The dancing provocateur
GYUMRI

The dancing provocateur

When the freight train entered the tunnel, the driver did not notice a short person of eastern appearance standing near the railroad. Nothing special happened. There were neither magical fireworks, nor solar eclipses, but the train did not come out of an empty tunnel. The person of eastern appearance cunningly smiled and left. This is one of numerous mystic stories from George Ivanovich Gurdjieff`s life. He was a mystic and philosopher. He was skilled in everything; a talented hustler and an energetic merchant. He began to work as a cleaner of decks on ships. Three decades later he became the owner of a castle in France and established the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man. The most prominent personalities of the era attended this place for true knowledge.

Text : Nune Melkoumian, First published in Yerevan magazine
 


The historian Avetik Melik-Sargsyan had been sitting at a library table for a couple of hours. He was searching through aged and yellowed documents, metrics, certificates of birth, ownership certificates of property, death certificates … And suddenly he found what he was looking for. Avetik jumped up, holding the cherished document. He wanted to return home to Gyumri as soon as possible. Finally, he was able to find the house where George Gurdjieff was born almost a century ago. During the evening of that same day, he was already strolling through the streets of Gyumri, which were recently destroyed by the earthquake. He was holding a household schedule. There was the number of the block on the first page ‘35’, where Gurdjieff used to live. The names of his parents (Ivan and Yeva), brother, sister and the future magician were written on the second page. So here he was, on Tikhy street. Gurdjieff referred to this block by the Greek word ‘slobodka’ in his memories.

***

Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol (now Gyumri) during a bitterly cold winter. He entered the world without tears and with eyes wide open. It seemed like he had begun to explore and take on the world with all its mysteries, irregularities and unwritten rules that only the initiated ones knew, from the very first moment of his life. The exact date of his birth still remains a mystery, some people believe he was born in 1866, others think in 1872 or in 1877. Some years later, when George Ivanovich went to the USA with his students, an officer at the visa application center found a mistake in his passport – the distant future was mentioned as the date of his birth. “Everything is right”, George Ivanovich was not perplexed at all. Generally, Gurdjieff lived his life as if dates and other such things were insignificant. Some years later, either due to a miracle or to his own strong will, he recovered from a mysterious car crash, and stated, “I am Gurdjieff, I will not die”. By that, he designed a special path for himself, which lives on to this day.


***

Gurdjieff lived and studied in Kars for a few years, he was sent there by his first teacher, the priest of Alexandropol Church, Dean Borsh. Once, when young George returned home to spend Easter with his family, he experienced an incident, the first one in a series of incomprehensible and inexplicable pattern of incidents, which he was to face in the future. Some years later he recalled that moment in his book ‘Meetings with Remarkable Men’.
“While I was working hard to implement the order, suddenly I heard a scream. I jumped up and was sure that something bad happened to one of the children playing around. I saw a boy surrounded by children, weeping loudly and making strange movements. The children were laughing at him. I came up and asked them what had happened. They told me that the weeping boy was Yezidi and they drew a circle around him. It was impossible to get out of that circle until it was wiped off. The child struggled to get out of the circle, but it did not work. I came up and erased part of the circle, allowing the boy to get out of it”.
George was not content with the banal explanations from his intelligent friends. He seemed to intuitively foresee that the answer was somewhere far away. Even further than logic was. But no matter what, Gurdjieff knew that he had to find the answer and kept on searching.

***

He began to seek the secret knowledge, believing that it had been preserved in the most ancient brotherhoods and esoteric societies of the world. He moved to Ani with his friend Sarkis Poghosyan and spent much of his time observing the ancient temples. George longed to find their traces in Ani, which was called the ‘city of one thousand and one churches’. And he did. For the first time Gurdjieff read about the secret brotherhood of Sarmoung in an ancient letter. “The brotherhood does exist”, the author of the letter was sure.
But where were they? Gurdjieff was searching and bought the most expensive and rarest books and manuscripts. The future philosopher was ready to do anything to get his hands on them. He even started selling sparrows, telling customers that they were rare American canaries. Every day Gurdjieff caught a few birds, painted and trimmed their feathers. George’s trickery and fantasy had no limits. Both Gurdjieff and his friend Poghosyan could speak Armenian fluently, but it was hard for them to understand many of the books they were interested in. It turned out that “it was written in ancient Armenian, which has little in common with the modern Armenian language”. Apparently it was Grabar (ancient Armenian language). “Most of all, we were impressed by the fact that the word ‘Sarmoung’, that we found in the book ‘MerkKhavat’ (Pure Faith), is the name of a famous esoteric school”. As a result, he found the clue. An ancient map of the world was preserved in one of the Armenian priests` house and the location of the brotherhood was indicated in it. Gurdjieff secretly made a copy of the map and then finally knew the path that would take him to the secret knowledge.

***       

Gurdjieff lived in Tiflis for some time. He had already made significant progress in studying Eastern philosophy and esotericism. Tiflis was another transit point for him, kind of a spring board for his great journeys. George Ivanovich used to work at the railway station, he was well received in many famous houses. Later, he recalled doing amazing business tricks made in Tifllis that brought him unprecedented profits.


***

In 1919, Gurdjieff established his first Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man in Tiflis, and soon the most prominent and intelligent personalities from the entire region began to attend the institute in pursuit of mysterious and eternal knowledge. Here, Gurdjieff became very popular. Famous people from Europe and the USA who were seeking the truth came to him. The teacher was sure that people were just like cars with a shallow soul. They were doing everything automatically, without realizing and recalling themselves. Gurdjieff thus developed a ‘Fourth Way’, encouraging a person to recall his actions, to develop his soul and to become immortal. To achieve the previously mentioned points, the guests of the castle were carrying water, feeding pigs and cultivating the land all day long. A few hours were dedicated to dance classes. The students were imitating the movements of celestial objects listening to music, composed by Gurdjieff. The teacher thought they were able to influence themselves and everything surrounding them by that. An unprecedented performance took place at the Theater of Champs Elysées in Paris in December, 1923. The performance consisted of special exercises, tricks and ‘magical experiments’. There was an impressive act during the performance, when any person in the audience managed to mentally transfer the title of any opera to the man sitting at the piano on the stage, who started to play the piece. Of course, dances were of special importance during the performance. The unreal, almost automatic synchronicity of the performers was astonishing. They were moving like dervishes. At the climax of the performance, the students turned their faces to the audience and rushed to the footlights and then jumped over the orchestra pit, falling into the first rows of the stalls. The audience jumped off their seats. All of this took place immediately after the teacher nodded. Afterwards, the dancers had no bone fractures, injuries or scratches to speak of.
 
Mixed reviews and responses were published in newspapers after each performance. Gurdjieff was titled a magician, a great master, a slave owner, a hypnotist, a witch and a dancing provocateur. He enjoyed every achievement. He was in love with his life, enjoying every second of it. He was madly in love with the material life, but spent everything seeking the immortality of the soul. On December 29th 1949, the magician suffered a fatal car accident in France. This was the second car accident he suffered. For the first time, he predicted his impending misfortune. The power of attorney was handed to his secretary and she took a train. The mechanic was asked to recheck the car. Gurdjieff was considered dead after the car crash and was taken to the morgue. But when the students came to take their teacher`s body away, the astonished doctor stated that Gurdjieff was alive. When the second accident happened, his students refused to believe that their teacher was dead. Some scientists think that the car crash was not an accident; Gurdjieff was disliked by many people. But everyone knew that the magician was a real road hog. This time the great master was not ready to face his own death.