Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gurdjieff and Blavatsky

While the majority of papers at the Sydney Conference covered areas of general theosophical influence, especially in the arts, Johanna Petsche’s “Gurdjieff and Blavatsky” focused on the trajectories of Blavatsky and Gurdjieff.

G.I. Gurdjieff rebukes any direct connection to Theosophy, yet has been quoted as declaring that he laboured to obtain “the erroneous statements of Mme. Blavatsky’s ‘The Secret Doctrine’”, and that Mme. Blavatsky fell in love with him. Similarities between the lives, teachings, sensationalist claims and mysterious personas of Blavatsky and Gurdjieff are striking. Both born in southern Russia and exposed to the diverse religions and cultures of the Caucasus, H.P. Blavatsky (1831-1891) and G.I. Gurdjieff (c. 1866-1949) claimed to have accessed hidden sources of esoteric knowledge, preserved for millennia by secret brotherhoods. Blavatsky affirms that the Mahatmas of the Great White Brotherhood, a fraternity of ascended spiritual masters, revealed this knowledge to her, whereas Gurdjieff claims that he found this knowledge through a series of “remarkable men” that he met during a twenty-year search across Central Asia and the Middle East. Gurdjieff’s teachings were formed in Russia in the early part of the twentieth century during the Occult Revival when Theosophical ideas were widely available. Some of his closest pupils had backgrounds in Theosophy such as P.D. Ouspensky, A.R. Orage, J.G. Bennett and Thomas and Olga de Hartmann. It is no surprise then that many of Blavatsky’s core ideas in The Secret Doctrine can be found in Gurdjieff’s writings. Blavatsky’s symbolism of three and seven, “four bodies of mankind”, “Ray of Creation”, four elements (“hydrogen”, “carbon”, “oxygen” and “nitrogen”), seven subtle bodies, identification of the Soul with the Over-Soul, and general merging of Western Occult Tradition with Eastern teachings, are clearly echoed in the writings and teachings of Gurdjieff. This paper explores synergies between the teachings of Blavatsky and Gurdjieff, and addresses the question of whether or not Gurdjieff was directly influenced by Blavatsky’s ideas or whether they were both simply drawing on common esoteric currents prominent in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Europe.

Among those who visited Gurdjieff at his school at Fontainebleau, France, Johanna Petsche mentioned Maud Hoffman, A.P. Sinnett’s executor, responsible for placing the Mahatma Letters in the British Museum, and A. Trevor Barker, who transcribed and edited the letters for publication.

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