Gurdjieff, George Ivanovitch

Gurdjieff, George Ivanovitch

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866?-1949) was not an astrologer. However, his cosmology was largely derived from Western European occult sources and has much in common with the popular Theosophical cosmology/astrology of his day. Gurdjieff’s two primary cosmological laws, the Law of Seven and the Law of Three, have their origins in Mesopotamian astronomy/astrology, echoes of which are also found in Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and in Western European occult and esoteric thinking derived from Pythagoras.

The forms that Gurdjieff’s oral and written teaching took—occult cosmology and psychology, dance, psychological exercises, and storytelling—can be related to prevailing contemporary interests in the places where he taught. In Russia, these were Western European occultism, especially Theosophy, and ballet; in Paris, occultism, literary modernism, the archaic epic, and dance.

Gurdjieff was born in Alexandropol, Armenia, of Greek and Armenian parents. He travelled widely in the Middle and Far East, and arrived back in Moscow in 1912. There he began to teach an occult cosmological and psychological “system” of ideas, which, according to his unverifiable, mythologized writings, he had gathered from hidden places of sacred learning during his travels.

Leaving Russia because of the Bolshevik Revolution, Gurdjieff travelled via Tiblisi and Constantinople to Europe, arriving in France in 1922. In France he established his Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, which attracted English and American pupils. Gurdjieff also gave his teaching in a form of sacred dancing, and demonstrations of these were open to the public. During the 1920s, Gurdjieff had a high profile in Paris and the reputation of a “mage.” He took his dancers to America in 1924, but a near-fatal car accident on his return caused him to reassess his mode of teaching. Reducing the activity of the institute, he began to put his teaching into a written form. He made eight further visits to America to establishing his teaching there. Gurdjieff spent the World War II years teaching in Paris and died there in 1949.

The following is a discussion of some of the aspects of Gurdjieff’s teaching that are related to zodiacal structure, number symbolism, and the multivalent and interpretive mode of enquiry that is part of astrological thinking.

The Law of Seven and the Seven Known Planets of the Ancient World

Gurdjieff applies a synthesis of ideas derived from Pythagoras’s relation of the musical octave to the ratio of distances between the seven known planets of the ancient world to his own Law of Seven, which is also known as the Law of Octaves. For example, the law is expressed in his oral and written teaching in relation to the colors of the light ray, the days of the week, the proportions of the human body, the digestion of food, and as the Ray of Creation, which describes the creation of the universe in the form of a descending octave, from the Absolute All to Absolute Nothing. Many of Gurdjieff’s cosmological ideas are related to this fundamental law. For example, Gurdjieff relates levels of the Ray of Creation with the physical, astral, mental, or causal bodies of man, and each level has a specific density of matter and a specified number of laws. Thus, man on earth, subject to 48 laws, is gnostically distant from the Absolute towards which however, he can ascend through his own efforts and by so doing he develops new bodies.

Gurdjieff connects the Law of Seven with number symbolism and stresses that the Ray of Creation should not be taken literally.

The Law of Three and Astrological Modes

All events or actions throughout the universe are the result of the interaction of three forces: the positive/active, the negative/passive, and the reconciling that may be either active or passive. These forces can be equated in astrological terms with the cardinal, fixed, and mutable modes. The Law of Three can also be seen operating in the Ray of Creation (see previous chart) in the number of laws functioning at each level of the universe. Movement through the Ray of Creation is downward, or involutionary, as a result of a passively reconciling third force, and upward, or evolutionary, as a result of an actively reconciling third force.


Gurdjieff followed occultist Helena Blavatsky in renaming the occult elements of fire, earth, air, and water, respectively, “carbon,” “oxygen,” “nitrogen,” and “hydrogen.” Each substance can be the conductor of an active, passive, or reconciling force. When the force is active the substance is termed “carbon,” when passive “oxygen,” and when reconciling “nitrogen.” A substance that does not conduct a force is termed “hydrogen.” Taken together, Gurdjieff’s three forces in relation to the four elements may be expressed in astrological terms as the zodiac of 12 signs, in which each of the four elements is expressed in the cardinal, fixed, and mutable modes.

Types and Signs of the Zodiac

Gurdjieff referred to a “science of types” that could be recognized only through study. Elsewhere Gurdjieff wrote of the necessity of finding the 28 types he needed for his own observations, which might be equated with lunar rather than solar types.

Astrology deals only with a man’s essence, and Gurdjieff equates essence with type. Astrological signs were “invented” to synthesize the specific characteristics a person would have to struggle against during his or her life.

planetary influence

Gurdjieff taught that “planets have a tremendous influence” on mankind as a whole. For example, they are a cause of war, and they influence individuals whose lives are “colored” by the planetary influence received at birth and who remain slaves to these influences throughout life.


Astrology effects only a person’s “essence” (i.e., his essential nature) and determines a person’s fate. The Law of Accident controls his or her personality. Fate may be worse than accident, but has the advantage that it can be foreseen, while accident cannot.

Gurdjieff’s Enneagram as a Symbol of the Zodiac

Gurdjieff’s cosmic laws are integrated in this diagram. The 3–6–9 triangle represents the Law of Three. The sequence of numbers 1 through 7 represents the Law of Seven. This recurring sequence is derived from the division of 1 by 7. Gurdjieff expands the Law of Seven numerologically to nine by including “intervals” or semitones, places where “shocks are required for the octave to flow on.” Here points 3, 6, and 9 represent “intervals.”

In Cabalistic terms, the Laws of Three and Seven may be represented by the Tree of Life in the three realms of Kether, Binah, and Chokmah, and the seven realms of Geburah, Hesed, Tipareth, Hod, Netzach, Hod, and Yesod. Like the Tree, the Enneagram is a symbol that may be recoded in diverse ways, including that of a zodiac, the planets, and the correspondences belonging to them. As such, it represents the relationship between macrocosm and microcosm. Gurdjieff urged his pupils to experience the functioning of these cosmic laws in everyday life and also in their inner world: “Inside us we also have a moon, a sun and so on. We are a whole system. If you know what your moon is and does, you can understand the whole system.” Gurdjieff referred to the Enneagram as a moving symbol and expressed this motion through his sacred dances.

The Enneagram of personality Types

The Enneagram of Personality Types is an aspect of Gurdjieff’s teaching that has achieved a popular form and is continuing to develop its own set of teachings. Enneagram of Personality publications usually give secret Sufi origins for the Enneagram. This appropriation of the Enneagram stems from the Sufi Idries Shah, who convinced the Gurdjieff teacher J. G. Bennett of its truth. Although there is no record of any direct evidence offered for this view, the mythology of Sufi origins is now well established.

In The Theory of Celestial Influence: Man the Universe and Cosmic Mystery (1954), Rodney Collin, who learned about the Enneagram from Gurdjieff’s pupil P. D. Ouspensky, reintroduced Gurdjieff’s cosmic laws in his own synthesis that makes evident their zodiacal and astrological foundations. His Enneagram of planets, related to planetary types of people, provides the link between Gurdjieff’s Enneagram and the Enneagram of Personality, which developed from the teaching of Oscar Ichazo at his Arica Institute in Chile. In 1970, Claudio Naranjo, psychiatrist researching personality typology, together with others from the Esalen Institute in California, took Ichazo’s course. Kathleen Riordan Speeth and Robert (Bob) Ochs were pupils in the group that Naranjo taught on his return to the United States. Ochs, a Jesuit with a Ph.D. in theology from the Institut Catholique of Paris, adapted the Enneagram types into “the nine faces of God.” He taught this version of the Enneagram at Loyola University in Chicago and also at the Graduate Theological Union of the University of California at Berkeley. These classes are the direct origin of the introduction of the Enneagram into Jesuit retreats, which, in turn, lead to the publication of Don Riso’s Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self Discovery (1987) and also influenced Helen Palmer’s The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life (1988).

Gurdjieff’s Texts and Zodiacal Structure

Gurdjieff used the structure of the zodiac in his writings. For example, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson has 48 chapters, four in each sign of the zodiac, while Meetings with Remarkable Men is structured as a zodiac, in which the 11 remarkable men and one woman are personifications of the 12 zodiacal signs. In Tales, the journey through the zodiac is in accordance with the flow of time, from Aries to Pisces, and thus involutionary, like the involutionary flow of the Ray of Creation. The zodiac in Meetings is evolutionary in that it moves backwards against the flow of time from Aquarius to Pisces.

The zodiacal structure of his texts enables Gurdjieff to incorporate the myths and symbols connected to the signs and their ruling planets and to the sets of correspondences in astrology and other occult traditions. Here Gurdjieff was in accord with modernist literary interests in Theosophical astrology and in the archaic epic expressed as a solar journey; as well as becoming part of a long tradition of the numerological and astrological structuring of texts.

Interpretation of Gurdjieff’s Texts and Astrological Interpretation

Gurdjieff warns that his ideas should not to be taken literally and speaks of the necessity for the multivalence of symbols. Symbols taken in one meaning only become fixed and dead. Gurdjieff favored indirect methods of teaching so that his pupils would make their own efforts to understand. In addition to his use of symbolism, he arouses questioning in his reader by the use of anomaly, metaphor, paradox, and contradictions in the narrative.

The use of astrological correspondences and number symbolism enables Gurdjieff to suggest virtually inexhaustible variant readings of his texts in relation to other occult astrological systems, from the Sumerian, Greek, Roman, Renaissance, and nineteenth-century occult revival in which the zodiac is encoded. Thus, although Gurdjieff’s writings demand interpretation, they defy any attempt at a fixed or closed reading and are also in tune with the contemporary interest in the integration of astrology and psychology.

Gurdjieff’s Influence

Gurdjieff’s teaching continues and its occult cosmological/astrological influence can be seen in popular astrology, popular occult-archaeology in the occult, and in twentieth-century literature.

—Sophia Wellbeloved


Blake, Anthony G. E. The Intelligent Enneagram. London: Shambala, 1996.
Collin, Rodney The Theory of Celestial Influence: Man, the Universe, and Cosmic Mystery. London: Vincent Stuart, 1954. Reprint, Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1984.
Gurdjieff, Georges Ivanovitch. All and Everything, Ten Books in Three Series: First Series: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950; Second Series: Meetings with Remarkable Men. Translated by A. R. Orage. London: Picador, 1978; Third Series: Life Is Real Only Then, When “I Am.” London: Viking Arkana, 1991.
Gurdjieff, Georges Ivanovitch. The Herald of Coming Good. Paris, 1933. Reprint, New York: S. Weiser, 1971.
Gurdjieff, Georges Ivanovitch. Views from the Real World. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1976.
Ouspensky P. D. In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949. Reprint, San Diego: Harcourt, 2001.
Palmer, Helen, The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life. New York: Harper Collins, 1995.
Riso, Don Richard, Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self Discovery. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Taylor, Paul Beekman. Gurdjieff and Orage: Brothers in Elysium. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books, 2001.
Taylor, Paul Beekman. Shadows of Heaven: Gurdjieff and Toomer. York Beach, ME: Weiser Books, 1998.
Wellbeloved, Sophia. Gurdjieff: The Key Concepts. New York: Routledge, 2003.