George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (c.1866-1949)

Master Magician of Harmonious Development

Gurdjieff was born in Armenia to a Greek/Armenian family, his father being a well-known local bard or storyteller, part of an ancient tradition that Gurdjieff continued in his own fashion. Gurdjieff was a lifelong adventurer, travelling throughout central Asia to discover long-forgotten methods of human transformation. Along the way he became at various times a successful hypnotist, healer, and (for want of a better term) psychologist at a time when that art was still in its infancy. Through his association with what he claimed were "forbidden" monasteries and hidden Sufi teaching centers, with a substantial dose of Theosophy and other occult practices, he eventually became a master of esotericism, sacred dance and music.

Like his contemporary Helena Blavatsky he would often be accused of charlatanism, a reputation he did nothing to prevent, as he saw it as helping to separate the wheat from the chaff among potential students. Though he was probably influenced by Blavatksy and other leaders of the occult fads that were rife among the intelligentsia of pre-Revolutionary Russia, he was too strong a personality to remain an imitator for long, and soon blazed his own path.

He began teaching small groups in Moscow before the Russian Revolution, then escaped with a few devotees through the Caucasus region to Constantinople; later he established a teaching center near Paris called the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in which over a hundred students lived and worked. In 1924, after a serious auto accident, he closed the center and began writing his major works including the hefty and difficult tome popularly known as Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson (more accurately, All and Everything, First Series). This book, consisting of over 1200 pages of difficult prose, contains a highly mythologized and allegorized history of the earth and of human civilization's degeneration and fall into delusion, occasionally punctuated by brief visits by messengers from above -- conscious adepts and masters who attempt to awaken mankind to its real plight.

He attracted a small circle of students mainly from the literary and artistic classes and continued to lecture and arrange public demonstrations of his sacred dances all through the German Occupation and until his death in 1949. Gurdjieff visited the U.S. on several occasions, establishing satellite groups in New York City and elsewhere. His influence has extended to this day in many and varied forms, and numerous "schools" or work centers exist attempting to continue his teaching with variable success.



Basic Teachings


Hypnosis vs. Consciousness

Perhaps the single most basic underlying tenet of Gurdjieff's system is that the vast majority of ordinary humans live their lives in a form of waking sleep or hypnosis, operating by conditioned reflexes, manipulated by heredity and societal conditioning and behaving in a merely mechanical fashion totally at the mercy of random external influences.

Gurdjieff made it his lifelong task to awaken or dehypnotize people through various means addressing all of their centers, using a complex and frequently changing program of textual study, music and dance, and physical labor. The intended result was that initiates could, with great effort, become more conscious, free from the law of accident, and eventually come into contact with higher forces which would assist them in their continued evolution.

Many “I”s

Related to the fact that most ordinary people sleepwalk through life in a mechanical fashion is the corollary idea that such people do not constitute individual “I”-centers, but rather each such sleeping individual is nothing more than a mixed-up conglomeration of many little “I”s that generally work against each other in a chaotic, disorganized fashion like a mob rather than an orderly assembly. Part of the Work of waking up includes learning to recognize these many little “I”s for what they are, and bringing them under the control of a magnetic center or inner work ego. This is harder than it sounds, and can provide an aim for an individual's work for many years.

Three Centers

Gurdjieff spoke of humans as "three-brained" beings, possessing three separate "centers" -- the physical, emotional, and intellectual centers. In most people, who are seen as still “asleep,” these three centers work at odds with each other, out of harmony, interfering with the individual's possibilities for higher development. For instance, someone may want to alter a particular emotion or habit but finds that bodily posture and habits work against it. In people who are not yet awakened, these three centers simply unwind like clockwork mechanisms, resulting in the individual's inevitable death with no possibility of higher evolution either during physical life or at some future time. These three centers are themselves three big inner “I”s (egos). Recognizing one's mechanical condition is the first step to awakening from one's sleep. Then, one realizes that to alter one's inner state requires altering the outer state also. In the Golden Dawn, this is a role fulfilled by ritual.

Each center also has its own unique "food," as Gurdjieff called it – some substance that gives it energy to work. On the physical level, this is simply ordinary material food; on the higher levels, such “food” constitutes subtle perceptions, myth and symbolism, which literally “feed” (give energy to) our higher centers. Just as the physical body has its “junk food” and its “health food,” so too do the higher centers. Gurdjieff's emphasis was on the whole-being transformation of humans: mental, emotional, and physical -- all three centers working harmoniously in unison.

Three Ways

Gurdjieff described three traditional methods or streams of self development, each one addressed to a different "center" in an individual following it:

1. "The Way of the Fakir" -- Emphasizing physical action, as in most forms of yoga (especially hatha) and martial arts.

2. "The Way of the Monk" -- Emphasizing emotional life and devotion, as in popular religious sects and in bhakti yoga.

3. "The Way of the Yogi" -- Emphasizing the development of intellectual capacities, as in some advanced forms of jnana yoga, meditation, self-inquiry, and study.

Gurdjieff's path became known as the Fourth Way, which we might call "the Way of the Magician."

The Law of Three

Gurdjieff taught that three fundamental forces lie at the core of manifest existence and operate in both the human and non-human realms. These forces are as follows:

Holy Affirming Force (Active)
Holy Denying Force (Passive)
Holy Reconciling Force (Neutralizing)

These three forces work with one another in a dialectical manner, similar to the Hegelian concept of thesis – antithesis – synthesis. In terms of the human centers, at any given time one center can be active, another passive, and the third one reconciling. If more than one center attempts to be active or passive at the same time, inner conflict results and much spiritual energy is wasted. Learning how to apply the Law of Three in various human activities is an important part of Fourth Way work.

The Law of Seven

Also known as the Law of Octaves, this spiritual law was inspired by Gurdjieff's great esoteric insight into musical theory. This concept teaches that life evolves or grows not along a straight line, but similar to a scale of notes in a musical octave where the interval between one specific frequency of energy (“pitch”) and its whole-number multiple (double, triple, quadruple, etc.) can be precisely determined, and higher octaves echo or mirror lower ones. This law of music, which Gurdjieff esoterically applied to human spiritual growth, has several implications for spiritual growth.

For example, harmony results from certain predictable ratios and proportions, while disharmony results from “bad” or incorrect proportions.

In addition, the Law of Octaves teaches that one can only make straight-line progress up to a certain point, at which point a new cycle begins, similar to the old one but on a higher plane. This teaching suggests that one grows towards a plateau, at which point further progress becomes nearly impossible unless one sharply changes one's method of approach. What Gurdjieff calls a “shock to the system” is needed to push a person beyond a given plateau to a new level of energy and work, and this shock must come from outside the person – thus the need for a teacher and a school or order to provide the extra outside stimulus. This is also related to Gurdjieff's teaching, noted below, that in the work ordinary efforts do not avail and only “super-efforts” are helpful. Super-efforts are what is required to go beyond a plateau and begin a new, higher-frequency octave of work.

Resevoirs of Energy

Underlying the idea of super-efforts and “shocks” to lift one beyond plateaus in the work is the concept that within us, each center has its own resevoir of energy which must be filled (by consious labor and intentional suffering) in order for the extra energy to flow outward and upward, charging higher centers. If a resevoir is not sufficiently filled in the right manner, no amount of effort will help as the extra energy simply gets wasted or drained out to lower centers. It's like having a bucket with a leak in the bottom: if a small amount of water is poured into the bucket, it will simply leak out; but a large enough quantity poured in can overcome the leak and cause the bucket to overflow. 


The basic practice in the Fourth Way is self-observation, by which an initiate must learn to "divide attention" between outer and inner, watching his own internal states in the midst of everyday life. It is said to be a difficult practice to perform consistently, which is why it is necessary to get all of one's centers to perform it simultaneously. In our own Golden Dawn tradition, ceremonial magick and invocation with all their associated paraphenelia serve to bring the various centers into simultaneous operation and to act as "reminding factors" to help initiates practice self-observation.

Conscious Labor and Intentional Suffering

In teachings expanding upon the idea of self-observation, Gurdjieff taught that self-observation can extend to all aspects of one's life, including one's daily physical activities and labors. Such conscious labor helps one to extend the sphere of one's wakefulness to wider and wider areas of life. Gurdjieff also taught that intentional suffering can act as a potent reminding factor for self-observation and growth. In conscious suffering, the initiate deliberately submits to various difficulties and challenges to maintain wakefulness. Gurdjieff taught that one of the easiest and most fundamental forms of conscious suffering on the path was to learn to bear the negative manifestations of others without complaint, using them instead for one's growth.

 Increasing Demands

Gurdjieff once said that, on the path of conscious evolution, "ordinary effort is not enough, only super-effort counts." One will also find that as one progresses on the path, greater and greater demands are made of one in order to continue one's evolution. The Way of the Magician is a stairway on which every initiate is dependent on those ahead of him for help (teachers and masters) and responsible for bringing others up behind him.

Understanding of the underlying principles of the Way of the Magician is necessary for the fullest experience of any Initiatory school, including the Order of the Golden Dawn.



Gurdjieff Quotations: on the Search for Truth

(From Views from the Real World, pp. 57-59, selected paragraphs – see original book for full context)

In order to do you must know; but to know you must find out how to know. We cannot find this out by ourselves.

It is clear that a man left to his own devices cannot wring out of his little finger the knowledge of how to develop – and still less, exactly what to develop in himself.

The more a man studies the obstacles and deceptions which lie in wait for him at every step in this realm, the more convinced he becomes that it is impossible to travel the path of self-development on the chance instructions of chance people, or the kind of information culled from reading and casual talk.

The Great Knowledge is handed on in succession from age to age, from people to people, from race to race. The revered names of the great initiates, the living bearers of the truth, are handed on reverently from generation to generation.

Truth is fixed by means of symbolic writings and legends and is transmitted to the mass of people for preservation in the form of customs and ceremonies, in oral traditions, in memorials, in sacred art through the invisible quality in dance, music, sculpture and various rituals. It is communicated openly after a definite trial to those who seek it and is preserved by oral transmission in the chain of those who know.

After a certain time has elapsed, the centers of initiation die out one after another, and the ancient knowledge departs through underground channels into the deep, hiding from the eyes of the seekers.

The bearers of this knowledge also hide, becoming unknown to those around them, but they do not cease to exist. From time to time separate streams break through to the surface, showing that somewhere deep down in the interior, even in our day, there flows the powerful ancient stream of true knowledge of being.

To break through to this stream, to find it—this is the task and the aim of the search; for, having found it, a man can entrust himself boldly to the way by which he intends to go; then there only remains “to know” in order “to be” and “to do.” On this way a man will not be entirely alone; at difficult moments he will receive support and guidance, for all who follow this way are connected by an uninterrupted chain.

A long and difficult journey is before you; you are preparing for a strange and unknown land. The way is infinitely long. You do not know if rest will be possible on the way nor where it will be possible. You should be prepared for the worst. Take all the necessities for the journey with you.

Do not be overcurious nor waste time on things that attract your attention but are not worth it. Time is precious and should not be wasted on things which have no direct relation to your aim.

Remember where you are and why you are here.

Do not protect yourselves and remember that no effort is made in vain.