Gurdjieff, Georgei Ivanovitch (1872–1949)
Mystic and spiritual teacher of Greek ancestry, born at Alexandropol,
Armenia, near the borders of Russia and Persia. In
1896, at about the age of 20, Gurdjieff left home to spend 20
years searching for the esoteric truths of life in Tibet, India,
and the Arabian countries. His quest is described obliquely in
his own book Meetings with Remarkable Men (1963), but much of
this book must be regarded as parable rather than strict fact or
In 1912 Gurdjieff launched his own system of psychophysical
culture in Russia. Early disciples included Dr. de Stjoernval,
a Finnish physician, composer Thomas de Hartmann and his
wife, sculptor Vladimir Pohl, and journalist Peter Demianovitch
Ouspensky. It was Ouspensky who later developed
his own interpretation of the work of Gurdjieff and became the
leading publicist for his system.
In spite of the Russian Revolution, the Gurdjieff group continued
to grow, and Gurdjieff established his Institute for the
Harmonious Development of Man around 1917 in Tiflis, later
moving to Constantinople, then to France, where the group became
firmly established at a chateau in Fontainebleau. Many
well-known intellectuals spent time with the group, including
Katherine Mansfield, Clifford Sharp (editor of the New Statesman),
and A. R. Orage (editor of the New Age).
Gurdjieff’s system was a flexible one, employing both systematic
and variable techniques to break habits of thought and
emotion and awaken a higher consciousness. He would often
shock his pupils out of routine reactions by a kind of westernized
Zen technique. Fastidious intellectuals might be obliged to
clean out stables, teetotalers to drink alcohol. In addition
Gurdjieff devised psychophysical group exercises, involving
breathing techniques, music, and dance. He called his system
the Fourth Way, as distinct from that of the fakir, monk, and
yogi, and was especially concerned with involvement in everyday
In 1924 he visited the United States with his disciples, who
gave astonishing demonstrations of physical and mental control.
Various writers and editors of the day supported his work,
including Hart Crane, Jane Heap, and Margaret Anderson.
His influence has been widespread and survives in modern
times through such individuals as Maurice Nicoll and J. G.
Bennett and a continuing tradition of Gurdjieff groups that
carry on unobtrusively. The books of P. D. Ouspensky have attracted
many seekers to the work of Gurdjieff, although Ouspensky
himself tended to intellectualize a system that depended
upon firsthand experience.
Gurdjieff himself was an enigmatic figure, whose lifestyle
often appeared at variance with that of a mystic master. He enjoyed
good food and wine and was capable of apparently inconsistent
behavior, usually explained away by his disciples as
being designed deliberately to shock individuals out of habitual
His book All and Everything Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson
(1950) can be variously interpreted as turgid writing or a
tongue-in-cheek attack on the reader’s level of consciousness.
Time magazine once aptly described Gurdjieff as a ‘‘remarkable
blend of P. T. Barnum, Rasputin, Freud, Groucho Marx, and
everybody’s grandfather.’’
Guppy-Volckman, Agnes Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Bennett, John Godolphin. Gurdjieff Making a New World.
New York Harper & Row, 1974.
———. Is There Life on Earth—An Introduction to Gurdjieff.
New York Stonehill, 1973. 1st Bennett Books ed., Santa Fe, N.
Mex. Bennett Books, 1989.
De Hartmann, Thomas. Our Life with Gurdjieff. New York
Penguin, 1972.
Driscoll, J. Walter. Gurdjieff An Annotated Bibliography. New
York Garland Publishing, 1985.
Lefort, Rafael. The Teachers of Gurdjieff. New York Samuel
Weiser, 1973.
Ouspensky, P. D. Tertium Organum (the third organ of thought)
A key to the enigmas of the world. Rochester, N.Y. Manas Press,
Pauwels, Louis. Gurdjieff. New York Samuel Weiser, 1972.
Speeth, Katherine Riodan. The Gurdjieff Work. Berkeley,
Calif. AndOr Press, 1976. Rev. ed., Los Angeles Jeremy P.
Tarcher, 1989.
Webb, James. The Harmonious Circle The Lives and Work of G.
I. Gurdjieff, P. D. Ouspensky, and Their Followers. New York G.
P. Putnam’s Sons, 1980.