In the early 1970s, a wooded valley in Phoenicia became home to a thriving community of seekers delving into The Pathwork, a body of spiritual/psychological guidance transmitted from a spiritual entity known as The Guide. The entity’s channel was Eva Pierrakos, a charismatic woman born in Vienna in 1915; her father, Austrian novelist Jacob Wassermann, was one of Europe’s literary elite and comrade to Herman Hesse and Thomas Mann. “Eva was extraordinarily bright, inquisitive, vivacious, and affable,” recalls Richard Bachrach, a spiritual and energetics counselor in Bearsville, and a student of The Pathwork from 1974 to 1994. He had met Pierrakos in New York City in the 1970s, where she had immigrated after escaping the ravages of war in Europe.
Pierrakos had been receiving information from The Guide since 1957. “In her early 30s she started doing automatic writing,” explains Bachrach. “That’s when a person goes into a deeply introspective mode, puts pen to paper, and writes in an inspired process that really feels as though it bypasses any kind of conscious volition. That was a precursor to her becoming a trance medium for The Guide.” Pierrakos transmitted a collection of 258 “lectures” from The Guide over two decades, until her death in 1979.
The lectures reveal insights that both novice and experienced seekers call profoundly life-changing. Today’s International Pathwork Foundation describes them as a “roadmap to self-responsibility, self-knowledge, and true self-acceptance. The lectures cover the wide spectrum of our human journey, from our struggles with self-doubt, self-hatred, and fear of inadequacy to the barriers we put up to relating with others, and, ultimately, with what we each know as God. The lectures teach that vital life-energy, feelings, and insight are often buried under misconceptions about the nature of reality. They point the way to genuine love of self, others, and the divine.”
An essential teaching of The Guide was that we must not ignore or gloss over the dark sides we tend to hide from or deny. “The lectures say, ‘Look in the mirror, speak what you’re afraid of, dialogue with it, tolerate it,’” explains Bachrach. “The Pathwork stresses self-responsibility—to say what you are really feeling, and create a viable way to deal with that. They’re very down-to-earth, in terms of psychological and behavioral tools to do that.” A longstanding tradition in The Pathwork is Helpership, by which experienced pathworkers mentor newer seekers in real-life applications of the material—something at which Pierrakos herself was quite masterful, according to Bachrach.
The resident community in Phoenicia was The Pathwork’s epicenter. Bert and Moira Shaw of Bearsville were there “from the very early days,” says Bert. “Eva’s dream was to have a center to do intensives. That led to our finding the center in Phoenicia. I negotiated to buy the property, and was the director for 15 years.” Moira was the first member of what developed into the first training group—the beginning of a vibrant heritage, ongoing today, in which small groups meet regularly to pore over the lectures to discuss and discover their wisdom. “I just loved the material,” says Moira, who has been instrumental in maintaining the lectures as Pierrakos transmitted them, and in making their messages accessible to everyone, including children, through her own writings and teachings.
Bachrach and his wife Judi moved to the community and became central to its leadership for nearly a decade. “In the 1970s, The Pathwork went from an organization of about 50 people to 300 in the New York region alone. The resident community at its peak had about 46 people, with 150 to 160 on the weekends.” He describes a host of remarkable people drawn to the community—“major folks in the feminist movement and in theater and film, and John Pierrakos [Eva’s husband], who founded the Bioenergetic Institute and brought in a lot of people who were learning Core Energetics. They came from all over the world, big groups from Holland, Venezuela, Italy, Mexico. There was this beautiful hunger for purification, but without needing to isolate oneself. It wasn’t a life of renunciation. It strove to make ordinary life rich and full of spiritual experiences. The context was community, and immersion, and the extraordinary convergence of a spiritual and psychological healing process.”
But with Pierrakos’s death, the community was stricken. Says Bachrach, “We were habituated to a monthly infusion from Eva, where we would sit around her, and she would go into trance, and we would get a new lecture. It was like transmission in the Buddhist tradition—sitting with someone you believe to be an intermediary between the physical and astral plane of reality. You get used to that being a source of nourishment.” With that era over, a difficult transition jostled the community in different directions; the Phoenicia center remained for some years but has since disbanded.