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



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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Matthiopoulos, Eugenios D. 2005. Η τέχνη πτεροφυεί εν οδύνη. Η πρόσληψη του νεορομαντισμού στο πεδίο της ιδεολογίας και της θεωρίας της τέχνης και της τεχνοκριτικής στην Ελλάδα [Art Spring Wings in Sorrow: The Reception of Neo-Romanticism in the Realm of Ideology, Art Theory, and Art Criticism in Greece]. Athens: Potamos Publishers.

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Post Date:
17 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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n.a. 1975. Nagrada sedam sekretara SKOJ-a za 1973. i 1974/. Zagreb: Galerija nova (Centar za kulturnu delatnost SSO).

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Post Date:
15 January 2017


Julius Evola


1898 (May 19):  Giulio Cesare Andrea (mainly known as Jules or Julius for most of his life) was born in Rome, Italy.

1914:  Evola met Giovanni Papini, who in turn introduced him to the founder of the Futurist movement Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.

1915:  Evola began painting. His Sensorial Idealism period began.

1916:  Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball and others created the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich.

1918:  Upon returning from WWI, Evola had a spiritual crisis and contemplated suicide. Reading the early Buddhist text titled Majjhimanikàjo helped him recover temporarily.

1919:  Evola exhibited his Futurist works at the Grand National Futurist Exhibition.

1920:  Evola adhered to the Dadaist movement and corresponded with Tristan Tzara.

1920:  His adherence to Dada was the beginning of his Mystic Abstract period. Interior Landscape, 10:30 and Abstraction belong to this period.

1920 (January):  The first exhibition focusing solely on Evola’s paintings took place at the Bragaglia Art House.

1920:  Evola published a pamphlet, Abstract Art, in the Collection Dada series.

1921 (January):  Evola’s first exhibition abroad, at Berlin’s Der Sturm Art Gallery

1921 (May 9):  Evola’s art was exhibited at the Grotte dell’Augusteo in Rome.

1923:  More fascinated by philosophy and mysticism, Evola abandoned painting altogether.

1925:  Evola’s Philosophical Period began.

1925:  Evola published Essays on Magical Idealism.

1934:  Evola published Revolt Against the Modern World. 

1945:  In Vienna, Evola was hit by shrapnel during a Russian bombing and remained paralyzed from the waist down.

1958:  Evola’s book Metaphysics of Sex was published, and Evola began painting again, this time on themes connected to sex and women.

1963:  Art historian Enrico Crispolti organised a retrospective of Evola’s work at La Medusa gallery in Roma.

1974 (June 11):  Evola died in Rome, in his home (197, Corso Vittorio Emanuele).


Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola (1898-1974), [Image at right] known to most as Julius Evola, was an occultist, philosopher, expert on Eastern religions and political thinker, who characterised Italian conservative thought throughout the twentieth century. Born into a Catholic family, son of Sicilian parents. Vincenzo Evola (1854-1944) and Concetta Mangiapane (1865-1956), Evola seems to have opposed Christian religion since his early teenage years, when he discovered the writings of Otto Weininger (1880-1903) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). In his own words, he “spent entire days in [his] library, in a dense but free reading regime” (Evola 1963:5).

By going through a process of de-gentrification, through the Florentine avant-garde movement, Evola discovered Giovanni Papini (1881-1956), author, poet and editor of several journals, which attempted to defy the Italian status-quo at the beginning of the century. It is through journals such as Leonardo (established in 1903) and the Futurist Lacerba (1913), both edited by Papini, that Evola first encountered two milieus which would heavily characterise his early years: art and occultism (Giudice 2016:115-22). Through Papini, Evola was introduced to the founder of Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), and to Futurist painter Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), who in turn encouraged the young Evola to begin his artistic career as a painter. Evola’s first steps in the world of fine arts, then, may safely be dated to 1915, under the tutelage of two of the greatest representatives of the Futurist movement (A.M. 1920:3).

Evola’s involvement with the occult establishment in Rome was also very precocious. His first encounter with members of that milieu can be found in his collaboration with the Theosophical journal Ultra (established in 1907); his speeches at the Lega Teosofica Indipendente (Independent Theosophical League), an Italian splinter group of the Theosophical Society; and his friendship with the editor of Ultra and future member of Italian parliament, Decio Calvari (1863-1937). Evola remembered Calvari as a “personality of real value” who would introduce him to “the first notions of Tantrism” (Rossi 1994:44).

Evola’s deep interest in spirituality began in 1917-1918, when, having returned from World War One, he faced a spiritual crisis so profound that he contemplated the idea of suicide. Evola recovered from this crisis between the end of 1919 and the beginning of 1920, after having read a passage of an early Buddhist text, which he refers to as Majjhimanikàjo, obviously alluding to the Majjhima Nikaya (III c. BCE – II c. BCE). The passage in question reads: “He who, accepts death as death, and having accepted death as death, thinks about death, and thinks ‘Mine is Death’ and rejoices, he, I say, does not know death” (Batchelor 1996:12).

Evola’s brief painting career may be divided into two precise periods, the first one beginning just before leaving for the war in 1915 and ending with the overcoming of his spiritual crisis in 1920. This first period, which Evola himself called Idealismo Sensoriale (Sensorial Idealism), was marked by the Idealism propounded by journals such as Leonardo and by the pictorial techniques of Futurist painters such as Balla and Arnaldo Ginna (1890-1982), author of the Futurist Cinema Manifesto and member of the Theosophical Society (Ginna:1916).

Sensorial Idealism, according to art curator Enrico Crispolti, “represented the need for something more solid [than earlier Futurist painting] of a more precise aesthetics as well as a more synthetic technique, fresher and less chaotic” (Crispolti 1998:23). That Evola was interested in a more spiritual approach to painting may already be noticed in one of his 1917 articles dealing with art, “Ouverture alla Pittura della Forma Nuova” (Oeverture to the Painting of the New Form), in which the author argued for a necessity to reach a new spirituality unattainable by Futurism (Lista 1984:142). Spirituality, even in the Futurist period of Sensorial Idealism, was thus very prominent in Evola’s artwork: “The form is called spiritual in that it does not imply an intellectual representation of the object, nor the transcendental interpretation of the object […], rather, it is something absolutely foreign to the object, which is locked deep down within us” (Lista 1984:142).

The spiritual dimension of Evola’s Futurist period was attested to by Ginna, who remembered the exchange of books between himself and Evola in the following passage: “Evola, like me, was interested in occultism, reaching, according to his own inclination, his own conclusions. I do not know how to precisely define Evola’s studies and experiences, I only know that each of us held in our hands Theosophical books by Besant and Blavatsky and, later on, the Anthroposophical works of Rudolf Steiner” (Ginna 1984:136).

Of this period, Evola’s most characteristic paintings are without a doubt Fucina, Studio di Rumori (Forge, a Study on Noises, ca. 1917), Five o’clock tea (ca. 1918), [Image at right] and Mazzo di Fiori (Bouquet of Flowers, 1918). In 1919, Evola was invited to showcase his artwork at the Grand National Futurist Exhibition. There, the ideas derived from Sensorial Idealism were clearly manifested:

The paintings relating to Evola’s first phase of his research […] manifest, though a notable inclination towards a synthetic intention, an attention towards a dynamic ‘sensorial’ exaltation, still strongly conditioned by certain eventual correspondences rather than by an evocative-representative urge or by an abstract analogical resolution.

In his “Ouverture,” Evola wrote: “New form = spiritual form exclusively – greatest synthesis = beauty of the individual against the beauty of nature = architecture of thought. With regards to technique = abolition of flatness (decorative) + dynamic volumes of the three dimensions with lines that represent forces only” (Lista 1984:143).

At the end of 1919, Evola discovered the work of Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) and wrote his first letter to the Romanian artist, adhering to the Dadaist Manifesto Tzara had written in 1918. His wholehearted embrace of Dadaism signals at once the abandonment of the Futurist milieu and the need for a new expressive medium that only Dada could seem to provide Evola with. As art historian Federica Franci rightly pointed out, “while pre-war avant-gardes had a direct link to the art of the past (the expressionists with Van Gogh, the cubists with Cézanne, the futurists with Divisionism and Neo-impressionism), only the Dadaists drastically severed every bond with art’s old paradigms” (Iannello-Franci 2011:45).

His correspondence with Tzara began with a letter dated October 7, 1919, from which the reader can glean the florid condition of the vibrant Italian avant-garde scene, and the blossoming of a collaboration between the Italian and the Swiss/French avant-garde: “I am creating a Modern Art Journal in Rome (Govoni, Marinetti, Onofri, d’Alba, Folgore, Casella, Prampolini, Tirwhytt, Depero etc.). If it were possible to get in touch, as I wish, I would be most happy to ask you to be the first collaborator and to make this journal a source of Dadaist propaganda in Italy” (Valento 1991:16). 1920 was Evola’s annus mirabilis with regards to his artistic career. His “mystical abstract” period can be said to begin in this year, which was marked by two important events in Evola’s life: his first personal exhibition at the Bragaglia Art House in January, and the publication of his short essay Arte Astratta (Abstract Art) in the prestigious Collection Dada series. In a letter dated February 21, 1920, it is Evola himself who certifies the beginning of his mystical abstract period, writing to Tzara: “I have exhibited some Dadaist paintings in Rome” (Valento 1991:21).

In Arte Astratta, Evola’s spiritual tension, which was creating a gulf between him and his Futurist colleagues such as Balla, Marinetti and Enrico Prampolini (1894-1956), was analysed even more deeply than before. “Modern art will fall soon,” Evola concluded at the end of his essay, “and this will be the sign of its purity. It will fall, moreover, because it has been created with a method from the outside / because of a gradual elevation of sickness over partly passionate reasons / rather than from the inside / mystically.” Evola’s idea of art in this important essay is that of the artist’s work as a tiny fragment of light in a world of darkness:

Abstract art may never be historically eternal and universal: this, a priori – PLOTINUS, ECKHART, MAETERLINK, NOVALIS, RUYSBROEK, SVEDEMBORG [sic], TZARA, RIMBALD [sic]… all of this is but a brief, rare and insecure lightning through the great death, the great nocturn reality of corruption and disease. In a similar way, it is the rarity of unspeakable gems among the enormous muddy [G]anges (Evola 1920:14).

The spiritual nature of Evola’s abstract paintings may be gleaned by the titles of his works of the period going from 1919 to 1921: Paesaggio Interiore, [Image at right] IIlluminazione (Interior Landscape, Illumination), 1919-1920; Paesaggio Interiore: Apertura del Diaframma (Interior Landscape: Opening of the Diaphragm) of 1920-1921; Paesaggio Interiore, Ore 3 (Interior Landscape, Three o’Clock), 1920-1921; La Fibra si Infiamma e le Piramidi (The Fibre Inflames Itself and The Pyramids), 1920-1921; La Parola Oscura (The Obscure Word), 1921. Evola exhibited fifty-six works at another event at the Bragaglia Art House in 1921, alongside fellow artists Aldo Fiozzi (1894-1941) and Gino Cantarelli (1899-1950). He then showed sixty of his paintings at Berlin’s Der Sturm gallery. During the first of these events, Evola also read some Dadaist compositions he had written about the subject of what being a Dadaist artist meant to him: “Instead of simplicity, he chooses fiction; against passion, a whim; against the idol, himself, infinite and unspeakable nothingness […]. He lives only to deny and destroy and has no other function, because of his suffering in living. This is Dada” (Valento 1991:40)

However, Evola’s suffering, his spiritual crisis, which had plagued him from the end of the Great War, did not abandon him. In a letter dated July 2, 1921, the Roman painter wrote to Tzara:

I live in a state of constant tiredness, in a state of still stupor, in which all activities or desires are frozen. It is terribly Dada. Every action disgusts me: even having feelings I see as a malady, and I only have the terror of passing the time in front of me, of which I don’t know what to do with […] Such a state of mind, even though with different intensity, already existed within me: like in a show: I mean to say, there was someone on the outside looking, and he took notes on this strange occurrence: hence my art and my Dadaist philosophy. Nowadays, I realise that there is nobody left in the theatre, that everything is useless and ridiculous, that every expression is a disease (Valento 1991:40-1).

At the age of twenty-three, in 1921, Evola decided to end his career as a painter to try and solve the problems of his soul through a more spiritual approach.

The first book to be published by Evola after his crisis was Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico (Essays on Magical Idealism 1925), which contained an appendix dedicated to art entitled “Sul Significato dell’Arte Modernissima” (On the Meaning of Hyper-Modern Art). In it, Evola still seems to follow the developments in the contemporary art world and has his personal criticism towards abstract art in general, and Futurism and Dadaism in particular. Conscious that the subject matter would be alien to most who would buy a text on magical idealism, Evola used terms that are at once more understandable and immediate for both the art connoisseur and the profane. It is very hard to give an idea of the spiritual state, which corresponds to the latest works of abstract art,” he wrote,

as is to have a possibility to not only penetrate and live them in any way, but also to just realise their value, if one is not very familiar with the technique of ‘pure art’, and if one doesn’t have within him already a certain stage of extremely interior and rarefied consciousness, to which the author has arrived (since only like may understand like). He who, not being equipped with these conditions, approached abstract art as he would approach for example [the art] of a Shelley or a Beethoven, would not find but an incoherent and incomprehensible whole, and therefore would be disgusted and shocked by the very possibility of such manifestations (Evola 1925:193-194).

In other words, arte modernissima was closely linked to spiritual development, the lack of which would keep the viewer outside of the artist’s realm.

For the following thirty years, Evola wrote about esotericism and politics, and did not devote any special attention to art. More than thirty years after Essays on Magical Idealism, however, Evola published his Metafisica del Sesso (Metapysics of Sex 1958), a text with wide-ranging topics such as sex and inhibition in the bourgeois modern world; sexual techniques in initiatory contexts; and the sexual role of woman as initiator of spiritual awakening. Evola, enthused by the subject matter of his book, began painting again: a third period, entirely dedicated to women and womanhood. Written in a historical period when feminist battles for women’s rights were on the rise in Italy, Metaphysics focused instead on the transcendent sacralisation of sex. His then publisher, Vanni Scheiwiller (1934-1999), helped organise an exhibition of Evola’s paintings at the prestigious Medusa gallery in Piazza di Spagna, Rome. Enrico Crispolti was the curator of the event, which Scheiwiller described as “a success: everything sold out” (Scheiwiller 1998:17). Of this later period in life are the Nudo di Donna (Afroditico) (Female Nude, Aphroditic, 1960-1970), Cosmos (1965-1970), and the most famous painting of the period, La Generatrice dell’Universo (The Generatrix of the Universe, 1968-1970). [Image at right]

Julius Evola died in his home in 1974 at age seventy-six.

**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1: Julius Evola at the Casa d’Arte Bragaglia, 1921.

Image #2: Julius Evola, Fucina, Studio di Rumori, 1917-1918.

Image #3: Julius Evola, Paesaggio Interiore, Apertura del Diaframma, 1920-1921.

Image #4: Julius Evola, La Genitrice dell’Universo, 1968-1970.


A.M. 1920. “Il Pittore Futurista J. Evola.” Roma Futurista 3:3.

Batchelor, Stephen. 1996. “Existence, Enlightenment, and Suicide: The Dilemma of Nanavira Thera.” The Buddhist Forum 4:9-33.

Carli, Carlo Fabrizio. 1998. “Evola, la Pittura e l’Alchimia: Un Tracciato.” Pp. 49-60 in Julius Evola e l’Arte delle Avanguardie, tra Futurismo, Dada e Alchimia. Rome: Fondazione Julius Evola.

Crispolti, Enrico. 1998. “Evola Pittore. Tra Futurismo e Dadaismo.” Pp. 19-31 in Julius Evola e l’Arte delle Avanguardie, tra Futurismo, Dada e Alchimia. Rome: Fondazione Julius Evola.

Evola, Julius. 1963. Il Cammino del Cinabro. Rome: Scheiwiller.

Evola, Julius. 1958. Metafisica del Sesso. Rome: Atanòr.

Evola, Julius. 1934. Rivolta contro il Mondo Moderno. Milan: Hoepli.

Evola, Julius. 1925. “Sull’Arte Modernissima.” Pp. 139-52 in Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico. Rome and Todi: Atan òr.

Evola, Julius. 1920. Arte Astratta: Posizione Teorica. Rome: Maglione e Strini.

Ginna, Arnaldo. 1984. “Brevi Note sull’Evola nel Tempo Futurista.” Pp. 135-37 in Testimonianze su Evola, edited by Gianfranco De Turris. Rome: Mediterranee.

Ginna, Arnaldo. 1916. “Il Cinema Futurista.” L’Italia Futurista 9:2-4.

Giudice, Christian. 2016. Occultism and Traditionalism: Arturo Reghini and the Antimodern Reaction in Early Twentieth Century Italy. Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet.

Iannello, Andrea A., and Federica Franci. 2011 Evola Dadaista: Dada non Significa Nulla. Caserta: Giuseppe Vozza Editore.

Lista, Giovanni. 1984. Balla le Futuriste. Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme.

Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. 1909. “Le Futurisme.” Le Figaro, February 20, p. 1.

Nanamoli, Bikkhu and Bodhi Bikkhu, trans. 1995. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Somerville: Wisdom Publications.

Rossi, Marco. 1994. “Julius Evola e la Lega Teosofica Indipendente.” Storia Contemporanea 25: 39-56.

Valento, Elisabetta. 1994. Homo Faber: Julius Evola tra Arte e Alchimia. Rome: Fondazione Julius Evola.

Valento, Elisabetta, ed. 1991. Lettere di Julius Evola a Tristan Tzara (1919-1923). Rome: Fondazione Julius Evola.

Post Date:
15 March 2017


Oberto Airaudi


1950 (May 29):  Oberto Airaudi was born in Balangero, in the province of Turin, Italy.

1967:  Airaudi published his first book, Poesie dei miei sedici anni (Poems of a sixteen years old). He also produced his first painting, Pensiero già arrivato ai primi segni ritrovati, collaudati in verità (My thought has just arrived to the first symbols, and they have been rediscovered and proven true).

1969:  Although the legal age in Italy at that time was twenty-one, Airaudi successfully petitioned the Court of Turin to be recognized of age at nineteen and marry.

1975:  Having abandoned his activity as an insurance broker, Airaudi founded in Turin the Centro Ricerche e Informazioni Horus (Horus Research and Information Center), devoted to esotericism, naturopathy, and parapsychology.

1970s:  Airaudi became part of the artistic avant-garde milieu in Turin, and was particularly influenced by the Concrete Art Movement and by painter Filippo Scroppo.

1975-1977:  Airaudi first conceived the idea of an esoteric community and started purchasing land in the Valchiusella valley.

1979:  The first community of Damanhur was inaugurated.

1980 (ca.):  Airaudi started producing his signature “Selfic” paintings.

1992:  The Temples of Humankind, kept secret for years, were “discovered” through the revelations of a disgruntled former member, and they became public knowledge.

1996:  With the settlement of the corresponding legal cases, Airaudi and Damanhur became legally entitled to open the Temples of Humankind to visitors.

2004 (September):  The “selfic cabin,” where Airaudi’s paintings were exhibited, was inaugurated within the Niatel art gallery in Vidracco, Piedmont.

2011 (May):  The first “selfic cabin” outside Italy, known as the Hawks Hill Cabin, was inaugurated in a private home in the Scotts Valley, near Santa Cruz, California.

2013 (June 23):  Oberto Airaudi died in the nucleo-community of Aval, located in Cuceglio, in the province of Turin. His followers believe that he continues to paint through students-mediums whom Airaudi himself prepared.


Oberto Airaudi (1950-2013) [Image at right] is mostly known as the founder of Damanhur, a federation of communities with distinctive spiritual teachings inspired by Theosophy, the religion of ancient Egypt, and Western esotericism. Some 600 “citizens” of Damanhur live in more than twenty communities scattered around the Valchiusella valley, located thirty miles out of Turin, Italy, and another 400 live nearby, with “centers” catering to those who are interested in Damanhur’s worldview in several Italian and European cities, in the United States, and in Japan.

Airaudi was born in Balangero, in the province of Turin, Italy, on May 29, 1950. According to his autobiographic writings (Airaudi 2011) and to his followers, as a child he already experienced visions and prodigies, and was able to heal his friends. He was certainly precocious, as at age seventeen he published his first book of poems and produced his first known painting. He gave it the title Pensiero già arrivato ai primi segni ritrovati, collaudati in verità (My thought has just arrived to the first symbols, and they have been rediscovered and proven true). [Image at right]

Although at that time the legal age in Italy was twenty-one, at nineteen Airaudi successfully petitioned the court if Turin to be recognized of age and marry. He became the youngest licensed insurance broker in the region, but he also maintained a strong interest in alternative spirituality and healing. In 1975, having abandoned his activity as an insurance broker, Airaudi founded in Turin the Centro Ricerche e Informazioni Horus (Horus Research and Information Center), devoted to esotericism, naturopathy, and parapsychology, and became a popular esoteric lecturer in the region. Between 1975 and 1977, Airaudi first conceived the idea of an esoteric community and started purchasing land in the Valchiusella valley. In 1979, the first community of Damanhur was inaugurated and Airaudi’s social and spiritual experiment eventually grew to become the largest New Age-esoteric commune in Europe. It includes now schools for children (Introvigne 1999a) and a sizable number of second generation members. In Damanhur, Airaudi took the name of Falco Tarassaco. In Italian, Falco means “hawk,” and “Tarassaco” is Italian for Taraxacum officinale, the common dandelion, which has healing properties.

While the community, or rather communities, of Damanhur have been frequently described by scholars of new religious movements and intentional communities and journalists (see e.g. Berzano 1998; Merrifield 1998; Introvigne 1999b), Airaudi’s artistic activity has received less attention. Airaudi, however, always regarded himself as an artist as wells as a community leader, and art maintains a central role in Damanhur’s spirituality (Zoccatelli 2016).

Before founding Damanhur, Airaudi became part of Turin’s artistic avant-garde. He was particularly influenced by the Concrete Art Movement. This Italian movement was founded in 1948 to promote non-figurative art, in particular art with a strong emphasis on abstraction, free from imitation and reference to the outside world. The term “Concrete Art” had been coined in France by the Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg (born Christian Emil Marie Küpper, 1883-1931), closely associated with the De Stijl (The Style) art movement, also known as Neoplasticism, and strongly influenced by Theosophy. Although van Doesburg was not a member of the Theosophical Society, he knew about Theosophy through the most important artist and theorist of De Stijl, fellow Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), who was a member of the Society for all his life.

An examination of Airaudi’s early paintings evidences the influence of Filippo Scroppo (1910-1993), a pastor of the Waldensian Church, the oldest Italian Protestant denomination, and a prominent representative of the Concrete Art movement in Turin [Image at right]. This is not surprising, as the young Airaudi and the Concrete Art painters were part of the same Turin avant-garde milieu and shared a common interest in Theosophy. After the foundation of Damanhur, Airaudi’s artistic creativity was mostly devoted to direct the construction of the underground Temples of Humankind, whose existence was kept secret by Damanhur for more than twelve years. Only in 1992, through the revelations of a disgruntled ex-member, did the media and the Italian authorities discover the underground temple. Tax and zoning authorities claimed that it had been built illegally and threatened to destroy it. The legal cases, however, were settled in 1996, and from then on Damanhur was legally entitled to keep its temple and to open it to visitors. In the first years of media attention after the discovery of the temple, Damanhur welcomed 50,000 visitors per year. More recently, the number has stabilized around 20,000 (see Esperide Ananas and Stambecco Pesco 2009).

The Temples of Humankind are a huge subterranean complex comprised of a fantastic collection of richly decorated rooms and galleries. It is an underground work of art, completely built, or rather excavated, and decorated by hand. It includes rooms known as the Hall of Water, the Hall of Earth, the Hall of Spheres, the Hall of Mirrors, the Hall of Metals, the Blue Temple, and the Labyrinth. As Introvigne and Zoccatelli noted in 2010, “for Damanhur’s citizens, the temple is much more than a means of expressing their artistic creativity; it is a ‘mystical pole,’ at which ritual work takes place for the benefit of the whole of humanity. A number of different rituals express a worldview based on the sanctity of nature, karma, reincarnation, and the tradition of Western esotericism” (Introvigne and Zoccatelli 1010:853). [Image 4 at right]

Art in general is of central importance in the spiritual experience of Damanhur. In the philosophy of Airaudi, art is perceived as a unique carrier of spiritual teachings. “I produce paintings,” Airaudi said, “because there are things I can only write in this way. With my ‘Selfic’ Paintings I try to give an aesthetic idea of my esoteric message” (Arciere Aglio 2006:5).

“Selfic painting” is the name Airaudi gave to his own art. In fact, Selfica is one of the most peculiar beliefs within the philosophical and spiritual system of Damanhur. The words “Self” and “Selfica” are not part of the Italian language. “Self” is, of course, an English word. Airaudi borrowed it, but changed its meaning to designate the spiral as a fundamental form of life. For the Damanhur community, Selfica is also a field of spiritual research and a science, by which Damanhurians try to contact energies and intelligent beings from other dimensions and planets. They use rituals and “Selfic machines” to mobilize the special energy associated with the spiral form. They believe that the science of Selfica was known in the ancient Egyptian, Etruscan, Celtic and Minoan cultures.

The basis of Selfica is the notion that the spiral form is endowed with special powers. Devices and “machines” (“Selfs”), based on the spiral form and constructed of certain metals, colors, special inks, and minerals, are built in Damanhur to be used as catalysts to attract forces and beings from other planes of existence. Building a Selfic structure, Airaudi taught, is like constructing bodies that these forces and beings may claim as their own and use. It is also an aesthetic and artistic experience.

Airaudi’s Selfic paintings, in turn, are not merely works of art. According to Damanhurian Esperide Ananas (born Silvia Buffagni), Damanhurians take the names of flowers and/or animals when the join the community). These works are “defined as ‘Selfic paintings’, because they are based on what he [Airaudi] claimed was an ancient art that conveys ‘intelligent’ energies through two-dimensional forms created by signs and colors” (Esperide Ananas 2004:A II). Selfic paintings are believed to have their own auras that affect the space around them. The size of the Selfic painting is important, as it determines the scope of the aura’s effects. [Image 5 at right]

In Airaudi’s Selfic paintings, the function that spirals made of wire perform in the “Selfic machines” are performed by colors, which translate three dimensions into two. Selfic paintings, Airaudi believed, “are kept active by light and the attention of their observers. The colors, forms and signs are alive, animate and in constant transformation. They project signals and information to the surrounding environment and the viewer” (Esperide Ananas 2004:A II).

The key for reading Selfic paintings is given by Airaudi’s combination of colors, forms, and titles, with the latter always expressed in poetic form. Almost all Selfic paintings manifest various characteristics when viewed under different conditions of light. For example, daylight and ultraviolet light reveal different layers, and as a consequence, different meanings in each painting. When Selfic paintings are placed alongside one another, they create effects different from those of a single painting, because they “live” in symbiosis and interact with one another in the mind of the viewer.

Damanhurians explain that a maximum amplification of the paintings’ functions can be obtained within a Selfic cabin. It is a structure created by the display of at least thirty-three Selfic paintings, if possible from different periods, with different themes and sizes, along with a spherical Selfic machine called a “Spheroself.” The Selfic machine consists of wire spirals and a sphere that contains a “special alchemical liquid” (Selet online catalog n.d.). The Niatel gallery, located in the town of Vidracco, in the arts and wellness center open by the communities to the public called Damanhur Crea, houses a permanent exhibition of Selfic paintings. Known as “Niatel, Galleria dei Quadri Selfici di Oberto Airaudi” (Niatel, Gallery of Oberto Airaudi’s Selfic Paintings), it is the most complex “Selfic cabin” in the world. According to Esperide Ananas, who has been living in Damanhur for over twenty years, where she conducts research in the field of Selfica, “a Selfic cabin is a true gateway to higher energies and intelligences, a space for amplifying therapeutic effects and the ideal place to work on perceptions, dreams, and to reach a state of increased integration and mental harmony” (Esperide Ananas 2013:189).

In addition to the cabin created at Damanhur from the permanent exhibition of Airaudi’s Selfic paintings, there are other cabins worldwide, located in the United States, Japan, and Croatia. The first one outside of Italy, known as the Hawks Hill Cabin, opened in late May 2011 in a private home in Scotts Valley located in the mountains behind Santa Cruz, California. The Hawks Hill Cabin is becoming the heart of a Damanhurian community that meets regularly for meditation and research, and is called the “Selfic Temple” by its Californian users.

Although Airaudi produced thousands of paintings, he never offered a direct explanation of their meanings. However, he always wrote a “narration” on the back of a painting’s canvas, which goes beyond being a mere title and guides the viewer in reading and interpreting the work. In 2000, Airaudi painted what I personally consider his masterpiece and his best Selfic work. [Image 6 at right] It now greets visitors in the permanent exhibition of Selfic paintings located in Damanhur. The title, or narrative, reads as follows:

All the heavens in your hands, just as the shadows owned by the universes. We will have new equilibriums, and powers to explore. The geometries, in movement, will have adventure, the stars will shine in the extreme and cold darkness, heating new worlds. In you, synchronic moves, reflected thought, magic acts will develop. I am the visible key, the mystic door to the inner heavens. I welcome and reflect, pulsate and combine frequencies until I reach outside of times, of time. Aeonian intelligences assist to brief acts, hesitations, hints of power difficult to understand, for now. Liquid densities wait from above, impatient spiritual beings come and go from this birth-room, they attract waves-soul, for you. The hearts (where there are hearts) beat appropriate rhythms, ritual, moving, they ordered thought and theurgic magic. I am, observed, the door-frequency that half-closes itself, and that the sensitive knows how to dance, still hesitating. It is this the right behavior. All the heavens in your hands, now, just as the shadows owned by the universes… (Tempia Valenta 2004:AIII).

Oberto Airaudi’s Selfic paintings may be read on two levels. On the one hand, Airaudi was not an amateur artist and his work is a legitimate part of the Turin avant-garde of the twentieth century, expressed in such movements as the Italian version of Concrete Art. Airaudi’s paintings are open to iconographic readings of colors and forms, which find parallels in the Concrete Art style originating with Theo van Doesburg and passing through Filippo Scroppo and others. On the other hand, the emic reading by Damanhurians of the Selfic paintings is less interested in their artistic style and sources. For the members of the Damanhur community, Airaudi’s Selfic paintings are spiritual artifacts and ritual objects. Similar to the complicated Selfic machines, Airaudi’s paintings are regarded as portals capable of attracting intelligent energies and, ultimately, of saving the world from impending doom through the mystical power of the spiral form.

The creation of Selfic paintings in Damanhur did not end with Airaudi. Before dying, Airaudi instructed a selected group of students, to act as mediums and paint together guided by his spirit after his death. The paintings they produce are signed by “Oberto Airaudi through his mediums.”

**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1: Photograph of Oberto Airaudi.

Image #2: Photograph of Pensiero già arrivato ai primi segni ritrovati, collaudati in verità (My thought has just arrived to the first symbols, and they have been rediscovered and proven true).

Image #3: One of Airaudi’s early paintings evidencing the influence of Filippo Scroppo on his work.

Image #4: Photograph of one of the rooms in The Temples of Humankind, a huge subterranean complex comprised of a fantastic collection of richly decorated rooms and galleries.

Image #5: Photograph of one of Airaudi’s Selfic paintings.

Image #6: Photograph of one of Airaudi’s most notable Selfic paintings.


Airaudi, Oberto. 2011. Stories of an Alchemist: The Extraordinary Childhood Years of the Founder of Damanhur in 33 Tales. Vidracco, Italy: Niatel.

Arciere Aglio [Gianluca Gallerani]. 2006. I Quadri Selfici di Falco. Raccolta ragionata delle conoscenze attuali, dalle serate e i corsi di Oberto Airaudi. Unpublished typescript for internal circulation in the Damanhur community.

Berzano, Luigi. 1998. Damanhur. Popolo e comunità. Leumann. Turin: Elledici.

Esperide Ananas [Silvia Buffagni]. 2013. Spirals of Energy: The Ancient Art of Selfica. Vidracco: Devodama.

Esperide Ananas [Silvia Buffagni], and Stambecco Pesco [Silvio Palombo]. 2009. The Traveler’s Guide to Damanhur: The Amazing Northern Italian Eco-Society. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Esperide Ananas [Silvia Buffagni]. 2006. Damanhur: Temples of Humankind. New York: CoSM Press.

Esperide Ananas [Silvia Buffagni]. 2004. “La Pittura Selfica – Selfic Painting.” Pp. AI-AII in Tempia Valenta 2004.

Introvigne, Massimo. 1999a, “Children of the Underground Temple: Growing Up in Damanhur.” Pp. 138-49 in Children in New Religions, edited by Susan J. Palmer and Charlotte Hardman. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Introvigne, Massimo. 1999b. “Damanhur: A Magical Community in Italy.” Pp. 183-94 in New Religious Movements: Challenge and Response, edited by Bryan Wilson and Jamie Cresswell. New York: Routledge.

Introvigne, Massimo and PierLuigi Zoccatelli. 2010. “Damanhur.” Pp. 852-54 in Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices, Volume II, edited by J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, Second Volume. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio.

Merrifield, Jeff. 1998. Damanhur: The Real Dream. London: Thorsons.

Selet. n.d. “Spheroself.” In Selet, online catalog. Accessed from on 12 March 2017.

Tempia Valenta, Eraldo, ed. 2004. Quadri Selfici di Oberto Airaudi. Turin: Il Mettifoglio.

Zoccatelli, PierLuigi. 2016. “‘All the Heavens in Your Hands:’ Oberto Airaudi and the Art of Damanhur.” Pp. 145-62 in Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 19:145-62.

Post Date:
18 March 2017


Zbigniew Makowski


1930 (January 31):  Zbigniew Makowski was born in Warsaw, Poland.

1950:  Makowski was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw.

1956:  Makowski obtained his diploma after working in the workshop of K. Tomorowicz in Warsaw.

1957:  The first individual exhibition of the artist took place in the student club Hybrids in Warsaw.

1958/1959:  Makowski created his first illuminated book, which opened a series of over two hundred works of this kind. In order to produce it, he worked on a book by Theosophist Annie Besant, writing and painting on a copy of it.

1962:  Makowski travelled to Paris, where he met André Breton and became involved with the artistic movement Phases.

1965/1966:  Makowski worked as a lecturer in the National Higher School of Fine Arts (from 1996 called University of Fine Arts) in Poznań, Poland.

1973:  Makowski received the prestigious Polish Art Critique’s Prize.

1982–1988:  Makowski took a break from artistic exhibitions.

1991:  The artist’s painting Mirabilitas secundum diversos modos exire potest a rebus (painted between 1973–1980) was presented by the Polish Government to the Office of the United Nations in Geneva.

1992:  Makowski received the prestigious Polish Jan Cybis Award for lifetime achievement.

1995:  The so called “Blue Exhibition” of the painter, organized for the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, took place in the Zachęta Gallery in Warsaw.

2010:  Makowski received the Special Prize of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

2010-2019:  Makowski continued to live and work in Warsaw

2019 (August 19):  Zbigniew Makowski died.


Zbigniew Makowski is one of the most important Polish contemporary artists. His art includes both paintings and illuminated books. Art critics called his work “metaphorical painting” or “romantic geometry,” because of the forms he uses in his paintings, consisting of geometric figures and fantastic backgrounds with surrealistic elements, which create mysterious, dreamy visions. Makowski’s works are also often called treatises rather than paintings, because the author fills them with words or lines of small letters in many different shapes, reminiscent of graphics in alchemical treatises. His art includes continuous references to the whole tradition of Western esotericism. There is a certain emphasis on Theosophy, but Makowski is influenced by a large multiplicity of esoteric sources.

Zbigniew Makowski was born in 1930 in Warsaw, Poland. From 1950Makowski1to 1956, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. He obtained a diploma by studying in the workshop of Kazimierz Tomorowicz (1897–1961), a landscape painter and a representative of Polish Formism, an avant-garde artistic current emphasizing form over content. Makowski debuted as an artist in the mid-1950s. The political situation in Poland after World War II and the emerging communist regime had an impact on the development of his art. Makowski did not follow the trends officially imposed by the regime, and from the very beginning of his career started looking for non-conventional forms of expression.

He became a member of an international movement known as Phases, which was born in the early 1950s in France. Phases was established by the French poet and critic Édouard Jaguer (1924–2006), not as a group but as an informal collaborative enterprise of artists engaged in different projects. Phases never published a manifesto, but the common denominator of his artists was the importance it attributed to imagination (Dąbkowska-Zydroń 1994:9–15, 118–20). Makowski was involved with this movement from 1962 on. He first encountered Phases during a trip to Paris, and later he repeatedly exhibited his works together with other artists involved with the movement. In Paris, Makowski also met the father of Surrealism, André Breton (1896–1966), whose artistic explorations became an important source of inspiration for him (Szafkowska 2015:11-16).

In the initial period of his artistic work (1965–1960), Makowski was strongly influenced by expressionism and existentialism. At that time, he was mostly creating realistic works: still lives, landscapes, and portraits. However, he quickly started to move towards Surrealism and Informalism. In the early 1960s, his art could be characterized as structural abstraction, with the use of simple, and often geometric, shapes in shades of black, white, and grey. In the first half of the 1960s his works were filled with lines (horizontal, vertical, sometimes circular  Makowski or parabolic), painted across signs and symbols, letters, or whole sentences (Sowińska 1980:2–5). [Image at right] At this time, the artist was mostly known for his calligraphic compositions, which he himself called “letters written to unknown addressees” (Makowski 1965:8).

In the mid-1960s, signs and symbols, becoming over time more and more numerous and varied, were placed in landscape backgrounds divided into the two spheres of earth and air. In this scenery, Makowski placed his favorite keys, ladders, stairs, geometrical forms, letters, ciphers, citations, and labyrinths. These elements were realistically painted but did not serve a descriptive function, Rather, they became symbols with a secret meanings, within the framework of a specific artistic and esoteric language that Makowski used but did not explain to his audiences. It is this language that critics nicknamed “romantic geometry.” In the second part of the 1960s and at the beginning of the 1970s, the painter abandoned this style, but came back to it in the 1980s (Sowińska 1980:2–5).

Makowski was awarded many prestigious Polish prizes, among others the Cyprian Kamil Norwid Prize of Art Critique in 1973, the Jan Cybis Award in 1992, and the Special Prize of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage in 2010 (Szafkowska 2015:11–16). One of Makowski’s paintings, Mirabilitas secundum diversos modos exire potest a rebus, (painted between 1973 and 1980) was presented as a gift from the Polish Government to the Office of the United Nations in Geneva. Works of Makowski are present in the most important museums in Poland, with a large collection is in the National Museum in Wroclaw, and around the world, including in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Throughout his long career, the artist took part in over two hundred collective exhibitions and around one hundred personal ones (Szafkowska 2015:11–16).

Makowski is an erudite painter, inspired not only by the history of art, but also by literature, philosophy, and the traditions of cultures and religions around the world. Using those inspirations, he created an original mythology based on his own experiences, feelings, and thoughts. He tried to affect not only the aesthetic sense of his audience, but also their emotions, their mind, and their subconscious, converting his works of art into multidimensional spiritual experiences (Nastulanka 1978:6). The surfaces of his paintings are reminiscent of multicolored carpets or richly ornated collages, with a baroque sense of horror vacui (Szafkowska 2015:11–16).

Makowski is also known for creating artistic works that can be called “illuminated books” in the tradition of William Blake (1757-1827). Makowski created over two hundred works of this kind (Szafkowska 2015:11), experimenting with the very form and function of books. The illuminated books are a key to understanding his paintings, and often serve as the basis for future compositions. The books themselves are recreated many times: the artist includes paintings and drawings in them with pencil, ink, gouache, or watercolor, cuts or stitches them, adds his notes, citations, and poetry. They become a kind of magical grimoires, written with an encrypted language, whose multiplicity of meaning cannot be easily discovered by the uninitiated (Bartnik 2008:7–16). The basis for the first “illuminated book” was one of the works of Annie Besant (1847–1933), the second president of the Theosophical Society. The painter started from a printed book and wrote and painted on it. However, Makowski sometimes created his own books from the beginning, using handmade paper and illustrating every single page (Szafkowska 2015:15).

Makowski combines writing and drawing, multiplying the meanings of Makowski3his works and making them somewhat hermetic and hard toread. The presence of writing constitutes the original character of Makowski’s paintings. [Image at right] The artist often uses not only his own notes, but also sentences in various languages, among others ancient Greek and Latin, citations from classics of literature, poetry, and so on. There is a characteristic motif of a spiral inscription that appears in several of his works and resembles a mandala. Sometimes, Makowski encrypts his notes; some of them can be read only in a mirror, others are deliberately partly erased (Bartnik 2008:8). One of the inspirations for this “Lettrism” were the works of Abraham ben Samuel Abulafia (1240–91), one of the leading Kabbalists of the Middle Ages, as well as those of an Italian priest, mystic and cartographer of the fourteenth century, Opicinus de Canistris (1296–c.1353), also known as the Anonymous Ticinensis, the creator of the so called anthropomorphic maps (Baranowa 2011:72–79).

Beyond these references, however, we find in Makowski’s work a great variety of symbols, coming from both Western and Eastern esoteric traditions. [Image at right] His favorite motifs are keys, black birds,labyrinths, stairs, ladders, bevels, gates and portals, spirals, cups, swords, Platonic solids, Tarot cards placed on an oneiric Makowski4.pngbackground. [Image at right] A motif he often uses is a female portrait (a contemporary woman but also a goddess, a Renaissance lady, or a medieval Madonna), appearing where we would not expect it. Nothing is what it seems at first sight to be. Ostensibly realistic elements become archetypical forms, creating “mystical rebuses” (Szafkowska 2015:11–16).

Multiple Western esoteric traditions are present in many of Makowski’s paintings and illuminated books. The esoteric reference is not only apparent in the works themselves, but is also explicitly mentioned in the painter’s notes and memoirs. For instance, Makowski mentions his return to Warsaw in 1945, a city in ruin right after the war. He was fifteen, and along with his colored reproductions of paintings by Joseph M.W. Turner (1775–1851) and the Pre-Raphaelites, and his own drawings, he brought with him books by Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925), the founder of Anthroposophy, and by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–1891), the co-founder of the Theosophical Society. In his Autobiography, Makowski mentions his interest in the Austrian esoteric novelist, Gustav Meyrink (1868–1932), and in Polish messianic philosophers. He took a special interest in the ideas of one of the latter, Józef Maria Hoene-Wroński (1776–1853), although he was not fully convinced by them. He also read the Polish Hegelian philosopher, August Cieszkowski (1814–1894), and delighted in the works of one of the most important Polish Romantic poets, Juliusz Słowacki (1809–1849), himself not foreign to esotericism. Among his acknowledged inspirations, he mentions also Theosophical books such as The Great Initiates, by French Theosophist Édouard Schuré (1841–1929), and The Book of the Living God, by German writer and painter Joseph Anton Schneiderfranken, known as Bô Yin Râ (18761–943) (Makowski 1978:79–90).

Other sources important for Makowski were the classic authors of Western esotericism: Paracelsus (1493–1541), Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499), Éliphas Lévi (1810–1875) (Bartnik 2008:7–11), and William Blake (Szafkowska 2015:11). Like other artists interested in esotericism, Makowski was also influenced by the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961) (Makowski 2007:66). In addition to Hermeticism, and ancient mysteries, the artist is also a devoted student of Kabbalah, particularly as interpreted by Christian philosophers such as Ramon Llull (ca. 1232–ca. 1315) and Giordano Bruno (1548–1600). Of Bruno, who was burned at stake in Rome in 1600 by the Catholic Church for his unorthodox, esoteric ideas, Makowski wrote: “I owe it to him that I live, and that I have the courage to think” (Makowski 1978:60).

Makowski repeatedly quoted Llull’s treatise Ars Magna (ca. 1305), a part of his philosophical work Ars generalis ultima, and also mentioned the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1467), an enigmatic fifteenth century Italian esoteric work probably written by Francesco Colonna (c.1433–1527). Ultimately, however, it would be impossible to list all of Makowski’s esoteric inspirations, just as it would be impossible to ascribe him to any specific esoteric movement or current (Janicka 1973:226). Makowski continued to lead his artistic workshop in Warsaw until his death in 2019. His work remains a testimony to the widespread influence of Western esotericism on twentieth and twenty-first century art.

**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1:  Zbigniew Makowski, photo by Mirosław R. Makowski, c. 1974 (in the background: a self-portrait based on a photograph from the artist’s childhood).
Image #2:  Zbigniew Makowski, Które były krajobrazy ostateczne [Those that were final landscapes] (1963). Courtesy of Agra-Art Auction House, Warsaw, Poland.
Image #3:  Zbigniew Makowski, Labyrinth (1963–1972). Courtesy of Agra-Art Auction House, Warsaw, Poland.
Image #4:  Zbigniew Makowski, Mirabilita (1995). Courtesy of Agra-Art Auction House, Warsaw, Poland.


Baranowa, Anna. 2012. “Zbigniew Makowski.” Pp. 28–34 in Arttak – Sztuki Piekne, no. 3

Baranowa, Anna. 2011.“Ars Magna.” Pp. 73–79 in Dekada Literacka, no. 516.

Bartnik, Krystyna. 2008. Zbigniew Makowski. Wrocław: Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu.

Dąbkowska-Zydroń, Jolanta. 1994. Surrealizm po surrealizmie. Międzynarodowy Ruch „PHASES.” Warszawa: Instytut Kultury.

Hermansdorfer, Mariusz. 1995. “Sztuka Zbigniewa Makowskiego.” Pp. 4–7 in the catalogue Błękitna Wystawa. Warszawa: Galeria Sztuki Współczesnej Zachęta.

Janicka, Krystyna. 1973. Surrealizm. Warszawa: Wydawnictwa Filmowe i Artystyczne.

Kuczyńska, Agnieszka and Krzysztof Cichoń. 2008. Wąski Dunaj No 5. Ze Zbigniewem Makowskim rozmawiają Agnieszka Kuczyńska i Krzysztof Cichoń. Łódź: Atlas Sztuki.

Makowski, Zbigniew. 1978. “Autobiografia (fragmenty).” Pp. 79–90 in Zbigniew Makowski (Katalog wystawy). Wrocław: Muzeum Narodowe, and Łódź: Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych.

Makowski, Zbigniew. 1965. “Artysta o sobie.” P. 8 in Współczesność, no. 9.

Makowski, Zbigniew. n.d. “Korespondencja z Jackiem Waltosiem na temat ‘Wesela’ Stanisława Wyspiańskiego.” Pp. 66–68 in Zeszyty naukowo-artystyczne Wydziału Malarstwa Akademii Sztuk Pieknych w Krakowie, no. 8.

Nastulanka, Krystyna. 1978. “Gdzie czekają niespodzianki. Rozmowa ze Zbigniewem Makowskim.” Pp. 8 in Polityka, no. 51.

Sowińska, Teresa. 1980. “Wyobraźnia bez granic.” Pp. 2–5 in Zbigniew Makowski. Zeichnungen, Gouchen und Aquarelle. Berlin: Ośrodek Informacji i Kultury Polskiej Leipzig.

Szafkowska, Magdalena. 2015. “Księgi artystyczne Zbigniewa Makowskiego.” Pp. 11–16 in Polia 10.VI.1946, edited by M. Szafkowska. Wrocław: Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu.

Zbigniew Makowski’s works in NYC Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Accessed from = on 20 February 2017.

Post Date:
20 February 2017


Kazimierz Stabrowski


1869 (November 29):  Kazimierz Stabrowski was born in Kruplany (Russian Empire, formerly Poland, present-day Belarus).

1887:  Stabrowski was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

1892:  While preparing for his diploma in painting, Stabrowski travelled for a few months to Greece and the Middle East.

1894:  Stabrowski travelled to Germany. He completed the painting Mohammed in the Desert, also known as Escape from Mecca, for which he was awarded the Great Gold Medal by the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. He started studying under I.J. Riepin.

1897:  Stabrowski went to Paris, where he studied painting in the Académie Julian under J.-J. Benjamin-Constant and J.-P. Laurens.

1890:  Stabrowski returned to St. Petersburg.

c. 1900:  Stabrowski wrote his short story, Legend.

1902 (September 15):  Stabrowski married Julia Janiszewska. They moved to Warsaw, where the painter joined the Polish Artists’ Society “Art” [Sztuka] and started preparing for establishing a School of Fine Arts.

1904 (March 17):  The Warsaw School of Fine Arts was established. Stabrowski became its director and one of its professors. In the same year, Lithuanian painter Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis joined the Academy. The show Lilla Weneda, with Stabrowski’s scenography, debuted at The City Theater in Kraków.

1905:  Stabrowski became a member of the Theosophical circle in Warsaw that later evolved into the “Alba” lodge, of which he became the Secretary.

1908:  “The Young Art” ball took place (organized annually since then) and became a source of inspiration for a series of esoterically inspired paintings by Stabrowski, including In Front of Stained Glass – A Peacock , The Princess of the Magic Crystal, and The Story of the Waves.

1909:  Stabrowski was involved in a conflict with one of the School committee members, because both of financial problems of the institution and his involvement in the occult. As a consequence, he resigned from his position as director. Roughly at the same time, he became one of the founding members of the Warsaw Theosophical Society. Around this time, he also painted Vision I–III (Sketches for Annunciation).

1912:  The Warsaw Theosophical Society, of which Stabrowski was the head, was registered in April.

1913:  Stabrowski took part in the European Theosophical Conference in Stockholm, where he also exhibited his paintings. After the Conference, he went to Berlin and left his works in care of the family of Rudolph Steiner, so that the founder of the Anthroposophical Society and German artists could see them.

1915:  During World War I, Stabrowski moved to St. Petersburg. He organized a large exhibition of his works there.

1916:  Stabrowski collaborated in several artistic events held in Moscow.

1918:  Stabrowski and his wife moved back again to Warsaw, due to the political situation in Russia. He established the artistic association “Sursum Corda” and organized an important exhibition in Warsaw.

1920:  Stabrowski took part in organizing the Polish Theosophical Society. In this year, he painted The Consoler of Monsters and Angel and Monsters.

1924:  Stabrowski became a member of a Polish Anthroposophical group that started to form in this time (the Polish Anthroposophical Society would be established officially only in the year the painter died). He painted Fantastic Composition.

1927:  Stabrowski celebrated a jubilee for his 40 years of artistic work. Four exhibitions celebrated the event.

1929 (June 8):  Stabrowski died in Garwolin, near Warsaw, Poland.


Kazimierz Stabrowski was a celebrated Polish painter, and the founder and first Stabrowski1director of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. [Image at right] He was also a very important figure in the Polish esoteric milieu: he was the first secretary of a registered Theosophical group in Poland, a founding member of the Polish Theosophical Society, and later a co-founder of the Anthroposophical Society in Poland in the 1920s. His esoteric interests reflect in some of his paintings. He is well-known as an artist for his dreamy landscapes, but even more for his symbolic, fantastic, and mystical compositions.

Stabrowski was born on November 29, 1869 in Kruplany, a village near Nowogródek that was then in the Russian Empire, although it was earlier part of Poland and is located in present-day Belarus. Stabrowski’s parents Antoni and Zofia (née Pilecka) belonged to a family of Polish landed gentry. Stabrowski’s early education took place in the Real School in Białystok, which he attended from 1880 to 1886. In 1887, he was admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg (Skalska-Miecik 2002:275).

During his studies in the Academy, he travelled to several countries to improve his working skills. In 1892, he went via Odessa, Constantinople, Athens, Rhodes, Smyrna, Beirut, and Jaffa to Palestine (Jerusalem), where he took part in a Catholic retreat and received his confirmation, before traveling further to Port Said, Alexandria, and Cairo. Two years later, he went to Germany and spent a few months there. He was regarded as a very talented student, who won several prizes in St. Petersburg for his painting: a Small and a Great Silver Medals in 1892, another Great Silver Medal in 1893, and a Great Golden Medal in 1894, when he received his diploma. He obtained a Master’s Degree with a painting entitled Mohammed in the Desert (known also as Escape from Mecca). In this work his religious and metaphysical interests, which would shape his later career, were already present.

His life-long passion for travels supplied him with inspiration and fueled his interest in the mystic East. From the time of his early art studies, he was also interested in Theosophy, that he had encountered in the esoteric milieus of St. Petersburg. After getting his diploma, Stabrowski studied one year in the workshop of renowned Russian realist painter Ilja Repin (1844–1930), under whose influence he remained for a long time.

In 1897, Stabrowski went to Paris to continue his studies in painting at the famous Académie Julian. His main teachers there were Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1903), a French painter well-known for his Orientalist taste, and the academic painter and sculptor Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921). After one year, he came back to St. Petersburg. In this time, besides painting, Stabrowski started to make a name for himself as an art critic and writer. He published several art-related notes and essays in Russian newspapers, and also wrote (but did not publish) a short story, Legend (Stabrowski c.1895-1905).

Some Polish art historians (e.g. Skalska 2002:275) claimed that, after Stabrowski left Riepin’s workshop and went to Paris, he spent a year in Munich where he studied under the Greek painter Nikolaos Gyzis (1842-1901). If confirmed, the detail would be relevant, as Gyzis was himself deeply interested in mysticism and esotericism. However, based on our own research, documents at the Academy of the Fine Arts in Munich show that, at that time, a Polish student named Stabrowski did study under Gyzis, but his first name was Edmond, not Kazimierz, he was born in Warsaw and was twenty, while our Stabrowski was born in Kruplany and was twenty-six.

In 1902, Stabrowski married Julia Janiszewska (1869-1941), herself an artist, who had completed her studies in sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. After the marriage, they moved to Warsaw, where the painter became a member of the Polish Artists’ Society “Sztuka” (Art). He started to organize an artistic academy thanks to the support of his Russian connections, including the Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich (1857–1905). With the permission of the Governor General, the Warsaw School of Fine Arts was officially opened on March 17, 1904. It is the ancestor of present-day Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. Stabrowski became its first director, and one of the first teachers, along with such well-known Polish artists as Xavery Dunikowski (1875–1964), Ferdynand Ruszczyc (1870–1936), Konrad Krzyżanowski (1872–1922), and Karol Tichy (1871–1939).

In this time, Stabrowski’s esoteric interests also flourished. He became a member of the first Polish Theosophical circle. Later, this informal circle became the Alba Lodge, placed under the jurisdiction of the Russian Theosophical Society and named after the leading Russian Theosophist, Anna “Alba” Kamenskaya (1867–1952 ). Stabrowski became its Secretary. We do not know exactly at what date Stabrowski first joined the Theosophical Society. We do know, however, that he was officially a member of the Theosophical Society in England in the first years of the twentieth century and that, after the Russian branch of the Theosophical Society was officially established in 1908 (incorporated on September 30 and registered on November 17), he was transferred to the Russian Section on December 18, 1908.

In 1904, Stabrowski’s Warsaw School of Fine Arts enrolled as a student Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875–1911), a Lithuanian composer, who later also gained international fame as a painter. Čiurlionis was twenty-nine at this time, which made him one of the School’s oldest students, and he befriended some of his teachers (Žukienė 2015:12). At the time of his studies and friendship with Stabrowski, the Lithuanian artist also developed his interests in Theosophy (Hess and Dulska 2017). Although Čiurlionis died young (at age thirty-six), and never joined the Theosophical Society, a number of allusions to Theosophy are recognizable in his works (Introvigne 2013).

Stabrowski was active in the esoteric milieu in Warsaw, which included well-known writers, painters, and other members of the cultural elite of the time. He organized the so called “wild strawberry tea” meetings, where occult phenomena as well as Theosophical and Kabbalistic ideas were debated (Mažrimienė 2015:45-46). Spiritualist séances were also held there. They were attended by such prominent figures as the Polish poet and playwright Tadeusz Miciński (1873–1918) and the above mentioned Čiurlionis, who sometimes also played the role of a medium (Hass 1984:90), Zenon Przesmycki (1861–1944), the editor of the journal Chimera, Artur Górski (1870–1959), whose series of articles titled “Young Poland” gave the name to an important current in Polish visual arts, Bolesław Leśmian (1877–1937), a renowned poet, and others (Siedlecka 1996:63). Stabrowski was also a regular guest at similar meetings that were held in the home of poet Edward Słoński (1872–1926) and featured the famous Polish Spiritualist medium, Jan Guzik (1875-1928).

Polish artists interested in Theosophy also cooperated in various ventures. Stabrowski prepared Theosophically-inspired covers and illustrations for books written by other Polish members of the Theosophical Society, such as Tadeusz Miciński’s Nietota: The Book of Tatra Mystery and the works of Hanna Krzemieniecka (pen name of Janina Furs-Żyrkiewicz, 1866-1930), Fate and And when He Leaves into the Eternal Abyss… A Romance beyond the Grave. The Theosophical circle of Stabrowski in the first decade of the twentieth century seems to have been strongly influenced by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the leader of the German branch of the Theosophical Society who later founded Anthroposophy. Like Steiner, Stabrowski and his friends emphasized both Theosophical Eastern ideas and the esoteric dimensions of Christianity.

In 1908, the Warsaw Philharmonic hosted a memorable “Young Art” ball,Stabrowski2organized by the Warsaw School of Fine Arts (Sieradzka 1980:187). The Academy held numerous artistic events, but the balls became an annual tradition of the school for many years, as documented by Stabrowski’s portraits of several participants in these events. These paintings, however, are not just portraits, but fantastic and symbolic interpretations of female beauty, inspired by Theosophical thought. Among them were In Front of Stained Glass – A Peacock, [Image at right] The Princess of the Magic Crystal, and The Story of the Waves.

The career of Stabrowski as director of the Warsaw School of Fine Arts came to an end in 1909, when he resigned after having been involved in a conflict with one of the school committee members. He was accused of poor management (because of financial problems of the Academy), but also criticized for his involvement in the occult and for having invited students to Spiritualist séances. Stabrowski wrote a response to the accusations, but resigned anyway.

The Polish members of the Theosophical Society were very keen on having their own branch, one that would not be directly connected to the Russian Theosophical Society. It was a political statement, implicitly criticizing Russian occupation of Poland. A letter survives, which Stabrowski sent in 1910 to the Theosophical Society’s headquarters in Adyar seeking an independent status for the Polish branch (Stabrowski 1910), but his efforts were initially unsuccessful. Only in April 1912, the Alba lodge was reconstituted as separated from the Russian section, and registered as the Warsaw Theosophical Society, with its statutes ratified by the Governor General (Bocheński n.d.; Karas 1958).

In 1913, Stabrowski took part in the European Conference of the National Sections of the Theosophical Society held in Stockholm, where he also exhibited his paintings. After the conference, he went to Berlin and left most of his works exhibited in Stockholm in care of the family of Rudolph Steiner (Skalska-Miecik 2002:276). Kalinowski claims that Stabrowski was on his way to Italy via Berlin when he met Steiner, and was asked by him to leave the paintings in Germany so that, after the Theosophists in Stockholm, artists in Berlin might see them too. Unfortunately, after Steiner’s death, those paintings were lost (Kalinowski 1927:7). Some other works, which revealed Stabrowski’s esoteric interests, but of which only the titles remain, were: Radiant [Promienisty], Larvae [Larwy], On the edge of the invisible [Na granicy niewidzialnego], In the Astral [W astralu], and others (Makowska 1986:332). Alojzy Gleic claimed that Stabrowski later also became interested in Rosicrucianism, astrology, and Kabbalah (Glejc 1936:75).

During World War I, in 1915, Stabrowski and his wife moved to St. Petersburg.Stabrowski3He organized a large exhibition of his works there and travelled to several countries. He also took part in the Russian cultural life, not only in St. Petersburg but also in Moscow. After three years, the Stabrowskis moved back to Warsaw, due to the political situation prevailing in Russia. At this time, many of his paintings were damaged or lost. When in Poland, his interest in mysticism led Stabrowski to establish an ephemeral group, “Sursum Corda,” in 1922 (Morawińska 1997:210)

In 1920, now in independent Poland, Stabrowski took part in the forming of the Polish Theosophical Society (Skalska-Miecik 2002:276). The organization was registered legally in the country in 1921, and became an official national section of the Theosophical Society, Adyar in 1923, with Wanda Dynowska (1888–1971) as its Secretary General (Hess 2015:65-66). In this period, Stabrowski painted The Consoler of Monsters, [Image at right] Angel and Monsters, and Fantastic Composition. Those paintings are also considered as inspired by Theosophy (Hess and Dulska 2017).

Since Stabrowski had always been an admirer of Rudolph Steiner, both during the latter’s career in the Theosophical Society and thereafter, it is not surprising that in 1924 the painter became a member of a Polish Anthroposophical group that started to form in this time. However, the Polish Anthroposophical Society was established officially only in the year of Stabrowski’s death.

In his last years, Stabrowski was recognized as one of Poland’s leading Stabrowski4painters, and continued his travels to a number of countries. In 1927, he celebrated his jubilee for forty years of artistic work. On the occasion, four exhibitions were organized: in Poznań, Łódź, Bydgoszcz, and Warsaw. [Image at right] Stabrowski died in Garwolin near Warsaw, on June 8, 1929, at age sixty. According to his family, his death occurred in somewhat mysterious circumstances (Skalska-Miecik 2002:277). He is regarded as a leading exponent of Polish symbolism, although the category of symbolism in general is now increasingly controversial and has been deconstructed by some critics. The important influence of Theosophy and, later, Anthroposophy in his work is increasingly recognized by historians, and Stabrowski also played a crucial role in introducing other artists and poets to Theosophical ideas.

**All images are clickable links to enlarged representations.

Image #1: Portrait of Kazimier Strabrowski.
Image #2: Stabrowski painting: In Front of Stained Glass.
Image #3: Stabrowski painting: The Consoler of Monsters.
Image #4: Strabrowsk in 1927 at the exhibition in Poznan.


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Post Date:
9 February 2017