Grand Master Hun Yuan


1944 (February 2):  Chang, Yi-jui was born in Zhongliao Township, Nantou County, Taiwan.

1963:  Chang graduated at the Land Survey Department of Kuang-Hwa Senior Industrial Vocational High School in Taichung, Taiwan.

1982:  Chang attributed his recovery from a serious illness to divine intervention, left his business career, and vowed to consecrate his life to religion.

1983:  Having received revelations from the Jade Emperor and Guiguzi, who would eventually give him the new title and name of Grand Master Hun Yuan, Chang opened a family hall in Taichung and started gathering followers.

1984:  The family hall was renamed the Shennong Temple.

1987:  Grand Master Hun Yuan legally registered his movement as Weixin Shengjiao. Headquarters were moved to Nantou County, Taiwan, where the Hsien Fo Temple, whose plans were based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, was inaugurated.

1992:  Grand Master Hun Yuan started teaching publicly I Ching and Feng Shui.

1994 (October 16, lunar calendar):  Grand Master Hun Yuan felt inspired to express the dragon nature of the fifty-three Buddhas through calligraphy painting. He painted The Golden Dragon of Fulfilled Wishes, inaugurating a cycle of dragon-related paintings.

1995:  Grand Master Hun Yuan published the book Feng Shui World View, which made him well-known beyond his circle of followers in Taiwan.

1996:  Grand Master Hun Yuan founded I Ching University.

1997:  Grand Master Hun Yuan started teaching I Ching and Feng Shui in Taiwan via television.

2000:  Grand Master Hun Yuan exhibited the six paintings Golden Dragon of Auspiciousness at the Exhibition of Zen at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei.

2000:  Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, Weixin Shengjiao started building the City of Eight Trigrams in Henan, China.

2002:  Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, Yellow Emperor Temple was built in Qiaoshan, Zhuolu, Hebei, China.

2003:  Inspired by a Japanese Taiko performance, Grand Master Hun Yuan painted Taiko—The Fulfillment.

2003:  Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, Chi You Temple was built in Fanshan, Hebei, China.

2008:  Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, construction started for the City of Eight Trigrams in Nantou County, Taiwan.

2010:  Based on designs by Grand Master Hun Yuan, Yan Emperor Temple was built in Gushan, Hebei, China.

2010 (February 20, lunar calendar):  Grand Master Hun Yuan visited what is traditionally believed to the birthplace of Guiguzi in Hebei, China, where his production of a work of calligraphy was accompanied, according to the movement, by miraculous events.

2011:  The Weixin Museum, hosting a large collection of paintings by Grand Master Hun Yuan, was inaugurated in Nantou County, Taiwan.


Grand Master Hun Yuan [Image at right] is one of these founders of religious movements who also emerged as significant artists in their own merit. In this sense, he can be compared to Oberto Airaudi, who founded Damanhur in Italy (Zoccatelli 2016), and to Adi Da Samraj (Franklin Jones), the leader and founder of Adidam in the United States (Bradley-Evans 2017). Like Airaudi and Adi Da, Hun Yuan is revered as the founder of a new religious movement by his followers, while on the other hand his artwork is appreciated even by artists and critics who are not interested in joining his group (see Carbotti 2017).

Hun Yuan was not educated as a religionist nor as an artist, but as a land surveyor. He was born on February 2, 1944, as Chang, Yi-jui in Zhongliao Township, Nantou County, Taiwan. He graduated in 1963 at the Land Survey Department of Kuang-Hwa Senior Industrial Vocational High School in Taichung, Taiwan, remained in his school for some years as a teacher, and went on to establish the first land survey company in Taiwan. Chang was not irreligious, and read books about the I Ching, the Chinese “Classic of Change,” and the traditional geomancy system known as Feng Shui. However, for some twenty years after graduation, he was primarily a businessman.

Things changed in 1982, when Chang fell seriously ill. He attributed his recovery to divine intervention, vowed to devote his life to religion, and started receiving messages from the Jade Emperor and Guiguzi. Eventually, he received through his revelations the new name and title of Grand Master Hun Yuan and went on to establish in 1984 a Taiwanese new religion, Weixin Shengjiao, which grew rapidly to some 300,000 members in Taiwan and abroad (Introvigne 2016).

Guiguzi is a character who needs to be introduced here, as he is also crucial for Grand Master Hun Yuan’s artistic activities. There are different narratives about Guiguzi, all starting from the fact that a book attributed to him, and also called Guiguzi, is a recognized Chinese classic of political strategy and diplomacy. The traditional narrative is that the book was authored by a sage of the Warring States period (453–221 BCE), whose name was indeed Guiguzi, who operated the first school of diplomacy in human history. A shrine in the place where the school is said to have been located was erected in the nineteenth century in Henan, China, and is still visited by pilgrims. Twentieth century scholars contested the traditional narrative. They noted that the earlier available information about Guiguzi the sage “is based on statements made first, as far as we know, about one thousand years after his supposed lifetime” (Broschat 1985:1) and claimed that a person called Guiguzi might never have existed. The book of course existed, but it might well have been a compilation of writings by different authors. Recently, however, scholars came to adopt different views. For instance, University of Oklahoma historian Garret Olberding maintains that “in itself this lack of information [about Guiguzi] is insufficient ground to dismiss him as fiction” (Olberding 2002:4).

Guiguzi was deified after his death as a god of commerce. Weixin Shengjiao, however, promoted him to a main deity of its pantheon. It recognized in him the incarnation of Bodhisattva Wang Chan Lao Zu (also spelled Chu), and claimed that Guiguzi is mystically united with Grand Master Hun Yuan and gives him revelations on a regular basis. It is also claimed that Guiguzi was an important figure in the historic development of the worldview and divination method taught in the Chinese classic book I Ching. [Image at right]

This also raises the question of the exact nature of the artistic production of Weixin Shengjiao’s founder, which consists of drawings for temples and other buildings and paintings. Are these part of an “automatic” art similar to Western spirit art, in the sense that the spirit of Guiguzi guides the hands of Grand Master Hun Yuan? There are precedents in this sense in Taiwanese new religions such as Taoyuan, whose art can properly be classified as spirit art. In interviews with the undersigned in January 2017, however, Grand Master Hun Yuan denied that such is his case. He claims to be fully conscious when drawing or painting. Yet, on the other hand, he is in a state of permanent union with Guiguzi and all his production, including the artistic one, can be correctly described as “inspired” by Guiguzi. The inspiration, here, is not a vague reference only, but a process whereby the constant presence of Guiguzi in Grand Master Hun Yuan’s life determines a good deal of what he decides to commit to writing, drawing or painting.

Grand Master Hun Yuan is not an architect. He “designs” buildings and spaces by committing to paper general indications. These are largely based on his widely acknowledged proficiency in the Chinese art of geomancy known as Feng Shui. Before considering any aesthetic value, the founder of Weixin Shengjiao arranges for buildings and gardens to respect the principles of Feng Shui. He is also consulted by  architects who are not part of Weixin Shengjiao, but his main achievement are the movement’s temples, including the headquarters in Nantou County [Image at right] and two Cities of Eight Trigrams, one in Taiwan and one in Henan, China. Grand Master Hun Yuan would however deny that considerations about Feng Shui and aesthetics are part of two separate realms. He teaches that what is in accordance with Feng Shui conveys an image of harmony, and as such is also beautiful.
Outside Weixin Shengjiao, Grand Master Hun Yuan is known primarily for his books, courses, and TV shows about I Ching and Feng Shui, but he is increasingly popular also as a painter. He calls his productions “calligraphy” but there is no clear distinction in traditional Chinese culture between the notions of calligraphy and paintings (Hun Yuan 1995, 1998, 2007). There is, however, a difference between simple, short auspicious messages written by Grand Master Hun Yuan, calligraphy writings of longer sutras, and large compositions, often depicting dragons. The auspicious messages and the sutras have a religious value, and devotees report that they derive from their presence in their homes and in Weixin Shengjiao’s temples practical benefits in addition to the spiritual ones. They are also elegant products of calligraphy.

The hagiography about Grand Master Hun Yuan’s calligraphy is very rich. For instance, it is claimed that on February 20, 2010 (lunar calendar), he visited the village in the Chinese province of Hebei where, according to traditional accounts, Guiguzi was born. He wrote calligraphy and advised his followers that, should that be the real birthplace of Guiguzi, a miracle would follow. In fact, it is claimed that “after Grand Master Hun Yuan Chanshi finished writing calligraphy, the cloudy sky was suddenly dispersing to reveal a vacancy in the shape of Eight Trigrams [of the I Ching]. The local people were amazed at this astonishing scene. They also saw a small area of red grass by the house where Wang Chan Lao Zu [i.e. Guiguzi] was born. It is said that the red grass was dyed by the blood of the delivery of Wang Chan Lao Zu’s mother” (Huang 2014:76).

It is, however, the larger paintings that have caught the attention of critics, including some outside Weixin Shengjiao and some in the West, for their intrinsic quality and originality. They are produced at amazing speed by Grand Master Hun Yuan, often with a single stroke of the brush on rice paper and as a matter of few seconds. For Westerners, this may be reminiscent of modern action painting, and Italian critic Gianni Carbotti has compared Grand Master Hun Yuan to Jackson Pollock (1912–1956: Carbotti 2017). The difference with Pollock, however, is that the work of the leader of Weixin Shengjiao is rooted in a century-old Chinese tradition, and each painting acquires a precise meaning when read within the context of this tradition, one of which the artist’s Chinese audience is aware.

Grand Master Hun Yuan dates the beginning of this artistic activity to a specific day, October 16, 1994 (Lunar calendar), when, while meditating on the fifty-three names of Buddha mentioned in the Sutra Spoken by the Buddha on the Visualization of the Two Bodhisattvas King of Healing (Bhaisajya-raja) and Supreme Healer (Bhaisajya-samudgata) (佛說觀藥王藥上二菩薩經), he was enlightened about the true nature of dragons as embodiments of “sacred and energetic vitality.” He spent the whole day painting The Golden Dragon of Fulfilled Wishes with a heavy brush. [Image at right] In the end, he did not feel tired, which he interpreted as an auspicious sign (Hun Yuan 2007:2). In the meantime, he had also inaugurated a distinctive style of painting, and he would never look back.
Dragons remain prominent in Grand Master Hun Yuan’s artistic production, but by no means are they his only subjects. Circumstances may direct him to subjects other than dragons. In 2003, Japanese musicians were offering a performance of traditional Japanese Taiko music in Taichung. Grand Master Hun Yuan was asked to prepare a calligraphy work “Taiko—The Fulfillment.” He produced a large painting in his distinctive style, and it is reported that one of the Japanese performers, who had clairvoyant abilities, felt the special energy and the “blessing of all holy deities” emanating from the painting (Hun Yuan 2017:25). [Image at right]

What is the purpose of these paintings? They are sacred artifacts, which decorate Weixin Shengjiao’s temples and other buildings. Those sufficiently schooled in the tradition of Chinese calligraphy, in traditional Chinese notions about dragons, and in Weixin Shengjiao’s own theology, may see in the paintings a way of conveying and illustrating the movement’s message. Even without a full understanding of their meaning, however, devotees I interviewed reported the feelings of peace and universal harmony they experienced in front of the paintings. For a member of Weixin Shengjiao, the question of considering the aesthetic value of Grand Master Hun Yuan’s paintings apart from their message would not make sense. The beauty and harmony cannot be dissociated from the message, and from the fact that they are works by the founder of the movement, who operates under the constant inspiration of Wang Chan Lao Zu (Guiguzi). An often reproduced example is The Stable Nation of the Golden Dragon, admired by critics but also regarded as a sacred painting by devotees. [Image at right]

The situation is, however, different for those who are not members of Weixin Shengjiao. A number of paintings by Grand Master Hun Yuan are hosted at the Weixin Museum, in Nantou County, Taiwan, inaugurated in 2011 (Huang 2011). The museum is operated by Weixin Shengjiao, but it is open to the public and increasingly visited by non-members and tourists. For them, the aesthetic value of the paintings may be dissociated from Weixin Shengjiao’s theology, although this is something the publications of the movement would not encourage. They appreciate the uniqueness of Grand Master Hun Yuan’s style, and Westerners often wonder whether he has been exposed to contemporary currents such as abstract expressionism, considering also that Chinese artists are increasingly part of the international circuits of modern art.

The paintings of Grand Master Hun Yuan would easily have a market, and the suggestion that he puts them on sale through art galleries has often been made. Although this would perhaps make him more well-known outside Weixin Shengjiao, particularly in the West, so far Grand Master Hun Yuan has resisted these suggestions. He reports that, in the early phase of building I Ching University, he needed funds for the construction, and indeed considered selling the six pieces of the series Golden Dragon of Auspiciousness, after they attracted favorable comments at the Exhibition of Zen, held at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei in 2000. [Image at right] While he was almost ready to sell the paintings, which were exhibited outdoor, “it suddenly rained and the six pieces […] were all wet and blurred. At that moment, Grand Master Hun Yuan Chanshi realized the underlying meaning, ‘No sale!’ instructed by Buddha” (Huang 2011:16). The incident typically captures the dilemma whether these sacred artifacts should be considered “works of art” in the sense in which this expression is commonly understood in the twenty first century. But this is a problem common to all genuinely religious art, particularly when it is produced mostly for the internal purpose of beautifying the devotees’ homes and the movement’s places of worship.


Image #1: Grand Master Hun Yuan painting with the brush.
Image #2: Statue of Guiguzi, City of Eight Trigrams, Henan, China.
Image #3: Hsien Fo Temple, Nantou County.
Image #4: Grand Master Hun Yuan, The Golden Dragon of Fulfilled Wishes, 1994.
Image #5: Grand Master Hun Yuan, Taiko—The Fulfillment, 2003.
Image #6: Grand Master Hun Yuan, The Stable Nation of the Golden Dragon, 1994
Image #7: Grand Master Hun Yuan, the six paintings Golden Dragon of Auspiciousness, exhibited outdoor at the Exhibition of Zen, held at Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall in Taipei in 2000.


Bradley-Evans, Martha. 2017. “Adi Da Samraj.” World Religions and Spirituality Project, July 13. Accessed from on September 20, 2017.

Broschat, Michael Robert. 1985. “Guiguzi: A Textual Study and Translation.” PhD dissertation, University of Washington.

Carbotti, Gianni, 2017. “Mystical Vision and Artistic Action in the Paintings of Master Hun Yuan.” Spiritualità Religioni e Settarismi, September 18. Accessed from on 20 September 20 2017.

Huang, Chun-Zhi. 2014. 鬼谷文化追根溯源、發展 (Tracing Back the Origin of Gui Gu Culture and Its Development to Attain World Peace). Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple.

Huang, Xiu-Yu. 2011. 唯心聖教禪機山仙佛寺唯心博物院 (Weixin Shengjiao Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple Weixin Museum). Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: I Key Publishing House.

Hun Yuan (Grand Master). 2017. 唯心聖教 (Taiwan Weixin Shengjiao, New World Religion). Taichung: Research and Development Center for Religious Affairs of Weixin Shengjiao.

Hun Yuan (Grand Master). 2007. 禪境書法集 (The Book of Zen Calligraphy). 2nd ed. Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple (First Edition: 1994).

Hun Yuan (Grand Master). 1998. 禪境書道展回顧 (The Review of Zen Calligraphy). 2nd ed. Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple (First Edition: 1997).

Hun Yuan (Grand Master). 1995. 禪境書道集 (The Collection of Zen Calligraphy). Guoxing Township, Nantou County, Taiwan: Chan Chi Shan Hsien Fo Temple.

Olberding, Garret. 2002. “Efficacious Persuasion in the Guiguzi.” Accessed from on 20 September 2017.

Zoccatelli, PierLuigi. 2017. “Oberto Airaudi.” World Religions and Spirituality Project, March 18. Accessed from on 20 September 2017.

Post Date:
25 October 2017



Teofil Ociepka


1891 (April 24):  Teofil Ociepka was born in Janów, in the region of Upper Silesia, present-day district of Katowice, Poland.

1905:  Ociepka’s father died, and Teofil began working as a machinist in a coal mine. Later, he was employed in railways, where he worked until 1914.

1914–1918:  Ociepka was drafted into the German Army and took part in combat during World War I. During the war, he became interested in esotericism and encountered the book 72 Names of God, the Polish translation of Oedipus Aegyptiacus by Athanasius Kircher.

1919–1921:  Ociepka took part in the Silesian Uprisings against German rule. After the war, Ociepka came into contact with Philip Hohmann from Wittenberg, who later became his spiritual teacher.

Early 1920s:  An esoteric circle centered around Ociepka began to form.

1927:  Ociepka created his first paintings, with, as he believed, a spiritual inspiration from Hohmann. The period of “morality works” began.

1930:  Criticized by a director of the Silesian Museum, Ociepka abandoned his artistic work, and only returned to it shortly before World War II.

Before 1939:  With Hohmann’s help, Ociepka became a corresponding member of the German Section [Deutsche Abteilung] of the Rosicrucian Fellowship.

1945:  Ociepka corresponded with the headquarters of the Rosicrucian Fellowship in Oceanside, California.

Ca. 1946:  A circle of painters was established at the Coal Mine “Wieczorek” (where Ociepka worked, until his retirement, as an over-ground worker), later named by scholars Janowska Group, Janowska Occult Community, or the Circle of Unprofessional Painters. Ociepka remained a member until 1959, when he left Silesia.

1948:  Izabela “Czajka” Stachowicz organized an individual exhibition of Ociepka’s paintings, promoting the artist as the “Polish Henri Rousseau.” During this time, Ociepka was painting, among other topics, spiritual beings from Silesian folklore, in works such as Utopiec (1948).

1950s:  Ociepka created a series of well-known paintings based on a book by the nineteenth century German mystic, Jakob Lorber: Saturn: A Description of the Planet Together with Its Rings and Moons, and Its Living Beings. Among those works, there were Lion of Saturn (1954), Blue Bear of Saturn (1954), Flying Cow of Saturn (1956), and others.

1959:  Ociepka married Julia Ufnal.

1960:  Ociepka painted one of his Self-portraits, visualizing himself in the company of fantastic spiritual creatures.

1962:  Eye of Providence, a painting connected to the artist’s interest in Rosicrucianism, was created.

1963:  Living Fire, a painting inspired among others by alchemy, was created.

1969:  Because of problems in his local environment, Ociepka moved out of Janów to Bydgoszcz, the hometown of his wife.

1976:  Ociepka was decorated with the Order of Polonia Restituta.

1978 (January 15):  Ociepka died in Bydgoszcz, Poland. A street in the city bears his name.


Teofil Ociepka [Image at right] was a charismatic figure, an Teofil Ociepka - Malarz. Fot. Eustachy Kossakowski/FORUM.esoteric teacher and the first leader of the occult circle of unprofessional painters called the Janowska Group. He worked as an over-ground coal mine worker in the area of Upper Silesia, at the Polish–German border. He is one of the most interesting Polish unprofessional painters, and one of the most intriguing Polish esotericists, whose works were inspired by Rosicrucianism, Christian mysticism, Theosophy, and twentieth century occult currents, and whose works presented both what he called his “morality” and his esoteric teachings.

Teofil Ociepka was born on April 24, 1891 in Janów (Ociepka 1919:1). The early death of his father forced Teofil to start working as a machinist in a mine when he was fourteen. He fought in World War I in the German Army, and after that he took part in the Silesian Uprisings against German rule from 1919 to 1921 (Ociepka 1919). Having grown up in Silesia, Ociepka spoke Polish and German, but he was also semi-fluent in French. Since the war years, Ociepka became interested in Western Esotericism, particularly after he found a book of Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), Oedipus Aegyptiacus (1652–1654), in the Polish translation called 72 names of God (Jackowski 1984:38). Looking for another esoteric book in Germany, he came into contact with Philip Hohmann, an esoteric writer and an enigmatic figure from Wittenberg, who became a very important influence in Ociepka’s life. According to Ociepka, they exchanged letters for the next forty years (Wisłocki 2010:43). Hohmann became his spiritual teacher, and sent him esoteric books and sets of spiritual exercises which were “to help Ociepka in gaining an internal power, which could enable him to rule over natural processes….” (Jackowski 1984:37-56).

One of the most interesting esoteric-related moments in Teofil Ociepka’s life was his awakening as a painter. Ociepka believed that it was Hohmann who made him an artist with a spiritual purpose. He claimed: “[Hohmann] wrote to me: ‘Teofil, a spirit will come to you and will teach you how to paint.’ I have never seen any spirit, but something Teofil Ociepka - Malarz. Fot. Eustachy Kossakowski/FORUM.undefined was born in my soul, which could be called love for the essence of beauty, that is for God. That was in 1927 and, from that time on, I began to paint and have been painting ever since with unfaltering joy and pleasure.” (Wisłocki 2010:43).  [Image at right]

Besides those occult experiences, there is no doubt that Philip Hohmann had a great impact on the painter’s intellectual formation, as well as on his esoteric interests. It was most probably with his support that (sometime before 1939) Ociepka became a corresponding member of a Rosicrucian circle. It was the German Section of the Rosicrucian Fellowship: An International Association of Christian Mystics, based in Oceanside, California, and founded by Max Heindel (pseud. of Carl Louis von Grasshoff, 1865-1919; for more see Faivre 1994:91, and Goodrick-Clarke 2008:127). Heindel’s teachings were inspired by Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) (see Weber 2005); he had also been connected to the Theosophical Society as the vice-president of a branch in Los Angeles, California from 1904 to 1905 (Heindel 2012:6). During World War II, Ociepka lost contact with the organization, but immediately after its end he was reinstated as a corresponding member (Wisłocki 2007:202-04).

Teofil Ociepka was familiar with occult milieus in Poland; he collected most esoteric journals in the interwar period. He gathered many books related to esotericism, mostly in German and Polish. After World War II, Ociepka’s library was one of the largest esoteric collections in Poland (Prokopiuk 2010:125).

Ociepka wanted to share his knowledge of esotericism. He lent out his books, and he was actively looking for students, even making advertisements in press. Eventually, he gathered a circle around himself, including Bolesław Skulik, Walter Goj and many others (Wisłocki 2010:20). In the mid-1950s, Ociepka was inspired by a book by an Austrian Christian mystic and visionary, Jakob Lorber (1800-1864), Saturn: A Description of the Planet Together with Its Rings and Moons, and Its Living Beings (Lorber [1841] 1969), and he created probably the best-known series of his paintings. Saturn played an important role not only in Lorber’s book, but also in the writings of Heindel (Heindel 1909:205-06), which explains its special role for Ociepka too. The painter believed that a person’s astral body, both Ociepka4before birth and after death on Earth, exist on Saturn (Wisłocki 1984:62). Among the works belonging to Ociepka’s Saturn cycle, we can find paintings such as Lion of Saturn (1954), [Image at right] Blue Bear of Saturn (1954), and Flying Cow of Saturn (1956). It is important to note that, even if Ociepka’s paintings could appear as mere illustrations of Lorber’s detailed descriptions, in this series of paintings, as well as in others, Ociepka added some details and colors with a specific esoteric meaning (cf. Hess and Dulska 2016:68-71). He wrote a booklet called “Dialectical Religionism,” where he explained the use of symbolism; Unfortunately, the essay was never published and, if it still exists, it is not available to scholars (cf. Jackowski 1984:45, 54-55).

In Poland after World War II (under the Communist regime), the political situation strongly influenced art. The official materialistic philosophy denied any place to spiritual realities in works of art. Ociepka’s infernal-like dragons were rather interpreted as Paleozoic creatures, and other spiritual beings were treated as depictions Ociepka2of local Silesian legends to comply with the political guidelines. Communist authorities were interested in topics related to regional traditions of the working-class coal miners. Izabela “Czajka” Stachowicz (1893-1969), one of the official patrons of the arts, had influence on Ociepka from the late 1940s on. Many misunderstandings surrounded the author in this time: to promote Ociepka’s work, his biography was falsified, and he was presented as an underground miner who painted Silesian folklore (Wisłocki 1984:62-64), or a Polish equivalent of Henri Rousseau (1844-1910).

In fact, Ociepka gladly painted more and more folklore-related paintings, believing that the beings of legendsare part of an unknown, alternative reality that is not available to everyone, but intrudes into our world in  various ways. He depicted many folklore-related beings in works like Utopiec (1948) and Silesia-related element, such as Miner in the Forest (1956). In 1960, he painted one of his Self-portraits, visualizing himself in the company of fantastic spiritual creatures. [Image at right] Ociepka’s worldview combined elements of Catholicism and Silesian folklore, but his main interests were in esoteric traditions and concentrated on Rosicrucianism, Theosophy, Anthroposophy, Astrology, Kabbalah, Magic and Alchemy. This can be seen in his works (Hess and Dulska 2016:73).

In this complex situation, Ociepka still promoted his spiritual-related Ociepka3works, even when they were officially interpreted as something else. In 1963, for example, he created Living Fire, a painting inspired among others by alchemy. [Image at right] He became quite popular, which unfortunately provoked his colleagues’ envy. Anonymous letters of accusation were written to the authorities, and the atmosphere around the painter became so bad that he decided to move to a different part of Poland, to Bydgoszcz, in 1969 (Fiderkiewicz 1994:35). Today there is a street in the city named after him. Ociepka was decorated with the Order of Polonia Restituta when he was eighty-five.

Teofil Ociepka died on January 15, 1978. His life become a subject of interest to ethnologists and art historians. The activities of his occult circle of painters were poetically illustrated in a movie directed by Lech Majewski, titled Angelus.

Image #1: Teofil Ociepka. 1962/63. Photo by Eustachy Kossakowski. Copyright Anka Ptaszkowska. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.
Image #2: Teofil Ociepka. 1962/1963. Photo by Eustachy Kossakowski. Copyright Anka Ptaszkowska. Courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.
Image #3: Teofil Ociepka, Lion of Saturn [Lew Saturna], 1954. Courtesy of National Museum of Ethnography in Warsaw.
Image #4: Teofil Ociepka, Self-portrait [Autoportret], 1960. Courtesy of National Museum of Ethnography in Warsaw.
Image #5: Teofil Ociepka, Living Fire [Żywy Ogień], 1963. Courtesy of National Museum of Ethnography in Warsaw.


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Wisłocki, Seweryn A. 1984. “W kręgu okultystów Janowa – Teofil Ociepka i jego uczniowie.” Polska Sztuka Ludowa 1-2, n.38, 57-64.

Wisłocki, Seweryn A. 2007. Janowscy “kapłani wiedzy tajemnej”. Okultyści, wizjonerzy i mistrzowie małej ojczyzny. Katowice: Wydawnictwo Naukowe “Śląsk”.

Wisłocki, Seweryn A. 2010. Mistrz Teofil Ociepka. Między władzą a prawdą. Katowice: Wydawnictwo Naukowe “Śląsk”.

Post Date:
9 June 2017



Scientology and the Visual Arts


1911 (March 13):  Lafayette Ron Hubbard was born in Tilden, Nebraska.

1946 (March 14):  Claude Sandoz was born in Zurich, Switzerland.

1948 (October 8):  Gottfried Helnwein was born in Vienna, Austria.

1950 (May 9):  Hubbard published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health.

1951 (August 1):  Hubbard published Science of Survival, which included a section about aesthetics and the visual arts.

1953 (November 12):  Carl-W. Röhrig was born in Munich, Germany.

1965 (August 30):  Hubbard published his first technical bulletin of the “Art” series.

1977 (September 26):  Hubbard published his technical bulletin on “Art and Communication.”

1984 (February 26):  Hubbard published his technical bulletins on “Colors,” and on “Art and Integration,” where he presented his theory of the mood lines.

1986 (January 24):  Hubbard died in Creston, California.

1991:  The posthumous book Art, collecting Hubbard’s technical bulletins on the arts, was published.

2013 (July 24-October 13): A retrospective on the art of Helnwein at the Albertina Museum in Vienna attracted 250,000 visitors.

2013 (October 6):  The renovated Flag Building of the Church of Scientology was dedicated in Clearwater, Florida. It includes sixty-two sculptures illustrating the basic concepts of Scientology.


Lafayette Ron Hubbard (1911-1986) [Image at right] founded Dianetics and Scientology, Scientology1which represent two distinct phases of his thought. Dianetics, first presented by Hubbard in 1950, deals with the mind, and studies how it receives and stores images. Scientology focuses on the entity who looks at the images stored in the mind. Mind for Scientology has three main parts. The analytical mind observes and remembers data, stores their pictures as mental images, and uses them to take decisions and promote survival. The reactive mind records mental images at times of unconsciousness, incidents, or pain, and stores them as “engrams.” They are awakened and reactivated when similar circumstances occur, creating all sort of problems. The somatic mind, directed by the analytical or reactive mind, translates their inputs and messages on the physical level. Dianetics aims at freeing humans from engrams, helping them achieving the status of “clear.”

Dianetics, however, left open the question of who, exactly, is the subject continuously observing the images stored in the mind. To answer this question, Hubbard introduced Scientology and moved from psychology to metaphysics and religion. At the core of Scientology’s worldview, there is a gnostic narrative. In the beginning, there were the “thetans,” pure spirits who created MEST (matter, energy, space, and time), largely for their own pleasure. Unfortunately, incarnating and reincarnating in human bodies, the thetans came to forget that they had created the world, and believed that they were the effect rather than the cause of physical universe. Their level of “theta,” i.e. of creative energy, gradually decreased and, as they kept incarnating as humans, the part of mind known as the reactive mind took over.

The more the thetan believes itself to be the effect, rather than the cause, of the physical universe, the more the reactive mind exerts its negative effects, and the person is in a state of “aberration.” This affects the Tone Scale, showing the emotional tones a person can experience, and the levels of ARC (Affinity – Reality – Communication). Affinity is the positive emotional relationship we establish with others. Reality is the agreement we reach with others about how things are. Communication is the most important part of the triangle: through it, we socially construct reality and, once reality is consensually shared, we are able to generate affinity.

Hubbard was familiar with the artistic milieus as a successful writer of fiction. However, he struggled for years on how to integrate an aesthetic and a theory of the arts into his system. In 1951, Hubbard wrote that “there is yet to appear a good definition for aesthetics and art” (Hubbard 1976a:129). In the same year, he dealt with the argument in Science of Survival, one of his most important theoretical books. [Image at right] He returned often to the arts, particularly in seventeen articles included in technical bulletins he published from 1965 to 1984, which formed the backbone of the 1991 book Art, published by Scientology after his death (Hubbard 1991).

In Science of Survival, Hubbard explained that “many more mind levels apparently exist above the analytical level.” Probably “immediately above” the analytical mind, something called the “aesthetic mind” exists. Aesthetics and the aesthetic mind, Hubbard admitted, “are both highly nebulous” subjects. In general, the aesthetic mind is the mind that “deals with the nebulous field of art and creation.” And “the aesthetics have very much to do with the tone scale” (Hubbard 1951:234-36).

One might expect that the aesthetic mind would be incapable of functioning until most engrams have been eliminated and the state of clear has been reached. However, Hubbard claimed that it is not so. “It is a strange thing, he wrote, that the shut-down of the analytical mind and the aberration of the reactive mind may still leave in fairly good working order the aesthetic mind.” “The aesthetic mind is not much influenced by the position on the tone scale,” although “it evidently has to employ the analytical, reactive, and somatic minds in the creation of art and art forms” (Hubbard 1951:234).

Being “a person of great theta,” as artists often are, is also a mixed blessing. Hubbard explains that “a person of great theta endowment picks up more numerous and heavier locks and secondaries than persons of smaller endowment” (Hubbard 1951:235). Locks and secondaries are mental image pictures in which we are reminded of engrams. They would not exist without the engrams, but they may be very disturbing.

Hubbard claimed that, even before Scientology explained these phenomena, they were obvious enough to be noticed but were often misinterpreted. Many believed that it was normal, if not “absolutely necessary,” for an artist to be “neurotic.” “Lacking the ability to do anything about neurosis, like Aesop’s fox who had no tail and tried to persuade the other foxes to cut theirs off, frustrated mental pundits glorified what they could not prevent or cure.” The dysfunctional artist was hailed as a counter-cultural hero. Being “crazy” was regarded as typical of the good artist (Hubbard 1951:235).

Not so, Hubbard argued. Going down the tone scale is not good for anybody, and is not good for artists either. It is a dangerous misconception, according to Hubbard, to believe that “when an artist becomes less neurotic, he becomes less able.” Regrettably, our world has programmed the artists by widely inculcating these false ideas. The consequence is that many artists “seek to act in their private and public lives in an intensely aberrated fashion in order to prove that they are artists” (Hubbard 1951:238). Scientology, Hubbard promised, may “take a currently successful but heavily aberrated artist and (…) bring him [sic] up the tone scale” (Hubbard 1951:235). Not only will the artist be happier as a human being, he or she will also become a better artist.

Hubbard’s vision of the arts, as proposed in Science of Survival, is also crucial for Scientology’s social program. “The artist, Hubbard wrote, has an enormous role in the enhancement of today’s and the creation of tomorrow’s reality.” In fact, art operates “in advance of science” and “the elevation of a culture can be measured directly by the numbers of its people working in the field of aesthetics.” “A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamed by artists” (Hubbard 1951:237-39).

Totalitarian states, Hubbard added, are the enemies of the artists, while pretending to be their friends, as they try to control them through state subsidies. Democratic governments, in principle, should not have these problems, but they run, according to Hubbard, a different risk. They “are prone to overlook the role of the artist in the society.” In the United States, he exemplified, as soon as artistic success is achieved, excessive taxes discourage the artist from further production. Hubbard proposed a tax reform with incentives for the artists. The reasons for this proposed reform were not merely economic, and were connected to Hubbard’s key idea that the prosperity of a society depends from the amount of circulating theta. Without enough theta, the reactive mind would dominate culture itself. “The artist injects the theta into the culture, and without that theta the culture becomes reactive” (Hubbard 1951:237-39).

Science of Survival also presents Hubbard’s view of the history of Western art. “In the early days of Rome, art was fairly good.” Christianity revolted against the Romans, and had one good reason for its revolt, “Roman disregard for human life.” However, those who revolt always run the risk of being dominated by the reactive mind. It thus happened, Hubbard believed, that Christianity fell into a “reactive computation” and came to regard everything Roman as negative, including the art. Happily, “the Catholic Church recovered early and began to appreciate the artist.” However, the old anti-Roman and, consequently, anti-artistic prejudice resurfaced with Protestantism and eventually came to the United States. “Puritanism and Calvinism,” according to Hubbard, “revolted against pleasure, against beauty, against cleanliness, and against many other desirable things” (Hubbard 1951:238).

The next step was a revolt against the revolt. In modern times, artists revolted against the Protestant and Puritan revolt against the classics and the arts. The problem was that, again, the reactive mind took over, and artists renounced everything Protestant, if not everything Christian, including morality. Being a good artist came to be “commonly identified with being loose-moraled, wicked, idle and drunken, and the artist, to be recognized, tried to live up to this role” (Hubbard 1951:238-39). This had a direct and negative impact on society. “When the level of existence of the artist becomes impure, so becomes impure the art itself, to the deterioration of the society. It is a dying society indeed into which can penetrate totalitarianism” (Hubbard 1951:239).

Hubbard concluded his discussion of aesthetics in Science of Survival noting that “there may be many levels of mind above the aesthetic mind” but we do know a lot about them. Therefore, “no attempt to classify any level of mind alertness above the level of the aesthetic mind will be made beyond stating that these mind levels more and more seem to approach an omniscient status” (Hubbard 1951:240). He mentioned, however, among the possible superior levels “a free theta mind, if such things exist” (Hubbard 1951:25). This notion would become central for the subsequent development in Scientology of the notion of “operating thetan,” a state where the thetan finally recovers his native abilities.

Hubbard continued his study of art after Science of Survival through writings that later would be collected Scientology3in his posthumously published book Art (Hubbard 1991). [Image at right] On  August 30, 1965, he issued a technical bulletin that was quite important for his theory of art (Hubbard 1976b:83-85). Hubbard explained that it was now fifteen years since he had started considering how to “codify”  knowledge about art and announced that “this [the “codification” of aesthetic theory] has now been done” (Hubbard 1976b:83).

At first, art “seemed to stand outside the field of Dianetics and Scientology.” Hubbard, however, was not persuaded by this conclusion and eventually “made a breakthrough.” He realized that art and communication are closely connected. In fact, “ART is a word which summarizes THE QUALITY OF COMMUNICATION.” (Hubbard 1976b:83, capitals in original). Scientology had already elaborated certain “laws” about communication. Now, they should be applied to the arts.

In 1965, Hubbard was ready to propose three axioms about art. The first was that “too much originality throws the audience into unfamiliarity and therefore disagreement.” Communication, in fact, includes “duplication.” If the audience is totally unable to replicate the experience, it would not understand nor appreciate the work of art. The second axiom taught that “TECHNIQUE should not rise above the level of workability for the purpose of communication.” The third maintained that “PERFECTION cannot be attained at the expense of communication” (Hubbard 1976b:83, capitals in original).

Hubbard believed that his approach to aesthetics was new with respect to both classic and contemporary theories of art. The latter emphasized “originality,” to the point that audiences were often surprised by the artists – but, Hubbard maintained, not persuaded. The former sought perfection through technique. But, Hubbard insisted, “one should primarily seek communication with it [art] and then perfect it as far as reasonable” (Hubbard 1976b:84). Often, the artist should be prepared to lower the level of perfection to allow communication to flow.

“Art for art’s sake”, Hubbard argues, always failed because it was “attempted perfection without communicating.” We become artists when we learn how to communicate. Except in very rare cases, this does not come naturally nor is achieved overnight. Normally, one becomes an artist gradually, reflecting on past failures to communicate. These failures are, in fact, engrams, and artists should be “rehabilitated” through Dianetics just as anybody else, yet considering that they have specific engrams of their own. In fact, “due to the nature of the Reactive Mind, full rehabilitation [of the artists] is achieved only through releasing and clearing.” (Hubbard 1976b:83-85)

When the thetan understands himself as the cause rather than the effect of the physical reality, he (the thetan is always referred to by Hubbard as male, although women are incarnated thetans Scientology4too) perceives the world in a new way. If hemasters the appropriate technique, he is also able to produce art with a very high communication potential. On what role technique exactly plays, Hubbard mentioned in a bulletin of July 29, 1973 his discussions with “the late Hubert Mathieu” (Hubbard 1991:16). Although some who later wrote about Hubbard were unable to identify him or speculated he was a fictional character, in fact Mathieu (1897-1954) was a distinguished South Dakota illustrator and artist [Image at right], who worked for magazines Hubbard was familiar with.

Based inter alia on the ideas of Mathieu, Hubbard concluded that in the arts communication (the end) is more important than technique (the means), but technique is not unimportant. Artists who are well-trained are able to communicate in different styles, including the non-figurative, and the audience understands intuitively that they are real artists. Perceiving the world and representing it from the superior viewpoint of the thetan is not enough. One should be able to communicate this to the audience, which however should be invited to “contribute part of the meaning” (Hubbard 1991: 91) This is precisely the difference between fine art and mere illustration, where little is left to the audience’s own contribution.

Communication is achieved through integration, or combination into an integral whole of elements such as perspective, lines, colors, and rhythm. Hubbard emphasized “mood lines,” i.e. abstract line forms that influence the audience’s emotional response. Vertical lines communicate drama and inspiration, horizontal lines, happiness and calm, and so on (Hubbard 1991:76-77). There are several systems of mood lines described in manuals for artists. Scientology uses the one developed by visionary landscape architect John Ormsbee Simonds (1913-2005). Simonds’ theory of form was influenced by Zen Buddhism and by Anthroposophical theories he was exposed to through his mentor at Harvard, Marcel Breuer (1902-1981), formerly of the Bauhaus. Another common tool Hubbard recommended to artists, the color wheel, was promoted in his times through references to market surveys, but in fact had been first used in a different context by Robert Fludd (1574-1637) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). Like many Theosophists (and market researchers), Hubbard believed that colors correspond to specific emotional states.


Becker Mirlach, Petra (b. 1944). German painter.

Bennish, Gracia (b. 1943). American painter and photographer.

Collins, Leisa (b. 1958). American painter.

Díaz-Rivera, Susana (b. 1957). Mexican painter.

Duke, Renée (1927-2011). American painter.

Escallon, Natalia (b 1985). Colombian painter and photographer.

Farina, Franco (b. 1957). Italian painter.

Findlay, Beatrice (b. 1941). Canadian painter, currently residing in Brooklyn, New York.

Gáll, Gregor (b. 1957). Hungarian sculptor.

Galli, Eugenio (b. 1951). Italian painter.

Green Peter (b. 1945). American painter.

Hancock, Houston (b. 1943). American painter.

Hanson, Erin (b. 1981). American painter.

Helnwein, Gottfried (b. 1948). Austrian painter and performance artist.

Helnwein, Mercedes (b. 1979). Austrian-born American painter and writer.

Hepner, Pomm (b. 1956). American painter.

Holl Hunt, Pamela (b. 1945). English painter.

Hubbard, Arthur Conway (b. 1958). American painter, son of Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Hunter, Madison (b. 1989). American sculptor.

Kelly, Carolyn (1945-2017). American cartoonist and artist, daughter of well-known American cartoonist Walt Kelly (1913-1973), the creator of Pogo.

Mirlach, Max (b. 1944). German painter.

Munro, Ross (b. 1948). Canadian painter.

Prager, Vanessa (b. 1984). American painter.

Röhrig, Carl-W. (b. 1953). German painter, currently residing in Switzerland.

Rose, Marlene (b. 1967). Glass sculptor.

Rotenberg, Jule (b. 1954). American sculptor.

Sandoz, Claude (b. 1946). Swiss painter.

Schoeller Robert (b. 1950). Austrian painter, currently residing in Clearwater, Florida.

Shereshevsky, Barry (b. 1942). American painter.

South, Randolph (“Randy,” aka Carl Randolph) (b. 1950). American painter.

Spencer, Joe (b. 1949). American painter.

Warren, Jim (b. 1949). American painter.

Wright, D. Yoshikawa (b. 1951). American sculptor.

Wunderer, Bia (b. 1943). German painter.

Zöllner, Waki (1935-2015). German painter and sculptor.


Among modern new religious movements, Scientology is unique for its conscious effort of transmitting its worldview to the artists, at the same time teaching them how to be more apt at communicating their art to their audiences, through its courses and seminaries taught in its Celebrity Centers. Yet, Scientology’s influence on artists is understudied. One of the Scientology5reasons lies in the attacks and discrimination some artists have received because of their association with Scientology, particularly in Germany. There, abstract painter and textile artist Bia Wunderer is one of the artists who had exhibitions cancelled because she was “exposed” as a Scientologist. This made some artists understandably reluctant to discuss their relationship with Scientology. However, in Germany, of all places, artists were involved in Scientology since its beginnings. When he died in 2015, painter and sculptor Waki Zöllner (1935-2015), who had joined Scientology in 1968, was the German with more years of Scientology training. [Image at right]

The most famous international artist who took Scientology courses for several years, starting in 1972, was the Austrian-born Gottfried Helnwein (b. 1948). He became increasingly involved in Scientology’s activities, with all his family, and was attacked by anti-cult critics, who promoted even a book against him (Reichelt 1997). This generated in turn court cases and Helnwein’s increasing reluctance to discuss his religious beliefs.

In 1975, Helnwein told Stuttgart’s Scientology magazine College that “Scientology has caused a consciousness explosion in me” (Helnwein 1975). In 1989, in an interview in Scientology’s Celebrity, Helnwein elaborated that Scientology offers to artists invaluable tools to survive in a world often hostile to them, but also gave him a “new viewpoint” and an understanding how “people would react to my art” (Helnwein 1989a:10-11).

American novelist William Burroughs (1914-1997) took several Scientology courses between 1959 and 1968. Later, he rejected Scientology as an organization, while maintaining an appreciation for its techniques. In 1990, he wrote an essay about Helnwein, calling him “a master of surprised recognition,” which he defined as the art “to show the viewer what he knows but does not know that he knows” (Burroughs 1990:3) In this sense, “surprised recognition” may also describe the moment when a thetan “remembers” his true nature.

Helnwein’s unique style and approach to reality, a “photorealism” where paintings often look as photographs (but aren’t), derive from multiple sources. Ultimately, however, we can perhaps see in Helnwein’s works an attempt to depict the world as a thetan sees it, finally realizing he is its creator.

Seen as it really is, the world is not always pleasant, and includes suppression and totalitarianism. Some of Helnwein’s most famous paintings include suffering children. Helnwein exposes there the society’s unacknowledged cruelty. But there is also hope. The artist is aware of Hubbard’s ideas about children as spiritual beings occupying young bodies. Armed with the technology, children can survive and defeat suppression.

Criticizing psychiatry’s abuses is a cause dear to Scientologists. In 1979, leading Austrian psychiatrist Heinrich Gross (1915-2005), who participated in the Nazi program for the euthanasia of mentally handicapped children, defended himself by stating that children were killed in a somewhat humane way, with poison. Helnwein reacted with a watercolor, Lives unworthy of being lived, depicting a child “humanely” poisoned by Gross.

Helnwein also looked provocatively at Nazism and the Holocaust as an evil the German and Austrian society still refusedScientology6to confront. In his famous Epiphany I (1996), the child may or may not be a young Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), but the Three Kings are clearly Nazi officers. [Image at right] Helnwein wants the audience, as Hubbard suggested, to contribute part of the meaning and to understand by itself.

Born in 1948, Helnwein reports how he escaped from Vienna’s suffocating conformism through comics, something the Austrian educational establishment did not approve of at that time. He maintains a fascination for Disney’s Donald Duck and the creator of several Donald stories, Carl Barks (1901-2000), who became his friend. Both Mickey Mouse and Donald are featured in Helnwein’s work. Barks, Helnwein wrote, created a “decent world where one could get flattened by steam-rollers and perforated by bullets without serious harm. A world in which the people still looked proper (..). And it was here that I met the man who would forever change my life – a man who (…) is the only person today that has something worthwhile saying – Donald Duck” (Helnwein 1989b:16). Perhaps, again, Barks’ Duckburg became a metaphor for Helnwein of the “clear” world created by a technology capable of restoring the thetans to their proper role. In 2013, Helnwein was honored by a great retrospective at Vienna’s Albertina, which attracted 250,000 visitors, a far cry from when the artist was discriminated as a Scientologist.

While Helnwein became reserved on his relationship with Scientology, other artists declared it openly. Scientology through its Celebrity Centers also created a community of artists, knowing and meeting each other across different countries, continents, and styles. Several Scientologist artists decided to live either in Los Angeles or in Clearwater, Florida, near the main centers of the Church of Scientology.

Scientologist artists do not share a single style, as is true for artists who are Theosophists or Catholics. For example, German-born Carl-W. Röhrig (1953-), currently residing in Switzerland, calls his art “fantastic realism” and is also influenced by fantasy literature, surrealism, and popular esotericism (von Barkawitz 1999), as evidenced by his successful deck of tarot cards Scientology7(Röhrig and Marzano-Fritz 1997). There are, however, common themes among Scientology artists, as evidenced in interviews I conducted between 2015 and 2016 with a number of them (the subsequent quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from those interviews).

Röhrig is among the few Scientologist artists who included explicit references to Scientology doctrines in some of his paintings, including The Bridge (2009), i.e. the journey to become free from the effects of the reactive mind. [Image at right] Röhrig and other artists who are Scientologists, including the American Pomm Hepner and Randy South (aka Carl Randolph), also contributed murals to churches of Scientology around the world.

California Scientologist artist Barry Shereshevsky devoted several paintings to the ARC triangle. California sculptor D. Yoshikawa Wright moved “from Western toScientology8more Eastern thought,” rediscovering his roots, and finally found in Scientology something that, he says, “merges East and West.” About his Sculptural Waterfalls, he comments that the stone represents the thetan, the water the physical universe as motion, and their relationship the rhythm, the dance of life [Image at right]. Another Scientologist sculptor (and painter), the Italian Eugenio Galli, experiments with rhythm and motion through different abstract compositions all connected with the idea of “transcendence,” i.e. transcending our present, limited status.

Artists who went through Scientology’s Art course all insisted on art as communication. Winnipeg-born New York abstract artist Beatrice Findlay told me that “art is communication, why the heck would you do it otherwise?” She also insisted that Hubbard Scientology9“never said abstract art communicated less” and had a deep appreciation of music, a form of abstract communication par excellence. Hubbard’s ideas about composition are translated by Findlay into peculiar abstract lines and color (Carasso 2003) [Image at right]. A similar abstract approach while other Scientologist artist apply the same principles to more traditional approach to landscape. They include the Italian Franco Farina, the Canadian Ross Munro, and the American Erin Hanson, whose depictions of national parks and other iconic American landscapes in a style she calls “Open Impressionism” won critical acclaim (Hanson 2014; Hanson 2016).

Pomm Hepner is both a professional artist and a senior technical supervisor at Scientology’s church in Pasadena, as well as a leader in Artists for Human Rights, an advocacy organization started by Scientologists. As Scientology taught her “on the spiritual world,” she evolved, she says, from “pretty things” to “vibrations,” from “a moment that exists to a moment I create… I can bring beauty to the world and no longer need to depend on the world bringing beauty to me.” By adopting the point of view of the thetan, she tried to “reverse” the relationship between the artist and the physical universe. A similar experience emerges in the artistic and literary career of Scientologist Renée Duke (1927-2011). Although she had painted before, she became a professional painter only later in life, after she had encountered Scientology (Duke 2012).

There is a difference between how Scientologist artists were discriminated against in Europe and Scientology10some mild hostility their beliefs received occasionally in the U.S. However, they all stated in my interviews that modern society is often disturbed by artists and tries to suppress them, singling out psychiatry as a main culprit, a recurring theme in Scientology. The Trick Cyclist by Randolph South depicts well-known psychiatrists and “was created to draw attention to the evil practice of psychiatry.” [Image at right] Most Scientologist artists share an appreciation of Helnwein, although they may be very far away from both his art and his persona. Some address the theme of suffering children with obvious Helnweinian undertones. The youngest child of L. Ron Hubbard, Arthur Conway Hubbard (1958-), himself became a painter and studied under Helnwein, although he also produced works in a different style. In some of his paintings, he used his own blood.

Pollution as a form of global suppression and Scientology’s mission to put an end to it are a main11theme for Röhrig. Landscapes and cultures in developing countries are also in danger of being suppressed. This is a main theme in the work of Swiss Scientologist artist Claude Sandoz, who spends part of his time in the Caribbean, in Saint Lucia. Exhibitions of Sandoz’s works, which blends Caribbean and European themes and styles, [Image at right] took place in several Swiss museums (see Stutzer and Walser Beglinger 1994).

Some of those who took Scientology’s Art Course are “commercial” artists. The course told them that this is not a shame and hailed success as healthy. They believe that the boundary between commercial and fine art is not clear-cut. Some of them were encouraged to also engage in fine arts. Veteran Scientologist artist Peter Green claims he understood through Scientology that commercial artists are not “coin-operated artists,” but have their own way of communicating and presenting a message. Green manifested this approach in his iconic posters, such as a famous one of Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970). Green also contributed to horror comics magazines published by the Warren company in California, and keeps producing his successful Politicards, i.e. trading and playing cards with politicians (see Kelly 2011). He insists that you can “paint to live and remain sane. And in the end, you may live to paint too.” Randy South insisted that, even when working for advertising, artists may “perceive the physical universe” as “not overwhelming spirituality” but “vice versa.” He added that “Hubbard said that life is a game. I want to play the game, and it’s fun.”

The portraits of another Scientologist artist, Robert Schoeller, are sold for commercial purposes, but he believes that “by painting somebody I make him spiritual.” In fact, there have been museum exhibitions of his portraits around the central theme of spirituality. Similar considerations may be 12made for Jim Warren’s popular lithographs and Disney-related themes. Other Scientologist artists became photographers and cartoonists. Carolyn Kelly (1945-2017) was the daughter of well-known American cartoonist Walt Kelly (1913-1973), the creator of Pogo. She was a cartoonist and illustrator in her own right, and was among those who designed her father’s Pogo when the strip was shortly revived in the 1990s. [Image at right]

Some (but not all) Scientologist artists took an interest in popular esoteric discourse. Before meeting Scientology, Pomm Hepner, was exposed to Anthroposophy by studying at a Steiner school. Röhrig uses the Tarots as well as the Zodiac. He explains he doesn’t believe in the content of astrology or Tarot, as “they are effects and as a Scientologist you try to be cause,” but they provide a widely shared language and are “a very good tool to communicate.” Other Scientologist artists approach in a similar way Eastern spirituality. For instance, Marlene Rose’s glass sculptures often feature the Buddha. Rose is one of the artists who decided to live in Clearwater, Florida, near the Flag headquarters of the Church of Scientology. The area offers a favorable environment for artists working with glass and in April 2017 nearby St. Petersburg opened the Imagine Museum devoted to this artistic medium, with Marlene Rose featured in the opening exhibit.

“We were one hundred students doing the same [Scientology] course. Suddenly, the room took the most beautiful characteristics. Everything became magical. I became more me. The room did not Scientology13change but how I perceived it changed,” reported Susana Díaz-Rivera, a Mexican Scientologist painter. Several artists told how the “static” experience, which in Scientology language means realizing your nature as thetan, completely changed how they perceive the world. Then, “art is about duplicating what you perceive. Perception is communication,” as Yoshikawa Wright told me. Díaz-Rivera struggled to recapture and express this perception of herself as a thetan. She tried both painting [Image at right] and photographing in different locations, including Rome and Los Angeles, and using mirrors. “The spiritual part, she said, emerges through the mirrors.”

Scientology, the artists who attended its courses reported, offers to the artist a number of suggestions, aimed at “putting them back in the driver’s seat” (Peter Green) of their lives, exposing the “myth” of the dysfunctional, starving artist. Scientology also creates and cultivates a community of artists, and does more than offering practical advice. By interiorizing the gnostic narrative of the thetan, artists learn to perceive the physical universe in a different way. Then, they try to share this perception through communication, with a variety of different techniques and styles, inviting the audience to enhance their works with further meanings.

Sixty-two sculptures in the Grand Atrium of the new Flag Building in Clearwater, Florida, inaugurated in 2013, illustrate the fundamental concepts of Scientology. The fact that these concepts had to be 14explained to the artists, none of them a Scientologist, is significant. Artists who are Scientologists normally are inspired by Scientology in their work, but prefer not to “preach” or illustrate its doctrines explicitly. On the other hand, although not realized by Scientologists, the Flag complex of sculptures is part and parcel of an art inspired by Hubbard and Scientology. [Image at right]

In 2008, the Los Angeles magazine Ange described the circle of young artists who are Scientologists, including painter and novelist Mercedes Helnwein (Gottfried Helnwein’s daughter) and promising abstract artist Vanessa Prager as the “first generation of casual Scientologists,” whose religious affiliation caused less controversy (Brown 2008). Visual arts seem to offer an ideal window to discuss the worldview and multiple influences of Scientology independently of the usual legal and other controversies.

**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1: L. Ron Hubbard, portrait by Peter Green (1999).

Image #2: Cover of Science of Survival, 1951.

Image #3: Cover of L. Ron Hubbard posthumously published Art, 1991.

Image #4: Hubert Mathieu.

Image #5: Waki Zöllner.

Image #6: Gottfried Helnwein, Epiphany I (1996).

Image #7: Carl-W. Röhrig, The Bridge (2009).

Image #8: D. Yoshikawa Wright, Rain Circle, from the series Sculptural Waterfalls (2010).

Image #9: Beatrice Findlay, December Fog Runners (2015).

Image #10: Randolph South, The Trick Cyclist (2008).

Image #11: Claude Sandoz, Ixora II (Elvira Bach and Her Children) (1997-98).

Image #12: Pogo characters designed by Carolyn Kelly.

Image #13: Bones and the Eternal Spirit (2014), Susana Díaz-Rivera’s contribution to the exhibition Dialogue on Death at the Diocesan Museum of Gubbio, Italy, 2015. All the words in the painting are by L. Ron Hubbard.

Image #14: Part of the groups of sculptures The Eight Dynamics, The Flag Building, Clearwater, Florida.


Brown, August. 2008. “The Radar People.” Ange, November. Accessed from on 26 March 2007.

Burroughs, William. 1990. “Helnwein’s Work.” P. 3 in Kindskopf, edited by Peter Zawrel, Vienna: Museum Niederösterreich.

Carasso, Roberta. 2003. Beatrice Findlay Runners/Landscapes. Santa Monica, CA: Bergamot Station Art Center.

Duke, Renée. 2012. Cocktails, Caviar and Diapers: A Woman’s Journey to Find Herself through Seven Countries, Six Children and a Dog. Charleston, SC: Alex Eckelberry.

Hanson, Erin. 2016. Open Impressionism, Volume II. San Diego, CA: Red Rock Fine Art.

Hanson, Erin. 2014. Open Impressionism: The Landscapes of Erin Hanson. San Diego, CA: Red Rock Fine Art.

Helnwein, Gottfried. 1989a. “Celebrity Interview of the Month: Fine Artist Gottfried Helnwein.” Celebrity 225:8-11.

Helnwein, Gottfried. 1989b. “Micky Maus unter dem roten Stern.” Zeitmagazin, April, 12-13.

Helnwein, Gottfried. 1975. Interview in College: Zeitschrift des Stuttgarter Dianetic College e.V., no. 12.

Hubbard, L. Ron. 1991. Art. Los Angeles: Bridge Publications.

Hubbard, L. Ron. 1976a. The Technical Bulletins of Dianetics and Scientology. Volume I 1950-53, Copenhagen and Los Angeles: Scientology Publications.

Hubbard, L. Ron. 1976b. The Technical Bulletins of Dianetics and Scientology. Volume VI 1965-1969, Copenhagen and Los Angeles: Scientology Publications.

Hubbard, L. Ron. 1951. Science of Survival: Simplified, Faster Dianetic Techniques. Wichita, KS: The Hubbard Dianetic Foundation.

Kelly, Tiffany. 2011. “Political Satire is in the Cards.” Los Angeles Times, October 7. Accessed from on 26 March 2017.

Reichelt, Peter. 1997. Helnwein und Scientology. Lüge und Verrat eine Organisation und ihr Geheimdienst. Mannheim, Germany: Brockmann und Reichelt.

Röhrig, Carl-W. and Francesca Marzano-Fritz. 1997. The Röhrig-Tarot Book. Woodside (California): Bluestar Communications.

Stutzer, Beat, and Annakatharina Walser Beglinger. 1994. Claude Sandoz. Ornamente des Alltags. Chur: Bündner Kunstmuseum

Von Barkawitz, Volker. 1999. The Future is Never Ending: The Phantastic [sic] Naturalism of Carl-W. Röhrig. Hamburg (Germany): CO-Art.

Post Date:
9 May 2017




Comunidade Nova Aliança (New Alliance Community)


1983 (March 31):  Eduardo Ramos was born in Governador Valadares, MG, Brazil.

1985 (March 26):  Debora Oliveira was born in Brasília, DF, Brazil.

1986 (July 21):  Jonathan Bolkenhagen was born in Planalto, RGS, Brazil.

2001:  Eduardo Ramos moved to Australia with his parents.

2002:  Debora Oliveira moved to Australia with her parents.

2002:  Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira met at the Brazilian church “Assembleia de Deus na Australia Church” (Assemblies of God in Australia)

2003:  Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira left “Assembleia de Deus na Australia Church” and joined another Brazilian church called “Assembleia de Deus na Australia Ministério Aguia.” This Brazilian church was located at Petersham Assemblies of God Church.

2006 (December):  Brazilian pastor of “Assembleia de Deus na Australia Ministério Aguia” church moved to Queensland and left the church leaderless.

2007 (January):  Pastor Barry Saar (Senior Minister at Petersham Assemblies of God Church) invited Eduardo Ramos to take over the Brazilian church.

2007 (February):  Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira founded CNA. Eduardo became its Pastor.

2007 (February):  Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira married.

2007-2008:  Pastor Barry Saar played the role of senior Pastor of CNA and mentor for Eduardo and Debora while the couple studied at Alphacrucis College (a Christian tertiary college and official ministry training college of Australian Christian Churches, formerly the Assemblies of God in Australia).

2008:  The first church camping trip took place over Easter.

2009 (March):  Pastor Eduardo Ramos was ordained by the Australian Christian Churches (ACC) and became Senior Pastor of CNA church.

2007 (October):  Brazilian student Jonathan Bolkenhagen arrived in Australia and joined CNA.

2012 (May 22):  Jonathan Bolkenhagen graduated from Alphacrucis College.

2012 (June 21):  Pastor Eduardo Ramos was fully ordained Minister of ACC.

2012 (November 22-25):  The first CNA conference was held. Pastor Vinicius Zulato of Lagoinha Church in Brazil was a special guest.

2012:  After the conference, Pastor Zulato taught a mini-course on Theology to CNA Pastors to strengthen their theological foundations.

2013:  Congregation members moved to Adelaide and Canberra and opened CNA connect groups in each city.

2016 (August 27):  CNA Canberra held its first service.

2016:  Jonathan Bolkenhagen was ordained as pastor at CNA.


Eduardo Ramos [Image at right] arrived in Australia in 2001, when he was an eighteen year-old.IMG_3041Debora Oliveira arrived in 2002,  when she was 16 years old. In Brazil they used to be members of Baptist churches. After they arrived in Sydney they joined and met each other at the only existing Brazilian church at the time: the Pentecostal church Assembleia de Deus na Australia Church (Assemblies of God in Australia), later renamed Igreja Avivamento Mundial (World Revival Church) (Rocha 2006). However, a year later, in 2003, the couple and a few others in the congregation left this church to join a new Brazilian church located in the premises of the Petersham Assemblies of God Church. They stayed in this new church called Assembleia de Deus na Australia Ministério Aguia until December 2006, when the Brazilian pastor moved to Queensland and left the church leaderless.

As a result, in January of 2007 Pastor Barry Saar, the Senior Minister at Petersham Assemblies of God Church, asked the congregation to nominate someone to be trained as a Pastor to lead the church. The congregation chose Eduardo Ramos as their new Pastor. In February of 2007, Eduardo and Debora married and founded CNA. They agreed that Pastor Saar would mentor them while they studied at Alphacrucis College (a Christian tertiary college and official ministry training college of Australian Christian Churches). They were very young when they started the church (he was twenty-three and she was twenty-one); so in the first years they depended on Pastor Saar for almost everything (e.g., CNA’s theological foundations and constitution, directions on how to support congregation members and how to function as a church).

Eduardo and Debora thought their previous church was too conservative. This was so because it catered to the older generation of working class Brazilians who had arrived in Australia as part of a first wave of Brazilian migration (1970s-1990s). They wanted a less traditional church that would cater for the second wave of migration (late-1990s to present). This wave comprised of a growing number of young middle-class students who go to Australia to study English and possible migration (Rocha 2006, 2013, 2017). Eduardo and Debora envisioned a church where people could be free to dress informally, play worship music, [Image at right] and not stick too CNA3strictly to a denomination so that they could be welcoming of young Brazilians from all walks of life. They also wanted a church heavily focused on supporting this new cohort of Brazilians arriving in Australia, as they arrived without their immediate family and were very young.

Presently, the average age of congregation is twenty-five to thirty-five, and there are around ninety active members.However, because they are students in Australia, there is a high turnover in the congregation, with many arriving and others returning to the homeland. Many of them were not religious in Brazil and sought the church for emotional, social and financial support, and as a place to meet other Brazilians in the diaspora.

In 2016, another Brazilian member, Jonathan Bolkenhagen, [Image at right]  was ordained pastor at CNA after graduating from CNA4Alphacrucis College. In the same year Jonathan Bolkenhagen started commuting to Canberra to run a new branch of the church in the nation’s capital. This branch also caters for the Brazilian community there, but the congregation is a little older and comprised of families who have become Australian citizens. There are around thirty members in the Canberra congregation.

The church name can be explained in two parts: “New Alliance” refers to the alliance Jesus made at the cross with God. “Community” was chosen because the church is not representing any denomination in particular, although they are affiliated to the Australian Christian churches (former Assembly of God is Australia). The founders wanted to send a message that they accepted people from all denominations. In sum, they wanted to signal to this relationship with God and that they wanted to be a family (“community”) to followers. The church’s motto is: “a simple, happy, and transparent church.”

CNA uses the facilities of the Petersham Assemblies of God Church. Services are on Sunday evenings (as it is usual in Brazil), and therefore they do not clash with the regular English-language services on Sunday morning. CNA also has an office behind the church and is supported by Pastor Saar and his church.

Nevertheless, the founders have not circumscribed themselves to Pastor Saar’s church as a model for CNA. Given that they consider themselves non-denominational, they have continued looking for successful ways to establish themselves. One of the churches that inspires them is the Australian megachurch Hillsong (Connell 2005; Goh 2007; Riches and Wagner 2017; Rocha 2017, 2013; Wagner 2013). They admire Hillsong’s professionalism, success, informality, and non-judgemental and inclusive attitudes (in regards to dress, behaviour, and life situation) toward those who come to church.  Hillsong works as a good role model because, like Hillsong, CNA is youth-oriented. CNA’s services are similar to Hillsong’s albeit on a much smaller scale: they feature a band; there is an informal atmosphere (in the Pastors’ and congregation’s language and dress style); the church is dark and real-time telecasts of the band and the song lyrics are beamed onto the screens beside the stage.  Everyone in the congregation dances and sings together with the band. They may raise their arms, close eyes, or keep their hands on their hearts.


CNA is a Pentecostal church affiliated to the Australian Christian Churches (formerly known as Assemblies of God in Australia). As such, it believes in spiritual gifts given by the Holy Spirit, such as glossolalia (speaking in tongues), divine healing, and prophesy. It also accepts the Bible as God’s word and believes that its lessons can be applied to people’s everyday lives.

Given that CNA is a church founded by Baptist Brazilians and is influenced by the Australian Pentecostal megachurch Hillsong, CNA has become a hybrid of a more traditional Brazilian Baptist church and a very informal, rock-concert-style Hillsong church.

On the one hand, like Hillsong, CNA can be considered a “New Paradigm” (Miller 1997) or “Seeker-friendly” church (Sargeant 2000). This style of evangelical Christianity has evolved globally since the 1960s and such churches “tailor their programs and services to attract people who are not church attenders” (Sargeant 2000:2-3). They do this by creating an informal atmosphere, using contemporary language and technology, and focusing on religious experience. Seeker churches borrow from secular models of business and entertainment, use marketing and branding principles, and innovative methods. According to Miller and Yamamori (2007:27), they “are at the cutting edge of the Pentecostal movement: they embrace the reality of the Holy Spirit but package religion in a way that makes sense to culturally attuned teens and young adults, as well as upwardly mobile people who did not grow in the Pentecostal tradition.” As a rule, their services are entertaining (featuring a live band, professional lighting and sound, large screens), and the focus is on people’s everyday lives (with topical messages on practical concerns).

On the other hand, while “New Paradigm” or “Seeker-friendly” churches focus on positive messages of God’s love rather than on sin, hell or damnation, CNA preaches also on the latter topics. CNA Pastors appreciate that young people may prefer a message of love, but they feel that they cannot focus on only love and should preach the Bible as a whole.

It is precisely this hybridity that attracts Brazilian students to CNA, as the church is able to function as a bridge between Brazilian and Australian societies and religious cultures (Rocha 2013).



Like other diasporic churches, CNA assists migrants in the process of overcoming nostalgia,homesickness and the challenge of adapting to the new country. [Image at right] CNA offers young Brazilians a space for community-building through services, weekly connect-group meetings, camping trips, barbeques, beach parties, community meals featuring Brazilian food, and other communal leisure activities. Before and after Sunday evening services, congregants socialise in the church foyer for quite a long time. The church usually provides coffee, soft drinks and food  so that congregants can meet each otherCNA4 and strengthen community/family feeling. [Image at right] This is an occasion for pastors to chat with congregation members and ask them about their past week and find out their needs.

Typically, pastors assist congregation members deal with issues related to their young age, being far from their immediate family as international students in Australia, their lack of English language skills, finding accommodation and jobs, and downward mobility.  CNA also helps them adapt to the new life in Australia by offering training courses in barista and cleaning skills, English language and CV writing to middle-class young Brazilian students, most of whom have never experienced paid employment in their lives.

CNA holds many activities during the year. For instance, every Friday congregants meet in smaller groups or “connect groups” across the city. These groups work as support groups to give members a solid family-feel. In these meetings, members bring food to share, socialise, and study a passage of the Bible and pray together. In addition, at the beginning of the year congregants undergo a twenty-one-day fast of some kind in order to focus on members’ behaviour in regards to God and how they are working as a church. Since 2008, they have organized a four-day camping trip over Easter. In this church retreat they have two services a day, Bible study, water baptisms, and leisure activities such as soccer games. Starting in 2012, CNA has run a three-day conference every November featuring invited pastors from Brazil. Given that CNA is mainly a church for the Brazilian community, it also celebrates typical Brazilian events such as July Party (festa caipira) in addition to Christian holidays.


The church is led by Senior Pastors Eduardo Ramos and Debora Oliveira, as well as AssistantPastor Jonathan Bolkenhagen. CNA’s day-to-day running is divided into “ministries” that are led by congregation members who are chosen by the pastors. These ministries are: reception of new comers, hospitality (organises food for the services and events), baby club (one to three year-olds), kids (four to seventeen year-olds), youth (eighteen to thirty year-olds), worship (the members of the band that plays during service), production (videos of services and events, publicity), and social assistance.

They also have six leaders of connect groups trained and chosen by the church leadership.


CNA suffers from the conundrum other migrant churches face. Because they are a home away from home for Brazilians, they use Portuguese language in their services and other activities, celebrate Brazilian holidays, and espouse Brazilian religious values and worldview. However, this hinders adaptation into the local population. Furthermore, by maintaining the homeland culture, language and mores, they may alienate long-term migrants, second generation Brazilians, and those migrants who want to “integrate” quickly. At the same time, if they adopt the host country’s culture language and cultural practices wholesale, they may not be able to provide adequate support for new arrivals.

CNA Pastors are keenly aware of this problem and have organized for services to be simultaneously translated into English for those Australians who wish to join them. They know that, as young congregants marry (other Brazilians and also Australians) and have children, CNA will need to have activities in English if it wants to retain this new generation.

Another challenge is the high turnover rates within the congregation given that members are international students in Australia. Because there is always a high proportion of members arriving in the country and leaving for the homeland, it is difficult to build a strong congregation and maintain the smooth operation of the church. This also means that the church struggles with funding. As students, members do not hold full-time jobs and have low incomes. In addition, sometimes the church assists students with money, accommodation and meals if they run into financial difficulties. Another consequence of the make-up of the congregation and their low income is that pastors work full-time outside the church and have little time to work for the church.

Image #1: Photograph of Eduardo Ramos.
Image #2: Photograph of a worship band.
Image #3: Photograph of Jonathan Bolkenhagen.
Image #4: Photograph of a connect-group meeting.
Image #5: Photograph of serving food after a worship service.
Image #6: Reproduction of the CNA logo.


Connell, John. 2005. “Hillsong: A Mega-Church in the Sydney Suburbs.” Australian Geographer 36:315-32.

Goh, Robbie. 2007. “Hillsong and ‘Megachurch’ Practice.” Material Religion 4:284-305.

Miller, Donald. 1997. Reinventing American Protestantism: Christianity in the New Millennium. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Miller, Donald and Tetsunao Yamamori. 2007. Global Pentecostalism: The New Face of Christian Social Engagement. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Riches, T. and T. Wagner, eds. 2017. The Hillsong Movement Examined: You Call Me Out Upon the Waters. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rocha, Cristina. 2017. “The Come to Brazil Effect: Young Brazilians’ Fascination with Hillsong.” In The Hillsong Movement Examined: You Call Me out upon the Waters, edited by T. Riches and T. Wagner. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rocha, Cristina. 2013. “Transnational Pentecostal Connections: an Australian Megachurch and a Brazilian Church in Australia.” Pentecostudies 12:62-82.

Rocha, Cristina. 2006. “Two Faces of God: Religion and Social Class in the Brazilian Diaspora in Sydney.” Pp. 147-60 in Religious Pluralism in the Diaspora, edited by P. Patrap Kumar. Leiden: Brill.

Sargeant, Kimon. 2000. Seeker Churches: Promoting Traditional Religion in a Nontraditional Way. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Wagner, Thomas. 2013. Hearing the Hillsong Sound: Music, Marketing, Meaning and Branded Spiritual Experience at a Transnational Megachurch. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Royal Holloway University of London.

Post Date:
2 May 2017


Marko Pogačnik (and the OHO Group)


1944:  Marko Pogačnik was born in Kranj, Slovenia.

1967:  Pogačnik earned his degree in sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, Slovenia (part of Socialist Yugoslavia at that time). In the1960s, he was one of the founders of the Slovenian conceptual art group OHO.

1970:  The OHO group gained international recognition by participating in the exhibition Information, one of the most influential presentations of conceptual art, organized at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). At the same time, the new esoteric phase of “transcendental conceptualism” in their art began.

1971 (April):  Pogačnik, his family, and friends from the OHO group founded the Šempas Family, a commune inspired by the famous New Age commune of Findhorn, Scotland. Pogačnik visited the Findhorn commune and attended lectures by one of its leading figures, David Spangler.

1978 (February 19-28):  Together, the Findhorn and Šempas communes organized in Florence the first “New Age World Congress.” The Šempas Family represented Yugoslavia at the Venice Biennale. Later in this year, however, the Šempas Family ended its activities, and Pogačnik started devoting himself to teaching the method of “Earth healing” he called “lithopuncture.”

1990:  One of Pogačnik’s many “Earth healing” projects was organized at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana.

1991:  Pogačnik designed the official coat of arms of the newly constituted Republic of Slovenia (after its separation from Yugoslavia).

1998:  Pogačnik and his daughter Ana Pogačnik, who reportedly was communicating with the angelic realms, founded the “Lifenet” organization, which gathered individuals and groups involved in “Earth healing.” Pogačnik acted as the spiritual leader of Lifenet, whose members practiced his “Gaia Touch” exercises and monthly meditations.

2016:  Pogačnik was designated as UNESCO Artist for Peace for 2016. He installed his “geopuncture circles” near Bosnian “pyramids” to help the ongoing evolution of Planet Earth and humanity.


Marko Pogačnik (b. 1944) [Image at right] is a Slovenian artist, well known as one of the pioneers of conceptual art in the 1960s. He is also a New Age author and teacher of “Earth healing.” In the 1960s, Pogačnik was one of the founders of a Slovenian conceptual art group called OHO, which strongly influenced many young artists in Slovenia and Yugoslavia in general, and also gained international recognition. At the beginning of the 1970s, members of the OHO group experimented with telepathy and showed a considerable interest in esotericism. In 1971, Pogačnik and other members of the OHO group decided to withdraw from the art scene and move to Šempas village in Slovenia, where they founded a commune called Šempas Family, inspired by the famous New Age commune of Findhorn, Scotland. Since 1978, after the Šempas Family ceased to exist, Pogačnik consecrated himself to teaching “Earth healing.” In numerous workshops around Europe, he teaches his own esoteric method of “Earth healing” through art, called “lithopuncture.” It includes the placing of stone blocks with chiseled esoteric symbols, which he calls “cosmograms,” on “acupuncture points” of our planet. Pogačnik has written several books on “Earth healing,” published in English by Findhorn Press. Together with his daughter, Ana Pogačnik, he founded the Lifenet organization, and acts as its spiritual leader.

Pogačnik was born in Kranj, Slovenia, on August 11, 1944. He earned his degree in sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana in 1967. In 1960s, he was one of the founders of the Slovenian conceptual art group OHO, whose other members were Milenko Matanović (b. 1947), David Nez (b. 1949) and Andraž Šalamun (b. 1947). This OHO group of artists was part of a larger OHO movement which included artists, poets, intellectuals, and philosophers, such as Slavoj Žižek (b. 1949). The OHO group had an immense influence on the development of conceptual art and other forms of “new art practice” in Socialist Yugoslavia, of which Slovenia was part at that time.

In 1970, the OHO group gained international recognition when Pogačnik and his colleagues exhibited at Information, one of the most influential global presentations of conceptual art, organized at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Although there are many definitions of conceptual art, a simple way to describe it would be that it is a form of art in which the idea, or the “concept,” is more important than the final work in its material form. The work of art may be reduced to photo documentation, diagram, written text, action, and so on. American critics Lucy R. Lippard and John Chandler suggested in 1968 the expression “dematerialization of the art object” as an alternative term to “conceptual art.” The word “dematerialization” referred to the new tendency in which the final work of art in its traditional form (painting, sculpture, etc.) was losing its importance. Some conceptual artists also understood “dematerialization” in esoteric terms: transcending not only the materiality of an art object, but the material world altogether, by means of telepathy, meditation, or magic.

Pogačnik and other members of the OHO group belonged to those conceptual artists who searched for transcendence of the material world both in their work and their life. The years 1970 and 1971 were of great importance for them. In this period, it became evident that the OHO group was developing a strong interest in different forms of Western esotericism, particularly the New Age. However, art historians in the 1970s still clung to the dominant idea of the secularization of modern art, i.e. the idea that modern art cannot, or rather must not, be religious. This was probably the reason why Slovenian art historian Tomaž Brejc, while writing about the period between 1970 and 1971 in the art of the OHO group, described their work as a “difficult one for the critic and historian alike.” Brejc informed his readers that the members of the OHO group were not becoming “religious,” only sensitive “to all the phenomena in the area of spiritual production and its history” (Brejc 1978:17). In his attempt to avoid describing the art of the OHO group in this period as “religious” or “spiritual,” Brejc opted for the more philosophical term “transcendental,” and described this new orientation of the OHO group as “transcendental conceptualism” (Brejc 1978:17).

Brejc was not the only art historian of that time who wrestled with terminology when confronted with works of modern artists in which religious or spiritual elements appeared. His Italian colleague, art historian Renato Barilli, introduced the notion of a “mystical conceptual art.” American conceptual artist Sol Lewitt (1928-2007) declared in his famous Paragraphs on Conceptual Art (1967) that conceptual artists were “mystics rather than rationalists.” Lewitt rejected traditional, “formal art” as “essentially rational” (Lewitt 1967). It seems that the conceptual artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, or at least those “mystical” and “transcendental” among them, shared with their contemporaries who were part of the New Age movement the same rejection of what they perceived as the dominant rationalism in the Western culture.

One of the first important works of the OHO group in the field of “transcendental conceptualism” was produced in February 1970. Two members of the OHO group, Milenko Matanović and David Nez (an American studying in Slovenia), travelled to New York to prepare the presentation at the Information exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, while the other two members, Marko Pogačnik and Andraž Šalamun, remained in Slovenia. The four artists then used this condition of separation between themselves to conduct a series of telepathic experiments. In one of these experiments, they agreed simultaneously, on two different continents and at a given time, to chose and write down one among a number of possiblePogacnik2combinations of lines crossing a square. This experiment was then presented in a typical conceptual art manner, through Pogačnik’s diagram titled Intercontinental Group Project America-Europe (1970). [Image at right] After finishing their preparation for the presentation of the OHO group at the Information exhibition in New York, Matanović and Nez returned to Slovenia with “a load of books on spirituality.” Through these books Pogačnik was introduced to the teachings of the Russian mathematician and esotericist Peter D. Ouspensky (1878-1947), as well as to “Celtic spirituality” (Žerovc 2013). Nez reports being fascinated with Ouspensky and Armenian esotericist George Ivanovitch Gurdjieff (1866?-1949), and that he was also reading Alan Watts (1915-1973) on Zen, the book by Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) Doors of Perception, Gershom Scholem (1897-1982) on Kabbalah, and others (Žerovc 2011). Nez and Matanović were also fascinated by Indian philosophy and Tarot (Brejc 1978:17). As Pogačnik stated in an interview, after discovering “many fascinating concepts of the nature of existence,” the OHO group immediately set out exploring “spiritual issues,” and translating them into its art practice (Žerovc 2013).

These explorations of “spiritual issues” were taking place in the Slovenian countryside, where members of the OHO group often retreated during the 1970s. They kept photographic and written documentation of their actions and exhibited this material in art spaces. In Spring 1970, the OHO group started working in the Zarica Valley (Slovenia) on different art projects, described by Pogačnik as a form of “spiritual schooling” (Žerovc 2013). The artworks they produced revealed their interest in Western esotericism, especially the New Age. For example, David Nez produced the conceptual work Time-Space Structures, inspired by Ouspensky and his idea of a “fourth dimension.” He used time-lapse photography to record different shapes produced by the movement of a light source in the dark. Milenko Matanović made several conceptual works in Zarica inspired by astrology, such as the descriptively titled Relation Sun-Zarica Valley-the Star Venus, or The constellation of candles in the field corresponds to the constellation of stars in the sky. Another conceptual artwork, titled Locations of the Recent OHO Projects in Relation to Historical Locations (May 1970), represented a map of the OHO projects completed in the Zarica Valley, superimposed over ancient and historic sites from that area, such as Neolithic settlements, Celtic and Slavic burial locations, and medieval churches. As art critic Tomaž Brejc described it, the theme of the OHO group at that time was the “spiritual communication with the past, the cosmos, the rhythm of nature…” (Brejc 1978:17). The OHO group wanted to establish a kind of esoteric continuity between their “spiritual schooling” and the evolution of humanity, reflected in the archeological heritage of the Zarica Valley. They considered the nature in Zarica as a “sacred space” (Žerovc 2013), and probably saw themselves as its “prophets.” In one action from 1970, they walked twenty-five km from Zarica to the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, where they held an exhibition. As Pogačnik described it, by doing so they wanted to establish a “telepathic connection” between “the sacred space of nature and the profane space of a gallery,” using their bodies as “channel[s] of communication” (Žerovc 2013).

In the Summer of 1970, the OHO group spent another week of “spiritual schooling,” this time in the small Slovenian settlement of Čezsoča. According to Pogačnik, they conducted “various forms of creative meditation” and searched for “a way to continue working both with the body and with spiritual dimensions.” Their idea was to develop an art form “that would enable people to come to know themselves and experience the deepest dimensions of space” (Žerovc 2013). The members of the OHO group were obviously “working on themselves,” which was one of the main preoccupations of New Agers in general. As the journal of the OHO’s “spiritual schooling” in Čezsoča reveals, they were practicing yoga and were also trying to invent their own rituals.

It seems that the curriculum of their “spiritual schooling” also included the use of psychoactive substances. One page from their Čezsoča journal describes a ritual Pogacnik3where four artists connected their hands to form a cross, i.e. a “touch sign — spontaneously derived while stoned” [Image 3 at right] Although in the 1970s Pogačnik denied that the OHO group was using psychoactive substances (which was understandable, considering the stigmatization of “junkies” in socialist Yugoslavia), he later confirmed in one of his interviews that they had been experimenting with LSD at that time (Fowkes 2015:105-06). The use of psychoactive substances to gain various forms of esoteric insights has been often explored by scholars of Western esotericism (Hanegraaff 2013; Partridge 2005:82-134). Until the recent exhibition, High Times: Reflections of Psychedelia in Socialist Yugoslavia, 1966-1976, organized in 2011/2012 at the Škuc Gallery in Ljubljana, little was known about the influence of psychoactive substances on the OHO group. As confirmed by Pogačnik, in an interview given on the occasion of the High Times exhibition, it was during one session on LSD that he and other members of OHO decided to stop working as an art group and start living in a commune (Fowkes 2015:105). Their idea was to escape the art system and dedicate themselves to “life.”

On April 11, 1971, Pogačnik, Matanović, Nez, Šalamun, and few of their family members and friends moved to Šempas village in Slovenia and formed the artistic commune they called Šempas Family. Matanović, Nez and Šalamun, however, soon left the commune, and started searching for their “life” elsewhere. For most of the time, the Šempas Family consisted of Pogačnik, his wife, and their three daughters as permanent inhabitants, with a number of other people occasionally joining them. The initial idea of the OHO group to withdraw from the art system was interpreted by some critics through political lenses, i.e. in terms of artists creating their “micro-political” situations, opposed to the “grey, everyday life of socialism” (see Moderna Galerija 2013). Such interpretations seem, however, to be insufficient. Yugoslav art critic Ješa Denegri defined the “withdrawal” of the OHO group more accurately as choosing “the aesthetics of silence,” referring to the title of an essay by Susan Sontag (1933-2004), i. e. an act in which the artist “frees himself from servile bondage to the world” (as quoted in Fowkes 2015:107). This interpretation is relevant insofar as it refers to Sontag’s suggestion that modern artists who chose the “aesthetic of silence” are in fact the descendants of important figures in the Western and Eastern “mystical tradition.” These include the pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (fifth-sixth century), Jakob Boehme (1575-1624), Meister Eckhart (ca. 1260-1328), the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing (fourteenth century), as well as Zen, Taoist, and Sufi masters (Sontag 2002 [1969]:22).

The “tradition” in which the members of the Šempas Family immersed themselves was indeed “mystical.” In forming his commune, Pogačnik was inspired by the famous New Age commune of Findhorn, Scotland. The Findhorn commune was well-known for its surprisingly successful vegetable garden, grown on the infertile soil according to instructions allegedly channeled through communication the founders received from “elemental beings” or “nature spirits.” The old esoteric idea of the existence of nature spirits who may help the growth of plants was developed in twentieth century by Anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), who lectured repeatedly on this subject, and whose teachings significantly influenced the New Age movement in its initial phase in the early 1970s. When Pogačnik visited Findhorn in 1971, he was fascinated with its garden, created (as he writes in one of his books) “through cooperation between all three kingdoms: the world of angels, the world of humans, and the world of elementals” (Pogačnik 2001:37). According to his own account, Pogačnik was also influenced by what he had learned during the lectures on the Christ principle and “the role of Lucifer in human evolution,” given in Findhorn by David Spangler (b. 1945), one of the crucial figures of the commune and an influential New Age author (Pogačnik 1998:218). Pogačnik returned to Findhorn in several occasions, claiming he was trying to “interconnect the global movements involved in the new holistic spirituality and in an alternative attitude to Earth and nature” (Žerovc 2013).

Findhorn and Šempas seem to have organized together the first New Age World Congress, held in Florence, February 19-28, 1978,  at Pogacnik4the Forte Belvedere (Žerovc 2013), which also featured a lecture by Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983), a futuristic engineer and one of the cult figures for the New Age. [Image at right] As one print account of this event confirms, the Šempas Family designed the abstract “congress symbol” (n.a. 1978:266), which was very similar to Pogačnik’s later “cosmograms” (see below). The Findhorn commune also attracted Pogačnik’s colleagues form the OHO group, Matanović and Nez, who only spent a short time in the Šempas Family, and then left to travel around the world in a quest for spirituality, which eventually brought them to Findhorn (Fowkes 2015:108). Pogačnik keeps a connection with Findhorn to this day and he lectures and leads seminars on “Earth healing” there (Pogačnik 2000:25). Findhorn Press is the publisher of Pogačnik’s books in English.

The members of the Šempas Family lived in a typical hippie commune lifestyle. [Image at right] They grew  vegetables (and were vegetarians); collected herbs, and prepared natural remedies; lived without electricity, newspapers, or radio; and did not use money (Fowkes 2015:103). They produced artworks made from forged iron, carved wood, burnt clay, and woven Pogacnik5fabrics, following designs, or “thought patterns,” devised by Pogačnik.  What they aimed for was a “harmonious spiritual symbiosis” and a “spiritual metamorphosis of the humans and the world in which they live” (Brejc 1978a:19). It is in the Šempas Family that the “Earth healing” rituals first started to take place (Brejc 1978a:19). They would later become Pogačnik’s main preoccupation. The Šempas family as an art collective showed its work at the Trigon exhibition in Graz in 1977, and represented Yugoslavia at the Venice Biennale of 1978, whose theme was the relationship between art and nature.

Since the commune in Šempas ceased to exist in 1978, Pogačnik worked to develop and teach his own method of geomancy, or “Earth healing,” called “lithopuncture.” He erected stone blocks on the “Earth Pogacnik6acupuncture points” in order to stimulate “ecological healing” of the locations. In these stone blocks, he chiseled mostly abstract, sometimes floral esoteric symbols that he called “cosmograms.” [Image at right] Pogačnik defined the “cosmogram” in esoteric terms, as a symbol “which attracts the archetypal or spiritual-soul dimensions of a location into the healing process” (Pogačnik 1998:198). Sometimes, when “Earth acupuncture points” in a specific area were not accessible, Pogačnik created a corresponding system of “substitute acupuncture points” in another location, where he then performed his “Earth healing.” One such project was performed in 1990 at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana, the purpose of which was to heal nine places in the city of Ljubljana that were unaccessible to the artists. On this occasion, Pogačnik created “substitute acupuncture points” in the hall of the museum, where he placed his stones with the “cosmograms.” He explained this method as use of “the principle of correspondence between micro-and macrocosm” (Pogačnik 1998:163). The doctrine of correspondence had been identified by scholars as one of the fundamental elements of Western esotericism (Faivre 1994:10).

The method Pogačnik uses to make a “diagnosis” of a certain place is based on the esoteric idea about the existence of occult “energies” or “vibrations,” which can be detected if the esotericist is (self-)initiated in the necessary secret knowledge and techniques. The initiate may also use his or her own intuition to “tune” into these invisible realities. For example, Pogačnik examines the state of health of a specific area simply by letting himself be guided by the “sensitivity” of his hands (Pogačnik 1998:162). He also claims to receive instructions from an elemental being called Julius, whom he calls “the old sage” and of whom he also made a portrait drawing (Pogačnik 2000:33). Pogačnik’s daughters Ajra and Ana allegedly communicate with the angelic realm, which helps them in the “Earth healing” practice. Ajra channels Angel Master Christopher Tragius, and Ana is in communication with the “Angel of Earth healing” called Devos (Pogačnik 1998:20).

In 1991, Pogačnik designed the official coat of arms of the newly constituted Republic of Slovenia. [Image at right] According to Pogačnik, the Slovenian coat Pogacnik7of arms is another “cosmogram,” which magically protects the country by appearing everywhere: on official papers and stamps, on the national flag, and so on (Pogačnik 1998:166). The Slovene coat of arms depicts river, mountain and stars, symbols of Slovenian landscape, but it also depicts the “balance between the masculine and feminine principles” (Ljudmila 2017). In the year 2006, Pogačnik became the vice-president of the “Movement for Justice and Development,” a non-political society for “raising human consciousness” led by Janez Drnovšek (1950-2008), the unusual “New Age President” of Slovenia (from 2002 to 2007), who promoted “positive thinking” and styled himself as a spiritual leader (Črnič 2008).

In the last two decades, Pogačnik has emerged as the leading figure in a global network of “Earth healing” groups. He lectures in different venues, and organizes workshops of “Earth healing” in which participants are engaged both artistically and spiritually by creating and chiseling their own “cosmograms “in “lithopuncture” stones. Since the end of the twentieth century, the basic idea behind Pogačnik’s “Earth healing” practice has been the vision of a co-evolution of the humanity and Earth, or Gaia. In the New Age movement, the name “Gaia,” or the “Goddess,” stands for the Planet Earth as a conscious, living being. According to Pogačnik, Gaia is going through significant changes since the beginning of the twenty-first century. Its material structure is becoming more subtle, “so that the finer dimensions of its existence can manifest through it.” Humans need to attune to this change and learn to communicate with Gaia through the “language of cosmograms,” in order to help the transformation of the Earth and humanity. If they fail to do so, all will “end in havoc and turmoil” (Pogačnik 2017).

In 1998, together with his daughter Ana, Pogačnik founded the “Lifenet” organization to “provide a platform for people who have Pogacnik8 the heartfelt wish to be in in dialogue with the consciousness of the Earth” (Lifenet 2017). Groups and individuals who are members of Lifenet organize “Earth healing” projects, retreats, and workshops in various places throughout the world. [Image at right] Since 2008, Lifenet has organized biennial international gatherings in Slovenia, Germany, UK, Sweden, and Croatia. These are typical New Age eco-spiritual gatherings with the standard repertoire: group dancing in circles, celebrations of the summer solstice, meditating and performing different ceremonies and exercises to communicate with Gaia and its “web of life” (Gea Viva 2016).

For his Lifenet followers, Pogačnik has devised special “Gaia Touch” exercises. These exercises are presented as a kind of “yoga, dedicated to cooperation with Gaia and her consciousness,” and are designed to help human beings “attune better to the multidimensional nature of our home planet and its beings belonging to different levels of reality” (Earth Energy Network 2017). [Image at right] Pogačnik also leads Lifenet members in monthly meditations, for the same purpose of connecting with Gaia and helping its imminent transformation. In 2016, Pogačnik was designated as a world UNESCO Artist for Peace for that year. One of the most recent esoteric activist art projects of Pogačnik was a “geopuncture circle”: a group of twenty-four “lithopuncture” stone blocks with “cosmograms,” realized by him and a group of international artists in the small town of Visoko, near Sarajevo, Bosnia.

In the 1990s, Bosnia became the symbol of the civil war between different ethnic and religious groups that plagued former Yugoslavia. In Pogačnik’s project, Bosnia is the emerging place of the future spiritual transformation of the whole planet. Visoko is very popular in contemporary New Age circles as a site of the so called Bosnian “pyramids,” which allegedly predated those in Egypt and surpassed them in size. According to Pogačnik, the purpose of the central group of ten “lithopuncture” stones [Image at right] erected in Visoko is “to awake the diverse units of the Visoko pyramids system so that they may become active in the present moment of Earth’s evolution” (Pogačnik 2017a).


Image #1: Photograph of Marko Pogačnik.
Image #2: Pogačnik’s diagram Intercontinental Group Project America-Europe (1970).
Image #3: A page from the OHO group’s journal of their “spiritual schooling” in the Slovenian nature, which describes their ritual of making a “touch sign” in the form of a cross, under the influence of psychoactive substances (1970).
Image #4: Buckminster Fuller lectures in front of the symbol designed by Pogačnik and the Šempas Family, at the first New Age World Congress in Florence (1978).
Image #5: Pogačnik’s artistic New Age commune Šempas Family, in Šempas village, Slovenia (1977). Photograph: Bojan Brecelj.
Image #6: Pogačnik with one of his “lithopuncture” stones with a chiseled “cosmogram” on it.
Image #7: The official Slovenian coat of arms, which Pogačnik created in 1991, as a “cosmogram” of his home country.
Image #8: Fifth international gathering of Pogačnik’s Lifenet organization, Brač Island, Croatia. People dance inside a stone circle installation inspired by Pogačnik’s “lithopuncture” work (2016).
Image #9: Illustration of one of the “Gaia Touch” exercises invented by Pogačnik.
Image #10: Pogačnik’s “lithopuncture” project realized in the vicinity of the famous Bosnian “pyramids” (2016).


Brejc, Tomaž. 1978. “OHO as an Artistic Phenomenon 1966-1971.” Pp. 13-18 in The New Art Practice in Yugoslavia 1966-1978, edited by Marijan Susovski. Zagreb: Gallery of Contemporary Art Zagreb.

Brejc, Tomaž. 1978a. “The Family at Šempas.” Pp.18-19 in The New Art Practice in Yugoslavia 1966-1978, edited by Marijan Susovski. Zagreb: Gallery of Contemporary Art Zagreb.

Črnič, Aleš, 2008. “The Changing Concept of New Age: A Case Study of Spiritual Transformation of the Slovenian President.” Journal of Alternative Spiritualities and New Age Studies 4:17-29.

Earth Energy Network. 2017. “Gaia Touch.” Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Faivre, Antoine. 1994. Access to Western Esotericism. Albany: SUNY Press.

Fowkes, Maja. 2015. The Green Bloc. Neo-avant-garde Art and Ecology under Socialism. Budapest/New York: CEU Press.

Gea Viva. 2016. “5th International Lifenet gathering.” Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Hanegraaff, Wouter J. 2013. “Entheogenic esotericism.” Pp. 392-409 in Contemporary Esotericism, edited by Egil Asprem and Kennet Granholm. London/New York: Routledge.

Lewitt, Sol. 1967. “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art.” Artforum (vol. 5/10). Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Lifenet. 2017. “About Us.” Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Ljudmila. 2017. “Slovene National Symbols – The Slovene Coat-of-Arms.” Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Moderna Galerija. 2013. “The Present and Presence: Repetition 4 – Micro-political Situations.” Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

n.a. 1978. “A Congress that Dared the Unthinkable.” Pp. 266-70 in Associations Transnationales (5/1978). Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Partridge, Christopher. 2005. The Re-Enchantment of the West.:Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture, and Occulture, Two Volumes. London/New York: T&T Clark International.

Pogačnik, Marko. 2017a. “The Concept of Earth Healing Has Changed.” Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Pogačnik, Marko. 2017b. “Geopuncture Circles.” Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Pogačnik, Marko. 2001. Elementarna bića: Inteligencija Zemlje i prirode [Elemental Beings: Earth and Nature Intelligence]. Belgrade: Snežana Tufegdžić.

Pogačnik, Marko. 2000. Earth Changes, Human Destiny: Coping and Attuning with the Help of the Revelation of St. John. Findhorn: Findhorn Press.

Pogačnik, Marko, 1998. Healing the Heart of the Earth: Restoring the Subtle Levels of Life. Findhorm: Findhorn Press.

Sontag, Susan. 2002 [1966]. Styles of Radical Will. New York: Picador.

Žerovc, Beti. 2013. “The OHO Files: Interview with Marko Pogačnik.” Artmargins online. Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Žerovc, Beti. 2011. “The OHO Files: Interview with David Nez.” Artmargins online. Accessed from on 18 April 2017.

Post Date:
30 April 2017


Nikolaos Gyzis


1842 (March 1):  Nikolaos Gyzis (or, in German, Nikolaus Gysis) was born in the village of Sklavochori, on the island of Tinos, in Greece.

1854:  Gyzis started studying at the School of Arts in Athens, where he had among his teachers German Nazarene painter Ludwig Thiersch.

1862:  Gyzis was awarded a scholarship from the Evangelistria Foundation of Tinos.

1865:  Gyzis finally arrived at Munich, where he settled for the rest of his life. In October, he attended the preparatory class of Hermann Anschütz at the Munich Academy.

1868:  Gyzis was accepted in the class of Karl von Piloty at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.

1869:  His first religious painting, Joseph in Prison, was donated by Gyzis to the Evangelistria Foundation of Tinos.

1872:  After a long residence abroad, Gyzis visited Greece again for the first time.

1873:  Gyzis underwent a trip to Anatolia with fellow artist Nikiforos Lytras.

1874:  Gyzis returned to Munich and, together with Lytras, rented the apartment that previously served as the studio of German painter and Theosophist Gabriel von Max.

1875:  Gyzis became a member of the Art Association “Allotria,” which several important German artists had also joined.

1880:  Gyzis was elected honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, and two years later he started working there as a teaching assistant.

1884 (July 27):  The German Theosophical Society was founded. It held its second meeting in the same year (August 9) at Gabriel von Max’s Ammerland villa.

1888:  Gyzis was appointed professor at the Munich Academy.

1893 (August 28):  In a letter to his sister-in-law Ourania Nazou, Gyzis declared that he had conceived a new religious idea.

1894:  Gyzis began corresponding with Anna May, a friend and classmate of his daughter Penelope.

1898:  With Anna May’s help, Gyzis chose some of his sketches in black and white for the exhibition held in the Glaspalast in Munich in the same year.

1900 (July 20):  The Annual Exhibition was inaugurated in the Glaspalast; Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh was among Gyzis’s works exhibited.

1901 (January 4):  Gyzis died in Munich. A commemorative exhibition took place in the Glaspalast (from June to October) where Gyzis’s works were exhibited beside those of two other recently deceased painters, Arnold Böcklin and Wilhelm Leibl.

1910 (August 25):  Rudolf Steiner delivered a lecture on Gyzis to the members of the Theosophical Society in Munich.

1911 (December):  Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) published On the Spiritual in Art.

1928:  A large exhibition of Gyzis’s works was organized in Athens.


Nikolaos Gyzis (1842-1910) was a prominent Greek painter, much appreciated by his contemporaries for his ability to intertwine in his visual vocabulary elements from the ancient Greek heritage, the Byzantine imagery, and the more recent Jugendstil movement. [Image at right] He spent his entire life in Munich, Germany, initially studying there before becoming a professor at the local Academy of Fine Arts from 1888 until his death in 1901. He is considered the main representative of the so-called Munich School movement, and his work had a great impact on Greek artistic production during the fin de siècle and the beginnings of the twentieth century. Among his students in the Academy were the Austrian printmaker Alfred Kubin (1877-1959), the German graphic artist August Heitmüller (1873-1935), the set designer Ernst Julian Stern (1876-1954), the Romanian painter Ştefan Popescu (1872-1948), and the Polish painter Tadeusz Rychter (1873-1943?), who would eventually become an Anthroposophist. Gyzis’s late work, hovering between academicism and new symbolist tendencies, caused a sensation among his contemporaries, especially in Greece (Katsanaki 2016). After Gyzis’s death in 1901, his late paintings drew the attention of Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), at that time a prominent Theosophist and the future founder of Anthroposophy. He admired the fact that the painter, at the meridian of his artistic life, left behind the traditional genre scenes that were typical for a professor in the Academy and moved to a more spiritual style of painting, including strange angelic beings and apocalyptic imagery (Picht 1951:419-21). [Image at right]

Gyzis was born, on March 1, 1842, to an Orthodox family in the village of Sklavochori, on the island of Tinos, which was also a place with a strong Catholic heritage and a large Catholic population. Tinos, an island belonging to the Northern Cyclades group, is very well known for its famous sculptors and painters, but remains also a very important religious center, notably after the discovery in 1823 of the supposedly miraculous icon of the Virgin Panagia in the ruins of an old church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, and the subsequent erection of the Church of Panagia Evangelistria in 1880 (Missirli 2002:339). Since the nineteenth century, Tinos has remained a prominent site of Marian pilgrimage and religious tourism, its importance in Greece being comparable to that of Lourdes for Catholics in France.

Gyzis settled in Athens in 1850 and, by 1854, started his studies at the School of Arts. Among his teachers was the German painter of religious subjects, part of the Nazarene movement, Ludwig Thiersch (1825-1909), who is credited with the introduction of Western elements into the Eastern pictorial tradition. According to Kaiser, Thiersch was preoccupied with the Slavic notion of “Sobornost” (roughly translated as “conciliation” or “community”), and the Church of St. Nikodemos in Athens (the local Russian Orthodox Church), which was decorated by him, manifested this preoccupation (Kaiser 2014). The proponents of “Sobornost” were promoting an understanding of the Church as a place of union between different Christian fractions and, on the other hand, were offering an alternative to unbridled individualism by endorsing a kind of universal love and unrestrained solidarity. Thus, hierarchy and institutionalized religion were often seen under a critical lens. Even after Gyzis moved to Munich, he nevertheless maintained a correspondence with Thiersch, exchanging views with him on various artistic subjects (Kaiser 2014:195).

With the aid of his friend Nikiforos Lytras (1832-1904), also a prominent Greek painter who studied in the Munich Academy, Gyzis became acquainted with the wealthy Tinian businessman Nikolaos Nazos (who later became his father-in-law), who intervened in his behalf with the Evangelistria Foundation, securing the grant of a scholarship (Missirli 2002: 341). The Evangelistria Foundation of Tinos endorsed cultural awareness by awarding scholarships to young talented painters and sculptors, thus giving them the opportunity to receive training in important art centers abroad, to deepen their own cultural ideas and import them back into Greece. After some delay, Gyzis’s scholarship was approved in 1865 and from the port of Syros, through Trieste, Vienna and Salzburg, he finally arrived at Munich, where he settled for the rest of his life. In October of the same year, he attended the preparatory class of Hermann Anschütz (1802-1880) at the Munich Academy and, one year later, he was trained by the Hungarian painter Alexander von Wagner (1838-1919). In 1868, Gyzis was accepted in the class of Karl von Piloty (1826-1886) at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts. In 1869, Gyzis bequeathed his first religious painting, Joseph in Prison (1868), to the Evangelistria Foundation (where it still is), as a sign of gratitude for its support. One year later, another religious work, Judith and Holofernes (1869), was completed. The compositional approach as well as the color arrangement of these early works were strongly permeated by the teaching method of von Piloty, one of the most important German representatives of the so-called historical realism (Didaskalou 1999:143).

In 1872, after a long residence abroad, Gyzis visited Greece again for the first time and received high acclaim for his artistic mastery. The following year, Gyzis underwent a trip to Anatolia with Lytras. In 1874, he returned to Munich and, together with Lytras, rented the studio that had belonged to the German painter, and later Theosophist, Gabriel von Max (1840-1915) (Missirli 2002: 346). At the same time, Gyzis began systematically taking part in the annual and international exhibitions at Munich’s Glaspalast.

In 1875, Gyzis became a member of the art association “Allotria,” which many important German artists had also joined (Missirli 2002:347). In 1876, Gyzis got engaged to Nikolaos Nazos’ daughter, Artemis Nazou (1854-1929), whom, in the course of the following year, he married after a cursory trip to Greece. At the same time his reputation as a painter flourished as he began to exhibit his paintings at international venues, such as the Paris World Exhibition of 1878. In 1880, he was elected honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, and two years later he started working as a teaching assistant there. In 1888, Gyzis was finally appointed a professor in the Munich Academy, with an annual wage of 4.200 German marks (Didaskalou 1991:150). In 1887, impressed by the international renown the painter had gained in Europe, the Greek government commissioned him to design the banner for the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. Gyzis’s career was at its apex when, in 1896, he designed the diploma for the first modern Olympic Games to be held in Athens. According to the painter, the subject depicted in the diploma was the “Annunciation of Greece” [Ευαγγελισμός της Ελλάδος] (Drosinis 1953:210).

As it might be inferred from his correspondence, by the early 1890s onward, Gyzis underwent a kind of religious crisis and became obsessed with grand religious projects (Didaskalou 1993:188). On August 28, 1893, in a letter to his sister-in-law Ourania Nazou, Gyzis declared that he had conceived a new religious idea. In 1894, he began corresponding with Anna May (1864-1954), a friend and classmate of his daughter Penelope (1879-1947). With May’s help, in 1898, Gyzis chose some of his sketches in black and white for the Munich’s Glaspalast Exhibition of the same year. The sketches were considered as products of musical inspiration, and most of them explored religious themes. On July 20, 1900, the Annual Exhibition in the Glaspalast featured several works by Gyzis, including Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh. This and other religious paintings manifested an obsession with spirituality and the ideas of death and judgement. The murky vibe that these paintings impart to the viewer may be partly due to the devastating defeat that the Greeks suffered in what it is known in Greece as the Unfortunate War, fought in 1897 between the Kingdom of Greece and the Ottoman Empire.

The various sketches, studies, and drawings of this period, now preserved in private collections and museums in Greece, reveal that the painter conceived those fragmented visions from an unseen world, as musical variations on a “greater theme,” i.e. the restoration of spirituality. [Image at right] Gyzis wasn’t satisfied with an ordered synthesis but rather was seeking to circumscribe this “greater theme” by working with different artistic media or knitting unforeseen narratives, gradually unwinding the yarn in front of the viewer’s eyes. The sketches and drawings, which often bear the name Triumph of Religion or Foundation of Faith (since 1894), depict austere archangels in a majestic and statuesque-like posture, holding flaming swords and trampling on the ancient serpent, Satan (Didaskalou 1991:124-25) [Image at right]. For Gyzis, the tireless battle he depicted stood for the eternal fight between Spirit and Matter, a subject often discussed in Theosophical circles (Petritakis 2013). Gyzis emphatically pointed towards this idea in his drawing The Victory of Spirit over Matter, intended as the upper part of a larger composition, entitled The New Century (1899-1900), of which various studies and oil drawings are preserved.

However, Gyzis’s most celebrated painting, in this context, was the already mentioned Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh (1899-1900, 2 x 2 m.), which has as its theme the arrival of the Bridegroom (in Greek, Nymphios), a service of the Orthodox Church that symbolizes the preparation for the arrival of the Messiah. [Image at right] In fact, Gyzis particularly drew on a book called Hermeneia (1730-1734) by Dionysius of Fourna (c. 1670 – after 1744), a manual of iconography, which provided a synthetic Gospel account of the life of Jesus Christ. Gyzis sought after this book in a letter dated 1886 (Kalligas 1981:176-88; Drosinis 1953:176-78). The painting depicts Christ, whose figure emerges throughout various rings of fire, which vehemently coil in vorticose motions up to the margins of the picture, where the angelic hosts genuflect (Petritakis 2014). A scene depicting the Fall of Satan was equally conceived to occupy the lower part of the composition (Kalligas 1981).

Gyzis’s religious works demonstrate an accomplished artistic skill and an integrated geometrical expression, especially regarding the use of circular and elliptical forms, which impart an impression of “hidden harmony” (Kalligas 1981:72; Petritakis 2016:89). Marcel Montandon (1875-1940), who published a biography of the painter one year after Gyzis’ death, corroborated the above statement (Montandon 1902:118). Furthermore, the playfully rhythmic, vibrant, but still determined stroke that runs through these works, conveys to the viewer a sense of incompleteness. With his series of drawings made with Indian ink on photographic foil, intended to be seen in front of a light source (a technique invented by Gyzis himself) the painter was hinting at an otherworldly universe, like the one explored by Spiritualist mediums. [Image at right] Similarly, the sketches in black paper with white chalk, that he produced, in 1898, with Anna May’s aid (Drosinis 1953:235), evoke the idea of a juxtaposition between an earthly reality and a spiritual otherness. The latter were bought from the Bavarian Government and are now kept in Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich.

Gyzis died on January 4, 1901 in Munich. His monument was sculpted by the German artist Heinrich Waderé (1865-1950). A monumental, commemorative exhibition took place in Munich’s Glaspalast from June to October 1901. Gyzis’s works were exhibited beside those of two other recently deceased painters, Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901) and Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900). The Bridegroom as well as sketches from the Triumph of Religion were also on display. Only after twenty-seven years, a major exhibition of Gyzis’s works was organized in Greece, at Iliou Melathron (Heinrich Schliemann’s Mansion) in Athens, organized by the Society of Art Devotees and Gyzis’s son, Telemachus (1884-1964).

An interesting question concerns Gyzis’s relationship with Theosophy, a movement in which several of his friends and associates were deeply interested. Gyzis never joined the German Theosophical Society, nor does it seem likely that he had been aware that Theosophical ideas were circulating in Greece during his lifetime. In fact, the Theosophical Society in Athens was founded much later, in 1928 (Matthiopoulos 2005:249). In 1979, during a conversation with Greek critic and curator Marilena Kassimati in Munich, Ewald Petritschek (1917-1997, Gyzis’s grandson and Penelope Gyzis’s son) stated that, at the twilight of his life, the painter had been acquainted with Theosophical literature (Kassimati 2002:45-46). However, in his correspondence, Gyzis never referred to Theosophical books nor to specific Theosophical ideas. Furthermore, Gyzis’s journals, which were in the possession of his son, Telemachus, were burnt during the aerial bombings in January 7, 1944, near the airport, in Athens (Didaskalou 1991:1). It would be risky, therefore, to jump to the conclusion that Gyzis was an orthodox Theosophist.

A fascination for Spiritualism was shared by many artists and intellectuals at that time, most considerably among them the Munich Secessionists Albert von Keller (1844-1920) and Gabriel von Max (Loers 1995; Danzker 2010). The German Theosophical Society was founded on July 27, 1884. The Society held its second meeting in the same year on August 9, at Gabriel von Max’s Ammerland villa, south of Munich, and von Max became deeply involved in Theosophical and Spiritualist matters. In 1886, however, the German Theosophical Society was dissolved in the aftermath of the controversies where Madame Helena Blavatsky (1831-1891), the Society’s international leader, was accused of having fraudulently produced the letters she claimed she was receiving from the mysterious Masters. Von Keller and von Max, together with the physician Albert von Schrenk-Notzing (1862-1929), formed the Psychologische Gesellschaft (Psychological Society), modeled on the Society for Psychical Research in England. Yet, we cannot demonstrate that Gyzis had direct contacts with the Psychological Society.

Both Keller and Gyzis were members of the Künstlergesellschaft Allotria (Art Association Allotria), from which later sprang out the Munich Secession. The Art Association Allotria was founded in 1873 by Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904), a very close friend of Gyzis, who also wrote the commemorative introduction to Montandon’s book. What remained hitherto unnoticed, is the fact that Gyzis designed in 1895 the cover for the illustrated magazine Über Land und Meer (Over Land and See), which abounds in Masonic symbols [Image at right]. A member of the editorial staff of the magazine, Ludwig Gärtner, was also a member of the Psychological Society (Petritakis 2013).

In general, Greek art history viewed Gyzis’s work as being engaged in a dialogue with Classical and Byzantine art, the two main threads that allegedly ran through contemporary Greek civilization. As Matthiopoulos correctly indicated, Gyzis’s late work has been viewed and thus appropriated with a certain uneasiness by the intellectual milieu of Greece, and sustained efforts have been made to purge it of its mystical and symbolic elements: in other words, to subdue its “lurid modernization” and supplant it with more representational thought systems and ideologies (Kaklamanos 1901:27-28, Matthiopoulos 2005:541). Kalligas stressed that “Gyzis’s religious works enrich the traditional Christian iconography with a new figure, a figure that cannot be regarded neither as purely Orthodox nor purely Western. It is essentially Christian” (Kalligas 1981:175). Similar tropes of thought have permeated the field of Greek art history until recent times, thwarting the understanding of Gyzis’s late symbolist work in its socio-cultural and ideological context (Danos 2015:11-22). Given the situation prevailing in nineteenth century artistic life in Greece, only a limited circle of artists and literates in Athens and in the Greek diaspora could understand the questions Gyzis’s paintings posed (Matthiopoulos 2016).

Apparently, after the demise of the painter, in 1901, and the concomitant exhibitions of his paintings in Glaspalast, a certain “Theosophical aura” formed around his work. Anna May, a private student of Gyzis, played a certain role in that direction. Her father, Heinrich May (1825-1915), had been Gyzis’s private doctor during the painter’s difficult late years, when Anna played the role of the artist’s muse, whose advice or opinion on various matters he would often solicit.

Margarita Hauschka, Anna May’s niece, reported that in the studio of Anna in Adalbertsstrasse, in the vicinity of the Munich branch of the Theosophical Society, a picture was hanging, supposedly with the title The Majesty of God (Majestät Gottes), apparently, a copy of Gyzis’ Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh, if not the same work. When Tadeusz Rychter, a young painter from Poland, formerly associated with the cultural modernist milieu of the political cabaret Kleiner grüner Ballon [Small Green Balloon] in Krakow. and a student of Gyzis, came to rent the studio and saw the image, he immediately recognized it and asked to keep it in the apartment. Anna May rejected the offer, and Rychter ended up making a small replica of the original work (Hauschka 1975:188). Interestingly enough, a strong erotic relationship blossomed out from this fortuitous event, although it was strongly opposed by Anna May’s parents, since they were strong Catholics and Rychter was a staunch Theosophist. We may thus surmise that it was after having indoctrinated Anna May in Theosophy that Rychter, in the first months of 1910, moved to Berlin to attend some lectures by Rudolf Steiner. It should have been at that time that Rychter drew Steiner’s attention to the Greek painter (Petritakis 2016:84-85). Furthermore, there is evidence that, around 1910, a copy of the Bridegroom decorated the premises of the Munich branch of the Theosophical Society and was well liked by its members (Bracker 2004:61).

During 1907 and 1910, Anna May, as well as Rychter, worked as set designers for Steiner’s Mystery Plays in Munich, that is, around the time Steiner delivered a lecture on Gyzis to the Munich Theosophical society (Levy 2003). Furthermore, May received a commission from Steiner for a painting that would adorn the Johannesbau in Munich, a forerunner of the Goetheanum Steiner would later build in Dornach, near Basel, Switzerland, as the world headquarters of Anthroposophy (Zander 2007:819). It was conceived as a triptych that should depict the different stages of mystical Christianity, from Solomon as its precursor through the Holy Grail and up to Rosicrucianism. The work was reminiscent in many ways of Gyzis’s late religious projects, especially in terms of symbolism and compositional arrangement (Petritakis 2014). It is, however, preserved to us only through a transparency kept by May’s niece (Hauschka 1975), since the original painting, once in the Hamburger Waldorfschule, the Anthroposophical high school in Hamburg, was destroyed during the bombings in the Second World War (Hauschka 1975:187). [Image at right] In February 1918, May exhibited the triptych in the Munich gallery Das Reich, run by Anthroposophist and alchemist Alexander von Bernus (1880-1965), and later, the same year, in the Glaspalast, under the last name May-Kerpen (Petritakis 2016:84-85). In 1924, after receiving a commission from the publishing house “Christliche Kunst,” Rychter moved with Anna May, now his wife, to Palestine. In 1939, Rychter’s traces were lost soon after he was commissioned to restore a church near Radom, in Poland. Apparently, he was murdered by the Nazis in 1943 (Levy 2003; Bracker 2004:62). Thereafter, Anna May lived, as a kind of “recluse,” in a small Arabian house, which soon became the first Anthroposophical centre in Palestine, a meeting hub for foreigners and friends (Gottlieb 1954:128-29). Anna May cultivated limited contacts with other Anthroposophists, most of them Jewish expatriates from Central Europe. These included Eva Levy from Vienna (born Eva Rosenberg, 1924-2011), who later, in 1942, got married to the prominent Anthroposophist and pioneer of Zionist movement, Michael Levy (1913-1998), or architect Bruno Eljahu Friedjung, born also in Vienna, in 1906 (Bracker 2004:62).

Before departing with Rychter to Palestine, Anna May was tightly associated with the Künstlergruppe Aenigma, to which both she and Rychter adhered. This group, which exhibited collectively between 1918 and 1932, was founded by Maria Strakosch-Giesler (1877-1970), a former Kandinsky student, and Irma von Duczyńska (1869-1932), both of whom had received an academic art education and were ardent feminists with avant-garde tendencies (Fäth 2015). Gyzis’s work was also very well known to the artists’ group Aenigma, which was mainly steered by Rudolf Steiner and whose members were attendants of his lectures and followers of his ideas.

After Gyzis’s death, Rudolf Steiner, then a leader of the German Theosophical Society, began associating with contemporary art groups and was eager to introduce his ideas on art to young art students who attended his lectures, thereby finding a way to legitimize his activities within the German society. The International Theosophical Congress he organized in Munich in 1907 (May 18-21) was attended by 600 people, most of whom were coming from German-speaking countries, England, France, and America but also from Russia and Scandinavia (Zander 2007:1067-076).

In 1910, Rudolf Steiner presented before the members of the Theosophical Society in Munich the mystery drama by French Theosophist Édouard Schuré (1841-1929), The Children of Lucifer, as well as his own Rosicrucian play The Portal of Initiation (Zander 1998). On August 25, he delivered his lecture on Gyzis. Steiner’s lecture on Gyzis is important, as it was the first time that Steiner thought so highly of a contemporary painter that he dedicated a whole lecture to him. He even ordered a photographic reproduction of the painting to be made in smaller format, which is now preserved in the Steiner Archive in Dornach (Petritakis 2016:84). It seems that Gyzis’s paintings reaped much admiration among the friends of Steiner (who later formed the Anthroposophical community), most of all Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh, to which Steiner predominately dedicated his lecture. Steiner named the painting “Through the light, the love” [Aus dem Lichte, die Liebe]. He was in that way pointing towards an Eastern Christological doctrine, closely related to the idea of Sobornost, which had been widely disseminated in Symbolist circles, most notably in those around Russian philosopher Vyacheslav Ivanov (1866-1949) and composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) (Petritakis 2018).

In his lecture, Steiner drew the audience’s attention to the two cosmic spheres that glow in the upper part of Gyzis’s scene, aptly correlating them with the genesis scene by Michelangelo (1475-1564) in the Cappella Sistina in Rome. Furthermore, he argued that the scene echoes the moment at which the new God hovers above to create the world, whereas the old God departs leaving behind demolished shells of the old realm (Steiner 1953). At this time, Steiner’s approach was taking a turn towards more esoteric-Christian ideas. As Max Gümbel-Seiling (1879-1967), a member of the German Theosophical Society and later of the Anthroposophical Society (who had contributed to the preparation of the Mystery Plays in Munich during that Summer) recalled, Steiner imbued the two spheres of the painting with a further cosmological meaning. He argued that, in Blavatskyan terms, the ancient planet on the left of the scene echoes the astronomical period of Manvantara (manifestation) and the new one on the right, the period of Pralaya (retraction) (Gümbel-Seiling 1946:53; Petritakis 2016:87).

Elsewhere in his lecture, Steiner emphasized the use of gold-hued color over the faces and swords of the angels, regarding it as a manifestation of the radiation emanating from the “Spirit of Elohim.” He connected the indigo-blue color with rapt devotion and humility and red with chastity. Since the German Theosophists’ aesthetic predilections were leaning more towards the Madonnas of Raphael (1483-1520), Steiner admonished his audience not to be taken aback by the sketch-like, vaporous coloring of the painting (Steiner 1953:424). This remark is important, since it indicates that Steiner was leaving behind traditional Rosicrucian tropes and engaging in more experimental, one could even say, more avant-garde pursuits. Similarly, in his lectures on art in Dornach, Steiner would elaborate further on the relationship between blue-indigo, which has a centrifugal quality, and yellow-orange, which is centripetal (Petritakis 2014). Artist Maria Strakosch-Giesler recalled how Steiner demonstrated this use of blue-indigo in a series of examples, from Cimabue (ca. 1240-1302) and Giotto (1267-1337) to Filippo Lippi (1406-1469) (Strakosch-Giesler 1955:29; Petritakis 2014).

Perhaps it was precisely Steiner’s encounter with Gyzis’s images that prompted him to conceive or express his new ideas on art theory, rooted mainly in the legacy of German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) (Halfen 2007). Steiner promoted these ideas in the contemporary artistic milieu, in a crucial period of his life when he tried to separate from the occult and aesthetic ideas of international Theosophical leader Annie Besant (1847-1933) and to better adapt to the historical transformations of German society (Petritakis 2013). The reactualization of Goethe’s Farbenlehre (theory of colors) as a “historical necessity” for young artists, firmly indicated by the example of Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), who himself attended Steiner’s lectures and who acknowledged the influence of Theosophy in his seminal theoretical work Concerning the Spiritual in Art, coincided with the revival of esoteric Christianity promoted by the future founder of Anthroposophy (Petritakis 2013, 2016).


**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1: Nikolaos Gyzis in his studio in the 1890s. Photo by Elias van Bommel.

Image #2: Nikolaos Gyzis, Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh (preparatory sketch, 1899-1900). Oil drawing on canvas, Athens, National Gallery, inv. Π.574/4.

Image #3: Nikolaos Gyzis, Behold the Bridegroom Cometh (preparatory sketch, 1899-1900). Oil drawing on canvas, Athens, National Gallery, inv. Π.574/1.

Image #4: Nikolaos Gyzis, Archangel (study from the The Foundation of Faith), ca. 1894. Oil drawing on canvas, Athens, Benaki Museum, inv. ΓΕ _24317.

Image #5: Nikolaos Gyzis, Behold, the Bridegroom Cometh (1899-1900). Oil on canvas, Athens, National Gallery, inv. Π.641.

Image #6: Nikolaos Gyzis, Fall of Satan (?), 1890-1900. Indian ink on photographic foil, Athens, National Gallery, inv. Π.628/17.

Image #7: Nikolaos Gyzis, frontispiece depicting the Fame, for the periodical Über Land und Meer (1895).

Image #8: Anna May-Rychter, The Triptych of Grail, transparency preserved by Margarita Hauschka (the original is now lost). Rudolf Steiner Archive, Goetheanum, Dornach.


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Post Date:
17 April 2017


Florence Houteff


1919 (May 7):  Florence Marcella Hermanson was born.

1935 (May 19):  The Hermanson family moved with Victor Houteff to Mount Carmel, near Waco, Texas.

1937 (January 1):  Florence and Victor Houteff married.

1955 (February 5):  Victor Houteff died and Florence became Vice-President of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.

1955 (November 9):  Florence announced the start of the period leading to the establishment of the Davidian Kingdom.

1959 (April):  Florence announced that a “solemn assembly” would take place later that month and that the faithful were to gather by April 16 to prepare for the great events that were to occur.

1959 (April 22):  A date set for the resurrection of Victor Houteff and war in the Middle East. About a thousand Davidians gathered at New Mount Carmel for Passover to witness the event.

1960 (December):  Florence declared that the message of the Shepherd’s Rod, a publication started by Victor in 1929, was to go to all Protestant Christians and not be restricted to Seventh-day Adventists.

1962 (March 1):  Florence Houteff formally resigned as Vice-President of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.

2008 (September 14):  Florence Marcella Hermanson Eakin died. Her grave is located at Evergreen Cemetery in Vancouver, Washington.


Relatively little is known regarding the life of Florence Houteff (née Hermanson) other than that which can be gleaned from sources that have her husband, Victor Houteff (1885–1955), founder of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, as their principal subject. [Image at right] This presents a problem of perspective. Nevertheless, there are some biographical details that are helpful to report here. Florence was born in 1919, the daughter of Eric and Sopha Hermanson and sister to Thomas Oliver Hermanson. Members of the Hermanson family were among the very earliest converts to the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, a group from which the later Branch Davidians were to emerge. According to a census return dated 1940, Sopha, Thomas Oliver and Florence Hermanson/Houteff were already residing at the Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas in 1935, with their earlier place of residence listed as Los Angeles. These details are in full accord with the wider reconstructed narrative of the beginnings of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists given in secondary sources. Newport, for example, provides evidence that Florence was among the very first group of Davidians to move from California to Texas, a trip that commenced on May 19, 1935 (Newport 2006a:57). Florence’s actual place of birth is listed as Wisconsin. This same census record lists Florence as being the wife of Victor, which makes the reported date of January 1, 1937 entirely plausible (Newport 2006a:58).

Florence Houteff is mentioned several times in what is undoubtedly one of the most important sources for the study of early Davidians, the memoirs of George Saether located at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and a good insight into the life, thought, and times of Florence can be gained from a study of that material (Saether 1977). As first a Hermanson and then a Houteff, Florence assumed a central role during a period of around twenty years, that is, from her arrival at Mount Carmel to the death of Victor in 1955.

It was upon her husband’s death, however, that Florence Houteff really came to the fore when she became the leader of movement. Her ascendency in 1955 was not uncontested however; there were at least three other contenders, including the later founder of the Branch Davidians, Ben Roden (1902–1978) (Newport 2006a:96). Florence occupied the leadership position until her resignation in March 1962. That resignation, which was not Florence’s alone but that of the entire executive council, marked the breakup of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists into several splinter groups, one of which was to become the Branch Davidians (see further Newport 2006b). Little is known of Florence following this key event. However, it is clear that at some point she married Carl Levi Eakin (1910–1998), whose grave, like that of Florence Marcella Hermanson Eakin, is located at Evergreen Memorial Gardens in Vancouver, Washington. [Image at right] The date of Florence’s death is given as September 14, 2008.


As a core member of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, and indeed the wife of the movement’s founder and president, Florence’s conceptual and theological framework would have encompassed the broader, and complex, understanding of the world that marked out the Davidian movement as a whole. This ground has already been covered elsewhere in some considerable detail (Newport 2006a; Adair 1997 ). By far the most distinctive aspect of Florence’s thought came in response to the crisis within the movement that came about as a result of Victor Houteff’s death in 1955. The innovation was the now widely known prediction of Florence that Victor was to be raised from the dead, not at some indefinite point in the future but, rather, on April 22, 1959. As always there was concern to show that this expectation and date were rooted in the scriptures, and while the precise details of the interpretative process that was put in place to demonstrate the veracity of the claim are obscure, it seems fairly certain that the period of forty-two months or 1,260 days mentioned in the book of Revelation (11:3; 12:6; 13:5) was the bedrock (Newport 2006a:97–100).

Florence claimed that this period was very much on Victor Houteff’s mind during his last few days and that he had confirmed that the fulfilment of the prophecy was yet to occur, at least in what he called antitype. This use of type/antitype relates to a rather complex approach to prophetic interpretation of biblical texts, which was key to the Davidian movement, and, indeed, to the Seventh-day Adventist tradition as a whole. When this period was thought to have started is unclear, but it cannot have been on the day of Victor’s death, which would have yielded the date of July 19, 1958 for the fulfilment of the passing of 1,260 days. April 22, 1959 is itself important as it was Passover in that year, and the Jewish festivals had long been an important part of Davidian belief and practice. If the culmination of the period was to fall on that date, the prophetic stopwatch should have been started on November 9, 1955 (Victor had died in March of that year). In fact, it was on November 9 that Florence announced in the Davidian publication The Symbolic Code : “We’ve now entered these [1,260] days.” There is evidence to suggest that Florence had delayed the announcement until then so as to have the completion of the period fall during the Passover season (Newport 2006a:99). The end of this period would see the fulfilment of the prophecy in Joel 2:15, which speaks of a “solemn assembly” that is to take place. Florence set this out in The Symbolic Code of April 1959. Davidians were to gather by April 16 for preliminary meetings and then to attend the solemn assembly in order to prepare themselves for the major events that were then to take place (Adair 1997:206–07).

The expectation of the resurrection of Victor Houteff was part of a much wider set of beliefs concerning the events that would occur at the appointed time. Helpfully these were set out in a press release some time shortly before April 22. Specific mention of Houteff’s resurrection is noticeable by its absence, though other sources make it reasonably certain that the Davidians were expecting such a resurrection to take place. What is outlined is fairly standard Davidian belief: there would be war in the Middle East that would render the land of Israel largely empty of inhabitants. Concurrent with this, the Seventh-day Adventist Church would be cleansed (this involved a literal slaughter of those who had not been true to their professed faith it seems), and any that remain, including the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, would be called by God to inhabit the land of Israel and set up the new Davidian Kingdom, that is, the new literal latter-day Kingdom of David. In fact, nothing much happened.

Failed prophecies punctuate the history of many such groups, of course. However, it is worthy of note that following the non-event of April 22, 1959, Florence eventually took a step that few others in her position have ever taken: she admitted that she had been wrong. The re-evalution of the prophecy was not instantaneous, but it eventually did come. The key date here is March 1, 1962 when Florence submitted her resignation as Vice-President of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. And it was not just Florence who resigned but rather the whole of the executive council. The details of the letter of resignation are particularly illuminating: there is a candid expression of fundamental doubt in the teachings of the movement and even of the much earlier prophetess of Seventh-day Adventism, Ellen Gould Harmon White (Newport 2006a:108-10). Florence’s days as a member of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists were over. She then largely disappeared from view and little is known about her activities over the next four decades leading up to her death in 2008.


The wider Seventh-day Adventist movement from which the Davidians arose retained two aspects of Judaism that are largely absent from the rest of the Christian tradition. These are the observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, which is kept as a day of rest and not just the day upon which church is attended; and the abstaining from unclean meats. From the outset Victor Houteff established even stronger continuity between the beliefs and practices found in the Hebrew scriptures and those of the New Testament. The type/antitype framework was key to this continuity. Such a framework suggests something of a chiastic structure to the progress of God’s people whereby what was true at the beginning (the type) will be true at the end (the antitype). This framework was core to the Davidian tradition. Indeed, Houteff went so far as to say, “where there is no type there is no truth” (Newport 2006a:77). The most obvious example here is that just as there was a literal King David in “type” and that king ruled over a literal kingdom in Israel, so in antitype there will be a literal King David who again will rule over a kingdom in Israel. This belief supplies the name of this movement: the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. Consequently, practices such as the paying of the second tithe, restrictions regarding diet, observance of the seventh-day Sabbath, and other examples of the Davidians’ constant attempt to live out what many others in the Christian tradition take to be part of the “Old” Testament that was done away with in the New Testament form a regular part of the narrative that describes day-to-day life at the Davidians’ Mount Carmel Center under Florence Houteff.

It was aspects of this type/antitype framework that provided the group, including Florence, with a number of rituals and practices, the most obvious of which was the attempt to gather together the inhabitants of the new Endtime Davidian kingdom, an activity which dominated much of Davidian collective life. Again, Saether’s memoirs are well worth a careful read in this context. An additional very good insight is provided by Mary Power in a Master’s thesis submitted to Baylor University in 1940. The date of Power’s thesis and the work that it contains is obviously important in the context of seeking to understand the form, content, and nature of the beliefs and practices among the early Davidians, including Florence Houteff. What is particularly helpful is that Power’s work is based upon a number of visits she made to the community together with discussions that took place between Power and some members of the early Davidian community and a doctor, not a Davidian, who had a good first-hand knowledge of the Davidian group. Among the practices upon which Power reports are the precise nature of Sabbath observance, which included some preparatory fasting in order to clear the mind for focused Bible study. She also reports how group members were strict vegetarians, but not vegans, and always prepared food in the simplest possible manner. There was a dress code in place and women all had long hair as this was God’s will. The community developed its own system of currency. Dancing, “common literature,” attending the theater, using tobacco, wearing gold, or dressing in expensive clothing were all banned. Even married women wore no ring. Power also had a useful chapter on marriage and the family. One cannot say to what extent Florence was responsible for the development of such practices as those outlined by Power, but that she was one of the original members of the community and was compliant with them seems relatively certain.


Florence Houteff seems to have played an important role within the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist tradition almost from its outset. As such her name appears on a range of primary documents coming from this period of the group’s history, copies of most of which are held at Baylor University, Waco, Texas. She is, for example, named as an appointed trustee of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists in a document dated August 15, 1949.

As noted above, Florence took on the key leadership position within the group following the death of her husband. It was her
claim that on his deathbed Victor had specifically named her as the chosen successor, a claim that was reinforced by Florence’s brother Thomas Oliver Hermanson. There appear to have been no further witnesses to Victor’s words on this matter, and unsurprisingly it was challenged by some others within the movement, particularly by those who harbored ambition for the highest office themselves. In the end, however, since no one else was able to produce evidence either that Florence had not been so designated or that another claimant had a better case, Florence was appointed to the Vice-Presidency of the group. Victor Houteff’s actual post of President was not again filled as it was one to which only God could appoint.

Florence Houteff set about seeking to stabilize the group and there can be no doubt that the focus of the 1,260-day prophecy achieved this to some measure. By November 1955 the group had a very clear sense of destiny, and the clear and precise expectation regarding the importance of the date April 22, 1959. Even if the precise events of that day were not at first outlined in detail, they nevertheless provided a rallying call and sense of urgency. The task of calling the faithful to gather in preparation for the move to Israel had been central to Davidianism from its inception, but in the year or two before Victor’s death it had taken on very specific focus. Indeed, it was in order to support the work of unprecedented evangelism that the process of selling the original Mount Carmel property in Waco and moving to a much less favorable, and therefore less expensive, site close to Elk, Texas, some twelve miles out of Waco began. The sale was underway prior to Florence taking up the leadership (Adair 1997:175–77), and it was this “New Mount Carmel,” as it became known, that was the site of the Branch Davidians’ conflict with federal agents and resulting fire in 1993; though by then it had itself been reduced through sales to less than 10 percent of its original size.

Florence Houteff’s renewed emphasis on calling out of the Seventh-day Adventist Church all who would listen and encouraging them to gather at New Mount Carmel for April 22, 1959 evidently met with some considerable success. Various first-hand reports of the events surrounding the expected date give a sense of the excitement and scale of the gathering, with estimates reaching a thousand or more persons turning up to witness the resurrection of Victor Houteff and the coming about of the latter-day Davidian Kingdom. In the aftermath of the non-events of that date, Florence rather unwisely sought to widen the call to belief to any who would listen rather than limiting the call to existing members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church alone. The message was communicated to the community in a publication of The Symbolic Code during December 1960 (Adair 1997:222). This widening of the potential pool of recruits was probably a mistake in that it had the effect of introducing into the theological equation a previously unknown factor and, in reality, flew in the face of what Victor himself had always proclaimed, namely that the Davidian message was for Seventh-day Adventists only. Such a significant departure from the teachings of the founder whose life and message was still very much a live memory in the minds of many of the Davidians was a significant gamble (Adair 1997:222–23).


Ultimately Florence Houteff’s leadership of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists ended in failure. It was, however, perhaps an inevitable one. The unexpected death of Victor Houteff was the event that opened up the path to leadership, but with that opportunity there came the need to address both theological and practical challenges, and on neither count was Florence really able to deliver. The setting of the April 22, 1959 date bought her some time, but it was not a permanent solution. The story of what eventually came about during the troubled years of 1959–1962 has been told before (Adair 1997), and need not be repeated here in any detail. In essence, following the resignation of Florence and the whole Davidian executive council, the movement was wound up and its assets put into the hands of a receiver. Following a decade of legal wrangling, the New Mount Carmel property near Elk, Texas passed into the hands of Ben Roden, founder of the Branch Davidians, but this is only one part of the fragmentation. Even before the resignations of 1962, one sizeable group (about 100) had moved back to Riverside, California, where the substantial Seventh-day Adventist presence provided an opportunity for evangelism. The Riverside Davidian group was soon to split further and then, in 1978, to split again. Similarly, by 1961 Ben Roden had already had some success in establishing the “Branch” trajectory, based in Waco though not on the New Mount Carmel site to begin with. It is of course tempting to see the Branch Davidian group as the successors of the Houteffs, but geographical continuity masks major theological divergence. Another Davidian group existing still to this day in Waco, though returning there only after periods in Jamaica and New York, has a better claim to continuity with the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists of Victor and Florence Houteff. Remarkably, it has managed to gain ownership of some property located on the site of the original Mount Carmel, which Houteff’s early community had occupied in 1935. From 1962, however, Florence Houteff was to play no further part in the Davidian story.

Image #1: Photograph of Florence Houteff with Victor (date unknown).
Image #2: Photograph of Florence Marcella Hermanson Eakin’s grave.
Image #3: Photograph of Florence Houteff.


Adair, Don. 1997. A Davidian Testimony. Privately published.

Hibbert, A. Anthony. 2000. Before the Flames: Story of David Koresh and the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. New York: Seaburn Publishing.

Newport, Kenneth G. C. 2006a. The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Newport, Kenneth G. C. 2006b. “The Davidian Seventh-day Adventists and Millennial Expectation, 1959–2004.” Pp. 131-46 in Expecting the End: Millennialism in Social and Historical Context, edited by Kenneth G. C. Newport and Crawford Gribben. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

Pitts, William. 1995. “Davidians and Branch Davidians: 1929-1987.” Pp. 20-42 in Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict, edited by Stuart A. Wright. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Saether, George William. 1977. “Oral Memoirs of George William Saether, July 12, 1973–June 30, 1975.” Religion and Culture Project. Baylor University Program for Oral History. Accessed from on 10 April 2017.

Power, Mary Elizabeth. 1940. “A Study of the Seventh-day Adventist Community, Mount Carmel Center, Waco, Texas.” M.A. Thesis, Baylor University.

Post Date:
15 April 2017



Jean Delville


1867 (January 19):  Jean Delville was born in Louvain, Belgium.

1879:  Delville enrolled in the evening classes at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts.

1886:  Delville made his first trip to Paris, where he met the esoteric masters Papus and Péladan, and the occult novelist Villiers de l’Isle-Adam.

1887:  Delville had his first exhibition, with the art group L’Essor.

1887–1888:  Delville was introduced to Martinism by Papus.

1890:  Delville became a member of Kumris, which was an art salon and an occult circle at the same time.

1892:  Delville left L’Essor and created the salons Pour l’Art.

1893:  Delville published his first book, Les Horizons hantés.

1892–1894:  Delville participated in the first four Salons Rose+Croix.

1895:  Delville established a salon for an “Idealist art,” in Brussels.

1895:  Delville received the Belgian Prix de Rome for painting.

1897:  Delville painted his first masterpiece, The School of Plato.

1897:  Delville published Le Frisson du Sphinx.

1899:  Delville became a member of the Theosophical Society, Belgian section.

1900:  Delville published The New Mission of Art.

1903:  Delville was initiated into Freemasonry at the lodge Les Amis Philanthropes (Grand Orient of Brussels).

1900–1907:  Delville painted his masterpieces The God-Man, Love of Souls, and Prometheus.

1914–1918:  Delville lived in exile in London, where he became Worshipful Master of the King Albert lodge of Freemasonry.

1925–1925:  Delville was very active as a propagandist for Krishnamurti in Belgium.

1930:  Delville broke with the Theosophical Society; met Émilie Leclercq.

1931–1947:  Having left his family, Delville set in Mons (Belgium) with Émilie Leclercq.

1931–1944:  In Mons, Delville lived several years of heightened artistic activity, with his palette now tinged by the Art Deco style.

1937:  Delville ended his long career as an academic and professor at the Belgian Academy of Fine Arts.

1942:  Delville wrote his libretto for an opera, Zanoni, le Rose+Croix, with ten drawings.

1947:  Delville completed his painting Vision de la paix, his esoteric testament.

1947:  Delville separated from Émilie Leclercq and returned to his family home.

1953 (January 19):  Delville passed away on the very day of his eighty-sixth birthday in the Forest municipality of Brussels, Belgium.


Asked about Jean Delville (1867-1953), [Image at right] many contemporary Belgians would simply answer: “Delville, never heard of him!” However, when paintings such as the Portrait of Madame Stuart Merrill (now at the Brussels Museum of Fine Arts), The School of Plato (at Paris’ Musée d’Orsay), or The Love of Souls (at the Museum of Ixelles, Brussels), are mentioned, many would recognize them as iconic symbolist works. His works survive, and position Delville among the great symbolist painters. But Delville the man has disappeared and his works, in a way, have been taken hostage by critics in such a way as to make their author invisible. In part, Delville himself is to blame: a brilliant artist and intellectual, but difficult in person, he was known to practice “the delicate art of making enemies.” His family and descendants also shoulder some of the blame, having fashioned a sanitized, official version of his tumultuous life, which cared little for his esoteric inclinations and glossed over him leaving his family at the age of sixty-seven to live with a young student, Émilie Leclercq (1904-1992).

Delville’s life and career are strongly marked by his esoteric interests as a Theosophist, Martinist, and Freemason. He was born in Louvain, Belgium, on January 19, 1867. His family subsidized his evening classes at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts, where he got his diploma in 1887. He led a charmed life, having by the tender age of twenty produced such masterpieces as L’Homme aux corbeaux, recently rediscovered in the dusty archives of the Belgian Royal Library [Image at right]. Still in his youth, he collaborated with L’Essor, one of the best-known art salons in Belgium. In 1892, he established in Brussels his own salon, Pour l’Art, followed in 1895 by a new salon, devoted to what he called “Idealist art.” In the same year 1895, he won the prestigious Prix de Rome in the category of painting. In 1897, he produced his first masterpiece, The School of Plato [Image at right]. He also published books, both of esoteric poetry and about art, starting with Les Horizons hantés in 1893 (Delville 1893) and Le Frisson du Sphinx in 1897 (Delville 1897), and culminating in 1900 with The New Mission of Art (Delville 1900), published with a preface by the famous Theosophist Édouard Schuré (1841-1929) and translated into English in 1910 (Delville 1910).

Meanwhile, Delville had rapidly found himself drawn towards occultism. After a trip to Paris in 1886, where he had also met the symbolist writer Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (1838-1889), whose interests for the occult were well-known, he started meeting frequently with the famous esoteric author Papus (Gérard Encausse, 1865-1916). Papus would go on to found modern Martinism, before befriending the no-less celebrated Joséphin Péladan (1858-1918), Papus’ associate and later rival in the revival of Rosicrucianism. Péladan would introduce Delville to his Salons Rose+Croix, establishing a privileged relationship from the outset, with the Belgian more the disciple of the French esoteric master than his collaborator. Delville managed to maintain a good relation with both Papus and Péladan even after the two French esoteric leaders became bitter rivals, and in 1890 became amember of Kumris (or Kvmris), the Belgian branch of Papus’ French Groupe indépendant d’études ésotériques, and an organization that was an art salon and an occult circle at the same time.

Esotericism and aestheticism constantly overlapped in the work and private life of Delville [Image at right]. Having become “Superior Unknown,” the highest degree among the Martinists, Delville would also attain the highest distinctions in Freemasonry, where he had been initiated in 1903, becoming Worshipful Master of two prestigious lodges: King Albert in London, during the First World War, and Les Amis Philanthropes in Brussels, during the 1920s. Yet, Delville was above all a Theosophist, a cause for which he would push himself to the edge.

All of Delville’s paintings (as well as his many poems), including his masterpieces painted between1900 and 1907, such as The God-Man, Love of Souls [Image at right], and Prometheus, were inspired by the occult, from his artistic subjects to the form, colors and symbols he used. Symbolism in general combined aesthetics and esotericism, particularly in France and Belgium. Jean Delville became one of its main representatives, along with the other Belgian symbolists, such as Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921) and Félicien Rops (1833-1898), and the French painters, particularly influenced by Theosophy and Schuré, known as the Nabis.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the period of 1890-1914 constituted the most fruitful time of Delville’s artistic career. The First World War inspired some notable patriotic works, although they are seen today as being fairly kitsch. The painter had joined the Theosophical Society in 1899, quickly becoming its main leader in Belgium. The post-war period, until the start of the 1930s, saw Delville dropping his paintbrushes and mobilizing his body and soul for the young Indian Brahmin Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), chosen by the Theosophical Society as the World Teacher, the “New Christ,” and groomed as such. The intellectually brilliant and highly cultivated Delville would dedicate himself fully to this improbable cause, through books, journals, articles and conferences (Delville 1913; 1925; 1928) [Image at right]. This would go on until Krishnamurti reached adulthood and disavowed his role in 1929, by declaring that he was neither the World Teacher nor a new Christ. For Delville, this marked a defeat, depression, and rupture.

As this rupture, which led to Delville’s separation from the Theosophical Society in 1930, was unfolding, the painter met Émilie Leclercq, one of his students at the Academy of Fine Arts. They soon started a relationship that was to last fifteen years. The painter left his family and went to live with Émilie in Mons, Belgium. Before meeting Leclercq, Delville was dominant, a leader, a chief. With Émilie [Image at right], he entered a fresh phase of total isolation in Mons. Delville was no longer a member of any society, and apart from his continuing work as a teacher at the Belgian Academy of Fine Arts and as an art critic, he mostly focused on rebuilding himself.

It is understandable that Delville’s family would give his “Mons years” such a negative appraisal. “Nothing good would come” from them, as his son Olivier put it in the work he dedicated to his father (O. Delville 1984:43). In fact, the Mons period was a highly artistically productive one, with Delville showing extraordinary vitality in the period between his seventieth and eightieth birthdays.

He was vivacious as a professor and lecturer for the Academy of Fine Arts. Seventeen of his twenty-three lectures, all published in the Academy’s bulletins, were written in Mons. As a painter, he also remained very active, rediscovering his creativity and producing some inspired Art Deco works, which today come as a surprise for those who know Delville when they learn of them, only because they were so neglected. In Mons [Image at right], Delville would produce several masterpieces in terms of the talent imbued in them and their scope, particularly the superb Roue du Monde, which is the property of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, although unfortunately preserved in its reserve rather than displayed. As a citizen, too, he showed vivaciousness as a resistant against the occupying German forces, releasing deliberately contrarian works under the Nazis’ very noses.

In Mons, Delville would also write a sort of libretto for an opera: Zanoni, le Rose+Croix, which was based on the Rosicrucian novel by the British novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873). It was previously thought to have been written by the artist in the early twentieth century, since the initial idea dated to this period; however, it was in fact completed in Mons. This important work consists of a long explicatory note of the author’s esoteric motives, a manuscript of 150 pages, and ten drawings that constituted part of the designs for a theatrical presentation of the work (see Frongia 1984; Guéguen 2016, 2017). It was also in Mons that Delville would write a sort of catalogue raisonné of his work (with a photo album filled with shots taken under very difficult conditions during the war) with the intention of eventually publishing a more complete edition. In this task, he was assisted by the young René Harvent (1925-2004), who would become a renowned sculptor. Harvent observed Delville’s paintings in his workshop every day and took notes. In 1944, he watched him painting his famous Portrait of Madame Stuart Merrill, which the official biographies of Delville, as well as the Brussels Museum of Fine Arts, date back to 1892. Not so, claimed Harvent: it was painted in front of him in 1944 (note in the René Harvent archive, reproduced in Guéguen 2016:214).

In 1947, Delville separated from Émilie Leclercq and returned to his family home in Brussels. In the same year, he completed his lastgreat work, Vision de la paix, a highly symbolic painting that can be considered his esoteric testament [Image at right]. Delville passed away on January 19, 1953, on the day of his eighty-sixth birthday in the Forest municipality of Brussels, Belgium.

The greatest exhibitions of Delville’ works, featuring most of his masterpieces [Image at right], were organized in the twenty-first century (Laoureux 2014; Larvová 2015). A true academic study of Derville also started fairly recently (see Cole 2015), particularly with respect to his connections with Theosophy and esotericism (Clerbois 2012; Gautier 2011; Gautier 2012; Introvigne 2014; Guéguen 2016, 2017). Further studies on Delville the poet, Delville the musician, and Delville the art critic would hopefully follow.

**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1: Henri van Haelen (1876-1944), Portrait of Jean Delville, 1925. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

Image #2: Jean Delville, L’Homme aux corbeaux (Man with Crows), 1888. Charcoal drawing. Royal Library of Belgium, Brussels.

Image #3: Jean Delville, L’École de Platon, 1897. Oil on canvas. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

Image #4: Jean Delville, L’Homme-Dieu (The God-Man) 1901-1903. Oil on canvas. Groeninge Museum, Bruges.

Image #5: Jean Delville, L’Amour des âmes (Love of Souls), 1900. Tempera and gouache on canvas. Ixelles Museum. Brussels.

Image #6: Jean Delville, Krishnamurti. Ink on paper. 1929.

Image #7: Émilie Leclerq, Portrait de Jean Delville, 1940.

Image #8: Jean Delville, Vision de la paix. 1947. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

Image #9: Jean Delville, Prometheus, 1907. Oil on canvas. Université libre de Bruxelles, Brussels.


Clerbois Sébastien. 2012. L’Ésotérisme et Le Symbolisme Belge. Antwerp: Éditions Pandora.

Cole Brendan. 2015. Jean Delville: Art between Nature and the Absolute. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Delville, Jean. 1928. Krishnamurti, révélateur des temps nouveaux. Brussels: Imprimerie de l’Office de Publicité.

Delville, Jean. 1925. La Grande Hiérarchie Occulte et la Venue d’un Instructeur Mondial. Brussels: Les Presses Tilbury.

Delville, Jean. 1913. Le Christ reviendra. Le Christ Futur en Face de L’Église et de la science. Paris: Les Éditions Théosophiques.

Delville, Jean. 1910. The New Mission of Art: A Study of Idealism in Art. Translated by Francis Colmer. London: Francis Griffiths.

Delville, Jean. 1900. La Mission de l’Art. Étude d’Esthétique Idéaliste. Brussels: G. Balat.

Delville, Jean. 1897. Le Frisson du Sphinx. Brussels: H. Lamertin.

Delville, Jean. 1893. Les Horizons Hantés. Brussels: P. Lacomblez.

Delville Olivier. 1984. Jean Delville, Peintre 1867-1953. Brussels. Éditions Laconti.

Frongia, Maria Luisa. 1984. “I Bozzetti di Jean Delville per Le Scene del Dramma Lirico Inedito Zanoni. Storia dell’arte 51: 137-51.

Gautier, Flaurette. 2012. “Jean Delville et L’occulture Fin de Siècle.” Master II Dissertation. Tours: Université François Rabelais.

Gautier, Flaurette. 2011. “L’Écriture Artiste de Jean Delville (1888-1900).” Master Dissertation. Tours: Université François Rabelais.

Guéguen Daniel. 2017. Jean Delville: The True Story . English Edition. Paris: Éditions Liénart.

Guéguen, Daniel. 2016. Jean Delville. La Contre-Histoir. Paris: Éditions Liénart.

Introvigne Massimo. 2014. “Zöllner’s Knot: Theosophy, Jean Delville (1867-1953), and the Fourth Dimension.” Theosophical History 17:84-118.

Laoureux, Denis, ed. 2014. Jean Delville (1867–1953), Maître de L’idéal. Paris: Somogy and Namur: Musée Felicien-Rops.

Larvová, Hana, ed. 2015. Jean Delville 1867-1953. Prague: Prague City Gallery and Namur: Musée Félicien Rops.

Post Date:
5 April 2017


Marina Abramovic


1946 (November 30): Marina Abramović was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (present-day Serbia).

1965: Abramović began her studies at the Academy of Visual Arts in Belgrade. She also read esoteric literature, in particular by H.P. Blavatsky, and books by Mircea Eliade.

1974: Abramović performed Rhythm 5 (originally The Star of Fire) in the Student Cultural Centre in Belgrade.

1975: Abramović met the German artist Ulay, with whom she lived and worked until 1988. In their art, the couple explored inter alia alchemical ideas about the hermaphrodite.

1980/1981: Abramović and Ulay spent six months in the Australian outback, meeting local Aborigines.

1981: Abramović and Ulay started their year-long series of performances titled Nightsea Crossing, in which they expressed their interest in “perennial wisdom” as the common esoteric core of different spiritual and religious traditions.

1988: Abramović and Ulay ended their relationship. Abramović started producing Transitory objects with crystals and magnets, whose stated purpose was to help her audience to reach a “higher level of consciousness.”

1990: Abramović started her teaching career (1990-2004) at different art academies in Europe. She organized her Cleaning the House student workshops, based on exercises inspired by G.I. Gurdjieff, the Buddhist vipassana meditation, and other spiritual traditions.

2010: Abramović performed The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She sat in a chair for two and a half months, inviting the public to sit across her and engage in telepathic conversation.

2012: Abramović presented in Milan her first version of The Abramović Method, a syncretic system of exercises aimed at spiritual development.

2012/13: Abramović went on a “spiritual journey” in Brazil. She met spiritual “surgeon” and Spiritualist medium John of God, who transmitted to her a mysterious “current” to help her “raise human consciousness through art.”

2014: Abramović performed 512 Hours. During the sixty-four-day-long performance, she tried to generate a “current” with the audience through different exercises.

2015: Abramović started her “world tour” teaching The Abramović Method, presenting it in São Paulo, Sydney, and Athens.

2016: During the American presidential campaign, Abramović unexpectedly became the target of conspiracy theories claiming she was a Satanist.

2016: Abramović published her autobiographical book, Walk Through Walls: A Memoir.


Marina Abramović (b. 1946) [Image at right] is one of the international pioneers of performance and body art. Her work has often been interpreted through political and feminist lenses, while the influence of Western esotericism has not been properly discussed. However, from the very beginning, Abramović’s art has been significantly affected by the New Age and other contemporary “alternative” spiritualities. In the period of her joint work with German artist Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen, b. 1943), these esoteric pursuits became even more prominent. Later in her career, she came to present her performance art, which increasingly included the participation of the public, as a kind of spiritual practice. Eventually, she developed The Abramović Method, a syncretic mind-body-spirit training program for her followers, which drew on different sources such as New Age, the Armenian esoteric master George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866?-1949), vipassana meditation, Brazilian Spiritualism, and others.

Abramović was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (present-day Serbia), on November 30, 1946, in a family of the Communist elite. She spent her early childhood outside her parents’ house with her maternal grandmother, who was a believer of the Serbian Orthodox Church. The brother of her grandmother’s husband, Bishop Varnava Rosić (1880-1937), had been the Patriarch of the Serbian Orthodox Church between 1930 and 1937. In the literature about Abramović, including in texts written by the artist herself, it has been claimed that her great-uncle Varnava had been canonized as a saint by the Serbian Orthodox Church (Abramović 2004:36; Stiles 2008:42; Richards 2010:42), but the information is not correct. Đurić-Mišina (2009) does not mention a canonization in his extensive biography of Patriarch Varnava. I contacted Đurić-Mišina, and he confirmed that Varnava, an important figure in the history of the Serbian Orthodox Church, was neither beatified nor canonized. Abramović is not interested at all in Christianity and the Serbian Orthodox Church, but she seems to be fascinated by the idea that a member of her family had been a distinguished spiritual leader.

During her student years (1965-1970), Abramović was involved in what might be termed the Yugoslav counterculture movement. In 1968, she took part in student protests, inspired by the ideas of the New Left, but soon became disillusioned with politics. On the other hand, like many of her peers, Abramović was quite enthusiastic about what Gordan Djurdjevic called the “occult boom” in the Yugoslavia of the 1970s (Djurdjevic 2013:80). Due to her mother’s political influence in cultural circles, Marina Abramović and her brother Velimir Abramović (b. 1952), who is today a popular New Age author in Serbia, had access to the home libraries of Belgrade intellectuals, who owned important books and magazines on esotericism published in pre-socialist Yugoslavia. There were also newly published titles on the subject, like the various handbooks of occultism written by the “hermeticist” esoteric author Živorad Mihajlović Slavinski (b. 1937) (Djurdjevic 2013: 84-91). As her biographer notes, Abramović was also fascinated by the writings of the co-founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891), and of the Romanian historian of religions Mircea Eliade (1907-1986) (Westcott 2010:41-42).

When it came to art, Abramović was very impressed by German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), a member of the Anthroposophical Society, and his idea of the artist as “shaman” and “healer” of the society. When Beuys, already famous at that time, visited Belgrade in 1974 to give lectures during the art manifestation III April Meetings in the Student Cultural Center (SKC), the young Abramović “made sure to spendas much time with him as she could” (Stokić 2014). On the other hand, many New Left-oriented Yugoslav students were not at all delighted with the “preacher-shaman” Beuys and his blend of “spirituality” and Marxism (Denegri 1996:199; Lončarić 1974).

Beuys was in the audience when Abramović performed her famous Rhythm 5, initially titled The Star of Fire (Jurčić 1974; Postolović 1974), during the III April Meetings in the SKC [Image at right]. Abramović doused with gasoline and lit a big wooden construction in the shape of what was easily recognized as the petokraka (“five-pointed star of Socialism in Serbian), a symbol of the regime. Abramović cut her hair, finger and toe nails, and threw them into the fire. Then she laid down in the blazing star, thus evoking the famous drawing of a man inscribed in a pentagram, from the book by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535) De occulta philosophia (1533). Finally, she lost consciousness due to the lack of oxygen, and was saved from the flames by her colleagues.

In an interview given shortly after this performance, Abramović explained to a journalist that the shape of petokraka “corresponds to a human, because it has five points as a human does.” She also said that she was using “elements of ritual magic” (Jurčić 1974). Abramović’s biographer reports that she preferred to think of petokraka as “the pentagram of the occult” (Westcott 2010:82). Interestingly, a similar identification of petokraka with the pentagram appeared in Slavinski’s The Psychological Study of Magic (1972), republished as The Keys of Psychic Magic (1973). Slavinski, who drew on the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (Djurdjevic 2013:85-86), described in his book what he called The Ritual of Pentagram or Petokraka, where he instructed his readers to visualize a big petokraka burning with the “blue flame of blazing spirit” (Slavinski 1973:125).

Abramović used the symbol of pentagram more explicitly in her Thomas Lips (1975), performed in the Krinzinger Gallery in Innsbruck, Austria. [Image at right] The performance started with the “Eucharist,” in which she sat naked at a table, ate one jar of honey, and drank one bottle of red wine. Then she drew on the wall an inverted pentagram around the photography of Thomas Lips, a young Swiss man she wanted to seduce (Stokić 2008:42-44), cut the same inverted pentagram on her belly with a razor-blade, flagellated herself until she started to bleed, and finally “crucified” herself on a cross made of ice blocks.

In a number of English texts on Abramović, the star symbol used both in Rhythm 5 and Thomas Lips has been exclusively interpreted as the petokraka, i.e. the five-pointed star of Socialism, and its use as a “critique of Socialism’s oppressions” (Richards 2010:12). However, Yugoslavian press clippings from that time reveal that most of the young art critics were very positive in their reviews of Rhythm 5 (Jurčić 1974; Postolović 1974), and the Young Communist League of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) even bestowed an art prize to Abramović for her performance (n.a. 1975). Another wrong claim that we find in a certain literature about Abramović in English is that her flagellation and pain-enduring performances derived from the Serbian Orthodox Christian tradition (Stokić 2010:25; Biesenbach 2010:16). These claims represent an uninformed and uncritical re-interpretation of Abramović’s own narratives, mostly used for “selling” her in the West as an art product from the Balkans with both intriguing “Communist” and “Orthodox Christian” overtones (on Abramović’s “Balkanization,” see Avgita 2012).

In fact, Abramović’s usage of Christian symbols and liturgical elements is more likely to draw inspiration from the esoteric literature, including Slavinski’s The Keys of Psychic Magic. Slavinski wrote about the two powerful magical symbols, the cross and the pentagram or petokraka, and both were present in Thomas Lips. Slavinski also warned his readers not to identify the cross with Christianity, because it was used as a powerful symbol in magic since the times of the ancient Egypt, more than 4,000 years ago, long before Jesus Christ (Slavinski 1973:30). Abramović, thus, used the symbols of the cross and the pentagram or petokraka in a performance that had nothing to do with Christianity, Orthodox or else. Thomas Lips was dedicated to a young man she wanted to seduce by means of something that could well be described as ritual magic.

In 1975, Abramović met the German artist Ulay, with whom she would live and work until 1988. Before he met Abramović, Ulay had been making self-portraits dressed as half man and half woman, i.e. as a Hermaphrodite, as the title of one of his photographs from 1973 suggested. After the two artists fell in love, they continued to explore the idea of the hermaphrodite in their joint work. The fact that both had their birthdays on the same day (November 30) contributed to their esoteric belief that they represented in fact one perfect being made of two opposing principles, male and female. They explored the alchemical idea of the hermaphrodite in a series of performances in which they ran towards each other and collided at high speed (Relation in Space 1976), or spent hours with their long hairs tied together (Relation in Time 1977). [Image at right] In one interview from that time, Abramović said: “I feel the perfect human being is a hermaphrodite, because it’s half man, half woman, yet it’s a complete universe” (Kontova 1978:43).

In 1980/1981, the two artists spent six months in the Australian outback. They encountered local Aborigines, which revived Abramović’s old fascination with Eliade’s descriptions of shamans and their rituals. In this period, the couple also submitted to hypnosis, studied Buddhism, and visited India to participate in vipassana meditation retreats. Their spiritual omnivorism was reflected in a series of twenty-two performances called Nightsea Crossing (1981-1987), organized in different museums around the world. Performances lasted between one and sixteen days, during the working hours of the museums, and were sometimes very demanding physically. For example, Abramović and Ulay would sit motionless at the opposite ends of a table, just looking at each other. To gain better access to the special kind of esoteric knowledge they were hoping to obtain through these performances, Abramović and Ulay abstained from food, which sometimes affected their health, especially Ulay’s.

The couple claimed that Nightsea Crossing was the outcome of their initiation in Australian Aboriginal wisdom. However, what they were doing was very similar to techniques used in vipassana meditation. The title itself referred to the idea of the “Nachtmeerfahrt” used by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) to explain the process of diving into the unconscious, the “night sea” (Kuhlman 2009:148). In one version of the Nightsea Crossing, titled Conjunction, the two artists invited one Australian Aborigine and one Tibetan lama, whom they considered to be the representatives of the non-Western esoteric knowledge of telepathy and extrasensory perception (Baas and Jacob 2004:188), to sit with them around a big circular table covered with gold. The title of this performance alluded to the alchemical notion of coniunctio oppositorum, the union of the opposites, as described by Jung in his book Mysterium Coniunctionis (Schloen 2006:224). Jung wrote that in alchemy coniunctio was usually expressed in dualistic terms (e.g male-female), and later also as quaternio, or the union between four elements, sometimes represented as “sitting” around a circular table (Jung 1971 [1955]:23). In Abramović’s and Ulay’s Conjunction, everything indicated the importance of the number four. Four people were sitting around the table, whose diameter was four meters, and which was visibly made from four parts (and was later also exhibited divided in parts); the performance lasted four days, each day for four hours. Conjunction could be considered as the outcome of Abramović’s and Ulay’s typical New Age fascination with perennial wisdom, or the search for an alleged common esoteric core of different religious and spiritual systems: shamanism, Buddhism, alchemy, esoteric Jungian psychology, and so on.

After the breakup with Ulay in 1988, Abramović continued her career as a solo performance artist. Walking in the steps of Beuys, she increasingly came to present her art as a kind of spiritual teaching and practice that would eventually transform society, a “social sculpture.” After visiting the Australian Aborigines, Brazilian shamans, different Asian cultures and vipassana retreats (which she preferred to call “monasteries”), Abramović considered herself initiated in the perennial wisdom of the non-Western traditions. In one interview, she said: “I see myself as a bridge going to the East to get the knowledge and going to the West to transmit it in the form of performance. People don’t go to the temples anymore. They go to the museums. And to me performance can be a great tool to create some kind of platform for that kind of experience” (Abramović 2008:25).

Abramović’s first attempt to present her art as a platform for spiritual experience was by inviting her public to “perform” by using her Transitory Objects. These furniture-like objects, which she has been producing since 1988, are usually made by using crystals, copper, or magnets, materials which, according to Abramović, emanate an “energy” capable of healing or spiritually transforming the user. Abramović invites her public to sit, stand or lie on the exhibited Transitory Objects, eyes closed, without moving, in a way similar to what is done in vipassana meditation [Image at right]. According to Abramović, the purpose of her Transitory objects is to help her followers in their spiritual development. When humanity would reach the sought-for spiritual transformation, no objects would be necessary, and that is why she calls them “transitory.” Abramović presents her work with the Transitory objects only as the first phase in the spiritual evolution of her audience. The final goal is to reach the “higher level of consciousness” that will enable the audience to receive the thoughts and “energy” directly from her, by means of telepathy (Art Meets Science 2013).

During her teaching career at different art academies in Europe (1990-2004), Abramović used to organize special workshops with her students, called Cleaning the House. The house was a metaphor for the body, which, according to Abramović, needed to be clean(s)ed before a student might engage in any serious artistic activity. However, the final goal of these workshops was not purely artistic. Abramović made several selected students “attempt ectoplasmic emission” while sitting and looking in each other’s eyes, without moving or talking for long periods of time (Drinkall 2005:227). Cleaning the House workshops included Abramović and her students not eating and not talking for five or more days, while engaging in various physical and mental exercises. Some exercises were clearly inspired by G.I. Gurdjieff, or the “great Russian teacher,” as Abramović called him. In her Stop with Mirror Exercise, which echoes the famous Stop Exercise created by Gurdjieff, Abramović would unpredictably put a mirror in front of a student’s face. The student’s effort was not to change the facial expression in that moment.

Abramović also introduced some exercises she learned during her retreats in India, such as the Slow Motion exercise, where students were instructed to move as slowly as possible while performing their everyday activities. In another exercise, Counting the Rice, students were given piles of uncooked rice mixed with lentils, with an assignment to separate the grains and count them, which usually took several hours [Image at right].

During her retrospective at the New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Abramović first tried to present her art as a form of telepathy, in a performance called The Artist is Present (2010). She announced she would sit silently on a chair for two and a half months, six days a week, from the opening to the closing of the museum. The audience was invited to sit one by one on an empty chair across Abramović and engage in a non-verbal communication with her. Abramović’s performance attracted more than half a million people, and the show became the most visited exhibition of contemporary art in the world that year (The Art Newspaper 2011). For a certain number of visitors, this experience of sitting and engaging in a mutual gaze with Abramović had a cathartic effect: they cried and started behaving very emotionally. All the 1,545 sitters were photographed by the Italian photographer Marco Anelli, and their portraits were immediately published online. However, faces of people that cried especially attracted the public attention, and Abramović soon became a global art celebrity who was supposed to possess the healing power of “mind reading.”

After the enormous success of The Artist is Present, Abramović decided that the time had come for her to devise her own method of teaching spirituality through performance. She called it simply The Abramović Method. The goal of The Abramović Method is personal growth, or “working on oneself” by means of performing different exercises. This echoes esoteric masters such as Anthroposophy’s Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), or Gurdjieff, and their methods of training. The Abramović Method has gone through many changes during the years. However, the main purpose seems to have remained the same: it is the physical and spiritual healing of contemporary Western people, who lack time to be in the present moment and get in touch with their Inner, or Higher, Selves.

The Abramović Method was significantly influenced by the artist’s encounters with different mediums, shamans and healers in Brazil in 2012/2013. One of the most important teachers Abramović met there was John of God (João de Deus, João Teixeira de Faria, b. 1942), a popular spiritual “surgeon” and spiritist medium. As described in her Brazil Journal (Abramović 2014:73-100), and also in a documentary, The Space in Between: Marina Abramović and Brazil (2016), Abramović assisted John of God during several of his controversial “visible surgeries,” performed with a kitchen knife and without anesthesia. [Image at right] In addition to the “visible surgeries” there are also “invisible surgeries,” which are believed to occur with the help of a mysterious “current” that flows through John of God’s healing center while patients sit and meditate. This “current” is supposedly channeled by John of God and other mediums (Rocha 2017). Abramović was most probably accepted in the circle of mediums that were allowed to help John of God in his surgeries and mission. In her Brazil Journal, Abramović claimed that John of God transmitted to her the “energy” to help her “raise human consciousness through art” (Abramović 2014:77). She was also awarded one of the special armchairs near John of God’s “throne,” among other mediums who were there “to channel energy” (Abramović 2014:78).

In 2014, after she returned from Brazil, Abramović organized her next performance in London, titled 512 Hours. During the sixty-four days of the exhibition, she and a few of her trained assistants were present in the gallery, from morning until evening, supposedly generating the mysterious “current” through their contacts with the audience, as it was announced in the catalogue of the performance (O’Brien 2014:16). Abramović and her assistants gently whispered to every visitor to close their eyes, and to “be in the present,” while they were leading them by the hand in the gallery and instructing them what to do next Abramović and her assistants also laid their hands “reiki-like” on the visitors’ backs [Image at right], as if they were manipulating some kind of “energy.” The activities at the exhibition were not the same during the sixty-four days, as Abramović experimented to find out which of the exercises produced more “energy” there. Some of these exercises were later incorporated in new versions of The Abramović Method presented in São Paolo (2015), Sydney (2015), and Athens (2016). In these new versions of her Method, Abramović also introduced some of the exercises from the Cleaning the House student workshop mentioned before.

The Abramović Method is still constantly changing. It is a work in progress. In its essence, it is a typical contemporary New Age workshop for “changing the consciousness” and “working on oneself,” presented in the context of performance art. For Marina Abramović, performance is not just a form of contemporary art done by an artist: it is a practice suited for all those who want to advance in their spiritual development.

During the American presidential campaign of 2016, Abramović unexpectedly became the subject of conspiracy theories whose authors claimed that the Serbian artist was a Satanist. Among the many leaked emails of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, published by Wikileaks, one was from Abramović. She invited John Podesta’s brother, art collector Tony Podesta, to a “Spirit cooking dinner,” and asked whether John Podesta also wanted to join the event. Tony Podesta forwarded this email to his brother, and it finally ended up among the hacked emails. Various right-wing groups and conspiracy theorists immediately searched the Internet for the words “spirit cooking,” and found “evidence” that Abramović was actually a leader of a secret satanic cult involving several high-ranking Washington politicians. What they actually found was an old video of the artist preparing her installation Spirit Cooking with Power Objects (1997) in a gallery called Zerynthia in Paliano, Italy. Indeed, this video is not for those with a weak stomach: using a thick brush dipped in a container full of coagulated pig blood, Abramović writes different texts called Spirit Cooking on the walls of the gallery. She then places several human-shaped figurines, that she calls Power Objects, in the corner of the gallery, and splashes them with blood.

It is perhaps not surprising that such scenes might look “satanic” to some people. However, the Power Objects were actually made from anthropomorphic candles used in Hoodoo and other popular Afro-American syncretic spiritualities, which are also often wrongly presented in Western media as “black magic” or “Satanism.” Initially, Spirit Cooking was a collection of Abramović’s “absurd poetry’” or a “cookbook” with “aphrodisiac recipes,” which accompanied her portfolio of etchings produced in 1996. These “recipes” contained unusual ingredients such as blood, sperm, or urine, She later used her Spirit Cooking poetry in combination with Power Objects, as described above, but also in a form of an eccentric “cookbook” which was given to customers of a New York restaurant, Park Avenue Winter, who offered a dessert called “Volcano Flambé” invented by Abramović in 2011. According to Abramović, it was this kind of gastronomic experience, after all a “normal dinner, ” she was having in mind when she sent her notorious invitation to a “Spirit Cooking dinner at her place” (Russeth 2016).

Conspiracy theorists did not accept this explanation. The fact that Abramović was also teaching her Method to pop-star Lady Gaga, and that she danced with rapper Jay Z, both of whom are believed by conspiracy theorists to be involved with the secret world government of the “Illuminati,” only added fuel to the fire. It should be added that Abramović had indeed been playing with magic and perhaps Satanist symbols during an eccentric photo-shoot for the Ukrainian edition of Vogue in 2014. [Image at right] One photo shows her holding a goat head, represented also in the Sigil of Baphomet, whose origins in the system of magic of Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875) were not Satanic but that later was also used as an official symbol of the Church of Satan. Another photo shows her standing behind “butchered” female bodies, as a kind of a sinister priestess. However, there is no evidence that Abramović is in fact a Satanist. According to Massimo Introvigne, “one needs to worship the character called the Devil or Satan in the Bible” to be defined as a Satanist. Abramović has no intentions whatsoever to worship Satan, but simply uses certain symbols that have been used by Satanists as well as by other non-Satanist occult groups, in a different context and often “in a rather playful way” (Introvigne 2016).

One unintended effect of the conspiracy theorists’ attacks against Abramović was to boost the sales of her autobiographic book Walking Through Walls (Abramović 2016). The book had been written before the controversies of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, and did not mention the Spirit cooking dinners nor the Ukrainian Vogue photographs. Walking Through Walls, however, makes it easier to reconstruct the multiple sources of the artist’s spirituality and of the Abramović Method. They are indeed disparate, from Australian Aboriginal religion to Buddhism, Western esotericism, New Age, and African American magic. But none of these is part of Satanism.

**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1: Photograph of Marina Abramović.

Image #2: Abramović performing Rhythm 5 (1974).

Image #3: Abramović performing Thomas Lips (1975).

Image #4: Abramović and Ulay performing Relation in Time (1977).

Image #5: A participant using one of the Transitory objects, during the presentation of The Abramović Method in Milan, 2012.

Image #6: Abramović assisting John of God, during one of his “visible surgeries.” Still from the documentary The Space in Between: Marina Abramović and Brazil, 2016.

Image #7: Abramović performing “reiki-like” technique on a member of the audience, during her 512 Hours performance (2014).

Image #8: The audience performing the Counting the Rice exercise, during the presentation of The Abramović Method in Sydney in 2015.

Image #9: One of the so called “Satanic” images of Abramović in the Ukrainian Vogue in 2014.


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Post Date:
15 January 2017


Marie-Paule Giguère


1921 (September 14):  Marie-Paule Giguère was born in Sainte-Germaine du Lac-Etchemin, Québec, Canada.

1944 (July 1):  Giguère married Georges Cliche.

1954:  Giguère heard supernatural voices telling her that she would lead a Catholic movement.

1957 (September):  Giguère separated from her husband.

1971 (August 28):  The Army of Mary was founded by Giguère.

1972:  Father Philippe Roy joined the Army of Mary.

1975 (March 10):  Cardinal Maurice Roy of Québec approved the Army of Mary as a legitimate Roman Catholic association.

1978:  The French writer Raoul Auclair moved to Québec to work full time for the Army of Mary.

1978:  Giguère started the publication of Vie d’Amour.

1981:  Giguère established the Community of the Sons and Daughters of Mary.

1984:  The Archbishop of Québec, Cardinal Louis-Albert Vachon, formed a commission to investigate the Army of Mary.

1986:  Giguère founded the Oblates-Patriots.

1987 (February 27):  The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith judged two books by Army of Mary’s lay leader Marc Bosquart as “seriously erroneous.”

1987 (May 4):  Cardinal Louis-Albert Vachon of Québec declared that the Army of Mary was no longer a Catholic organization.

1997:  Giguère joined the Daughters of Mary and was elected as their Superior General.

2000 (March 31):  A note by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith found theological errors in Vie d’Amour.

2001 (June 29):  A formal censure of the Army of Mary occurred, stating that its doctrines were not Catholic, by the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference.

2006:  Under the authority of Giguère’s visions, and of a new “Church of John,” Father Pierre Mastropietro, a Son of Mary, ordained new deacons and priests, although he was not himself a bishop.

2007 (July 11):  The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith excommunicated those accepting and propagating the doctrines and practices of the Army of Mary.

2009 (May 31):  Although still alive, Giguère was canonized as a saint by her Church of John.

2015 (April 25):  Giguère died in Lac-Etchemin.


Marie-Paule Giguère was born on September 14, 1921 at Sainte-Germaine-du-Lac-Etchemin, a small rural town sixty miles from Québec City, Québec. Later, Lac-Etchemin (where a small Marian shrine was built in the 1950s) would acquire a peculiar significance in Giguère’s millennial worldview. A pious young girl, Marie-Paule considered religious life as a missionary in Africa, but her poor health was interpreted by her spiritual advisors as a sign that the Lord was calling her to marriage. In 1944, she married Georges Cliche (1917–1997), with whom she had five children between 1945 and 1952. [Image at right] But the marriage proved a nightmare, with Georges revealing himself to be prodigal, alcoholic, and adulterous. The Church, while opposed to divorce, accepted separation in extreme cases, and several priests suggested that Marie-Paule leave her husband. She did so, reluctantly, in 1957, and later attempts at reconciliation proved unsuccessful, although as an old man Georges would eventually join Marie-Paule’s movement.

Ever since her teenage years, Marie-Paule had heard the interior voices of Jesus and the Virgin Mary. These messages guided her through the trials of her life and eventually directed her to write a lengthy autobiography, Vie d’Amour (A Life of Love), of which thirteen volumes were published from 1979–1980. Five volumes of Appendices were added between 1992 and 1993 (Giguère 1992–1993). Volumes 4 and 6 (about some of Marie-Paule’s early companions) followed in 1993 and 1994, bringing the total to more than 6,000 pages (Giguère 1979–1994).

Marie-Paule became active in the Catholic Marian movement known as the Legion of Mary and worked for Catholic magazines and radio stations. In 1954, she supernaturally heard for the first time a reference to “the Army of Mary,” a “wonderful movement” she would later lead (Giguère 1979–1994, 1:174). [Image at right] Slowly, a small Marian group was formed, which included a couple of priests. On August 28, 1971, during a pilgrimage to the Lac-Etchemin shrine, Marie-Paule officially inaugurated the Army of Mary. A priest from the Catholic diocese of Rimouski (Québec), Father Philippe Roy (1916–1988), joined the movement in 1972, and eventually became its general director. Following a request by Bishop Jean-Pierre van Lierde (1907–1995), Vicar General of Vatican City and a supporter of Giguère, recognition of the Army of Mary as a “pious association” was obtained in 1975 from Cardinal Maurice Roy (1905–1985), Archbishop of Québec City (not a relative of Father Philippe Roy). In the meantime, the Army of Mary had met with considerable success, due largely to the charismatic personality of Marie-Paule herself. The Army of Mary also reflected the needs of a sizeable section of Québec’s Catholics. They were confused by post-Vatican II reforms in the Church and disoriented by Québec’s “silent revolution” that was transforming its Catholic, agrarian society to a more secular, urban one. Yet, a large majority still maintained loyalty to Rome and were unwilling to join schismatic groups. Marie-Paule’s popularity also guaranteed a steady flow of contributions, enabling her in 1983 to buy land in her native Lac-Etchemin where the Army of Mary’s headquarters would be eventually built.

From 1971, Marie-Paule had been in touch with a popular French author of texts on prophecy, Raoul Auclair (1906–1997). In 1978, he moved from France to Québec, where he became the editor of the movement’s magazine, L’Étoile (later replaced by Le Royaume). In the years that followed, the Army of Mary gathered thousands of followers in Canada and hundreds more in Europe. The Community of the Sons and Daughters of Mary, a religious order including both priests and nuns, was established in 1981, with Pope John Paul II (1920–2005) personally ordaining the first Son of Mary as a priest in 1986. Several other ordinations followed, and a number of Catholic dioceses throughout the world were happy to welcome both the Sons and the Daughters of Mary to help them in their pastoral work. After her husband’s death in 1997, Marie-Paule herself became a Daughter of Mary, and was subsequently elected Superior General of the congregation as Mère Marie-Paule, later Mère Paul-Marie. [Image at right] A larger “Family of the Sons and Daughters of Mary” also included auxiliary organizations, such as the Oblates-Patriots, established by Marie-Paule in 1986 with the aim of spreading conservative Catholic social teachings, and the Marialys Institute, created in 1992, which gathered together Catholic priests who were not members of the Sons of Mary but shared their general aims.

The Army of Mary’s success was always accompanied by conflicts with members of the Catholic hierarchy. What created substantial controversy were the firm roots of the Army of Mary in a Catholic millennialist tradition at a time when the Québec Catholic hierarchy had little patience with it. A campaign against Marie-Paule gathered momentum in Québec from at least the early 1980s, and in 1984 the Archbishop of Québec City, Louis-Albert Vachon (1912–2006), appointed a commission to investigate the Army of Mary. Vachon would become a cardinal in 1985.

The commission focused on certain writings by Raoul Auclair, according to which the “Immaculate” existed as a spiritual being since before the creation, later to descend into the Virgin Mary; and on other writings by a Belgian member, Marc Bosquart (b. 1955), who had moved to Québec and had written two books claiming that the Immaculate was now mystically inhabiting Marie-Paule (Bosquart 1985, 1986). Although the Army of Mary maintained that these were Bosquart’s personal opinions, rather than teachings of the movement itself, Vachon’s commission regarded the organization as potentially heretical. The case went to Rome, and in 1987 the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith judged Bosquart’s opinions as “seriously erroneous,” opening the way for a declaration by Cardinal Vachon that the Army of Mary was no longer recognized as a Catholic organization. Appeals to the Vatican protesting Vachon’s decision failed. Although the Army of Mary at that time withdrew Bosquart’s books from circulation, the controversy with Catholic bishops in Québec continued, while some English-speaking Canadian bishops, and certain bishops in Italy, were still prepared to accept both the Sons and Daughters of Mary and the Army of Mary itself into their dioceses. Finally, on March 31, 2000, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith sent a note to all Canadian bishops stating that Marie-Paule’s Vie d’Amour contained doctrinal errors, and that further action needed to be taken. On June 29, 2001, the Canadian Conference of Canadian Bishops published a statement saying that the Army of Mary should no longer be regarded as a Roman Catholic organization.

Perhaps because an agreement with Rome now seemed more difficult, Marie-Paule authorized the publication in 2001 and 2002 of new writings by Marc Bosquart, again proposing doctrines similar to those criticized by the Vatican in 1987 (Bosquart 2001a, 2001b, 2002). This was one of the factors leading to further censures of the Army of Mary by the new Archbishop of Québec, Cardinal Marc Ouellet (b. 1944), in 2005 and 2007.

In 2006, fresh revelations to Marie-Paule led to a complete rupture with the Vatican. These visions distinguished between a Church of Peter and a mystical and esoteric Church of John. Marie-Paule claimed that the Pope in Rome was still leading the “Church of Peter,” but appointed one of the priests in the Sons of Mary, Pierre Mastropietro (whose French-Italian name, translated “Peter Master-Peter,” was regarded as a prophetic omen), as Universal Father of the higher Church of John. In this role, Mastropietro proceeded to ordain first deacons and then priests, to canonize new saints, including Raoul Auclair, and even to proclaim new dogmas, moving from the Christian Trinity to a Quinternity, which added the Virgin Mary and Marie-Paule herself to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. On May 31, 2009 Marie-Paule was canonized in the Church of John; this occurred before her death, something theologically and canonically impossible in the Roman Catholic Church. On July 11, 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith excommunicated those advocating and propagating the doctrines of the Army of Mary.

In the last years of her life, Marie-Paule was seriously ill and not able to participate in the daily life of the movement, now led by Marc Bosquart as Universal King and by Father Mastropietro as Holy Father of the Church of John. She died in Lac-Etchemin on April 25, 2015. [Image at right]


To understand Marie-Paule’s mystical teachings, it is necessary to start with the Marian apparitions of Amsterdam, Holland, in 1945–1959, whose existence Marie-Paule discovered through Raoul Auclair in 1971. Ida Peerdeman (1905–1996), born in Alkmaar, The Netherlands, reported an encounter with the Virgin Mary at the age of twelve, followed by miraculous visions of battles in Europe during World War II. From 1945 to 1959, she received fifty-five messages from the Virgin Mary. Although the first verdict of the local Catholic diocese was negative, a chapel was quietly built in the 1970s at the site of the Amsterdam apparition and dedicated to the “Lady of All Peoples.” Peerdeman’s prayer to the “Lady of All Peoples, who was once Mary,” and the messages she received gained widespread popularity throughout much of the Catholic world. They were interpreted as predicting three different events: a crisis in the Church, Vatican II (seen as a rather positive development and as an antidote to the crisis), and a future millennial Kingdom of the Holy Spirit and Mary.

To usher in that Kingdom, Peerdeman called upon the Church to proclaim officially a new Marian dogma emphasizing Mary’s role as “Co-Redeemer.” The title had a long tradition in Catholic Marian theology but was never officially approved by the Vatican. On May 31, 1996, less than three months before Peerdeman’s death, Bishop Henrik Bomers (1936–1998) of the Dutch diocese of Haarlem published a notification approving “the prayer and the public cult of Mary under the title of Lady of All Peoples,” while stating that “the Church cannot, for the moment, make a pronouncement on the supernatural character of the apparitions.” The bishop’s notification downplayed the millennial element of Peerdeman’s experience, emphasizing instead that the title Lady of All Peoples cast a “clear light on the universal motherhood of Mary” and on her “unique and feminine role in the Lord’s plan of salvation” (Bomers and Punt 1996).

In 2002, Bomers’ successor as bishop of Haarlem, Jozef Marianus Punt (b. 1946), finally recognized “that the apparitions of the Lady of All Nations in Amsterdam consist of a supernatural origin.” Although Marian apparitions are recognized by local bishops rather than the Vatican, bishops are nonetheless supervised by the Vatican in this activity. Punt acknowledged that “naturally, the influence of the human element still exists” (Punt 2002), as in all apparitions, quoting on this point Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (b. 1927), at that time Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and later to become Pope Benedict XVI. This was a reference to the words “who was once Mary” included in the prayer revealed in the apparitions and referred to the Lady of All Peoples; this language became an object of concern precisely because of its interpretation by Marie-Paule and was finally dropped in the version of the prayer used in Amsterdam.

Raoul Auclair was the link between the world of European apparitions and Marie-Paule in Québec. He regarded as a prophetic sign the fact that he received his First Communion on May 13, 1917, the day of the first apparition at Fátima, Portugal. A promising student, he abandoned his academic career to complete his military service in Morocco, and then worked as a surgical materials salesman before finding more satisfactory employment in 1941 with French national radio. In the same year, he had a mystical experience in Marseilles, and was “transported outside time, as if plummeted into the Divine Intelligence” (Péloquin 1997:10–11). Besides working as a playwright for the radio, he became an increasingly successful author of books on Catholic prophecy and eschatology as well as Marian apparitions. By the 1960s he had at his disposal a rich collection of materials on all sorts of supernatural phenomena (Auclair 1981).

American scholar Sandra Zimdars-Swartz noted the importance of Auclair as a representative of a Catholic millennialism, which, unlike other forms, eventually placed the “Second Vatican Council in a positive light.” In fact, Auclair tried to walk a middle course in the struggle over Vatican II reforms. He saw the Roman Catholic Church as being menaced both by those who were frenetic for reform, who he described as motivated by a “bad spirit,” and by the overly narrow traditionalists who were unwilling to allow the Holy Spirit to change the structures of the Church (Zimdars-Swartz 1991:256–57).

Eventually, Auclair became the main apologist for Ida Peerdeman’s vision and was instrumental in organizing three meetings of the Amsterdam visionary with Marie-Paule. After the death of his wife in 1976, as mentioned above, he moved permanently to Québec in 1978, taking the habit of the related religious order, the Sons of Mary, in 1987. Originally, “fidelity to Rome and the Pope” was a key teaching and the motto of the Army of Mary; and Marie-Paule’s followers, the Knights of Mary, centered their religious life on the Triple White: the Eucharist, the Virgin Mary, and the Pope. Marie-Paule also proposed a traditional Marian devotion along the lines of Auclair and Peerdeman. But when the Army of Mary became controversial the advisory circle around Peerdeman advised the Dutch visionary to keep her distance from the organization.

In the 1980s, both Marie-Paule and her main advisors started proposing doctrines increasingly at odds with Roman Catholic orthodoxy. According to Auclair (1985), a mysterious being known as CELLE (SHE, in all capitals) existed before entering the person of the Virgin Mary, and still exists, having “once been Mary,” according to Auclair’s interpretation of the Amsterdam prayer (an interpretation not reflected in the literature officially approved by the Amsterdam shrine). It was not an inconceivable step for Auclair’s friends in the Army of Mary to conclude that, as she had already inhabited Mary once before, CELLE now mystically inhabited Marie-Paule, who was elevated to a sort of new incarnation of the Virgin Mary. Marc Bosquart’s books presented this conclusion, based also on the word “reincarnation” mysteriously mentioned in Vie d’Amour (Bosquart 1985; see Introvigne 2001).

It is unclear how much in the subsequent developments (the distinction between the Church of Peter and the Church of John and the divine role of Marie-Paule herself as part of the newly recognized Quinternity) was promoted by Marie-Paule and based on her visions, as opposed to being the fruit of the religious creativity of Marc Bosquart. In the last years of her life, Marie-Paule was increasingly frail and largely limited her activities to approving Bosquart’s decisions. Regardless of the source, these new doctrines completed the transformation of the Army of Mary from a conservative Catholic group to a full-fledged new religious movement.


Until the middle of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the rituals and practices promoted by Marie-Paule were those of the Roman Catholic Church, including the Mass and the sacraments administered by priests in communion with the Vatican, and the traditional Catholic pious practices, including the Rosary. In addition, there were colorful ceremonies honoring the Army of Mary and Marie-Paule, but these remained within the framework of a Catholic movement’s activities.

It was only with the proclamation of the Church of John that new ceremonies were introduced, although during Marie-Paule’s lifetime the basic structure of the Catholic Mass was not altered. It was more a matter of new interpretations, such as the one suggesting that during the communion not only the body of Jesus Christ, but also the body of the Virgin Mary and the mystical body of Marie-Paule were offered to the faithful. Similarly, devotional objects with the number five and references to the Quinternity were introduced, but they accompanied familiar Catholic tools such as rosaries. Only after Marie-Paule’s death in 2015, did Marc Bosquart and others suggest that the Church of John, as a new church, should also have a new liturgy, and a deeper reformation was started.


Marie-Paule was a strong and charismatic leader, despite recurring issues with her health. She was, however, a woman in a church where priesthood was reserved to men; moreover, she was a layperson with a limited theological education. She always had to rely on duly ordained priests for the sacramental life and on theologians for advice. She believed, however, that laymen who had read more theological books than she did, but were not technically theologians, would be able to lead the movement with her, and might be able to understand her visions better than professional theologians. She relied on Raoul Auclair, and much more, in a later period, on Marc Bosquart, who became the authorized interpreter of Vie d’Amour (see Bosquart 2006–2009). Her prophetic visions indicated Bosquart as destined to a leadership role in the movement and, as “king,” in the world at large.

Scholars and critics repeatedly asked the question whether Marie-Paule was the “real” leader of the Army of Mary, or if she was ultimately controlled by someone else. For her followers, she was undoubtedly controlled by God through her visions and the internal words she was able to hear, although in her later years it was suggested she might be part of the Godhead herself. Those outside the movement speculated that Bosquart and others might have tried to impose their own views on Marie-Paule, and that without their influence she might perhaps have submitted to the Roman Catholic Church. Having conducted several interviews with Marie-Paule between 1996 and 1998, I personally believe that she was a strong and intelligent woman, and that she never accepted from others theories she did not regard as supernaturally confirmed by her revelations and inner voices.


The confrontation between Marie-Paule and the Catholic authorities has been described in the biographical section above. At stake was not only the mystical character of her revelations but a new theology, mostly created by Bosquart, which was gradually taking shape. The Belgian leader’s ideas were clearly unacceptable to the Roman Catholic bishops, as they in fact generated a new church, with a new hierarchy and new theology. Although Bosquart and Marie-Paule would have been happy to leave the leadership of the Church of Peter to the Pope in Rome, the Vatican could obviously not accept that in Québec there was an alternative Church of John, believed by its adherents to be superior to the church headquartered in Rome.

When all this became clear, Marie-Paule was faced with a new challenge. A certain number of priests, including some of the most active and well-educated, nuns and laypersons abandoned the Army of Mary/Church of John movement. They were prepared to challenge the Canadian bishops on Marie-Paule’s revelations, originally approved by Cardinal Roy, but joining a new church and adopting a new theology, and exchanging the Trinity for a newly revealed Quinternity, was a different matter altogether. Some of Marie-Paule’s longtime companions stayed, trusting her notwithstanding the Vatican excommunication in 2007 of persons accepting and propagating the movement’s doctrines and practices. Socializing younger generations into the radically alternative subculture of the Church of John, and attracting new members accepting of a rupture with the Roman Catholic Church was a difficult challenge for Marie-Paule in her last years of activity, and continues to be a problem for her successors.


Image #1: Marie-Paule and her children, 1966. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.
Image #2: Marie-Paule, 1959. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.
Image #3: Marie-Paule as Mother Paul-Marie. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.
Image #4: Funeral of Marie-Paule, 2015. Courtesy La Communauté de la Dame de Tous les Peuples.


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Bomers, Henrik, and Jozef Marianus Punt. 1996. “Notification for the Catholic Faithful of the Diocese of Haarlem.” English translation. Haarlem, The Netherlands: Diocese of Haarlem.

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Introvigne, Massimo. 2001. “En Route to the Marian Kingdom: Catholic Apocalypticism and the Army of Mary.” Pp. 149-65 in Christian Millenarianism: From the Early Church to Waco, edited by Stephen Hunt. London: Hurst & Company.

Péloquin, Maurice. 1997. “La vie familiale de Raoul Auclair.” Le Royaume 115:10–11.

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Zimdars-Swartz, Sandra L. 1991. Encountering Mary: From La Salette to Medjugorje. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Post Date:
20 March 2017