The Esoteric Quest in Bulgaria: Crossroads of the Mysteries
By Ralph White
A look back at our 2019 conference and a glimpse going forwards
For many North Americans, Bulgaria is off the beaten track, hidden away in an obscure corner of Southeast Europe. Our experience this past August in this beautiful country, however, showed us that Bulgaria has a deep, complex and fascinating history with multiple spiritual dimensions that most Westerners know little about.
Thanks to Yuri Stoyanov, author, scholar, adventurer, and expert on the Hidden Tradition in Europe, we were introduced to a remarkable range of speakers and topics. Without Yuri, we never could have penetrated the world of Bulgarian esotericism with its talismans, seers, Bogomils, Paulicians, modern spiritual teachers and exquisite polyphonic a capella music. We also were blessed to have with us one of the most knowledgeable archeologist in the country, Diana Gergova, whose friendly and gracious presence added greatly to our experience.
The region currently known as Bulgaria was called Thrace in the ancient world. It was the land of Orpheus, whose caves and sanctuaries in the Rhodope Mountains we visited after our conference. Herodotus tells us that Thrace was the birthplace of the Mysteries, and Bulgaria maintains a mystical charm in the countryside despite the centuries when it was governed by forces outside its control. Somehow the soul of Bulgaria has weathered all the political and military storms of two millennia to remain intact and charming.
Our base for the Quest was the ancient city of Plovdiv, the oldest continuously occupied city in Europe. Its multiple levels of civilization over the past 6,000 years – Thracian, Hellenistic, Roman, Ottoman and Soviet (not to mention the era of the medieval Bulgarian empire) – are clearly evident from the walls, ruins, houses and amphitheaters that dot the old city. We reveled in the feeling of rediscovering the half-forgotten spiritual traditions of Bulgaria’s many-threaded history, something that has characterized the Quest since our very first one in Cesky Krumlov, the Southern Bohemian mecca of alchemists, in 1995.
We were so very fortunate to have connected with an outstanding collection of Bulgarian speakers who covered the esoteric history of this land from the most contemporary to the most ancient. Peter Deunov, the 20th century spiritual teacher who founded Paneurythmy and was a contemporary of Rudolf Steiner, is surprisingly popular today. A recent poll found that he is the second most admired Bulgarian of modern times. What other European country, we might ask, reveries such a profound modern spiritual teacher at a national level?
But of course, Bulgaria is not new to the spiritual quest. In the early middle ages, the Paulicians, followers of the Mesopotamian prophet, Mani, creator of the first world religion, were sent to Plovdiv on the orders of the Byzantine Empire. Later, the Bogomils, who preceded the Cathars in the South of France, had a powerful influence in the Balkans. And then there were numerous seeresses or sybils, usually peasant women, who uttered remarkable prophecies and became internationally famous for their enigmatic visions.
Looking back now from the beginning of the 2020, our Quest in Bulgaria seems magical, delightful in the exuberance of its artists and performers, and with a scholarly and esoteric tradition deeper than we’d even imagined. And as is typical of our Quests, we were able to explore so many evocative locations that would have been difficult to find on one’s own – without a driver or rudimentary knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet – and were received by so many lovely, warm and open local people.
Every time the Esoteric Quest visits a new location, we add another section to the tapestry of Western holy wisdom. Europe is, in fact, possessed of as much spiritual wealth as the East; we just have to dig for it past the centuries of destruction through war, religious persecution, political oppression and materialistic ideology. What we find are true gems, hidden traditions that inspire and uplift us in this challenging age of rising nationalism and fundamentalism.
This year, we will celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Esoteric Quest, and we will do it in Portugal. There we will bring alive the legacy of the Knights Templar who continued to operate under a new guise and who played a vital role in the Age of Discovery when Europe began to open to a larger geographical and spiritual world. And, of course, we will attune to the soul of the country, the saudade, that finds such perfect expression in the music of Fado with its exquisitely felt longing and its transmutation of melancholy into melody.
But as we look back on 2019, we can only feel gratitude for our experience in Bulgaria and for everyone we met who generously shared their time, wisdom and blessings. We emerged from our sojourn there, and in northern Romania too, nourished intellectually and heartened emotionally, and we learned, yet again, that the esoteric streams continuously rise to the surface and enrich a culture in spite of all the difficulties, even tragedies, that so many lands have endured.
Ralph White is co-founder of the New York Open Center and currently serves as Senior Fellow and Conference Director. Since the Open Center’s inception in 1984 he has created hundreds of programs across the spectrum of holistic learning. In particular, he directs the Esoteric Quest conferences in Europe esotericquest.org the Western Tradition that have now continued for twenty years, and the Art of Dying conferences www.artofdying.org that address the emergence of a more holistic understanding of death in contemporary America. From 1995 to 2001 he edited Lapis Magazine, winner of the Alternative Press Award 2000 from Utne Reader. A writer and speaker, he is the author of the memoir, The Jeweled Highway: On the Quest for a Life of Meaning.
Stay tuned for information on our next Esoteric Quest. Information available shortly.