Rest in peace 'Rabbi', as I called John. A wonderful and kind but complicated man of God, poet and teacher. I met John a few years ago at the great Redwing Gallery in Penzance run by Roselyn and Peter, where I ended up assisting him on his talks ....setting up the space, making notes and recording his lectures. I also stayed with this great man for a few months at his lovely house in Regents Square on a 'quid pro quo' basis and assisted him by driving and moving his many books and belongings. John was a true friend and a legend to all that met him. I went to visit John in hospital when I was last in Penzance and it saddened me that he resigned himself to his destiny but seemed happy. Rest well my friend and one love Dom
John's memorial was held on the Friday the 1st of December 2020 which you can watch here if you weren't able to attend: https://youtu.be/3Yoi8XKz2Pk (the video is not public so can only be viewed by those with this link)
The following text is a short biography followed by some tributes from those that knew John.
Biography by Johns' step-son, Sam Lees
John was a private man, and it has been quite a task to piece together his life, therefore the timelines and some of the information is not clear.
John was the only son of Robert Connelly Gordon, an Electrical engineer, and Margret who was a librarian, they were both affectionately known as ‘Bob and Peggy’.
John was born in 1941 during the war, his father was stationed in the far east. John and his mother lived with relatives during the war before settling down in East Grinstead.
While John went to a good grammar school, he wasn’t interested in going to university or building a career. He was a man of god and a spiritual person from at least the age of 22. It wasn’t really until his later life that he studied and went into teaching which was what he did in terms of a job for the remainder of his life.
In the late sixties John was married to his 1st Wife Ivonne, though this marriage didn’t last very long.
At some point during the 70s, he got married to his second wife, Ruby ‘Skip’ Gordon, who was the mayor of Camden and John was her escort.
It was after this time that he went to teacher training college which set him down the path of being a teacher. It was at some point in the 70s that John discovered Anthroposophy. Rudolf Steiner was a key inspiration within his life and for the rest of his life.
In 1982, through his work with Anthroposophy, he met Margret Jonas. They were together for 10 years till early 1992 though they never married
Also in 1992, John met Michele Lees, also through the Anthroposophical movement. Michele wanted John to marry her and become stepfather to her son Samuel Lees, which he did. They lived in London till 1999 when they decided to move down to St Just in Cornwall. In 2003 they moved to Penzance.
Shortly after moving to Penzance Michele was hospitalised and when it became apparent she needed 24hr care in a care home. John used to visit her frequently at her came home where she is still resident which he continued to do right up until a couple of years ago before he fell ill.
John got together with a woman called Pam who was a bishop and John became a reverend of the Stella Maris church, a splinter group of the catholic church. They continued they spiritual and religious work together. Unfortunately, Pam became ill and died of cancer in 2017.
John spent the final 2 years years of his life with Ellie, whom he met at a circle dancing class in Penzance.
He no doubt enjoyed teaching, but it was more of a job for him for him than a calling. His real calling was the spiritual and religious work in which he was very actively engaged in throughout most of his life. John was a prolific write and authored a number of papers, books, and poetry. He lectured extensively and inspired many people, particularly within the anthroposophical movement.
John was no doubt quite an unusual person. Some will make the point that he was an emotionally introverted and difficult to get close to, but the truth is he felt his emotions very intensely, and perhaps this explains why he may have been ‘unavailable’. He certainly hid his emotions quite well though he certainly had a short temper!
Despite what he may have said to the contrary, he cared deeply about people from all walks of life. He was a very kind man and would help people even if it was to his own detriment. John was a man of nature and loved animals very much. His pets feature in many photos of John.
An Appreciation of John Gordon’s life by Rick Moxon
I first met John in the doorway of Rudolf Steiner House in Baker Street, London back in the mid-late 1970s. I had just come out of a study group run by several of the older members and had found it disappointing, doctrinal and insular. John, who was wearing a bright red sweater (quite garish for the times) obviously caught my mood and asked me who I was. He told me that he understood and shared my frustrations, and told me that a few younger people, interested in Steiner’s ideas were meeting over in East London and invited me to join.
And so began many years of regular group meetings and “one to ones” at Baker Street, his house in Islington, then in Forest Row, in Sussex and later at his flat in Walthamstow, East London.
John was the de facto leader of the group, and clearly relished having people around sharing a spiritual quest. He was cheerful, and enthusiastic, and we looked at the work of Steiner and various spiritual teachers in who he was interested. He was clearly trying to get people to develop self-knowledge, through practical exercises and in this respect, frequently referred to teachings and lessons he had learned from the writings of George Gurdjieff, the Russian philosopher, mystic, spiritual teacher, and from one of his disciples , J.G Bennet. John had been involved with the school JGB ran at Coombe Springs in Surrey. One of his favorite quotes from GG was “Without self-knowledge, without understanding the working and functions of his machine, man cannot be free, he cannot govern himself and he will always remain a slave.” His “teacher persona” also played out in his professional life as a teacher of mathematics and science in both State and Steiner schools.
He had also immersed himself in the teachings of the Sufi tradition. The essence of this is the discipline of purifying the heart of its spiritual maladies. John had an arsenal of Sufi Stories. The Sufis recognised John as “one of them” and invited him to join one of their orders. (see Annex 2 for one of these stories he told).
John also had a deep knowledge and love of nature. Now and then he would take us on nature walks and had an instinctive understanding and feel for plants and animals. He would show us herbs, flowers and trees and why they favoured particular locations and their characteristics, “personalities” and medicinal properties. He was so happy when he moved down to Forest Row and could have a garden and be able to walk in the Ashdown Forest with his three-legged dog. Here he did experiments to see if individual people had effects on plants when seeds were planted, having a row for each person who had held the seeds in their hand for a few minutes, and the results, when the plants had grown, with their particular shapes and qualities, seemed to bear this out. John also expressed his love of nature in moving poetry, and has published 5 volumes of poems over his lifetime.
Another characteristic of John’s life was his relationship with women. He seemed to need to be with a strong, and sometimes complicated woman during the stages of his journey through life and he was married a number of times, including to Skip, who was the Mayor of Islington and was really a force to be reckoned with ! I can remember him wearing her golden chain of office as a joke during one of our meetings, although for me, it gave a “flash insight” into his kingly nature. He fell in love at first sight several times in his life including when he was in his 70s. He told me recently about one time a few years ago when this happened.
“He went to a Polish café in Penzance to have a coffee but there were no tables free. The manager took him to a table with a woman sitting at it, and he got talking to her. She was interested in Circle dancing and invited him to go along. He did, and almost immediately saw a woman dressed in black, of Turkish origin, and he immediately fell for her. He told me she had a complicated history and had been involved in a coven.
The challenges and emotional highs and lows presented by these various relationships and marriages were clearly something his soul needed as he progressed through his destiny.
I think his deepest spiritual relationship was with the work of Rudolf Steiner. Three aspects seemed to resonate most within his soul.
• Firstly, Steiner’s approach to gaining knowledge of the higher worlds and the associated exercises and meditations needed for self- development. At meetings, he would often ask “have you done your exercises and meditations”?
• Secondly, the insights Steiner brought to the understanding of destiny, karma and reincarnation and how key events and trials in a person’s life can be sometimes related back to situations in previous lives. John loved Steiner’s “Karma Lectures” which provide worked examples of how the human Ego progresses from one incarnation to another, and how capacities, deeds and relationships are metamorphosed and worked though in future lives. He used astrology in his research into such questions, and had a real connection with the stars and the planets. In Annex 1, I have set out the key points that John felt important about his own life which he presented in a lecture at Steiner House in 2018.
• Thirdly, Steiner’s ground-breaking insights into the role of Christ in the evolution of humanity through the various cultural ages, and how he works in a new more universal way since the Resurrection and particularly from the 20th century onwards. We had many conversations and meetings about this which clearly deeply stirred him.
And this leads on to another important feature of John’s life – his priestly aspirations and qualities. Even when I first knew him he had the bearing of a religious councillor, or a Sufi teacher. And it is interesting that even as a young boy at school, one of his first teachers had the intuition that he would be a priest when he grew up. Also, shortly after joining the Anthroposophical Society, he decided to train to be a priest in the Christian Community, the church which a number of Lutheran priests inspired by Steiner’s indications about Christ had set up to develop a movement for religious renewal in the 20th century. This didn’t quite work out, but the intention was very real and earnest. Also, towards the end of his life, whilst living in Cornwall, he actually became an ordained priest in the “Stella Maris Church (an offshoot of the Catholic Church with its own rituals) and always signed himself “Rev John Gordon”. He told me in our last meeting in 2018 that he had given away most of the money his father left him, and that in his dress and manner in St Ives, he looked like a priest, and that this encouraged people to come up and want to talk with him about their lives and problems.
Also, throughout his life he had a deep interest in King Arthur and the quests of the Knights of the Round Table. He identified with Sir Bedevere, who, after the final battle with Mordred, at the urgent request of the mortally wounded king, casts away the sword Excalibur that Arthur had received from the Lady of the Lake. However, he does this only after twice thinking the sword too valuable to Britain to throw into the water, and lying to Arthur that he had done it. John did some research into the possible location of this battle in Cornwall.
It is always difficult to know what is going on in someone’s heart, and maybe others had other impressions, but my feeling was that in a strange way, due to being a gifted only child, with leadership qualities and an inborn sense to try and help people get nearer to their true selves and the spiritual world, made it difficult to get close to many people. He was a fisher of men, but the door to his heart, to his radiant “inner sun” would only truly open in special situations.
In fact having an “inner sun” was a frequent topic of John’s public talks (he lectured many times at Rudolf Steiner House, and various places ) He truly believed that finding this inner sun was one of the goals to which people should aspire.
Over our meetings over many years, and being a party to several initiatives he launched (one was to become Knights of a new Magical idealism following up the work of Novalis) , I feel blessed and privileged to have known him and to have been touched by the rays of his inner sun, and wish him well in his onward journey.
[Following not to be included in any service booklet]
Annex 1: Recollections of a Lecture by John Gordon on Saturday 29th September 2018 at Rudolf Steiner House, London, where he looks over his life.
This lecture was essentially setting out what he had done to “read spiritually” in the book of his life, through recalling the things that really make a strong impression on him and then asking why this might be so.
He gave a the following examples of this which help to give a real picture of the deeper forces working in his destiny.
As a boy, his bedroom faced east. He could see the constellation of Orion through his window, which really interested him and led him to take up astronomy. As a result, his father bought him a telescope.
He was in Oxford Street as a boy and saw the book of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam in the window and was attracted by the minarets on the cover of the book. He was very disappointed that the contents were not about astronomy.
(Little did he know at the time that Omar Khayyam from the 11th century who wrote the book was an accomplished mathematician, astronomer and astrologer in Iran.)
As a teenager the Rubaiyat again plays a big influence: particularly the concept that people are on a chessboard during their lives.
I tracked down the reference he may have been referring to:
We are in truth but pieces on this chess board of life, which in the end we leave, only to drop one by one into the grave of nothingness.”
John now moved on to impressions from 1961 when he went to Coombe Springs, to the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, Philosophy and the Sciences set up by J G Bennett and his wife.
Here, he met a Persian man, speaking in French, who impressed him very deeply, particularly by his teaching that “it is necessary to have an inner sun”.
This saying “it is necessary to have an inner sun” cropped up several more times in the talk so it is clearly an important theme for John.
Next he spoke about the year 1966 when anthroposophy first comes onto his radar. His meeting with Ernst Lehrs, the Goethean scientist who wrote the book “Man or Matter” made a deep impression on him and he felt a deep esoteric connection with him.
He discovers next Rudolph Steiner’s indications that all people will eventually come to the experience of Christ being an inner sun in their lives.
He next mentioned how he went to a meeting of the Sufi Order. He was immediately asked if he wanted to join.
John then turned to the question which Steiner asked Anthroposophists to consider: How do you know to which karmic stream you belong? To do this, you should look at how you approach things in your life.
John told us he was interested in explosives and making fireworks, but he hated telephones.
He told us that plants were his friends - they were not mechanical and he was intensely interested in their colours and healing properties.
He then spoke about his relationship to Christianity. It started when he had to learn passages from the Gospel of St John and recite them in front of the small class at school.
He joined the Catholic Church and was confirmed. In the communion service he experienced unconditional love and that this enabled him to see the world and people in a different way.
He then decided to join the Anthroposophical Society and shortly after this decided to train to become a priest in the Christian Community.
In 1968 he became an Anthroposophical Society Class member, and then in 1972, he was approached by Mr Harwood (the General Secretary) and became a member of the Council of the Anthroposophical Society of Great Britain, but he emphasized that in this role he felt uncomfortable, like a “fish out of water” .
He then informed us that when he puts questions to the spiritual world, the next day he gets an answer. He would do this out loud in nature, and the response could come in unexpected ways – e.g. from a conversation one hears, or something one reads in a book.
He concluded the talk by repeating his certainty that deep down in the human soul lives the inner sun.
Annex 2: Sufi Story related by John
A new disciple of the respected and aged Sufi Master, Hakim Zarikh, being puzzled as to why he made no attempt to spread his teaching through the usual channels, voiced his concern. The Master replied: “You mean something like a book?”……………………..
“Know that a book is called for when the situation itself calls for such a thing. My own person is a case in point. When I was born I seemed quite ‘normal’. However, as I grew up, it became evident to my parents that I was, as the expression goes, ‘lacking a few marbles’. At school I was always bottom of the class and often relegated to simple janitorial duties about the schoolhouse.
It so happened that there lived in our village an old man who was also regarded as ‘lacking a few marbles’ on account of his unpredictable and eccentric behavior. One day, as he was sitting by the wayside, a merchant who was kindly disposed towards him came by and stopped to talk to him. At the end of their conversation, the old man delved in his bag and brought out a copy of The Walled Garden of Truth by the Sufi Master Hakim Sanai. Handing it to the merchant he said:
“I see that you are on your way to your father’s house. Take this book. When you see your father, before you greet him and without saying anything, simply hand the book to him.”
When the merchant saw the title he tried to give the book back.
“As you well know, my father is the sort of person who refuses to have anything to do with Sufis or Sufism. He will never accept this book.”
“No matter. Just do as I say.”
When the merchant arrived home he went upstairs to his father’s study. After knocking on the door and hearing his father say “Enter!”, the merchant went in and presented him with the Sufi book as instructed. On reading the title and without even bothering to get up, his father flung the book out of an open window that faced the street. As it happened, I myself was at that very moment passing by on my way home from school. The book hit me on the side of my head and sent me reeling. However, from that day on I no longer suffered from any lack of marbles.
Appreciation by John Lees
I first met John in February 1976. I remember it very well. He was giving a lecture in a cramped room in Museum Street in London having formed a group based on anthroposophy called Alanus ab Insulis. For various reasons the title intrigued me as did John. As he lectured without notes he was thoughtful, had an introspective air about him when speaking and spoke in a way which I had never heard before in anthroposophical circles. It was original and creative with a complete absence of conceit which one often finds.
For many people he was like a guru. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of anthroposophy (and was also well-versed in Gurdjieff, Sufism and has personally knew John Godolphin Bennett who supported both of these movements and a variety of other spitiritual movements). I then remained a close friend and collaborator for many years. I attended study groups in his house in Islington in London and subsequently at his house in Forest Row where he worked as a science teacher for a number of years at Michael Hall school. I lodged in the Forest Row house for a few months and distinctly remember the succession of people coming to see John for spiritual counsel and advice. I was personally so impressed that I thought he should be one of the leaders of the Anthroposophical Society. He did in fact join the governing council of the Society for a short time. But he was not able unfortunately to make a strong impact. He never pushed himself forward in such environments. He had no personal ambition to have power and influence.
In the 1980s he formed a new group called the Karma Reseach Group. I became involved, went on 'book safaris' with him in East Sussex to find biographies of people who Rudolf Steiner speaks about in the karma lectures to attempt to verify and develop further the insights of Rudolf Steiner on the subject of karma and reincarnation. We started with Haroun al Raschid who Steiner said later reincarnated as Lord Bacon of Verulam (John) and his Counsellor who he said reincarnated as Amos Comenius. We matched their biographies from different incarntions to see if they matched. We then moved on to others. He was supportive when I began my own public lecturing under the auspices of the Group along with John at Rudolf Steiner House.
As I 'went into the wilderness' to pursue my new career as a counsellor and psychotherapist in the mainstream from the late 1980s our paths diverged and we only connected on the fringes of our lives from time to time. Yet he remained in my heart as the man who introduced me to esoteric anthroposophy. As such he is still a very strong influence in my life. It is appropriate that I am writing this in the middle of the impact of Covid-19 on 1 December 2020 as the esoteric aspects of anthroposophy are invaluable for me in dealing with this situation. Thank you John. You certainly made a contribution to preparing me for these difficult times by setting me off on the path of anthroposophic esotericism. You are undoubtedly a Michaelic brother for eternity beyond space and time, life and death.