The Ship of Fools

Stewards, John

Thales of Argos was written by a certain Volski in Odessa during the 1930s. This Volski belonged to the Southern Wing of a mystical school that went underground after Stalin had come to power. Before there had existed a very lively mystical scene in Russia, mostly in Petersburg and Moscow. Many famous painters (Kandinski), composers (Scriabin, de Hartman, Prokovieff), actors (Michail Chekhov), philosophers (Ouspenski, Shmakov) and even politicians (Lenin, Trotzki, Bakunin) were participating in and inspired by the many esoteric lodges which existed at that time. There were Rosicrucian, Freemason, Martinist, Templar and Theosophic lodges, to name only the most well-known. Except for the Theosophist movement, that had been founded by Blavatsky, these loges had all been founded by French communities. Around the turn of the century they decided to create new groups in Russia. In France there existed an ancient Rosicrucian and Freemason tradition, which started to spread very widely in the 19th century with mystics like Papus, Saint-Martin, Saint-Yves d’Alveydre and Fabre d’Olivet. Russian esoterics gathered as much from this French tradition as they could, as they did from the Indian Yoga tradition. From this knowledge they made a new compilation, that was updated to the needs of their time, called Arcanology. For the perenneal wisdom of the esoteric tradition should always be given a new form according to the time and culture of a people. Philosophers like Shmakov and GOM (the acronym of George Ottonovich Mebes) are well-known to the public in Russia for their works on Arcanology.

The mystical school Volski belonged to continued its activities during the communistic times, but now underground. In the 1980s and 1990s it was guided by a master Vladimir, who was travelling around with two students. The school, called The Ship of Fools, was travelling under the disguise of a jazz band. Here many difficult situations were used to transmit the traditional knowledge. About this period two books have been published: One step behind the Mirror and The Mystical Underground. Gradually students in Russia, Moldavia and Latvia started to join this school.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall it was possible for the Ship of Fools to set sail to the West. It started its activities in Holland, more precisely in the Sufi Movement that was founded by the Indian Hazrat Inayat Khan. The circle of students was widened and seminars were being organised in Holland and France. An impression of this period has been published by Paul Klaui in the form of an article in the Dutch esoteric magazine Bres.
In the seminars of the Ship of Fools there is always temperature, a kind of extra energy given to the participants. Because of this temperature people start to manifest parts of themselves about wich they did not know before: sometimes agressive or jealous, but also more playful and essential personalities. Through confrontations with fellow-students and teaching situations that were specially created for them, people can work with their false personalities. Many of these remind of the situations Gurdjieff created in order for his students to get rid of their false pride, false fears or false perception of themselves.

Through difficult circumstances we can work with our false personalities, but our essence can only grow trough the feeling of friendship, romance and a sense of fairie tales. On the Ship of Fools students have both experiences: there are hardships and difficult confrontations with the mechanical and rude parts in oneself, but at the same time the adventurous and innocent child in ourselves is nurtured. In these circumstances people can act in a new, unexpected and spontaneous way. This is what is happening with students during the seminars that are taking place all over Europe. On the Ship of Fools we do different practices Gurdjieff introduced to the Western world, like his movements or self-observation. But also his works and the works of his disciples are being studied and translated by the students of the Ship. The Russian translation of the first volume of Nicoll’s Commentaries has been published, just as Margareth Anderson’s Unknown Gurdjieff. In the 1970s Bennett was having a correspondence with Vladimir, the captain of the Ship of Fools and he gave comments on certain dreams of Bennett. At that time, the time of the Cold War, it was not possible for him to come to England. But Bennett was impressed by the letters he received from a man he had never met. And just before he died, he sent his disciples to Vladimir. But the contact between the Ship of Fools and Gurdjieff’s lineage continues: now there is contact between students of the Ship of Fools and those of W. Patterson, who published different books on Gurdjieff and Ouspenski.

Stewards, John

I met the Ship of Fools, the school of which Volski belonged to, in Holland nine years ago. At that time I had finished my studies in philosophy and law and I was working as a lawyer. But I was still looking for a deeper truth and a life that was more real than the one I was living at the office. I began visiting the seminars of the Ship of Fools in Latvia and Russia and in order to penetrate deeper in to the reality of Eastern Europe, I started to study the Russian language. Soon I began translating Thales of Argos. The command of the Russian language enabled me also to study the Russian tradition of Arcanology and now I am giving lectures on this topic. Through the Ship I met a teacher of Gurdjieff movements. He asked me to play the movements on the piano during his lessons and on some public performances, and so I did. But then I felt the urge to also compose myself and this year I recorded a compact disc with my own piano music. It is in the tradition of the Sufis and Gurdjieff, although it has quite its own atmosphere. I combine my travels aboard of the Ship with earning money.