Peter Deunov and the White Brotherhood 

By Harrie Salman

Around 1910 Boyan Boev, a Bulgarian student, attended Rudolf Steiner's lectures in Munich. In a personal conversation (of which several records exist) Steiner told him that after his return to Bulgaria he would meet his teacher. And so it happened. Boev met Peter Deunov and became his stenographer and secretary. It is known that Deunov encouraged his followers to read Steiner's works and that Boev was involved in the translation of some of his works into Bulgarian. Although Steiner and Deunov never met in person, they knew of each other very well. They can be considered as the most important teachers of modern spirituality. The movements they initiated, the Anthroposophical Movement and the White Brotherhood, have much more in common than is usually recognised.

Peter Deunov, a reformer of Bulgarian spiritual life

Peter Deunov was born in 1864 in a village near Varna in Bulgaria, three years later than Rudolf Steiner. His father was an Orthodox priest who played an active role in the revival of Bulgarian culture that took place in the 19th century and preceded the religious and political independence of Bulgaria in the 1870s. It was only natural that the young Deunov wanted to contribute to the National Revival of Bulgaria in his own way. While he was attending the gymnasium in Varna he became acquainted with Methodism in the family of his sister and decided to become a Methodist preacher.

American Methodist preachers had come to Bulgaria in 1857 as part of a Protestant campaign to reform and revitalize the Orthodox Church. Protestant missionary societies had already organised the translation of the Bible into the modern Bulgarian language. In 1884 Deunov became a student at the American Scientific Theological School in Svishtov, where he was educated as a preacher. Three years later, in the autumn of 1887, he became a teacher in a Methodist primary school and also the preacher in the small local Methodist community.

A year later he was sent to the U.S.A., to Drew Seminary in New Jersey, to become a Methodist minister. In 1892 he was enrolled at the School of Theology of the Methodist University of Boston for a year and after a year of medical studies and a year of pastoral work in a Methodist congregation he returned to Bulgaria in 1895. In these seven years in America he had become familiar with new spiritual streams, such as Transcendentalism, Utopian Socialism and Theosophy, but also with the roots of John Wesley's Methodism. He must have been aware of the fact that Wesley's ‘methods' for developing Christian perfection were deeply influenced by his meeting with members of the Moravian Church, an offshoot of the Hussite movement (a Christian movement that followed the teachings of the late14th century Czech reformer, John Hus).

Back in Bulgaria, Deunov was invited to become a pastor in Methodist congregations and also to give lectures for the Theosophical Society, but he declined. He only wanted to work as a pastor if it was without payment. The structures of the Methodist Church were apparently too narrow for him to work for the reform of Bulgarian spiritual life. In 1896 he wrote his first book Science and Education and began to give lectures on both scientific and mystical-spiritual topics.

A servant of God's mission

In the first years after his return from America, Deunov's life task took another turn. New spiritual experiences prepared him for what he called the “beginning of God's mission”. His talks, articles and dairy notes show that he had regular experiences of meetings with spiritual beings and with Christ. They were part of his personal initiation. Later, he told a follower: “I have been inspired and that happened on March 7, 1897. Then I received a mission from heavens, it was revealed to me that I am a teacher for the whole of humanity. The mission assigned to me is connected with the new path of the Slavs and with the coming of the sixth race [the new cycle of cultures in the far future – remark by the author].”[1] This inspiration by the Spirit of God deepened in the course of the years.

In 1897 Deunov founded the Society for Raising the Religious Spirit of the Bulgarian People, which later developed into the Chain of Divine Love. Those who wanted to become a member of the Chain had to sign the Ten Testimonies of the Spirit, which were revealed to Deunov on February 14, 1899. Two weeks later the Protestant Penyu Kirov and the Orthodox Todor Stoimenov signed them. The Catholic Dr. Georgi Mirkovich followed shortly afterwards. The fact that the first pupils of Deunov came from three different Christian churches shows that his spiritual approach had a broad appeal and was no longer linked with a particular Church. In July 1900 the first annual meeting of the Chain took place, which consisted of Deunov and these first three disciples.

The role of Deunov in this divine mission has been discussed in various ways. Some of his followers identified him with the World Teacher, especially after Krishnamurti, in 1929, rejected the claim of leading Theosophists that the World Teacher (who was seen by them as both the expected Bodhisattva Maitreya and the returning Christ) would reveal himself in him. Deunov was one of the spiritual leaders who had sent a message of warning to Krishnamurti before his renunciation of any identification with such beings. Deunov, however, never spoke of himself as the World Teacher or as the new Bodhisattva.

Recently a book has been published by three Bulgarian authors to show that Deunov meets all the descriptions Steiner gave of the Bodhisattva Maitreya.[2] Although many indications speak in favour of their hypothesis, the arguments are not fully convincing. Ultimately, this question can not be solved in a public discussion. One needs a supreme power of judgment, as only initiates would have, to solve this question.

In anthroposophical circles, some people see in Deunov the reincarnated Master Jesus, because Rudolf Steiner once said to Friedrich Rittelmeyer that Master Jesus was living in the Carpathian Mountains (in Romania) and that they were in spiritual contact. This idea is certainly attractive, but Deunov did not live in the Carpathians.

In the White Brotherhood it was thought that Deunov was a reincarnation of Boyan the Magician, the founder of the Bogomil-Cathar movement, who lived in the 10th century. This makes sense, but the mystery of Deunov's individuality and mission are not revealed by such identifications. This is only possible when we fully understand the essence of his spiritual work and his relation to Christ.

Peter Deunov's spiritual work

Following the example of John Wesley, Deunov made extensive travels in Bulgaria between 1900 and 1911, doing research, meeting people and giving lectures. He moved in circles of people who were looking for a new way of life. Among them were Protestants, Theosophists, spiritists, vegetarians, followers of Tolstoy and Esperantists. In 1904 he had settled in Sofia and in 1911 he began to give public lectures there on Sundays. In these Sunday morning talks, which opened with a quotation from the Bible, he developed the new teaching that was given to him from the spiritual world.

In the same year, Deunov introduced the form of the pentagram in a special way at the annual meeting of the Chain; as a symbol of the development of the soul. The five steps from one corner-point of the pentagram to the next represent the principles of Love, Wisdom, Truth, Justice and Virtue. Together they form, he said, the path of Christ. Around the pentagram, Deunov inscribed the formula “In the fulfilment of the will of God lies the power of the human soul”. At the annual meeting of the Chain in 1912 he gave to each of the participants a booklet called The Testament of the Colour Rays of Light, which he had written in the preceding months. In it he presented quotations from the Bible arranged according to ten manifestations of the Spirit, each of which emits a different kind of light. His disciples were advised to work with these energies of light and with the corresponding quotations for their inner development and for healing.

In 1920 the Chain received the new name of the White Brotherhood. This Brotherhood should serve as a model of a future humanity. Already in 1914, according to Deunov, humanity had begun to experience the spiritual inspirations coming from the constellation of Aquarius. This would lead to a new culture in the future which brotherhood and love will unite people. Its centre would be in the Slavic countries (as also Steiner taught). In 1922 Peter Deunov founded the Occult School of the Universal White Brotherhood, which he also called the School of Christ. In addition to his public lectures, two new kinds of lectures were introduced: lectures for the General Occult Class and lectures for a special Class of young people, for which he personally invited 80 unmarried young people. In these two classes of the occult school, Peter Deunov's disciples had to study, write papers, accomplish tasks and perform exercises.

The centre of the White Brotherhood became a new community, called Izgrev (Sunrise) near Sofia, where, in 1927, a lecture hall was constructed and many members built wooden cabins. From 1927 Deunov lived in a small room over the hall. Being used to take his followers on excursions to the mountains, he took them in 1929 for the first time to a summer camp in the Rila Mountains. These camps were held until the beginning of the Second World War. His disciples had to learn to live together for some time under difficult conditions as a spiritual community. In them, they could also establish a deep connection with Nature, described by Deunov as the female face of God. In 1930 he began to give early morning lectures, which were held every Sunday at 5 a.m.

In 1932 he developed a sacred circle dance, called Paneurhythmy, with a first part of 28 exercises. In 1942 a second and third part were added to it. Paneurhythmy is a synthesis of physical movement, songs and music, and is meant to harmonize, regulate and transform the energies of the human organism. This healing ritual is danced in the early hours of the day, when the rays of the sun have a beneficial effect, in spring and summer, and became a daily exercise in Izgrev and in the Rila summer camps.

Deunov was a gifted violin player, and he composed over 150 pieces. He also wrote many religious and spiritual songs, which are sung in the White Brotherhood. In the course of the years, a great number of people sought his advice and help. He also healed many people. In many of his lectures he described the principles of healing with the four elements of Water, Air, Earth and Warmth, and with Light. Most essential in his spiritual work was the example of his personal life, which was permeated by the spirit of Divine Love.

In the late 1930s, he revealed his spiritual name Beinsa Douno to his pupils. Its meaning is unknown. Peter Deunov died in 1944 at the age of 80, a few days before the new communist authorities wanted to arrest him. Most of his approximately 4000 lectures have been published in Bulgarian. Only a small part of them have been translated into foreign languages.

The methods of inner development

In the spiritual school of the White Brotherhood a large variety of methods is used for the inner work of human self-perfection:

Lectures and talks. Working with the Word was for Deunov the most powerful method.
Elaboration of the themes and doing the practical tasks, given in the lectures
Singing. The lectures were preceded by one or more songs and ended with singing. According to Deunov music and songs act on particular brain centres and they harmonize the path of the disciple.
Physical exercises, which have a deep effect on the body and the mind.
Excursions in the mountains, during which the participants become students in the school of Nature.
Practise of communal life, aimed at the development of a new social consciousness.
Prayer. Praying is “a mystical condition of the soul”, Deunov remarked, “a breathing of the soul”, in which the thoughts and the blood are purified.
Paneurhythmy, an active meditation, in which the participants work with the energies of the Sun and the Earth.
Meditation on the colours and the Bible quotations given in the “Testament of the Colour Rays of Light”.

The White Brotherhood

Deunov made the important remark that the White Brotherhood is not an earthly organisation. It consists of highly developed beings that have completed their evolution on earth. They are the helpers of humanity and are led by Christ. Human beings can become disciples of this Brotherhood, said Deunov, but they cannot become its members.

The spiritual community he founded is not an organisation with membership cards, but a free community people can associate with when and as long as they feel an inner connection. They then accept the obligation to give 10% of their income or of their time to support the development of this community. Its goal is the application of the teaching of Christ, which is the teaching of Love. Deunov once said of himself: “I was sent by the divine world to preach Love and to transform its power in our world.”

Here we see an important difference with the mission of Steiner, who, according to Deunov, had the task to spiritualize modern materialistic science that has its origin in the work of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. The principles of the new spiritual science are applied in many fields of practical activity. For Steiner Anthroposophy was a spiritual science and he saw it as a necessary preparation, created out of the spiritual essence of Central European culture, for the coming Slavic culture thast would flow into the world in the farther future. Deunov's contribution to the new culture has deep roots in the Christianity of the Bulgarian Bogomils, but also in the spiritual stream of purity and harmonious music and dance created by the Thracian initiate Orpheus, who worked in the 13th century BC in northern Greece and Bulgaria.

Both Steiner and Deunov were messengers of the coming Christ, who can only support the further development of man and humanity if we invite Him to help us. They both speak of the beginning of the Regency of the Archangel Michael in 1879, the end of Kali Yuga (the Dark Age), heralding the New Age of Light, the Second Coming of Christ in the 20th century, the beginning of the New Age of Christ and the coming Slavic culture of love and brotherhood. Steiner stressed the Michaelic aspect of the development of a higher consciousness that takes initiatives, whilst Deunov stressed the Urielic aspect of community building. Of the four angels around the throne of Christ, Michael inspires the development of consciousness. Uriel inspires religious and social activity. In conformity with this, we see Steiner in the first place working as a spiritual scientist and Deunov as the founder of a new community life. It must be said that Steiner was also well aware of the need to build communities and spoke many times about this, and that Deunov gave many talks about the need to create a new inner life and to create a connection with nature.

A new beginning

When Deunov died in 1944 he did not appoint a successor. His mission was fulfilled. The disciples of the White Brotherhood had to find their own way, under the difficult conditions of Communism. A Supreme Council took over the leadership. Members of this council are elected for three years and nobody receives a payment for any kind of official function.

The Communist regime recognised the White Brotherhood in 1948, but in 1956 this recognition was withdrawn and all the properties of the Brotherhood were confiscated. It was forbidden to have books of Deunov and when they were found, they were destroyed. Several leaders of the Brotherhood were imprisoned and the buildings in Izgrev were nationalised (and demolished in 1970). The Brotherhood went underground and only returned to public life after the fall of communism in 1990. After this reappearance, the White Brotherhood finds disciples from all social groups of Bulgarian society and the name of Peter Deunov has become known again. Early 2008 the Bulgarian television organised a national poll to determine the ten most important Bulgarians in history. Deunov appeared on the second place, after the revolutionary hero Vassil Levski.

Already in 1937 Mikhail Ivanov, a pupil of Deunov with an independent mind, had left Bulgaria and founded a school in France, which he called the “Universal White Brotherhood”. On the basis of the teaching of Deunov he created his own teaching. In going his own way, he nevertheless made Deunov's name and Paneurhythmy known in many countries of the world. In recent years, many people connected to this French Brotherhood come to Bulgaria to search for the source of their teaching.

An international project has started to translate lectures of Deunov into foreign languages, which are available on the internet. He deserves to be known as one of the founders of modern Christian spirituality and as the inaugurator of a modern, worldwide community that works for the practical realization of Christ's impulse of Love. Together, Rudolf Steiner and Peter Deunov opened the gates of consciousness to the New Age of Light in 1900.

This article was published in the electronic journal Starlight, 2015 Easter

Further information

  • Peter Deunov, The Wellspring of Good, several editions.
  • Milka Kraleva, The Master Peter Deunov, Sofia, 2001.
  • David Lorimer, Prophet for Our Times: The Life and Teachings of Peter Deunov, Shaftesbury/Rockport, 1991.
  • David Lorimer, The Circle of Sacred Dance: Peter Deunov's Paneurhythmy, Shaftesbury/Rockport, 1991.
  • Georgi Radev (ed.), The Master Speaks, Los Angeles/Paris, 1970

[1] Peter Deunov, Harmonizing of the Human Soul, Sofia, 2013, p 386.

[2] Filip Filipov, Preslav Pavlov und Dimiter Kalev, The Bodhisattva in the 20th Century, AB Publishing House, Sofia, 2007. ISBN 978-954-737-655-7.


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