George Gurdjieff


George Gurdjieff : biography

13 January 1866 – 29 October 1949


Early years

Gurdjieff was born to a Greek father and Armenian mother in Alexandropol (now Gyumri, Armenia), then part of the Russian Empire.

The exact date of his birth remains unknown; conjectures range from 1866 to 1877. Some authors (such as Moore) argue persuasively for 1866, others, like Patterson (Struggle of the Magicians, pp. 273–74.), for 1872; Both Olga de Hartmann—the woman Gurdjieff called "the first friend of my inner life"—and Louise Goepfert March, Gurdjieff’s secretary in the early thirties, believed that Gurdjieff was born in 1872. A passport gave a birthdate of November 28, 1877, but he once stated that he was born at the stroke of midnight at the beginning of New Year’s Day (Julian calendar).

Gurdjieff’s childhood was spent in Kars, a city where Turkish, Armenian, Russian and other (he makes special mention of the Yazidis) cultures mingled. Early influences on him included his father, a carpenter and amateur ashik or bardic poet,Meetings with Remarkable Men, Chapter II. Gurdjieff uses the spelling "ashok and the priest Dean Borsh, a family friend. He was also an avid reader of scientific literature in the Russian language. Influenced by these teachings, and having witnessed a number of phenomena he could not explain, he formed the conviction that there was a hidden truth not to be found in science or mainstream religion.

Seeker after truth

In early adulthood, Gurdjieff’s curiosity led him to travel to Central Asia, Egypt, India, Tibet and Rome, before returning to Russia for a few years in 1912. He was always unforthcoming about the source of his teachings, but whatever it was, it was encountered during this phase of his life. The only account of his wanderings appears in his book Meetings with Remarkable Men. Most commentators, however, believe it cannot be read as a straightforward autobiography, leaving his background fairly mysterious.S. Wellbeloved, Gurdjieff, Astrology and Beelzebub’s Tales, pp. 9–13 Each chapter is named after an individual "remarkable man", many of them members of a society of "Seekers after truth". However, many subsequent commentators believe most of these characters are composites, or symbols. Encounters with dervishes, fakirs and Essenes are described. The book also has an overarching quest narrative, involving a map of "pre-sand Egypt," and culminating in an encounter with the "Sarmoung Brotherhood", an organisation which has never been definitively identified and which historian Mark Sedgwick has described as "overtly fictional" and "entirely imaginary."Mark Sedgwick, "" in Islam in Inter-War Europe, ed. by Natalie Clayer and Eric Germain. Columbia Univ. Press, 2008 p. 208. ISBN 978-0-231-70100-6


Gurdjieff claimed to have been supporting himself during his travels with odd jobs and trading schemes (some of them roguish, such as dying hedgerow birds yellow and selling them as canariesGurdjieff, G.I: "The Material Question", published as an addendum to Meetings with Remarkable Men). On his re-appearance, as far as the historical record is concerned, the ragged wanderer had transformed into a well-heeled businessman. His only autobiographical writing concerning this period is Herald of Coming Good, a work, if anything, even less reliable than Meetings. In it, he mentions acting as hypnotherapist specialising in the cure of addictions, and using people as guinea pigsGurdjieff, G.I.: Herald of Coming Good, p22 for his methods. It is also speculated that during his travels he was engaged in a certain amount of political activity, as part of the great game.Moore, pp 36-7

In Russia

From 1913 to 1949 the chronology appears to be based on material that can be confirmed by primary documents, independent witnesses, cross-references and reasonable inference. On New Year’s Day in 1912, Gurdjieff arrived in Moscow and attracted his first students, including his cousin, the sculptor Sergey Merkurov, and the eccentric Rachmilievitch. In the same year he married the Polish Julia Ostrowska in Saint Petersburg. In 1914, Gurdjieff advertised his ballet, The Struggle of the Magicians, and supervised his pupils’ writing of the sketch "Glimpses of Truth." In 1915, Gurdjieff accepted P. D. Ouspensky as a pupil, while in 1916 he accepted the composer Thomas de Hartmann and his wife Olga as students. At this time he had about 30 pupils. Ouspensky already had a reputation as a writer on mystical subjects and had conducted his own, ultimately disappointing, search for wisdom in the East. The Fourth Way "system" taught during this period was complex and metaphysical, partly expressed in scientific terminology.