Struggle of the Magicians
Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship

by William Patrick Patterson

"Yes, what an excellent book—full of things I didn't know. A real contribution to our understanding of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky."
—Colin Wilson, author, The War Against Sleep

"The question of why Uspenskii (the Russian spelling of Ouspensky) left Gurdjieff is one of the more fascinating enigmas of the Fourth Way. Most students are first introduced to Gurdjieff through Uspenskii's In Search of the Miraculous. At first examination his works are easy to understand, well written and lucid, while the works of Gurdjieff are hard to fathom and at times seem confused, at least to the untrained eye. Patterson takes on a very difficult and sensitive subject; today many organizations see themselves as deriving from both Gurdjieff and Uspenskii or the students of Uspenskii and hence to "re-open this wound" is a daring thing to do. At the same time it is very necessary. Uspenskii was Gurdjieff's major student and offered the most intellectually credible outline of the teachings and yet he failed. He left Gurdjieff and indeed Gurdjieff's later work, including writing Beelzebub's Tales to his Grandson, all happened after Uspenskii left.

"Patterson is not shy about expressing his opinions; he makes it clear that he believes Gurdjieff is the founder of the Fourth Way, indeed the "avatar" of that system, and that any talk of the Gurdjieff-Uspenskii work is just plain foolish. He believes that while Uspenskii's presentation of the work is superb, it is intellectual and "mental" alone and that the difficulty within the Gurdjieff material is deliberate, it forces us to work, to labor, so that we really appreciate the nature of the teachings we receive. Patterson does not degrade Uspenskii; he still sees him as an intellectual giant who published some highly significant works. Compared to us he was high achieving, but in a battle of giants the stakes are high. In the end, since the focus is on the Fourth Way as expounded by Gurdjieff then we must see Uspenskii in terms of his failure as a student and we must come to understand the psychology of that failure and its significance. Patterson is careful, however, not allow this to overpower Struggle of the Magicians. He is careful to delineate where his opinions are expressed and limits these to the introduction, footnotes and last chapters. Too often books on contentious subjects end up as either polemic pieces brimming with opinion or dry recitations of facts with no relevance. Patterson has worked to bridge the gap and offer a highly original work which is both historically accurate and yet allows room for him to express his understanding of what occurred and why.

"The historical aspect of this work is truly commendable. He presents the whole career of Gurdjieff and Uspenskii in chronological order, using source documents and coordinating a vast amount of material; he offers what is possibly the first historically accurate account of the life and work of Gurdjieff and how it intersects with his major students. He puts "The Work" within a world context, we read about what else is occurring at the same time—wars, massacres, changes of government, and these give an important background to some of the changes in the way The Work was expressed in the world. The balance of personal opinion, historical research using source documents, and the use of the context of historical events makes this quite an astounding book. Indeed I would suggest some historians could learn a thing or two about how to communicate through examining this volume!

Struggle of the Magicians works on many levels, it is an historical text, well documented and interesting to read. It is a study of the relationship between Gurdjieff and Uspenskii as well as other students and offers insight into what occurred and its significance within the Fourth Way. It is also a study of the teacher-student relationship and how that has relevance within our own spiritual lives, even in 2007. This is a highly recommended volume."
—Robert Black, Editor, Living Traditions

"Struggle of the Magicians will fascinate anyone interested in the Fourth Way. I could hardly put it down."
—Charles T. Tart, Ph.D., author, Waking Up!

"An important contribution to the history of alternative spirituality in the West. The tension between the richly contrasting personalities of Gurdjieff and Uspenskii is a cameo of the problems with which the personal transformation tradition has had to contend. At the same time, their story illuminates in real life context the powerful vistas its visions have opened. It is the finely-told chronicle of a classic event in occult history, set against the backdrop of overwhelmingly dramatic historical events, effectively set into the narrative as datelines."
—Robert S. Ellwood, Chairman, School of Religion
    University of Southern California

"For many of us, Gurdjieff and Uspenskii have remained mysteriously attractive but dauntingly difficult to grasp. Struggle of the Magicians is a 'hard to put down' exception to much of the literature available about Gurdjieff, presenting his life and work almost like a play against the panoramic backdrop of his turbulent times, from World War I and the Russian Revolution through World War II.

"The central focus of the book is the sacred, archetypal relationship of the Master and disciple. An intimate view is given of Gurdjieff's work with his students including many who, like the famous Uspenskii, were unwilling to pay the price. This revealing look at the roles of Guru and disciple in the compelling work of self-transformation makes the book of special interest and value to those on any path."
Light of Consciousness

"While Lenin was shackling Russia to Communism, that East-West crossroads was also a world capital of metaphysical movements. In 1915, Madame Blavatsky's Theosophy was flourishing when G. I. Gurdjieff, a Caucasian Greek of great charisma and esoteric acumen, would meet P. D. Ouspensky in a Moscow cafe, and one of the enduring, pre-New Age systems for personal transformation would be born.

"William Patrick Patterson's incredibly detailed chronicle of these founding luminaries of the 'Fourth Way' is an engrossing, illuminating study of the 'struggles'—with themselves and each other—that these two Magi endured while pursuing both common and divergent missions to 'wake up humanity' from a deep sleep of self-ignorant automatism.

"Drawing on over 70 published volumes and anecdotal sources, Patterson admirably fleshes out the powerful, enigmatic Gurdjieff and his sometime protégé/'interpreter' of his teachings and methods, the intellectually prodigious Ouspensky. Patriarch 'G,' with his proclivities for food and drink and seemingly unbridled shifts between ruthless sarcasm and affectionate humor, is both detested and adored by those who meet him. He's the epitome of the so-called 'crazy wisdom' master employing shock value education, but who also may just be a wily peddler of magic carpets. By contrast, Ouspensky the apostle who goes his own way in short order, is a study in dignified appropriateness. Respected at a distance for his conceptual prowess, he finds his mentor's erratic behavior intolerable, even insane.

"While Struggle of the Magicians is a rewarding, painstaking inquiry into the teacher/student relationship (and also the branchings that such movements typically manifest), the objectivity factor is sporadic. Patterson, as an ardent practitioner of the Fourth Way (see his well-received Eating The 'I'), clearly favors Gurdjieff's superiority. Though never having met the man, the author canonizes him as a virtual prophet capable of 'pure impersonal love,' and regularly rationalizes the money-seeking 'sheep shearing' of students, the almost manic-depressive episodes, and many other indulgings in less-than-angelic behavior. Ouspensky is drawn as a brilliant but largely failed aspirant who couldn't handle the unconventional proddings to transcend a pristine theory.

"A book of immense interest to Fourth Way aficionados, Struggle of the Magicians is a flawed but fascinating record of two highly influential metaphysicians of the 20th century.
West Coast Review of Books

"In his new book, William Patrick Patterson takes the question of why Ouspensky left Gurdjieff by the horns and offers one answer: Ouspensky left because he couldn't hack it. We can appreciate Patterson's Dos Passosesque presentation of the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky history without agreeing with his conclusions.

"Patterson's thesis is that Ouspensky, Orage, and Bennett failed Gurdjieff and his mission to 'save the world from destroying itself' by not being able to surmount their respective 'chief features.' For Ouspensky, this meant his 'independence of mind.' For Orage, it meant his 'feelings,' evidenced in his marriage to Jessie Dwight against the druthers of his guru. And for Bennett, it was his 'thirst for adventure.' All of them, Patterson says, were magicians in their own right, and the 'struggle' was not solely between Gurdjieff and one of them, as their esoteric politicking shows. According to Patterson, each of these magicians 'developed in Gurdjieff's sense of the term.' But, he goes on to lament, 'none developed to a point where they could totally sacrifice themselves to Gurdjieff's mission.' Granting that Patterson understands 'Gurdjieff's mission,' one wants to ask: should they have?

"Struggle of the Magicians is absolutely captivating for several reasons. Along with presenting one of the most exhilarating accounts of the history of the Fourth Way, Patterson shows why it is so much more difficult to write about Gurdjieff than about Ouspensky, Orage, or Bennett. All three were exceptional men, possessed of genius, but men nevertheless, with weaknessess and flaws. Gurdjieff, on the other hand, is a superman; or, as Orage called him, 'a kind of walking God.'

"Patterson, too, is not adverse to invoking a divine pedigree when speaking of Gurdjieff. In a footnote about Ouspensky's 'distinction' between the man and the ideas, Patterson comments that this separation is tantamount to 'Peter separating Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount.' I respect Patterson's high estimate of Gurdjieff and for the most part share it—except when doing so means chiding Ouspensky, Orage, and Bennett for following their own inner directives against those purported to be the master's.

"At every interval of the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky octave at which Ouspensky exhibits any independence of mind, Patterson sees Ouspensky as failing to recognize that Gurdjieff was working on him. Stubborn, 'fiercely independent' Ouspensky never seemed to grasp that Gurdjieff's wild, irrational, and frequently annoying methods were aimed at piercing the armor around his 'emotional center.' The stoic intellectual could not understand the crazy guru.

"This assessment is valid for some, perhaps most, of the dynamic between Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, but it becomes tiresome as the punch line to every encounter between the philosopher and the holy man. It never occurs to Patterson that Ouspensky and Gurdjieff were two very different men; hence Ouspensky's realization that Gurdjieff's way 'is not my way' may be evidence of something more than pride and stubbornness.

"In an analysis that resembles classic Freudian/Marxist counter criticism (you don't accept your complexes/class slavery because you are 'defensive'), Patterson reduces Ouspensky's realization of his inner strength to simple lying. If you accept Gurdjieff's infallibility—a pill, that for all his undoubted powers and genius and strength of being, some of us find difficult to swallow—then Patterson's wrist-slapping will close the book on why the chela left his guru. But if you think the answer to why Ouspensky left Gurdjieff is altogether simpler—that Ouspensky was too dominant and original a mind to remain anyone's disciple, as a reading of A New Model of the Universe or indeed In Search of the Miraculous will show—then you can take Patterson's thesis (as fascinating, thought-provoking and irritating as his master) cum grano salis and enjoy reading this book nevertheless."

Recommend This Page: