Deconstructing Gurdjieff: Biography of a Spiritual Magician

Tobias Churton. Inner Traditions, $29.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-62055-638-2
Churton (Occult Paris) makes full use of his fascination with the cultural underpinnings of European esoterica in this biography of George Gurdjieff, an enigmatic, mischievous, and challenging mystic and spiritual teacher. Churton, critically, asks the question of whether Gurdjieff is “a reliable narrator of his own life” and centers his study on Gurdjieff’s semi-autobiographical texts, Meetings with Remarkable Men, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, and Life Is Real Only Then, When “I Am.” He describes Gurdjieff’s corpus as “filled with pseudo-objectivity... and arch pretentiousness” before going on to explain his readings of the books through the realities of history and the context of Gurdjieff’s personal life, focusing particularly on his poorly understood early life. Churton brings in many contemporary sources and concurrent spiritual movements, even as Gurdjieff himself only acknowledges the ancients and some Sufi and Yezedi influences on his work. While explaining some of Gurdjieff’s best-known concepts—the three brains of fallen man, the ray of creation, the enneagram, the sacred dances—Churton undercuts Gurdjieff’s declarations of the originality of his ideas, instead focusing on his strength of personality and ability to exploit weakness. Churton’s remarkable ability to make a coherent narrative out of disparate information while also weaving in other research interests, such as the influence of Aleister Crowley, makes this a valuable resource for those familiar with Gurdjieff’s work, and it’s easily readable for those coming fresh to the topic. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/10/2017
Release date: 06/01/2017
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