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“Churton (Occult Paris) makes full use of his fascination with the cultural underpinnings of European esoterica in this biography of George Gurdjieff, an enigmatic, mischievous, and challenging mystic and spiritual teacher. Churton, critically, asks the question of whether Gurdjieff is “a reliable narrator of his own life” and centers his study on Gurdjieff’s semi-autobiographical texts, Meetings with Remarkable Men, Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson, and Life Is Real Only Then, When “I Am.” He describes Gurdjieff’s corpus as “filled with pseudo-objectivity... and arch pretentiousness” before going on to explain his readings of the books through the realities of history and the context of Gurdjieff’s personal life, focusing particularly on his poorly understood early life. Churton brings in many contemporary sources and concurrent spiritual movements, even as Gurdjieff himself only acknowledges the ancients and some Sufi and Yezidi influences on his work. While explaining some of Gurdjieff’s best-known concepts—the three brains of fallen man, the ray of creation, the enneagram, the sacred dances—Churton undercuts Gurdjieff’s declarations of the originality of his ideas, instead focusing on his strength of personality and ability to exploit weakness. Churton’s remarkable ability to make a coherent narrative out of disparate information while also weaving in other research interests, such as the influence of Aleister Crowley, makes this a valuable resource for those familiar with Gurdjieff’s work, and it’s easily readable for those coming fresh to the topic.”

Publisher’s Weekly, New York, April 10, 2017

“They seek him here, they seek him there . . . that damned elusive Gurdjieff—part sage, part trickster, part prophet, part legend. Tobias Churton, in pursuit of this enigmatic figure, casts his net both wide and deep and delivers a wonderfully rich and nuanced account of Gurdjieff and the many currents that flowed into his life and teaching. ”

Christopher McIntosh, Ph.D., author of Eliphas Lévi and the French Occult Revival

“. . . a scholarly journey that pursues an in-depth analysis of this purposely enigmatic spiritual teacher’s biography . . . offers perceptive insights into the spiritual and psychological teachings of Gurdjieff’s idiosyncratic genius and sheds light on the folktale-like stories of the relationship between Aleister Crowley and Gurdjieff. This book is comprehensive, entertaining, and highly recommended.”

James Wasserman, author of Templar Heresy: A Story of Gnostic Illumination

“According to Albert Einstein, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ Churton understands—he has a profound ability to write about complex esoteric subjects in clear, down-to-earth language. Here he delves deep into the life of Gurdjieff in an attempt to separate fact from fiction and the myth from the man. As always, there is great wisdom and a uniquely modern perspective in Churton’s meticulous thought and prose. Deconstructing Gurdjieff, like all his books, is immensely informative, highly provocative—and a great read.”

John Zorn, composer-performer

“Tobias brings to this highly perceptive and realistic picture of Gurdjieff, his expert knowledge of Western esotericism, the Yezidis, and Aleister Crowley—all of which have long needed a measured place in this mage's story.  This is a timely reappraisal and deconstruction of the spiritual ludibrium and life of a Master.”

Stephen J. King (Shiva X°), Grand Master, Ordo Templi Orientis, Australia


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First Reactions

“In a massive, focused exploration of the relationship between the mystical and the creative, esoteric historian Churton ( Jerusalem! The Real Life of William Blake) delights in tracing out the detailed social and intellectual relationships in the more obscure reaches of French culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Churton proves to be profoundly organized and marvelously synthetic while explaining the maelstrom of Symbolists, Decadents, Hermetics, and Catholic heretics that met in venues like Edmond Bailly’s bookshop and the Salon de la Rose + Croix. Redeeming the reputations of Josephin Péladan and Stanislas de Guaïta, and combining account of visionaries not always considered together—such as Victor-Émile Michelet, Georges Seurat, and Erik Satie—Churton recontextualizes the work of these underappreciated figures while showing how beloved images, such as the androgyne, the magus, the hierophant, and the quest for the lost, reappear in different contexts. In occasional outbursts of emotion, Churton’s passion for the ideas of the period resonates: “What a tragedy this wisdom was not absorbed by the socialist and communist movements in time for the twentieth century—how much misery might have been spared the human race, then and now!” This entertaining volume will please fans of esoterica and the City of Light. 33 color plates, b&w illus.”

Publisher’s Weekly, New York, Cevin Bryerman, Executive Vice President/Publisher.

“With Tobias Churton as the cicerone – or dare I say psychopomp? – the reader is expertly guided in the labyrinthine world of the occult Paris of the Belle Époque (1871-1914). This is the best introduction to the French occult revival ever written in English.”

Henrik Bogdan, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Gothenburg

“Gnostics, Martinists, Theosophists, Masons, sex-magicians: “the renaissance of the dead sciences”: all figure in Tobias Churton’s marvellous story of international politics and Parisian intrigue. Churton has taken a mammoth trawl of newly uncovered information and rendered it digestible, incidentally showing the Symbolists to be spiritually based, both in visual arts and music. His work will have a long-term impact on history. Fascinating.”

Vanilla Beer, Artist; scholar of Western Esotericism.


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Editorial Reviews

“One of the world’s greatest scholars of what Blake calls the ‘excluded’ tradition, Tobias Churton brings together a profound knowledge of Western esotericism with extensive new research to weave a rich and multifaceted tapestry detailing the long-hidden mysteries of sexual gnosis. Including in-depth analysis and detailed commentary on select sacred and heretical texts from Epiphanius, Hippolytus, Valentinus, Blake, Crowley, and more, Gnostic Mysteries of Sex is an illuminating volume filled with passion, truth, fascinating detail, and dynamic historical perspectives.”

John Zorn, musician

“Gnostic Mysteries of Sex takes us on a wild ride through the secret, enigmatic and heretical world of Gnostics, medieval troubadours, the visions of Blake, and the counterculture of the 1960s--all united in their quest for union with God. The reader should not be fooled by Tobias Churton’s inimitable style of writing, because beneath his humor and provocative statements, there’s a profound understanding of one the greatest mysteries of all time--the power of sexual gnosis.”

Henrik Bogdan, associate professor in religious studies, University of Gothenburg

“In Gnostic Mysteries of Sex, Tobias Churton works to heal Western civilization’s deepest wound- the millennia-old divorce of sex and spirit. Revealed herein are the dangerous and radical sexual secrets that the Church could not eradicate, kept hidden by the occult underground through long centuries of persecution, torture, and crusade. And here is the radical message of the Gnostics, as shocking and critically important now as it was in the second century- that sex is the gateway of liberation, and the kingdom of heaven is within.”

Jason Louv, author of Generation Hex and coauthor of Thee Psychick Bible

“Churton brings to this frank and deeply insightful study a surprisingly personal and moving narrative. The late scholar of Gnosticism Ioan Couliano once said the Gnostics were the champions of free thought--asserting a freedom to explore every logical possibility of their complex demiurgic estrangement from God and nature. It’s not so surprising then that sexual metaphysics and practices in all of their permutations were explored, along with the big questions they pose, and the gnosis they transmit. As Churton observes, ‘The new heaven and new earth result from an improvement of sensual enjoyment. There was, and is, need of it.’”

Stephen J. King (Shiva X°), Grand Master, Ordo Templi Orientis

“Readable and hugely informative, Churton makes a solid case that explains the Christian teachings on sex as reactive to the non-canonical texts. As Churton writes, sex is the ‘essential battleground between heresy and orthodoxy.’ I suspect this may be a totally new branch of scholarship.”

Vanilla Beer, artist

“An erudite view of a fascinating subject. Highly recommended.”

Donald Traxler, translator of the works of Maria de Naglowska

“If you think the last word has long since been said on the subject of sex, then you need to read this book. The question of how to reconcile sex with spirituality has long preoccupied the religious culture of both East and West. Churton explores how the Gnostics had their own approach to this issue, an approach that he traces down the centuries through the Rosicrucians and the work of poets such as Andrew Marvell and William Blake. Their message, Churton shows, points the way to a glorious synthesis of the sexual and the spiritual.”

Christopher McIntosh, Ph.D., Honorary University Fellow and Western Esotericism lecturer at the University of Exeter


Published in April 2015

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From the Foreword by MICHAEL EAVIS CBE, Founder of the GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL:

"William Blake has always been very close to my heart. Perhaps it is the rebel in him that appeals or indeed our shared love of Methodism. Blake might have been slightly barmy by today’s definition of sanity but his incredible visions and childlike beliefs in God drove his energy and created the heroic genius that he really was.

Tobias Churton’s work and research in Jerusalem! is truly astonishing in its detail. He has revealed to me so much. This must be one of the most illuminating and enlightening biographies to date. I would very much like him to speak at Glastonbury 2014 and read some extracts from Jerusalem!"

And from the Foreword by FRANK VAN LAMOEN, Assistant Curator of the STEDELIJK MUSEUM, Amsterdam:

"Few documents on the life of William Blake have survived. His image was already distorted shortly after his death. Tobias Churton has stripped his biography of numerous idées reçues that clouded that image, allowing Blake to emerge from his work against the backdrop of an age marked by revolutions and modernization. It is a brilliant and illuminating book with a personal touch that invites further reading, as Churton generously shares with his readers his pansophical grasp of rejected knowledge. "


Published in July 2014

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"As soon as I opened this book I knew I was in for an exceptional treat and I was right. This is Churton at his best. His book focuses, with some broader contextualization, on Crowley’s intermittent sojourns in Berlin between 1930 and 1932, which climaxed in a sensational exhibition of his paintings in October 1931. We follow Crowley as he strolls through the city, dressed in a knickerbocker suit, proclaiming his gospel of Thelema, exploring Berlin’s extensive demi-monde, playing chess, painting, writing, fornicating, spying for British intelligence and mingling with a remarkable constellation of artists, writers, philosophers and occultists. One of his friends at the time was Christopher Isherwood, who fictionalized his Berlin experience in the novel that later became the musical Cabaret. Churton, in his vivid, witty style, superbly captures the atmosphere of the city during that feverish, decadent but immensely vibrant and creative era, which ended abruptly with the catastrophe of 1933. Move over, Isherwood. From now on we should be talking about “Crowley’s Berlin”. "

Christopher McIntosh, PhD, author and Honorary University Fellow, Lecturer, History (Western Esotericism), University of Exeter

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