Channeled Paintings Fulfill the Prophecy of the Ascended Masters:
Hilma af Klint at the Guggenheim: Paintings for the Future
by Alan Steinfeld of New Realities
Although channeling is never mentioned in the literature for the current Hilma af Klint exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, it is obvious for anyone who has a metaphysical inkling that this is exactly what the artist claims to have done.
This exhibition is not the same old art for art’s sake. This is art for the sake of imprinting, and even initiating viewers into higher realms of consciousness. In creating a new language of metaphysical symbols, Hilma af Klint, a Swedish artist and medium from the last century, was guided by otherworldly beings for the expansion of our collective spiritual awareness. Her abstract forms first came to the attention of the American public in 1986 with the The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890–1985, exhibit, held at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Guggenheim show is the first extensive solo show of the artist’s work ever organized in this country. With only seventy-six of the 193 paintings representing “the spirit of the world,” this limited viewing fulfills a prophecy intended for her epic: Painting for the Future.
The retrospective features Hilma’s “Temple series”, which was downloaded to her as a way of illustrating “the stages of life and humanity’s connection to the cosmos.” However, what this fine arts institution is hyped up about in their promotion, is the idea of housing the earliest non-representational paintings, created a decade before Kandinsky and Mondrian, the so-called fathers of modern art. While those painters remained more ambiguous about their visual references, it is a mistake to call af Klint non-representational. This is a point made by Andrea Klonitz in her essay for the Guggenheim catalog of the exhibition: “Her quest as a painter was to understand the fundamental levels of existence through the means of art, rather than an attempt to reimagine art and its possibilities by infusing it with new brands of spirituality, as in the cases of Kandinsky and Mondrian, whom she is compared to. While these figures were spiritually inspired and turned to abstraction, none saw themselves as a direct conduit for a spiritual Other."
Yet the majority of writers on af Klint miss this point altogether. One even labeled her work as having been “tainted by the stain of the occult.” The problem is most critics lack the capacity to understand the subtle context of the work. But there are one or two that do, such as Peter Schjeldahl in his review for The New Yorker: “Af Klint wasn’t exercising a style... She was channeling visions received from a spirit world.” Still, with the bulk of the viewing public enjoying these first Western art examples of abstraction, beneath the surface looms a vision of a multidimensional existence, that the Masters of the Higher Realms intended to display to the world.These are the paintings for the future, as Hilma called them, and it is our good fortune is that the future is now!
Born in Sweden in 1862, af Klint, like many painters and writers at the turn of the 20th century, was profoundly influenced by a spiritual renaissance, which had begun with the Foxx Sisters and their table tapping séances in the mid-1800s. Occult historian Mitch Horowitz makes the point that the leading role of women in spiritual organizations of the late 19th century gave them a greater voice in society and added power to the women’s suffrage movement.
Hilma’s awakening began in 1879, at the age of 17, when she started to participate in Spiritist séances. This was followed by studies of Rosicrucian
philosophy and Madam Blavatsky’s Theosophy. She then joined
the Edelweiss Society but soon left feeling it did not meet her
spiritual development. It was at this point Hilma along with four
other spiritual seekers, formed their own occult group called
‘The Five’ (De Fem).
Between 1896 and 1907 ‘The Five,’ who were all women, met regularly, beginning each meeting with a prayer and a meditation. This was followed by a sermon or spiritual reading in front of a Rosicrucian altar, marked by a triangle and a cross with a rose in the middle… After which, they would enter into trance states and receive messages via automatic writing, mediumship and what today would be called channeling. Early in this process, they were contacted by a group of entities referred to as "The High Masters." However, “High Masters,” seems to me to be a mundane translation. In the terms of today’s vernacular of a spiritual culture, whatever the Swedish words might be, this English could be translated as Ascended Masters. This group of higher dimensional beings was composed of six entities who identified themselves as Amaliel, Ananda, Clemens, Esther, Georg, and Gregor. Their mission through ‘The Five’ was to put humanity in touch with the higher levels of spiritual knowledge.
One such message from the entity Gregor declared: "All the knowledge that is not of the senses, not of the intellect, not of the heart, is the property that exclusively belongs to the deepest aspect of your being...the knowledge of your spirit." As early as 1904, Georg and Ananda told 'The Five' of a need for a temple to be filled with paintings from “The Masters.” They called upon the women to convey the essence of spirituality into images. While the others declined, fearing that too long association with the other realms might drive them mad, only Hilma was up for the task. When the message came through on January 1, 1906, from Amaliel, it was officially announced that Hilma would be given the divine commission for creating works for the temple’s interior. She wrote enthusiastically: “Amaliel offered me a work and I answered immediately ‘Yes’. This was to be the great work I was to perform in my life.”  The term, commission, was how Hilma referred to the paintings proposed by the Masters.
It was to be a monumental assignment primarily under the command of the Master Amaliel. She was then made ready for whatever it would take to paint “the astral plane and the immortal aspects of man.” Before beginning the process she was asked to have a ten-month period of mental and physical purification. Hilma went on a retreat, where she adopted a vegetarian diet and honed her focus. Then in November 1906, she began in earnest to channel the Temple paintings. Each piece was received in a vision, that she was not allowed to change when transposing it to the canvas. She noted that the paintings were not made under “a strict obedience of the High Lords of the Mysteries.” Rather, when she saw them standing at her side, she received a transmission where she would feel her hand being guided. In her notebook, she wrote: “The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict. Nevertheless, I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.” In this way a painting was created every fifth day, and she did not stop, until April 1908, when she had completed 111 works. This meant she was on constant call to the Masters for over a year and a half.
Excited about her downloads, she showed them to her spiritual mentor, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Anthroposophical Society, on his visit to Stockholm. Steiner initiated her in his own theories regarding the arts, but he did not agree with the message of her symbology and rejected her visual expressions as out of alignment with his own. In a talk about her work, Johan af Klint, nephew of Hilma, said Steiner’s comments most likely stopped Hilma from continuing the series for several years.  But being an independently minded woman she resumed the work of the Temple in 1915, in order to complete what had been required. This time the communication took a different form. Her hand was not directed in the same way, the paintings came more internally in the form of images, sounds, and words that she sensed. She wrote about the experience in the third person: “Amaliel draws a sketch, which H then paints.” The painting guidance came to an end when the compendium of work was completed in 1915. The final compositions were three large (10 feet by nearly 9 feet), Altarpieces.
As seen in a picture from the exhibition by the New York Times above, each image contains a central golden disc representative of the golden age and pointing towards the source of divine consciousness. The central canvas is surrounded by a pyramid pointing downwards on the left, and one pointing upwards on the right. These paintings respectively symbolize the involution and evolution of our spiritual journey into the density of creation. The downward spiral represents the descent into matter, while the upward motion can be seen as the myriad of experiences ascending the soul back to the oneness of creation. In total, 193 canvases were painted for the series collectively called "The Paintings for the Temple."  It is not certain what the Masters had in mine with the specific number. Numerologically speaking 193 can be reduced to 13, which has a variety of metaphysical associations. This includes symbols of the twelve disciples around the One, the 13 moons of the female cycles in a year, and as an illustration of the 13 levels of creation in the kabbalistic tree of life.
The series was the most intense activity of Af Klint’s spiritual work. Yet because her images came from a higher level of consciousness, she admitted that she never quite understood what the temple paintings were supposed to mean, yet she
that they were in preparation of a message for humanity and contained
esoteric descriptions about how the universe was put together. The spiral
was a central recurring motif, mirroring the spiritual ascent of humanity.
Some pictures show a spiraling motion becoming a plant tendril, which in
turn unfolds into a calligraphy of unknown letters. My interpretation for
this piece is as a demonstration for the way vegetative matter is transmuted to become food for the mind, represented in the asemic letters. One recent critic has called her images are “energizing, even healing.” The show's curator, Helen Molesworth, says af Klint is “in essence, offering a Gaia-like theory of radical holistic interconnectivity.” Hilma summed up their totality as “stages of life and humanity’s connections to the cosmos.” Her notes speak of a hierarchy of spiritual realms, "going from the Etheric, to the Astral and to the Mental planes."
A Prime Example: The Swan Series
It is one thing to say that her art was directed by forces greater than limited human awareness, but it is another thing to interpret their meanings in terms of today’s emerging spiritual culture. Within the Temple series, there are a few minor series, such as the Primordial Creation, The Dove and The Swan. Studying a particular progression is a meditation on the hidden unity of creation itself. For example, The Swan series, (referred in the exhibition catalog as Group IX/UW, The Swan series No. 1-24, painted in 1915), perhaps reveal what the Masters wished to convey about the multidimensional levels of existence within nature. We see in the 24 paintings of The Swan details concerning the transformation of dense matter into pure energy. Hilma said the sequence represented Transcendence.
Since the time of the ancient Greeks, the swan has been associated with the elements of the sun (fire) and water, making it a symbol in alchemy for the union of opposites. Alchemists felt that when these oppositional forces were combined together, they would create the philosopher’s stone; a magical elixir of transformation and immortality. But perhaps the reason Hilma, or rather the Masters, chose the swan for its most intricate mini-series, may have been as a tribute to the teachings of Madame Helene P. Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy. HPB, who died in 1891, is considered by students of metaphysics to be ‘the grand dame’ of modern spirituality. Hilma was a follower of her theosophical philosophy and may have been inspired by the spiritual attributes she gave to these creatures. For instance, in The Secret Doctrine, HPB says the swan represents “the grandeur of spirit.” Another of her writing says this beautiful water bird is “suggestive [of] true mystic significance; being a universal matrix, and figured by the primordial waters of the ‘deep’.” Moreover, the opening lines of one of her final essays, from 1890, “The Last Song of the Swan,” which may have been her own swan song, says that: “The swan, a symbol of the Supreme Brahma [the Creation god of the Hindus]… it was also symbolic of cycles; [and comes] at the tail-end of every important cycle in human history. The swan loves to swim in circles, bending its long and graceful neck into a ring… endowed the swan's throat with musical modulations and made of him a sweet songster, and a seer to boot.”  Maybe the Masters used the swan symbol to portray the idea of cycles. And could be why only now these paintings are being presented to the public, at the closing of one age and the opening to another.
As with each of the minor themes within the Temple series, it appears that Hilma’s “Guidance” wanted viewers to become aware of an evolutionary process and the undercurrents of invisible structures making up the visible world. Giving a visual understanding of the many layers of existence, the sequential progression of the series takes us from the physical into the fundamental building blocks of creation, then into the energy fields of higher realities, suggesting elements of quantum theory, only beginning to be formulated at the time, and ends back in material form.
The entire progression presents the dualities of the world, suggesting that within the explicit exists an implicit energetic presence.
For instance, looking at 3 out of the 24 images, The Swan, No. 1, on the left, we see the oppositions of the everyday world; black and white figures oppose each other, but likewise meet as a complimentary reflection. This is similar to the Chinese Taoist philosophy of yin and yang, and the Hermetic Law of Polarity, stating -there is no male without female, no day without night. In The Swan, No. 8, the middle image, the duality is portrayed in the basic building blocks of matter. An opposition still exists, but there is a balanced reflection. In much of the Swan series an ongoing symmetry points towards a mystical understanding of another Hermetic doctrine, The Law of Correspondence: “As above so below, as the inner the outer”. In The Swan, No. 10, the blocks have turned into pure energy, seeming like vibrations of a field. An energy pinwheel stands in the center integrating the dynamically opposed halves. Theories about field dynamics behind the material world would only be conceived of 10 years after these paintings were created, in 1925, with the quantum theories of fellow Scandinavian Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg.
The last painting in the series, The Swan, No. 24, to the right,
is a return to the physical world, representing what has been
there all along, the integration of matter and energy. On closer
inspection, it looks like a key is presented in the center of the
canvas, suggesting a code pertaining to a progressive narrative
of the preceding compositions, but summed up in its final form.
A complete overview of all 24 Swan paintings and their developmental narrative will be the subject of my next Hilma af Klint article, particularly as it pertains to the Hermetic Principles found in The Kybalion. This was a doctrine also credited to the masters from higher realms, The Three Initiates. Hilma’s temple paintings seem to be an illustration of their seven guiding principles.
Completion: The Guggenheim Fulfillment
In 1920 Hilma rejoined Rudolf Steiner at Goetheanum, his spiritual retreat center in Dornach, Switzerland. Even with the completion of the Temple series Steiner still cautioned her that: “No one must see [this work] for 50 years.” Nevertheless, Hilma continued to paint and receive messages from spirits the rest of her life. Upon her death in 1944 she left to her estate 1,000 paintings and drawing, and over 26,000 pages of notes pertaining to the arts and her spiritual communications. However, she somewhat agreed with Steiner, stipulating that The Paintings for the Temple should not be seen until twenty years after her death, as if waiting for a new generation to understand their deeper meaning. Now for the first time in the US, the Temple series is being exhibited. Perhaps today’s emerging spiritual culture is what she was waiting for, so that the subtleties of their higher dimensionality could be embraced.
According to Tracy Bashoff, senior curator at the Guggenheim,
af Klint notebooks show as early as the 1930s, that the
placement for the Temple paintings should be in a circular
building, where viewers would ascend a spiral path towards
the sky. When this vision was cited by Bashoff at “The Hilma
af Klint symposium” held for the opening of the exhibition, an
audible gasp was heard throughout the Guggenheim auditorium.
As if functioning in two parallel conjoined universes, after Hilma created the Temple paintings, across the Atlantic, painter Hilla von Rebay co-founder and first director of the Guggenehein, had her own vision for the design of a museum. Unaware of Hilma’s work, in June 1943, Rebay wrote to architect Frank Lloyd Wright to commission a "museum-temple." She told Wright that she needed a “temple for the spirit” in which to house Solomon R. Guggenheim’s growing collection of abstract art. In the current exhibition, Hilma’s & Hilla’s vision for a temple of the spirit converge as the museum fulfills the wishes The Masters brought forth 100 years ago. It seems now Future and its Paintings have arrived. Ascending the Guggenheim’s spiral path towards its domed skylight, the work of the Ascended Ones leads the viewer on both a literal and figurative path of ascension towards higher knowledge.
Paintings from The Swan series of the Hilma af Klint exhibition placed along the
Guggenheim museum's ascending ramp.
Hilma at Klint: Painting for the Future:
OCTOBER 12, 2018–APRIL 23, 2019
 Andrea Kolintz, Questioning the Spiritual in Art, in her essay on Universal Language, found in the Guggenheim Catalog, p.77, footnote 18.
 Roberta Smith, Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future, NY Times review, Oct. 11, 2018
, Inspiration Hedvig Ersman blog Johan af Klint and Influence: The Spiritual Journey of Artist Hilma af Klint, https://www.guggenheim.org/blogs/checklist/inspiration-and-influence-the-spiritual-journey-of-artist-hilma-af-klint posted Oct. 11, 2018
 Ibid. The original Swedish/English translation quotes Hilma as saying, “this was the large work…” I think large word should be translated into English as “great.” In some cases “large “and “great” are interchangeable. but here “great” has a more relevant meaning.
 Johan af Klint quote at the opening lecture for the exhibition, October 12th, 2018, in the Guggenheim Auditorium
 Asemic is style of writing where the letters have no direct correspondence to any known language.
 H P Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Vol 1, book 2, chapter 5, p357.
 H. P. Blavatsky, THE LAST SONG OF THE SWAN, from aTheosophical Articles, Vol. I. Blavatsky.net