At the Crossroads of the Mysteries
In Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the Oldest Living City in Europe
August 22-27, 2019

Join us as we return to our Esoteric Quest roots in Eastern Europe and explore Bulgaria, a land filled with spiritual and esoteric history from the most ancient times to the present.

Our conference will take place in Plovdiv, Europe’s oldest living city, having been inhabited for over 6,000 years. Known as the Pearl of the Balkans, Plovdiv has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2019. Few cities have such an entrancing atmosphere, with vestiges from antiquity of the worship of Orpheus and Dionysus, remnants of the Thracian kings, and an enormous Roman coliseum and theater, dating from the time when Constantine referred to this city as ‘his Rome.’ Reaching back deeper still, Plovdiv’s archeological museums are filled with the region’s most ancient artifacts, including Great Mother figurines from 35,000 years ago and the earliest traces of writing on bone and stone.

A visitor can move in minutes from a Turkish coffee house to the transcendent icons of a beautiful, medieval Bulgarian Orthodox church, to the intricately adorned 19th century Revival houses that sit in the heart of Plovdiv’s Old City. Wherever the eye turns, it falls on something unexpected, fantastical, and deeply absorbing.

In the early Middle Ages, the followers of the Holy Religion of Light, precursors of the Gnostic Cathars in Southern France, were brought to Plovdiv in enormous numbers where they perpetuated the ‘Hidden Tradition in Europe’ later developed by the Bogomils of Bosnia. Eastern Orthodox Christianity created and sustained a profound influence with its preservation of the mystical and Platonic traditions within the Church. And then 500 years of domination by the Ottoman Turks gave to Bulgaria yet another level of culture and spirituality with the legacy of the Mevlevi Dervishes and their places of worship.

Bulgaria continues to have a vibrant, living, folk tradition: masked dances, fire dances, and the magic of Bulgarian choral song with its polyphonic tones and trance-like effects. It is a land of rose valleys, Thracian temples stretching throughout the mysterious Rhodope Mountains (in the caves of which Orpheus is said to have descended into the Underworld in search of Eurydice), and a history of fine wine-making that began in antiquity.

We invite you to join us on our 15th Esoteric Quest, the Open Center’s highly regarded and longest-running program, as we explore this fascinating city and country where so many mystery traditions have crossed paths over the centuries. In returning to the elusive world of Eastern European esotericism for the first time in a dozen years, we are delighted to offer travelers, students and researchers a fresh and inexhaustible vein of spiritual history to mine.

To receive our color brochure (due in Spring 2019), to ask a question or share a comment and to receive our online newsletter, Quest News, please sign up below:

Pre-Conference Experience

Sofia and the Valley of the Thracian Kings
August 20-22, 2019
We begin our Quest in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, sitting at the foot of Vitosha Mountain, with its beautiful Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, riveting archeological museum, housed in a centuries-old mosque, and lively local restaurants. From there we travel to the Valley of the Roses and Thracian Kings, with its ancient burial mounds and tombs, before spending the night at a nearby spa and winery, where we will enjoy a taste of the Dionysian arts.

Post-Conference Journey

From the Cave of Orpheus to the Black Sea in Bulgaria
August 27–September 1, 2019
Our journey in Bulgaria continues, first to the mystical Rhodope Mountains, and the vast underground cavern in the Trigrad Gorge, close to the Bulgarian-Greek border, with a long association with Orpheus. From there we go to the ancient city of Perperikon, enigmatic center of the Thracian mysteries, before journeying to the beauty and serenity of the Black Sea itself, home of countless civilizations, numerous traces of former Greek colonies, and miles of golden sand beaches.

Post-Conference Journey

The Heart of Medieval, Folkloric, Romania: Transylvania, Maramores, Bucovina
August 27–September 1, 201
Our second Post-Conference tour takes us into the timeless beauty of Northern Romania. We’ll travel through the rocky mountains and forested valleys of Transylvania, 17th century scenic villages and the Bohemian cafes of its capital city of Cluj. In Maramures, we’ll enter a fairy tale world of horse-drawn carriages, haycarts and iconic wooden churches, snowy Carpathian peaks in the distance, before continuing on to the bucolic idyll of Bucovina, with the pasturelands, beech groves and Byzantine-frescoed monasteries for which it is famous.

About the Esoteric Quest

The Esoteric Quest is an ongoing conference and travel series engaged with the rediscovery of the lost or half-forgotten spiritual history of the West. It brings together scholars, writers, artists, and performers deeply versed in the Western Esoteric Tradition and offers some of the leading events in the world on this profound topic.

The Quest began in 1995 in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, the Southern Bohemian mecca of alchemists, with the conference entitled “The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited” (an “esoteric Woodstock” as it was described at the time by Gnosis magazine). It has now continued for 24 years and has addressed such themes as The Italian Renaissance and the Esoteric Traditions in Florence, Italy; the Golden Age of Andalusia in Granada, Spain; the Cathars and Troubadours in 12th century Languedoc in France; and the world of Ancient Alexandria in Egypt.
More recently, we offered our first Quest in South America, in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas, where we were able to explore esoteric cultures beyond Europe and the Mediterranean and find the forms of holy wisdom shared by both the Western Tradition and Pre-Columbian civilization.

Produced by the New York Open Center, the city’s leading institution of holistic learning for over thirty-five years, The Esoteric Quest is more than a study of spiritual history. It seeks to find the relevance of these traditions to our circumstances in the present day and foster deep interest in the wisdom of different cultures and epochs. The speakers and locations are carefully chosen to offer memorable and convivial experiences that enrich our sense of wonder and open us to fresh ways of seeing the world. Its prime ingredients are high-quality learning, an evocative ambiance, and a program that includes the arts and a strong emphasis on building warm community.

Past Conferences


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2018: An Esoteric Quest for the Lost World of the Incas and the Living Spirituality of Indigenous Peru and Bolivia: In the Sacred Valley of the Incas, Machu Picchu and Cusco
The Open Center’s 14th Esoteric Quest—our first in South America—took place primarily in the tranquil Sacred Valley of the Incas, not far from Cusco, next to the rushing Urubamba River, with its snow-capped mountain vistas.

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2017: An Esoteric Quest in the Western Isles of Scotland: Megalithic, Celtic and Norse Cultures in the Outer Hebrides
The thirteenth in a series of conferences on Western spiritual traditions continued our theme from our 2016 Quest in Iceland of exploring the mysteries of the North. We investigated the geometry and alignments of the evocative standing stones, pondered the meeting of Gaelic and Norse cultures, experienced the mystical beauty of these islands in the North Atlantic Ocean, and learned about Scotland’s more recent esoteric traditions. Our home base was Lews Castle overlooking Stornoway harbor, a beautifully restored 19th-century estate.

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2016: An Esoteric Quest for the Mysteries of the North in Iceland
The twelfth in the Open Center’s series of conferences on the Esoteric Quest took place on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in the West of Iceland, a place long held sacred in Norse Mythology. Its sparkling ocean and long ridge of protective mountains terminate in the Great Snow Mountain Glacier itself, Snæfellsjökull, long seen as a holy place. While Norse mythology itself is filled with fascination and spiritual depth, there also was much more to the Vikings than the familiar stereotype of plunder and mayhem. They were not only warriors and raiders, but also adventurers, artists and shamans who deeply valued the Völvas, seeresses capable of peering into the future. Conference goers were invited to join leading scholars, writers, artists and adventurers to enter the great Mysteries of the North in one of the most magical realms on earth.

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2015: An Esoteric Quest in the South of France
This Esoteric Quest was held in the Languedoc region of France. Long known as a focal point for numerous spiritual streams, this area was at the heart of the high medieval culture of both the Troubadours and the Gnostic Christian Cathars. The Bons Hommes, as the Cathars called themselves, created one of the most remarkable and enigmatic spiritual movements of the Middle Ages, the destruction of which was one of the great tragedies of European religious life. The Troubadours were the first to bring romantic love to the Western world in poetry and song of great elegance and charm that expressed a new merging of the erotic and the mystical.

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2013: An Esoteric Quest for Ancient Arabic and Medieval Sicily

This Quest took us to medieval Sicily, a brilliant center of Arabic culture with its poets, geographers and mosques. In the 12th century, the incoming Norman impulse created the most tolerant, multicultural and radiant land of its time, a place where Catholics, Byzantines, Jews, and Muslims all co-existed and flourished. It was an island where esoteric knowledge flowed through philosophers, Sufis, Neo-Platonic troubadours, Kabbalists and alchemists, and seekers of The Grail.

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2012: An Esoteric Quest for Ancient Alexandria

This journey explored “The Mysteries and Philosophy of Antiquity” that thrived in Alexandria, Egypt. Our conference vividly brought to life this most influential center of culture and esoteric wisdom in antiquity, the authentic birthplace of the Western mind.

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2009: An Esoteric Quest for Inner America

The Open Center’s eighth Esoteric Quest addressed the life-enhancing spiritual impulses that emerged powerfully in America. We brought alive the worldviews of Native Americans, 17th century Alchemists, Freemasons and Founding Fathers, Transcendentalists, early Feminists, and Spiritualists. We also honored numerous 20th century American writers and artists influenced by esotericism, and celebrated the contemporary, multicultural, spiritual explosion. Writers, scholars and performers joined in the beautiful Catskill Mountains at a special moment of rebirth of the American spirit.

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2008: An Esoteric Quest for the Mysteries and Philosophy of Antiquity: Spiritual Experience, Wisdom and Art in Ancient Greece

This Quest took place on the magical island of Samothrace, Greece, far off the beaten track in the northern Aegean Sea. For a thousand years, the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothrace was one of the most famous mystery centers of the ancient world, rivaling Delphi in stature and fame. International scholars, writers and artists gathered for the seventh in the Open Center’s series of conferences on the Western Esoteric Tradition. The conference was followed by three optional journeys. One explored the Sufi world of Istanbul; the other traveled to Delphi, Eleusis, and other evocative mystery centers of mainland Greece. Finally, we traveled to Ephesus, Didyma, and Miletus, exploring oracles and sacred sites from early Christianity.

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2007: An Esoteric Quest for the Golden Age of Andalusia: Sufis, Kabbalists and Christian Philosophers in Medieval Spain

This conference took place in Granada, Spain, the beautiful city lying below the snowy Sierra Nevada that, alone on the Iberian Peninsula, remained under Muslim control until the fateful year of 1492. Outstanding faculty from Spain, France, Britain and the United States addressed such topics as: the Zohar, the Sufis of Andalusia, Arabic alchemy, Ibn ‘Arabi and Rumi, the knowledge system of Ramon Lull, the troubadours, and the place of Spain and Islam in the Grail stories. Evenings were filled with poetry, flamenco, and music that emerged from the blending of ‘Las Tres Culturas‘.

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2006: An Esoteric Quest in Central Europe, From Renaissance Bohemia to Goethe’s Weimar

This eight-day itinerant conference began in the Czech Republic in Kutna Hora and then proceeded to Marianske Lazne (Marienbad) in western Bohemia. It concluded in Weimar, Germany, and followed the Western Esoteric Tradition from 15th century Bohemia to its reemergence in Goethe’s artistic and scientific work.

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2000: The Italian Renaissance and the Esoteric Traditions: Hermetic, Cabalistic and Neo-Platonic Philosophers & Their Influence Today

This five-day conference took place in Florence, Italy, and looked at the world of Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, and the many other remarkable figures and esoteric impulses that characterized 15th century Florence.

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1998: The Grail: Arthurian Mysteries and the Grail Quest

This conference, held in Lampeter, Wales, brought alive the Celtic background of the Grail stories and explored the roots and meaning of the Arthurian legends.

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1997: Prague, Alchemy and the Hermetic Tradition

Taking place at the Zofin Palace on an island in the center of Prague, this conference coincided with the Festival of Rudolf II, King of Bohemia and Hungary, and Holy Roman Emperor in 1600, and investigated many aspects of the alchemical world of renaissance Bohemia.

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1995: The Rosicrucian Enlightenment Revisited: The Western Mystery Tradition in Bohemia. A Conference in Honor of Frances Yates

The first of the Open Center’s conferences on the Western Esoteric Tradition, this event brought together scholars, researchers and writers in the Southern Bohemian mecca of alchemy, Cesky Krumlov. It was named after Frances Yates’ pioneering work, The Rosicrucian Enlightenment.

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Upcoming Events

Esoteric Quest Open House - Bulgaria: Crossroads of the Mysteries
Friday, April 12, 2019, 7:30 pm
at The New York Open Center
22 East 30th Street
New York, NY

The Open Center’s highly regarded Esoteric Quests are its longest running program and have explored the brilliant beauty of the Western Tradition for almost a quarter of a century. This evening we invite you to hear Open Center co-founder and Quest Director, Ralph White, describe our upcoming Quest in August in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the oldest living city in Europe and the European Capital of Culture in 2019. This often overlooked corner of Southeast Europe is possessed of an amazingly rich spiritual and cultural history, going back to the Great Mother Goddess, and the gods of music and wine, Orpheus and Dionysus. Plovdiv’s fascinating 6,000 year history includes Thracians, Macedonians, Ancient Romans, Manicheans, Ottoman Sufis, native Bulgarian mystics from the Bogomil tradition, and a vibrant folk tradition. Quest coordinator, Andrea Lomanto, will provide practical information for potential registrants.

Register Now!
An Intimate Evening of Ancient Songs
Yasna Voices Bulgarian Women’s Choir
Saturday, May 4, 2019, 8:00 pm
at The New York Open Center
22 East 30th
New York, NY

Join us for a diverse and joyful evening with a group of singers who share a passion for ensemble harmony, folk traditions. and experimentation. Weaving together traditional Bulgarian village songs with artfully arranged a cappella pieces in the style of Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Yasna Voices reveals the disarming power and intimacy of the unaccompanied voice. The ancient songs tell timeless tales of sweet or forbidden love, horses and wild mountains, potent wine, the secrets of the moon, and the sun’s falling in love with a beautiful girl and her song. Their mesmerizing music serves as an introduction to this year’s Esoteric Quest in Bulgaria.

Register Now

Video Library

This crowd-funded project makes the audio and video recordings of almost all previous Quests available to the general public. Currently, our Quests in Iceland and Greece are available for streaming; more will soon be added. You can view individual lectures and workshops or stream a complete conference for a modest fee.

Supported Devices
There are lots of ways to watch The Esoteric Quest videos on devices other than your computer — to start, Vimeo is available for these popular app platforms and devices:

TV and Set-top Devices
Apple TV (2nd and 3rd Generation, pre-installed)
Apple TV (4th Generation): search for “Vimeo” in the tvOS App Store
Android TV: search for “Vimeo” in the Google Play Store
Roku
Amazon Fire TV devices
Samsung TVs (2015 Tizen-powered devices)
Chromecast (via our iOS and Android mobile apps)

If you prefer to take The Esoteric Quest on the go, you can do so with the Vimeo app on the following devices:

Mobile and Tablet
iOS iPhone/iPad
Android phones and tablets
Amazon Fire tablets

CONTACT

For more information, please contact
Andrea Lomanto at 212.219.2527 x101
or write to quest@opencenter.org

To receive our color brochure (due in Spring 2019), to ask a question or share a comment and to receive our online newsletter, Quest News, please sign up below:

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