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About the author:

Dr. Levan Khetaguri, Tbilisi, 1964

Director, professor of Arts Research Institute of Georgia

World Theatre History and Theory; Cultural Management and Cultural Policy.
Interdisciplinary research of Arts theory and practice and teaching for BA, MA and PhD

//article in English translated by Ana Kvinikadze//

Gurdjieff and Tiflis at the edge of the centuries (XIX-XX)

Tbilisi represents urban cross-road for cultures and civilizations, as far as strange not to be
this kind of cross-roads, where intersect West and East, is readable as Asian, old world
phenomenon. This time in Europe cross-roads (cultural, spiritual) apparently gone away,
however, that is why it is European – unified western civilization, as a unified space, which
itself is the boundary towards others.


According to classic fairy tales (however, we must seek for mythological-sacral basis) human
being involved in the journey (on the other hand, for the lovers of travel and adventure, IE
ventures) will surely meet the cross-road during his trip, where, as a rule, in front of you is 3

options and wherever you go, you can no longer get back, though from the fourth direction
you came yourself in this cross-road and fell under the center of the universe.

Mythological cross-road is opportunity to start initiation, to make a choice. Starting a

journey, in all cases, is starting initiation and the warning that you may no longer return or
die – has esoteric significance, IE after the initiation person is dying in its primary form and
you can never go back in old form of yourself. Movement starting at the crossroads is your
opportunity for “transformation”.

Tbilisi is the crossroad.

Tbilisi on the way of the Silk Road.

The Silk Road started in the Chinese Empire also crossed Tbilisi and among many other
cities, Tbilisi in the same way was the conductor of Asian and European trade, culture, News,
science, etc. an intensive exchange in current understanding – transit city.

The less on the Silk Road is explored cultural mutual influence; otherwise this had a direct
impact on artistic, musical, theatrical and etc. cultural dialogue and mutual enrichment.

An example from my own experience: a few years ago Chinese Professor visited us with his
lectures, which represented Chinese Theatre with anthropological method and it turns out
that lyre protected in their museums is dead musical instrument and he for the first time
here, in Georgia heard its sound.

Tbilisi alchemy

I think that the most famous esoteric phenomenon is related to Vakhtang Gorgasali. Legends
related to him gives us a direct key in connection with this. He was coroneted at the age of
15. In folk verse dedicated to him is said:

King Vakhtang was loved by the God,

he heard a tang from the sky,

and landed on Elbrus

the mountains started bending1.

He is the chosen one, he hears celestial voice and mountains band over his feet. Secret
hidden in the mountains (In Caucasus numerous treasure were presented as a result of
trekking) - treasure according to the ancient myth is authentic sing of gaining initiation and
sacred knowledge. In the bible Moses receives the 10 commandments on the mountain as a
“knowledge treasure” (mountain is extremely important sacred sign, thrown up from the
ground moving upward to the sky and etc.) The wolf is directly related to Gorgasali (the
symbol of his helmet and name – Gorgasali comes from it). Georgian mountains are rich with
copper, while the popular legend about pheasant and his boil just promoted establishment of
the “gastronomic” interpretation. However, it is clear that beyond Tbilisi is hidden some
other things, IE in wolf and copper connection was missing sulphur, in order that we could
reach to gold,we needed the medieval ideas about philosophical stone.We made perfect
alchemical marriage and as a result of this successful “marriage” Tbilisi became a throne city.
However, as the historical sources tells us the city have been here before a long ago (and
Georgia historically were a rich country with gold).

Tbilisi took upon itself responsibility of being capital of Caucasus, metropolitan and
undertake functions of the ancient area center. In the occult history wars between races was
happening in Caucasus and after the victory of white race, origin takes place from
here.Therefore, it is no longer random that white race is referred to Caucasus.


Together with the strengthening of secret orders and schools, more important was becoming
the fact who would rule Tbilisi and today it is clear that in the Early Middle Ages Georgia,
flag of Jerusalem, stonemasons, European Knights, European Christian mysticism (Neo-
Platonism) and Muslim mysticism (Sufism) seriously must have crossed in Tiflis.

Tbilisi, in Georgia, we must consider as European and Asian urban center, where seriously
was developing artisan shops.

A small excursion into history:

The oldest professional workshops was the unity of actors in ancient Greece, subsequently
the most well-known professional unity becomes stonemasons consolidation. In the middle
ages the number of those professional unities were increasing and as far as strange not to be
in Europe exclusive right of showing “Civil Mysteries” goes to their hands. Desire of
holding/restoring such ancient religious mysteries preserved the various secret schools and
orders. Among them young Steiner and order of Rosicrucian, lodges and other similar
European and Oriental Mysticism approached each other in recognition of the “Absolute”.
Sufism was also sharing the idea of Absolute and we still encounter on cultural crossroad.

In professional flags used in Tbilisi workshops we see classic European heraldic traditions,
where we meet with the sacral knowledge and mystery schools. Tbilisi and Tbilisi’s
workshops was not far from Sufism.

Niko Pirosmani was also a member of Tbilisi’s workshop.

From Sufism to Neo-Sufism in Tbilisi

It seems Sufi ideas and Dervishes themselves settle in Tbilisi’s reality in the early medieval

Town lifestyle – “Wine, Pipe, Women”, Sufi provision – becomes kitsch already in XIX
century, in Tbilisi.

Attire of Karachogeli repeats some of the Sufi order’s representative’s robes.

By Crossing European and Oriental traditions we get – master taking apprentice - kind of
relationship, his baptism, and blessing as a master. Here we see how these traditions mix up
(In Sufism one of the most important is master-pupil’s relationship).

Persian and Arabian traditions must be the source of Sufism entering in Tbilisi. It was
happening not only by the Silk Way, but also directly by the establishing dervishes and
Persians in Tbilisi. In Tbilisi’s world outline – “poverty- enjoyment of life” became serious
tradition, which was formulating as a Georgian stereotype, especially in recent centuries,
however, Tbilisi never has been fully monogamous-Georgian (but all the foreigners above all
knew Georgia because of Tbilisi).

We should not exclude that trade in Georgia generally was considered as a shame (especially,
to find more benefit than you need for existence – there is numerous examples of it in Sufi’s
saint life’s describing), which largely prevented country’s economic development.

It is not accidental that multicultural bohemian Tbilisi was challenged by monogamous

bohemian Kutaisi and finally together with the Soviet Union Tbilisi-based culture is
becoming much more monogamous (not by the ethnic statistics, but by their self-expression
opportunities). It was well-known Robakidze and “Blue Horns” confrontation with the
performances arranged by Gurdjieff.

Tbilisi’s multiculturalism progressed thanks to local Sufi traditions and “imaginations about
Europe”. Populations of Tbilisi lived and thought philosophically. Wealthaccumulation was
considered as a shame for ethnic Georgians (especially in aristocracy, we have excellent
examples of it from XIX century’s dramaturgy: Eristavi, Antonov, Cagareli; Dramaturgy as
you know reflects reality the most well) and it was unacceptable activity for intellectuals and

aristocracy (however, “enlightenment”, entering of “tergdaleulebi” brought new
consciousness and occurred revaluation of values). Life was passing in feasting and the basic
form of literature predominantly remained poetry up to XIX century. Poetry, as a basis for
literature, philosophy, mystics. Georgian poetry was tightly related to Persian traditions and

Entering of Neo-Sufism founder in traditional Sufism

Gurdjieff do not refuse the inscription on the Ancient Greek temple of Apollo - “Know
thyself” by Sufi. Cognition of oneself is key issue for Gurdjieff, otherwise there will be no

Gurdjieff as one of the most important mystic of twenties century, founder of Neo-Sufism
and history of “magician” is closely intertwined with Tbilisi. This time I will not give
detailed analysis of his life, I will only touch a few episodes (for more details you can read
my article2).

Gurdjieff impact is very important on XX century’s culture and I wonder what impact he had
on Tbilisi until Soviet annexation and after that.

Gurdjieff was born in Alexsandropol, grew up in Kars and is associated with Tbilisi from
adolescence (from the Theological Seminary). Most likely he was connected with Stalin and
Kamo criminal group in Tbilisi. Relations with Tbilisi can be divided into two stages.

The first stage is related to revolutionary circles in Tbilisi. Have been interested in
mysticism, Gurdjieff gained his first mystical experience during the meeting with Yezidies

ხეთაგური ლ., გურჯიევი და მსოფლიო კულტურა//გურჯიევი გიორგი „ცხოვრება რეალურია
მხოლოდ მაშინ, როცა „მე ვარ“, თბლისი, 2009

living in Tbilisi, when he became a witness of mystical ritual – Yezid child could not come
out from circle and was suffering (In dramaturgy we can see the same ritual in Marlow’s
“Doctor Faustus” – call of Mephistopheles). In the same period he most likely participated in
Bank robbing for “funding revolution”; Later Stalin helped Gurdjieff with his connections in
Russia organizing first expedition in Tibet. Also, in the first period we must assume existence
of his Georgian brother-in-low – Kapanadze (who was his sister’s husband and never
separated from Gurdjieff, especially in the second period, he was with him even in American
expedition and e.t.).

The second phase is his return to Tbilisi after Russian Revolution in 1918. In 1919 he opens
his institute – “Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man”. This institute was
supported by the Tbilisi City Hall of that time and Menshevik government.

This time I will not deepen the first period and directly talk about the second one, because
here we can find a number of important circumstances.

Gurdjieff’s return to Tbilisi takes place when so-called Tbilisi avant-garde is in its blossoming
period; intellectuals who escaped from Russia looked at Tbilisi as a cultural Mecca.

For Gurdjieff Tbilisi isa native space, because he, with his nature, rhythm and plastic is
typical old citizen of Tbilisi, living in Avlabari.

In Tbilisi intersect roads of Gurdjieff, Salzmann and Hartman. This cross-road one the one
hand is related to:

- Eurhythmy of Rudolf Steiner

- Hellerau, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze and Adolhpe Appia
- Peter Brook

Alexander Salzmann was main artist of Tbilisi Opera Theatre. He was born in Georgia,
received higher education in Germany and was one of the founders of Hellerau. From there

he brought with him his wife – Jeanne Salzmann in Tbilisi, who from 1918 year taught
rhythmic gymnastics (for reference – from Hellerau begins the origin of modern dance
theatre, rhythmic relates studies, etc.).

Famous composer from Petersburg, Conservatory Professor Hartman was a friend of

Salzmann, who was follower and learner of Gurdjieff and arrived in Tbilisi from Russia with
him. Thanks to him Salzmanns are introduced to Gurdjieff and this relationship lasts till the
end, to such an extent that Jeanne becomes indispensable assistant to the Gurdjieff, pupil and
successor of his deeds and spiritual mentor of Peter Brook and his wife – Natasha Parry
(Book – Threads of Time3).

Gurdjieff in Tbilisi for the first time carries out his long-term dream of opening Institute;
Tbilisi City Hall helps him with assigning building. And the second long-standing project his
libretto for ballet – “Sorcerers Battle”.

At that time, the definition of dance theatre was only - Ballet; however, with current
understanding, we can say that this was the first large-scaled project in dance theatre.

In regard of this project drew up agreement with Tbilisi Opera House, Gurdjieff was given a
room for rehearsals.

In the description of the first scene of libretto is portrayed action place in details, which is
familiar to only residents of Tbilisi – old Tbilisi district of baths and Meidan. These are
impressions of Gurdjieff’s childhood and adolescence.

Kars and Narikala Castle landscape with the view of river is so similar to each other, that it’s
hard to believe that these cities are not connected with something. Most likely, Gurdjieff in
his first period must have lived in this area of old Tbilisi.

Peter Brook, Threads of Time, A memoir, Methuen Drama, L., 1998

His basic concept included the following: he titled himself as a truth-seeker (later Uspensky
called it - “The Forth Way”).

Ancient sacred knowledge after the destruction of Atlantis dismantled into three pieces:

I India – Philosophy

II Egypt - Theory

III Today’s Persia, Mesopotamia, Turkistan – Practice

In 1914 Gurdjieff said: “My Ballet is not a Mystery”… - … the task consists in creating
interesting and beautiful performance, of course, beyond the external shape is covered
familiar conception, but I did not set this as a goal. Imagine, together with the getting know
to celestial bodies, for example solar system planets, you will create a special mechanism to
depict, according to this law of the movement, image and remind about them. Mechanism is
shown in motion and all sphere begins to move and revolve in its outlined path, embodies
the rules in vision form that drives planets movement. This mechanism reminds us of
everything we know about the solar system. Something like this is planted in some of the
dance rhythm, strictly defined movements and in visible forms of dances are restored certain
laws, understandable for those who know it. Such kinds of dances are called – “Holy dances”.

During my trip to the East I often become witness how these dances performed during divine
service in ancient temples. Some of them have been restored and presented in – “Sorcerers
Battle”, in addition the ballet is based on three particular idea. “But if I make a ballet on
ordinary stage, spectators will never understand it”4 – Gurdjieff said.

As Gurdjieff describes his project himself … “in direct understanding this will be no ballet,
but a number of dramatic and mime scenes united with each other with a common plane, it
will have accompaniment of songs, music and dance. The most matching name for this

Успенский П.Д. В поисках чудесного, М., 2000, стр. 22-23

scenes would be a “review”, but without any comic elements. This ballet or “review” is called
- “Sorcerers Battle”. Important scenes express “white colt” and “black colt” schools, exercises
of both schools pupils and battle between them. The action takes place in the background of
an oriental city, here and there with sacred dances, national dances of dervishes, which is
common in the East; all these things are intertwined into love story, which in itself has no
allegorical meaning5.

Gurdjieff explains that the same actors will perform white and black colt school students,
whose movements and dances (in case of whites) should be attractive and beautiful while the
black one is ugly and unattractive.

Gurdjieff adds – “By force of dance they will see and learn all sides of their selves, that’s why
ballet (dance) has a great importance in self-study6.

Gurdjieff studied Sufism and extended his knowledge in Persia, Turkey, India, Turkistan,
Egypt and many other locations.

In Sufism important place takes fakir (Arabian) and Dervish (Persian), both have the same
meaning – poorand beyond physical, material poverty – spiritual foresight and wealth.

“People are machines!”

Girdjieff often repeated this.

“Telling the truth is the most difficult thing and in order to speak truth, is necessary long-
term study. Only desire is not sufficient here. In order to speak the truth, one must know
what truth is – first of all in our selves. And nobody wants this kind of knowledge7.”

Ibid, page 23
Ibid, page 23
Успенский П.Д. В поисках чудесного, М., 2000, page 30

“I do not call Art all the things whatever you call it; It is only and only mechanical
perception of nature, imitation of other people, or fantasy and originality. True Art is
something completely different. Among the art works, especially ancient ones, you meet
many things which you cannot explain, containing something modern art is lacking.8”

“In true art nothing is random. It is mathematics. In it we can calculate and know everything
in advance. Artist knows and understands what he wants to convey, and his works cannot
impress differently on two people, provides, of course, if these persons are at the same level.
It generates the same impression in mathematical precision.

One and the same Art work will cause a different impression on to those people, who have
different levels, people on a low level will never take what people on a high level and this is
true, objective Art”9.

“… Art objective work resembles this kind of book (science book on Chemistry or
Astrology), but it also operates on the human emotional side and not only on intellect.10

Objective art work represents the Egyptian Great Sphinx, as well as some of the famous
architectural creation, some sculpture of Gods and many others.

There are figures of the deity and mythological creatures that can be read like books, but not
only with mind but also emotions, provided if you have this ability developed quite well11.

- Knowledge is not lost, but it cannot become as a universal achievement12.

Ibid, page 35
Ibid, page 36
Успенский П.Д. В поисках чудесного, М., 2000, page 37
Ibid, page 37
Ibid, page 50

- Why knowledge cannot belong to everyone, it also can not belong to many people.
Such is the law. You do not understand it, because for you it is unclear that
knowledge, as well as all the rest in the world is material13.
- People gain knowledge with the help of those who holds it. It is essential to be
understood from the very beginning. We should learn from those who know14.

This is very important thesis not only for Gurdjieff, but generally esoteric and mystery
schools, as the existence of the system.

According to Gurdjieff, human body looks like this15:

First body Second body Third body Forth body

Meaty body Natural body Spiritual body Divine body

“Cab” “Horse” “Cabman” “Master”

(body) (sense, emotion) (mind) (I, consciousness,


Physical body Astral body Mental body Causal body

The second scheme of Gurdjieff gives us the following picture16:

Machine gun Desire, generated by Thoughts arising Different and

working without contradictory

Ibid, page 50

Ibid, page 54

Ibid, page 56

Успенский П.Д. В поисках чудесного, М., 2000, page. 58

external influence machine gun from wills “volitional actions”
caused by will

Body subordinated to Emotional forces and Semantic functions I, consciousness, will

desires and emotions desires subordinated subordinated to
to thoughts and mind conciseness and will

Four human bodies.

The way to immortality can be divided into three categories – but immortality can be found
in fourth way.

1. Fakir way – physical body.

2. Monk’s way – way of faith and religious.
3. Yoga way – way of mind and knowledge17.

To move on the fourth way, one needs to master body, feeling and with the help of mind

Human being has 4 centers:

1. Semantic
2. Emotional
3. Motor
4. Instinct19

Ibid page 61

Успенский П.Д. В поисках чудесного, М., 2000, p. 63-64
Ibid, page 144

Gurdjieff syntheses existing knowledge accumulated in different cultures. Especially, under
influence of Sufism he uses music and dance movements for human harmonious
development, refinement the centers existing on them.

He looks for mathematical regularity between music and world, as Pythagoras articulated
world in numbers, in the same way how we transferred today’s entire world into digital
cyber space.

For Gurdjieff music and dance represented arithmetical unit in world studying. He said, let’s
study human being and we will solve the world and vice versa.

Influence of Sufis thinking was big in Tbilisi – here is formed a special system of world
perception – Sufi, as mystic, poet, musician, appreciates brotherhood, love as hetero as well
as homosexual.

Sufis explains world with the help of poetic symbols, worship Gods with the moon, wine,
blood, faith, love.

Gurdjieff taught his pupils with toasts and parables, masons also attach big importance to
toasts – talks with the drink, like ancient Greeks during their symposiums.

Sufis way was - from divine fear to divine love20. By the way, Sufi often uses the term –
“Efficiency” to depict mystical knowledge.

Gurdjieff organized sacred dance evenings in Tbilisi, at the Institute studied his dances, and
as it is known his dances were very popular among ladies lived in Tbilisi.

Several conclusions: without Sufi influence in Tbilisi there would be neither workshops, nor
“Krachogeli”. And according to it workshop member Niko Pirosmanashvili should have been
communion to the workshop brotherhood secret initiation.

Эрнст Карл, Суфизм, мистический ислам, М., 2012, page.91

My report by no means refers to Pirosmani. It is about that epoch – about one person on the
road, but here I want to express my opinion about this, if we look at Pirosmani biography, at
his way of life, which is oftendiscussed as mythological, I would like to talk more about his
rational conscious decision.

He looks like a true Sufi, who refuses to trade (his own shops), property and carries on a
dialogue with the world with his colors and symbols, in his art great place take moon,
animals, nature, people with wine and e.t.

As time passes his history about roses and wine stupefied unanswered love – turns out very
Sufistic practice. Here I must recall one of the old Sufi – Sari As Sakat’s story, which is fully
similar to Pirosmani’s story, or we can say on the contrary, Pirosmani is repeating his story.

“Memories on important Saint’s” is written by Attar of Nishapur (died in 1230).

One of the saints was Sakat (literally – old-clothes man). Sari one time had a junk shop. Once
in Baghdad market appeared fire. People informed him that “market was burned”. Sari
answered to them: “So, now I am bankrupted too”. When he came to the point of
destination, saw that shed was unharmed. Than he gave everything to paupers and himself
became Sufi follower.

Sari was asked: “Where was the start point for your spiritual transformation?” He replied,
“Once Habib Ar-Rain proceeded on my shed, I gave him some things and requested to
distribute them to the paupers, he replied, “Allah will repay you with kindness”, as soon as
he completed his blessing, I suddenly felt fatigue from the universe. On the second day my
shed was preceded by Maruf Al-Farkhi, an orphan boy was with him. He said, “Give him
clothes”, I gave clothes to orphan, and Maruf sad, and “Let Allah award you with the disgust

to the world and rest from its vanity”. So, at a sitting I break free from every secular by given
blessing from lord”.21

Sufis thought: “melodiousness is more important than record, for Sufis it was important
calligraphy and alphabet to carry a big esoteric meaning.

Another Sufi saint Al-Kushais (died in 1072), Persian Sufi, creator of Sufi science, formulates
Sufism theoretical basis:

- Sufism is the way to act exemplary and step aside from unworthy action
- Sufism means death in themselves and to live within the God
- Sufi is solitary with his essence. Nothing changes him nor does he.
- True Sufi sign is that he feels poor, owning the wealth, he is obedient, when he holds
the power, he is modest, when glory comes to him
- Sufism means: owning nothing and not to be subordinated by anyone.
- Sufism means: faith the soul of your own God, in any case what his will might be
- Sufism means: a spiritual thirst and not to become jealous about what others possess
- Sufism means: kneeling on the threshold of your beloved, even he does not respond
with the same feeling
- Sufism is condition in which everything human melts
- Sufism is shining out, like sudden lightning strikes on22

According to the X century Sufi source:

“Everything that has a membrane, has the essence,

Where the essence is, there is a secret,

Within every secret is situated reality

Attar. Tadhkirat al-awliya 1. page. 246

Эрнст Карл, Суфизм, мистический ислам, М., 2012, page. 60-61

… God gives as a secret, inside of a secret23.

God in this world is – absolute. He is the one, but for many people with different names
and faces, with many different ways leading to the one absolute.

Gurdjieff leaves Tbilisi in 1920, before the Red Army of Russia invade Georgia again.
Goes to Batumi first, and then to Istanbul – sharing his accumulated knowledge to the
world. In many other places he opens branches of the Institute which he created in
Tbilisi. His unique library got lost during his leaving somewhere in Georgia; it is still
looked for as well as for true seekers searching for it is the essence of their lifetime.

And Gurdjieff had never returned to Georgia again, neither in Tbilisi’s bath house
district, where he lived for so many years, where should have played his “Sorcerers
Fight”, which is still waiting for staging.


1. ხეთაგური ლ. გურჯიევი და მსოფლიო კულტურა//გურჯიევი გიორგი „ცხოვრება

რეალურია მხოლოდ მაშინ, როცა „მე ვარ“, თბილისი, 2009

2. Gurdjieff G.I Scenario of the Ballet, The Struggle of the Magicians

3. Gurdjieff in Tifflis, Editors: Levan Khetaguri, Constance A. Jones, Tbilisi, 2008

4. Attar. Tadhkirat al-awliya 1.

5. Эрнст Карл, Суфизм, мистический ислам, М., 2012

6. Скотт Эрнст, Люди Тайны, М., Эннеагон, 2006

7. Мухаммад, Юсуф Хаттар, Энциклопедия суффизма, М., 2006

8. Успенский П.Д. В поисках чудесного, М., 2000

9. Peter Brook, Threads of Time, A memoir, Methuen Drama, 1998

Эрнст Карл, Суфизм, мистический ислам, М., 2012, page. 122