George Gurdjieff

During the 1920s and ’30s, George Gurdjieff accumulated followers who were interested in his methods for attaining a higher level of consciousness.


G.I. Gurdjieff was born circa 1866 in Alexandropol (present-day Armenia). In 1922, after settling in France, he reopened his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. There, he taught students to reintegrate their spiritual nature with their daily modern lives. Gurdjieff's followers included writers P.L. Travers and Katherine Mansfield. He died in Neuilly, France (near Paris) in 1949.

Early Life

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, generally referred to as G.I. Gurdjieff, was born in Alexandropol, in the Armenian region of the Russia Empire (present-day Armenia). His birth date is possibly January 13, 1866—a date that is listed in one passport. However, another passport puts the date as December 28, 1877, and some close friends believed that his birth year was 1872. Gurdjieff himself was vague about his origins.

Gurdjieff's mother was Armenian and his father was Greek. Though his father worked as a carpenter, he also regaled Gurdjieff and others with recitations of legends, such as the epic of Gilgamesh. These tales may have spurred Gurdjieff's later belief in the existence of ancient knowledge that surpassed what was offered by science and religion.

Gurdjieff received early tutelage from the dean of the military cathedral at Kars, who was a priest and family friend. According to his autobiography, Meetings with Remarkable Men, he journeyed across Central Asia, Egypt and India in a voyage of spiritual discovery. However, there is no corroboration for Gurdjieff's self-reported accounting of his travels between 1887 and 1911.

Creating an Institute

When his travels were over, Gurdjieff returned to Russia. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, he moved to Tiflis, Georgia, where he opened the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in 1919. A few years later, Gurdjieff settled in France, where his institute took shape once more.

From his base at the Château du Prieuré, near Fontainebleau, Gurdjieff shared his new philosophy. He believed that man was in an almost constant sleep state, and that people must work to revive themselves in order to regain the higher consciousness that they are capable of. He also averred that the sleep state made people easy to manipulate, and was therefore a proponent of questioning everything.

At Fontainebleau, Gurdjieff often required people to listen to his writings as they were read aloud. People at the center also performed exercises and dance movements, sometimes to music created by Gurdjieff and composer Thomas de Hartmann.


Though he had brought followers with him to France, Gurdjieff gained more once he was ensconced in Fontainebleau, particularly as one early acolyte, P.D. Ouspensky, elucidated and propagated his teachings. His prominent followers included architect Frank Lloyd Wright's third wife, Olgivanna Hinzenburg, writer Katherine Mansfield, editor A.R. Orage and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers.

Gurdjieff developed a special vocabulary of his own in some of his writings, using words such as "blastegoklornian." For his disciples, these words increased his aura of deep understanding and mystery. For Gurdjieff's detractors, they made his writings even more nonsensical.

Later Years and Legacy

Gurdjieff continued teaching even after his Fontainebleau center closed its doors in 1933. He remained in Paris during World War II, surviving under the German occupation. On October 29, 1949, in Neuilly, France (near Paris), he died at the approximate age of 83. He left behind works that include All and Everything (containing Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, Meetings with Remarkable Men and Life Is Real Only Then, When 'I Am') and The Herald of Coming Good.

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