the new schema. Later, he jokingly told me the outcome of The Phoenician Letters was ‘all my fault’!
This sets the scene for the diagram which Rod Thorn discusses below. And the somewhat surprising connections which Rod also points out, to other contemporaries and to a legendary brotherhood, remind me of the old Cabbalistic adage: ‘Funny how it works, isn’t it?’
The House of the Gods
The Phoenician Letters  is structured as a series of ten letters written to a “Prince of the Land of the Four Directions.” Each letter talks about the responsibilities and teachings of one of the gods, preparing the Prince for his role and preparing him for initiation into the Sar-Ma’an Brotherhood.
The House of the Gods in the Phoenician Letters (Illustration by Gila Zur)
The house of the gods shown above is similar to the modern Kabbalistic Tree of Life, with ten principles joined by 22 paths, each marked with a letter from the alphabet. The Phoenician Letters provides an interesting and useful perspective on the Tree, and implicitly suggests that the origin of the Tree goes back further than one might think.
This same suggestion has been put forward more recently, by Simo Parpola of the University of Helsinki . In a 1993 paper he argues that early images of sacred trees from Mesopotamia bear a striking similarity to the Tree of Life. The abstract of the paper reads as follows:
“A stylized tree with obvious religious significance already occurs as an art motif in fourth-millennium Mesopotamia, and, by the second millennium b.c, it is found everywhere within the orbit of the ancient Near Eastern oikumene. including Egypt, Greece, and the Indus civilization. The meaning of the motif is not clear, but its overall composition strikingly recalls the Tree of Life of later Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist art. The question of whether the concept of the Tree of Life actually existed in ancient Mesopotamia has been debated, however, and thus many scholars today prefer the more neutral term "sacred tree" when referring to the Mesopotamian Tree.”
It seems difficult to prove a direct connection between the modern form of the Kabbalistic Tree of Life (which appeared in its current form in the Middle Ages) and these ancient Mesopotamian Sacred Trees, but even if there is no direct link, the archetype of a tree connecting heaven to earth seems widespread in human culture and perhaps both traditions tapped into this.
Nabu (or Nebo as he is referred to in the Bible) is the ancient Mesopotamian patron god of literacy, the rational arts, scribes and wisdom. He occupies the place of the sephira Hod in the Tree of Life represented by the House of the Gods in The Phoenician Letters. The heart of Nebo is a six-spoked number spiral representing a mystery at the centre of number.
Colossal statue of the god Nabu, 8th century BCE. From Nimrud, Mesopotamia, Iraq.
It is in the Iraq Museum. Image from Wikimedia.
The Number Spiral
In The Phoenician Letters, the Heart of Nebo is based on a number spiral (shown below), where the numbers spiral out from zero at the centre, completing one turn of the spiral every six numbers, so the first four turns of the spiral are:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12,
13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 ….
Each of the six spokes is made by columns of these numbers – numbers spaced apart by six, so the spoke at 4 o’clock is made from the first number in each turn of the spiral, 1, then 1+6 = 7, 7+6 = 13, 13+6 = 19, and so on:
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,
7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12,
13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 ….
The next spoke is made from the second number in each cycle: 2, 8, 14, 20, … all even numbers.
The spoke at 8 o’clock is made from the third numbers: 3, 9, 15, 21, … all multiples of three.
The next spoke is made from the fourth numbers: 4, 10, 16, 22, … again, all even numbers.
The next spoke is made from the fifth numbers: 5, 11, 17, 23, ...
The spoke at 2 o’clock is made from the sixth numbers, all multiples of 6: 6, 12, 18, 24, …
Most of the numbers are divisible by another number, but the first and the fifth spokes also contain prime numbers, which cannot be divided by any other number. In fact all prime numbers are in these two spokes.
There are other spirals shown on the diagram, moving in both directions, showing the paths of multiples of the numbers in spokes one and five. The heart shape shown by a heavy line is made from two spirals, one of 5s – 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, … and one of 7s: 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, … The dotted lines show other spirals, making a spider shape.
The diagram is described in The Phoenician Letters as follows:
“Now you know that Nebo’s sign is the star sign of six, and that from its centre a spiral goes forth, and you may have been told that such is the spider's web. This is not so. As you have heard, ‘From nothing comes forth all.’ At the centre of the star is nothing, and the spiral is the growth of number. One division on the first part, two for the second, three and so on. But it continues out to all which is Rimon. Can you number the drops in the ocean, the sand grains of the desert, the stars in the sky like dust, each as a sun with attendant gods, each with his houses and messengers and subjects? And so the spiral is without end.
The Bees of Knowledge
There’s an interesting connection between the Heart of Nebo and a Science Fiction story included in a book by Barrington J Bayley called The Knights of the Limits.
In an unwritten occult teaching
various ascending orders of spacetime
are defined in terms of "the Knights of the Limits” 
The story is called The Bees of Knowledge and tells of a space traveller stranded on the planet Handrea, where giant bees gather knowledge and in their hive make ‘the honey of experience’. The traveller is taken into their hive and there he befriends a number-obsessed fly. Eventually he makes his way to the centre of the hive and tastes the honey which puts him into a trance:
“Like my friend the Fly, the Bees are much interested in mathematics but theirs is of a type that not even he would be able to understand (any more than I could, except intuitively when I was in the grip of the trance). What would he have made, with his obsession with numbers, of the Bees’ theorem that there is a highest positive integer! To human mathematicians this would make no sense. The Bees accomplish it by arranging all numbers on six spokes, centred about the number One. They then place on the spokes of this great wheel certain number series which are claimed to contain the essence of numbers and which go spiralling through it, diverging and converging in a winding dance. All these series meet at last in a single immense number. This, according to the theorem, is the opposite pole of the system of positive integers, of which One is the other pole, and is referred to as Hyper-One. This is the end of numbers as we know them. Hyper-One then serves as One for a number system of a higher order. But, to show the hypothetical nature of the Bees’ deliberations there is a quite contrary doctrine which portrays all numbers as emanating from a number Plenum, so that every number is potentially zero.”
Bayley acknowledges Glyn’s contribution to the idea: "The six-based number spiral and the concept of Hyper-One described in 'The Bees of Knowledge' are borrowed, with thanks, from the mathematical efforts of W. G. Davies.”
Barry was a friend of Glyn’s and in earlier days the two of them and the writer Michael Moorcock had been flatmates for a while. Barry is mentioned as a helper on Glyn and Gila’s translation of the Sepher Bahir where he is thanked “for enabling us to simplify the technical patterns and drawings.”
I remember Glyn recommending that I read Bayley’s books, and I enjoyed them and their challenging ideas, particularly The Garments of Caean, his novel about clothes which took over the wearer! Barry continued writing inventive SF stories until his death in 2008.
The Sar-Ma’an Brotherhood
One connection between the bees of knowledge and the heart of Nebo is of course the number six – honeycombs are hexagonal in shape. But there is perhaps another link which completes a circle back to the Sar-Ma’an Brotherhood mentioned in The Phoenician letters.
This comes via an article written in 1965 by Major Desmond Martin, an associate of the author Idries Shah , describing his visit to a monastery of the ‘Sarmoun Brotherhood’. According to Major Martin, the name Sarmoun means ‘The Bees’, and their motto is 'Work produces a Sweet Essence'. He says:
“There are many legends about Sarmoun-Dargauh ('Court of the Bees'), and one of them is this. True knowledge, it is asserted, exists as a positive commodity, like the honey of the bee. Like honey, it can be accumulated. From time to time in human history, however, it lies unused and starts to leak away. On those occasions the Sarmouni and their associates all over the world collect it and store it in a special receptacle. Then, when the time is ripe, they release it into the world again, through specially trained emissaries.” 
The account has many points of commonality with the ‘Sarmoung’ monastery that Gurdjieff describes in Meetings With Remarkable Men , and that was portrayed in the film of the same name by Peter Brook:
There is much debate about whether the Sarmoung (or Sarmoun or Sar-Ma’an) brotherhood existed or whether it was a vehicle for passing on certain teachings, but perhaps this is not the most important question to ask. What is it that lies behind these ideas? What is it that lies behind the idea of ancient Mesopotamian sacred trees, and Cabbalistic Tree of Life diagrams? What lies behind the idea of the Bees of Knowledge and their honey? Perhaps that is where the mystery really begins!
 Wilfred Davies & G Zur, The Phoenician Letters, (Mowat, 1979). Copies of the Book are available from Aranstone Books email@example.com at £6.00 per copy.
 Simo Parpola, The Assyrian Tree of Life: Tracing the Origins of Jewish Monotheism and Greek Philosophy, Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol. 52, No. 3 (Jul., 1993), pp. 161-208. Available via JSTOR at https://www.jstor.org/stable/545436?seq=1.
 Barrington Bayley, The Knights of the Limits (Allison and Busby, 1978)
 Various theories about the Sarmoung Brotherhood are given in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarmoung_Brotherhood including information about Major Martin’s account.
 Major Martin’s account is available at https://web.archive.org/web/20090302090139/http://www.cosmopolis.com/files/sarmoun-brotherhood.html
Robin Amis (1932-2014), was involved with the original Soho Kabbalah Group, and like various other members he also joined the Study Society, which at that time was linked to the teachings of Ouspensky. In the mid-1960s he established “The Society of the Inner Life”, drawing on the teachings of Ouspensky, Non-Dualist Yoga, early Christianity and Qabalah. In 1979, he had his first encounter with the Orthodox Church, and converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 1983; he became a frequent visitor to Mount Athos. During the succeeding years, he worked on his own teaching system of ‘Hesychasm’, or contemplative prayer, and founded the Praxis Research Institute, which continues its work today.
With the Soho Cabbalists
Robin and his first wife Julia were members of the early Soho Cabbalists group. He describes his experience of Post-War London in the preface to his book Views from Mount Athos: 
“The world-war was over. Whole areas of London lay in ruins, and the city was still almost war-dark at night, and almost empty of people, the returned combatants still wanting only to stay home with their families. A few people came and went. In parts of the empty city-center that were almost unmarked by war, some thirty or more young men and women gathered in the evenings and began questioning. They had missed going to university because they were not properly prepared, their families were bankrupted by two wars, and the soldiers had first-call on university places.”
“They began not by questioning a ruined society, but by questioning-themselves, not by drinking alcohol, but in the coffee-bars that were beginning to spring up in the city: the Nucleus, Bunjies. and small, cheap restaurants. They formed plans for their seedling-lives, for which no seed-bed had been prepared. Each tested this and that occupation, until in time they discovered something they could do that was useful, and which earned a couple-of-pounds a week which would pay tube-fares and buy a cheap meal. They were, by accident, non-specialists in a world forced into specialization by two wars in less than half-a-century. They asked the questions of non-specialists, but without tutors, discussion-groups organized by their elders, or any of the elaborate education facilities that non-specialists of the previous or later decades received.”
The idea of non-specialists versus specialization became an important theme for Robin:
“Corporations, authorities, associations: all the enormous organizations of which our society is composed is formed of specialists. The narrower their specialization, the more it makes them psychologically dependent, not only for abilities not developed in themselves but for satisfactions so often lacking in their lives. It is this mismatch between their lives and their inner needs that frequently leads to alienation.” 
The coffee bars that Robin describes began to open in London in the mid to late 1950s, and this is where the first Soho Cabbala group started in 1957.
Robin was about the same age as the other Soho Cabbalists, but his background was somewhat different. He had been educated at St Bees, a public school in the Lake District, and after school he began working in the electronics industry, leading on to a career in advertising copywriting. Compared to some other group members, he had established a firm footing in the world. Alan Bain, by contrast, mostly earned his living in this period by playing the piano accordion in the streets of London. Robin was well-known to other early group members who we’ve interviewed, and was the catalyst for at least one of them to enter the group: Eddie Prevost (jazz drummer, independent Cabbalist and a close friend of Glyn Davies) worked in the same advertising agency, and cites Robin as his first connection to ‘the Work’.
Robin Amis and Alan Bain
Despite Robin's different background, his quest was real and it seems that like many others, he formed a special bond with Alan. When Alan moved to Bristol in 1963, Robin followed him, and they carried on with Kabbalistic group work.
Robin Amis horoscope by Alan Bain. Based on the 6.30 am estimate of birth time, the ascendant of the horoscope is around 11 degrees of Cancer.
When my colleague Cherry Gilchrist interviewed Robin in 2014 he told her how sometimes: “Things happened in Alan’s presence: changes in atmosphere, and rooms visibly illuminated by changes of colour.” Robin implied that these experiences were very powerful, and said later that he had had experiences of compassion and love in this context. He said that he had had one of his most powerful experiences ever in Alan’s group.
Experience of Light
At their meeting Robin gave Cherry a typescript describing key experiences which stood out in his life and had become the ‘cornerstones’ for his philosophy and way of life. I’ve included one of these below, although I don’t know if it occurred in the context of the Soho Cabbalists :
“There are times in life when it can come to a man to sink right inside himself, down below the turbulence of thought, the ebb and flow of life's streams and currents. Below sensation and beyond understanding, down into a silent inner darkness which seems to have no bounds. If then this process continues, as it has done to me, there can happen that a gleam of light is perceived.
Robin was also a poet, and the ending of one of his poems, The Return of the Mysteries may be relevant here:
“I have seen the warmth of a voice
Robin and the Study Society
Like other Soho Cabbalists, Robin was also a member of the Study Society, and he continued his connection with them for many years.
The Study Society, originally “The Society for the Study of Normal Psychology” was founded in 1951 by Dr. Francis C. Roles, a pupil of Ouspensky, to carry on Ouspensky’s teaching of Gurdjieff’s fourth way tradition.
A few years later Leon MacLaren of the School of Economic Science (SES) came across the Study Society and adapted their teachings as part of the SES training courses. From the mid-forties to the mid-sixties the two organisations worked together quite closely, and some of the Soho Cabbalists belonged to each organisation at various times. Leon Maclaren’s personal assistant Dorine Tolley has an interesting observation on the two organisations:
“Whereas the Study Society was drawn from the middle and upper-middle, professional classes, the students of the SES came from the street and few had received higher education. Most of them had gone from school to work. As well as the search for Truth, within and without, the School also developed mind and culture. It was like a university. People’s potential was developed, talents found and tested. Those in authority acquired confidence and polish. Humble secretaries tutored, while barristers washed the floors.” 
Between 1964 and 1982 Robin founded and ran several groups from London to the West of England and South Wales. Some of these groups have survived as the West of England part of the Study Society. 
There’s an advert published in 1970 which must have been from Robin:
“The Society of the Inner Life
The quote at the end is from Verse 48 of the Tao Te Ching, more helpfully translated as:
In the pursuit of learning, every day something is acquired.
In the pursuit of Tao, every day something is dropped.
Robin and his first wife separated in the late 1960s and he met and married American artist Lillian Delevoryas in 1972. Together they opened Weatherall Workshops in the Forest of Dean, producing high quality wall hangings, often employing a large number of people on short courses and applying Fourth Way principles and practices of self-remembering and working with attention. The project ran till 1979.
The Study Society and Advaita
Shortly before Ouspensky had died in 1947, he had sensed something missing in Gurdjieff’s system, and had instructed Dr Roles to seek the source of the teaching. In the 1960s, Dr Roles came across what he saw as the missing practice, in the Indian Advaita tradition.
In the early 1960s, the Study Society and SES hosted Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in London, adopting his Transcendental Meditation (TM) practice. Roles saw the TM technique, and more generally the Indian Advaita tradition, as the missing part of the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky tradition.
As the influence of Indian philosophy grew within the study society, Robin thought that something was lacking in the progress of students. Suspecting that the teaching of the heart which was being provided was insufficient, he decided to investigate an alternative approach: that Gurdjieff’s teaching was Esoteric Christianity. After all, Gurdjieff himself had said this, as quoted by Ouspensky:
“What is the relation of the teaching you are expounding to Christianity as we know it?” asked somebody present.
The monastery of Osiou Gregoriou, on the West-coast of Mount Athos - one of Robin’s main sources for recovering forgotten knowledge. Photo from Wikimedia.
Robin was unable to make any satisfactory contact among Gurdjieff circles, but then certain coincidences led him to the monasteries of Mount Athos in 1982. There he met Gerald Palmer, a former student of Ouspensky who had converted to Orthodoxy in 1950, and was involved in translating the Philokalia, the compendium of teachings of the Church Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
As a result of this meeting, in 1985 Robin set up the Praxis Research Institute to begin the task of making this Christian Inner Tradition available to the West. For his research into the teachings of the Holy Mountain, Robin received in 1985 the rare designation of ‘Synergatis’ (fellow worker, and equal to the monks), and was given a document providing “free access, both coming in and going out of the Holy Mountain."
In 1986 Robin came across Boris Mouravieff’s “Gnosis: Study and Commentaries on the Esoteric Tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy” and arranged for it to become available in English as the three volume “Gnosis”. Mouravieff was a friend of P D Ouspensky, and had researched the esoteric tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy. The publication of Gnosis aroused controversy in some Gurdjieff circles who disputed the claim made by Mouravieff and Amis that linked the origin of Gurdjieff's material and teaching to Eastern Orthodoxy.
A Different Christianity
In 1995 Robin published his book A Different Christianity, presenting “The Forgotten Christian Inner Tradition” for use by contemporary Christians and seekers after truth. He summarises some results of his research  (and I paraphrase):
“This book, then, is a detailed study of a single Christian inner tradition in several different forms: in its written forms, some of them nearly two millennia old, and including the Gospels themselves; in its direct modern form that survives in the monasticism of the Eastern church; and in perhaps less complete modern forms, as a lay teaching that in the recent past has taken on different terminology at different times.
Sources of further information:
 Robin Amis, Views from Mount Athos, (Praxis Research Institute, 2014)
 Robin Amis, A Different Christianity, (SUNY Press, 1995) p.338.
 It is not clear if and where these experiences were published by Robin. Two other experiences were included: that of compassion arising during a walk in Regent Street, and an experience of inner fire rising through the body after a day spent with a single purpose (the latter is retold in A Different Christianity on page 45).
 Poems by Robin Amis, Who Writes the Waves, (Agora Books, 1992), “The Return of the Mysteries” was written in London in 1970.
 Dorine Tolley, The Power Within: Leon MacLaren, A Memoir of His Life and Work, (Booksurge Publishing, 2009) p. 165.
 Robin Amis’s presentation at the 1996 All and Everything Conference. "PROCEEDINGS 1996 | All & Everything International Humanities Conference". Aandeconference.org.
 The Aquarian Guide to Occult, Mystical, Religious, Magical London & Around, Francoise Strachan, Ed., (Aquarian Press, 1970)
 P D Ouspensky, In Search of the Miraculous (Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1977), p.102.
 Robin Amis, A Different Christianity, (SUNY Press, 1995) paraphrased from p.348.
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