The following is an interview with Svetoslava Toncheva, a presenter from this year’s Esoteric Quest, concerning the work of the remarkable Bulgarian philosopher and spiritual teacher of a century ago, Peter Deunov.
One important note: the spiritual movement that Peter Deunov founded, the White Brotherhood, is a reference to a spiritual community on the inner plane, and absolutely not to a racial community.
Q: Who was Peter Deunov?
A: Peter Deunov (1864-1944) was a Bulgarian philosopher and spiritual teacher, a founder of a spiritual community known as the White Brotherhood. He was a son of an orthodox priest but received his education in the Methodist tradition at Drew University in the U.S. Being acquainted with the most current spiritual streams of the time, he later established, after returning to his homeland, his own distinguished spiritual-philosophical system which he referred to as the New Teaching.
He spent his life fully dedicated to his work, leaving a legacy of over 4000 lectures covering extremely diverse topics, including the system of Paneurhythmy and various musical works.
According to his followers, he was the main reason for the salvation of 10,000 Bulgarian Jews during World War II. Deunov touched thousands of people with his ideas, many of whom joined the community in the established settlement named Izgrev (sunrise). Multiple are the stories of miracles performed by him, such as cases of healings of diseases, for which he was seen as a manifestation of the divine and considered a spiritual teacher of humanity.
He died in 1944, claiming to have “completed a tiny job for God” and having foreseen the uprising of the communist regime in the country.
Q: What was the spiritual and cultural milieu from which he emerged?
A: The period in which Peter Deunov lived was, in a sense, one of the formation of a new Bulgarian nation; some scholars therefore analyze his work as mainly aimed at supporting this process. His talks indeed focused on the responsibilities of the Bulgarians and claims that they have their special mission for the evolution of humanity. He attempted to prepare and “raise” them not only spiritually but also even physically; for this reason, he not only created the system of Paneurhythmy, which acts upon both spiritual and physical development, but also talked about hygienic habits which were, in this period, not quite established yet. At this point in time, for various historical reasons, Bulgarian Orthodox Christianity was to a large extent a form of “alternative” religiousness and figures such as clairvoyants were quite popular. This fact made the spread of his ideas much easier.
Q: What is Paneurhythmy and how has this work continued in the present day?
A: Paneurhythmy is a system of exercises, perceived as a universal harmony of the movement and expression of the cosmic rhythm that is the foundation of life. It is performed from the beginning of spring on 22 March until 22 September and symbolizes the advent of the new, the renewing forces in nature and humans. Doing Paneurhythmy is seen as a means for connection with the creative forces of nature and for the activation of the forces that reside in the human soul. It is still being performed by the community of the White Brotherhood in diverse regions around the world, and is the most distinguished symbol of the movement, especially the Paneurhythmy done at the Seven Rila Lakes in the Rila Mountains. It is traditionally shown on television broadcasts around the community’s annual summer spiritual camp.
Q: Is this work related to the Anthroposophy work of Rudolf Steiner?
A: In a sense, yes, having emerged from the “spirit” of the period and sharing some basic principles. Peter Deunov was familiar with Steiner’s work, and there is evidence that one of his most devoted followers was willing to become part of the Anthroposophical movement but was sent away by Steiner himself, who claimed that “The teacher is now in Bulgaria.” Even though this information is hard to prove, it is certain that some of Steiner’s literature was brought to Bulgaria. So of course we can find some similarities, but also the two are quite different in their approach to the public and provide diverse methods for the accomplishment of their own purposes. Anthroposophy developed, moreover, in a different social context and is, as a consequence, more applied in spheres such as medicine, agriculture, education, etc.
Q: In addition to your focus on the work of Peter Deunov, you also have had a long-term interest in other forms of contemporary spirituality. What started this journey for you?
A: I was, from a young age, interested in diverse spiritual traditions, from ancient Egypt to Tibetan Buddhism, as I received my education in a school for ancient languages and cultures. In the case of Peter Deunov, I remember that my mother was reading his books and I got curious and started reading them myself. Later, with a friend whose family turned out to also sympathize with these teachings, we decided to go perform Paneurthythmy in Sofia. This is how my interest in mountaineering began as well, as many of the community’s events take place in nature, and many of the people there go hiking. So it developed gradually and got much deeper later when I was invited to write my master thesis in anthropology on the White Brotherhood. It was a challenge but also made me see more of the historical and cultural contexts in which the movement emerged and developed, and also how his followers experience and understand Peter Deunov’s philosophy themselves.
Svetoslava Toncheva, PhD, is an assistant professor of anthropology at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. She is the author of Out of the New Spirituality of the Twentieth Century: The Dawn of Anthroposophy, the White Brotherhood and the Unified Teaching. She has a long-term interest in the field of contemporary spirituality and the teachings of Peter Deunov in particular.
An Esoteric Quest in Bulgaria: At the Crossroads of the Mysteries
In Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the Oldest Living City in Europe
August 22-27, 2019
Click here for more info and to register.
Final registration – July 10th