Gurdjieff, circa 1924

Gurdjieff International Review

Gurdjieff Heads the Newest Cult

Which Harks Back to Ancient Days

by Raymond G. Carroll

[First published in the New York Evening Post, January 26, 1924, p. 12. Raymond Carroll provides a journalist's jaunty account of "Gurdjieffers," the "weird and fantastic Gurdjieff cult" which had just arrived in the U.S. for the first time. Despite Carroll's limited understanding of Gurdjieff and the movements demonstration he witnessed, his article contains several vivid observations that are not available elsewhere.]

All His Followers Turn Over Their Worldly Goods to "The Master" to Be Used For Further Propagation Of Strange Faith

A NEW CULT has come to town. Really it is a very old cult, for it scurries down through the centuries to us from pagan times. Like all cults it has a "Master"—Gurdjieff, a former Greek antique collector who lived in Moscow but who spent years studying the pagan harmonic rhythms, the gymnastics of esoteric schools, sacred temple dances and ceremonies, the ritual movements of monks, dervishes, shamans, and fakirs of the various religious ceremonies.

You pronounce his name "Gurr-jeff." He is here among us—a medium-sized man of powerful black eyes with a black mustache which rides his upper lip like a whipstock. His head is shaved, after the fashion of a Brahmin. None other—yes, he is the famous Gurdjieff of the Gurdjieff Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, which is permanently located in the outskirts of the historic town of Fountainbleau, thirty-seven miles southeast of Paris.

It is a colony, and the headquarters are in the Captain Alfred Dreyfus chateau, which that French Army officer, after his innocence was proved, presented to his lawyer, Labori, from whose estate was purchased the property about a year ago. This is the mecca of the Gurdjieff cult, which is run as a self-contained industrial community.

Gurdjieff is in America, frankly seeking converts. He speaks very little English, but that is unnecessary, for his mouthpiece is Alfred Richard Orage, an Irishman, well-known in London, who is an ardent disciple. There are upwards of forty dancers and musicians, half of them Russian and the remainder French and British. Ouspensky, the Russian mystic, visited Gurdjieff at Fountainbleau, talked with him upon occult matters, rambled through the great forest watching the self-discipline inflicted upon the converts and then exclaimed: "You are indeed Master—I don't know anything. Teach me."

Gurdjieff got his mysticism first-hand. He left Cairo, Egypt, in the late nineties and visited Turkestan, Persia, Afghanistan, Hindustan and then went into Thibet. Mr. Orage says that he tapped all the sources of knowledge and truth, and after a quarter of a century spent in study of the sacred art of the ancient East, returned to civilization with his amazing material.

The theory of the cult is to achieve super-consciousness as the old Asiatics did. This is done by making the body entirely submissive to the will, to such an extent that it ceases to exist. That is to force the body to do certain things now considered impossible, and then stand off spiritually and watch it.

Normally only about one-fourth of the functions of the body are conscious while three-fourths are unconscious. Gurdjieff claims to have the knowledge necessary to extend the conscious functions of the body into the domain of the unconscious, so that by act of the mind you can regulate your circulation of blood or gland functions as freely as you now whirl an arm around your head or swing your leg in the function of walking.

In short, the production of cosmic consciousness is the goal of the cult, and the inducement held forth for success is that if you attain it in perfection, when you die you can choose your next abode—'select' where you go after the earthly death.

The first demonstration in force of the Gurdjieff theories was given to an invited audience the other evening at a hall in West Eighty-third street. The head of the cult was there in a sack suit, furiously smoking cigarettes as his program unfolded.

First came the dances performed by a flock of men and women attired in loose-fitting garments and soft shoes. It was most fantastic, for each person was moving in a different way. A strange orchestra under the direction of a man named Hardman [sic. Thomas de Hartmann] furnished the music, which was weirdly Eastern. The beating of a tom-tom predominated. The movements were symbolic, but not … strange to relate, here is a cult in which sex does not figure at all.

It is impossible to enumerate either the names or the forms of the sacred dances displayed and which were a part of the worship of antiquity. A lady who seemed up on them explained that the dances were in the olden days adapted to many purposes—to thanksgiving, praise, supplication, and humiliation. Then there was the whirling dervish dance that used to be a feature with the Barnum & Bailey circus.

Gurdjieff directed the dancers, setting them going with a wave of his arms and then bringing them to a quick stop when, singular to state, they kept their balance in the last position taken, standing like statues carved in wood. The dancers seemed under the spell of a hypnotic or magnetic power.

The music outjazzed jazz, and although Gurdjieff is not a musician the harmonies and melodies played were taken down by Hardman from Gurdjieff's memory of what he had heard in his "search for truth" in the East. Gurdjieff claims they date back to the very earliest antiquity, through inscriptions on monuments as well as through their performance in certain temples down to the present day.

The conclusion of the program was a demonstration of various tricks, semi-tricks and real phenomena occurring in religious ceremonies and based chiefly upon hypnotism and magnetism in the broad sense.

What puzzled the normal mind was that humans could be found to lend their minds to the vague philosophies, and bodies to the extraordinary gyrations of the cult.

Mr. Orage says that between eighty and ninety converts are now at Fontainbleau further perfecting themselves in the mysteries of the theories. One is an English woman of noble birth, who does all her own washing. Another is Major Frank Pinder, a British army officer. Katherine Mansfield, one of the modern writers, was a disciple of the cult. She recently died at the French retreat, where the converts live in a primitive way, eat plain food, cut their own firewood, and engage in shoemaking, weaving, and other simple arts.

Ah, we have now arrived at the requirements for admittance to the Gurdjieff cult. To be a Gurdjieffer one must surrender all worldly goods, turn them in to the Master for the common good of the cult and its further propagation. Zowie!

Shades of the Gonds of Hindustan, the Kurhis of Assam, the Hoolee of the Vindhya Hills—was this the mysticism of the ancients? In the vernacular of Broadway, to be a Gurdjieff disciple one must "kick in" as well as kick around in "sacred dances."

Copyright © 1924 New York Evening Post
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