unveils contemporary gates of initiation

With a collection of works that encompass depictions of ancestral body rituals, magical sigils as sculptural objects, and nude embodiments of esoteric symbolism, the Berlin-based photographer and sculptor Gøneja ✷ explores the ancient practice of initiation, traversing the enigmatic terrain of Egyptian and Western mythology and divinatory practices. His new solo exhibition “Thresholds”, presented at the Organ Kritischer Kunst gallery in Berlin, unravels the intricate power of this archaic lore and unfolds as a culmination piece, following the artist’s previous series “Rituals” (2020) and “Mercurial” (2022). By forming a trilogy that delves into the alchemical depths of human experience, these works deliver a potent contemporary commentary and a call for reflection on the present human condition.

Engraved with sigils, Gøneja ✷’s sculptures transcend the limitations of language, whereby meticulously crafted symbols, drawn from Alchemical and Kabbalistic texts, serve as portals to dimensions where words falter and archetypal messages become the language of the soul. In current times of heightened censorship, discrepancy of truth in the media, and uncertain sources of information, the use of symbols helps us to dissolve the linguistic confinements and connect to knowledge beyond our socially influenced rationale or dogmatic views. Each sigil is a key to intuitively unlocking deeper layers of the collective psyche, elevating the purpose of the exhibition to an act of psychomagic.

The ever-present thematic of astrology in Gøneja ✷’s work is adding to this complex yet meticulously clean series of works, connecting the celestial threads that bind humanity to the cosmos. This ancient system of knowledge has been traditionally used as a way to operate in a more conscious manner, to express our true potential, and to be attuned to the energies that are affecting us individually and on a community level.

Over the years, patriarchy has been stigmatising these profound teachings, alongside many pagan traditions and divination practices, enforcing separation from humans’ true rhythms and the natural world. By evoking the archetypes of the divine feminine Venus and the wounded healer Chiron in the portrait of Luna Duran, the artist depicts not only the process of transcending the physical body through the mystical experience of hook suspension but also a liberating political act.

Reviving occult and, in many cases, forbidden practices in his visual art, Gøneja ✷ reinforces the role of the contemporary artist as a messenger and an agitator for a reconnection with our initiatory ancestral rituals. In the realm where mysticism and artistic practices converge, he creates a catalyst for dialogue that points towards a social paradigm shift and reimagining of the future. What awaits us on the other side of the threshold?

Gøneja ✷ – by Erika Pellici

Have you experienced a transition of consciousness while creating this exhibition? What is your definition of a threshold?

I cannot separate the development of my practice from my evolution of consciousness, the two are intertwined. Every exhibition is an attempt to find the language and artistic means to materialise, outwardly, the spiritual and psychological processes occurring within. The works stand as the physical expression of the ideas I explore on a spiritual plane, and this process of creation helps me to harvest new teachings, personally and artistically. “Thresholds” was an exploration of the theme of initiation and creating this exhibition became a long rite of passage whose conclusion inevitably marked the baptism into a new state of consciousness.

Crossing a threshold, to me, is the ability to seize the opportunities life offers through the prism of awareness, in a spiritually evolutive path. It asks us to move beyond repeating patterns, towards change and growth. And while this process is in constant transformation, initiation serves to temporarily crystallise a particular state of mind to mark a new beginning, a symbolic rebirth.

This is the meaning behind the photographic Vanitas I created with designer Léonard Condemine. Traditionally this motif was used as a symbolic representation of mortality and the transience of life, a contemplative reminder on the banality of the human ego. Death, to me, is a prerequisite essential to initiation; a fertiliser that enables new experiences to sprout.

To truly transform and evolve, one must be willing to leave behind one’s beliefs and identity, to find unexplored new roads and fresh new meanings in lived experience. Only then, can the cosmic dance of eternal renewal continue.

Kristina: Sphinx, (2022)inkjet print on plate, shadow box frame, 88 x 102 x 5 cm, Performer Kristina Eyeva portrayed as an ancient mythological creature.

What inspiration and key thematics do you draw from Egyptian and Western mythology?

Although I have had profound encounters with diverse spiritual systems, be it yogic or shamanic, it is the Western magical traditions that I feel most called to explore in my work. Following the Christianisation of Europe, the Church waged a war against magic throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, while the subsequent Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment placed a lot of emphasis on the rational mind. As a result, magic in the West was rendered taboo and many people lost touch with their magical history. Complex spiritual systems developed in Western culture nonetheless; Alchemy and the Kabbalah are only two examples of the profoundly rich traditions that inspire my work.

When it comes to Egypt, its influence on Western thought has its historical roots in our Greco-Roman origins. In the pre-Hellenic world this land was considered to be the birthplace of magic and the original home of esoteric knowledge. Greek philosophers travelled to ancient Egypt and discussed with its priests, they were exposed to their ascetic way of life and the magic they performed in the subterranean chambers of their temples. This exchange had a profound influence on the development of Western mythology.

It is no coincidence that the prophet of occult wisdom in classical antiquity was the legendary figure of Hermes Trismegistus, a syncretic fusion of the Egyptian god of magic, Thoth, with our esoteric father, Hermes.

There is one work in “Thresholds” that pays homage to this ancient connection; it is the portrait of performer Kristina Eyeva. The starting idea was to frame her naked body as an initiatory vessel; a means of never-ending knowledge acquisition and a tool Kristina uses to express herself artistically. As we photographed, without pre-planning it, the motif of the Sphinx found its way comfortably into the composition, adding a symbolic layer to this representation and casting a protective spell over my exhibition. In Egyptian tradition, in fact, this mythological creature was considered the guardian of thresholds, and was intentionally placed by the side of ritual sites to hermetically seal and protect them.

Lifteth The Needy Out Of The Dunghill (2023), steel, 57 x 54 x 3 cm | A Jupiterian pentacle from “The Key of Solomon” re-envisioned as a sculptural sigil made of up-cycled industrial steel.

Engraving sigils in the sculptures is a way to transcend language as a plane of expression. Could you explain the meaning of your work ‘Lifteth The Needy Out Of The Dunghill’?

One of my aims for this exhibition was to explore the language of magical sigils through my sculptural practice. My method consisted of either adapting existing seals three-dimensionally, designing new ones or translating complex pentacles into physical objects. Indeed, sigils hold the power to inscribe magical intentions that go beyond the restraints and literalization of language, by concealing symbolically their esoteric meaning. Once the seals are constructed, meditation rituals can activate them, so that one can obtain the properties or functions associated with them. Invocations also awaken their power, when holy verses are recited, or when spirits are summoned for one’s magical purposes.  

During a visit to my native Italy, just weeks before the exhibition opened, I ran into the “Key of Solomon” at my local esoteric bookshop. I felt an instant magnetism to this ancient grimoire attributed to the homonymous biblical king, which contains 44 mysterious keys channeled and designed as an allegory to the seven planets. In the sculpture Lifteth The Needy Out Of The Dunghill, I worked with one of these potent pentacles, usually formed by a central seal, verses in biblical Hebrew and the names of God or the angels.

Among all the planetary qualities contained in the book, I worked with the expansive and generous energy of Jupiter, which stands for values such as tolerance, equity and fairness. Uniquely Jupiterian are also the ethics of social utility and public service, as in the case of the seal I chose. This sigil was in fact originally used as a protection against poverty, not understood on the individual level of material scarcity, but rather communally. By helping the poor and elevating the needy to the principles of their people, the benefit of this spell can only be harvested collectively.

This, to me, is the real beauty of this ancient magic; transcending the magician’s individualistic goals and attempting to be useful to human society as a whole.

Gate of the Sun (2022), inkjet print on plate, shadow-box frame, 77 x 106 x 5 cm | The mysterious monolithic gateway standing in the ancient archaeological site of Tiwanaku in Bolivia.

Seeking out portals in archeological sites, landscapes, and architecture is part of your artistic practice. What knowledge does the gate you photographed in Bolivia inscribe?

With “Thresholds” I searched for archeological idiosyncrasies to capture as landscape portals; mysterious objects that carry the memory and wisdom of their ancestral land. The subject I presented was the Gate Of The Sun, a megalithic stone structure standing in the archeological site of Tiwanaku, an ancient town at almost 4,000 meters high on the Bolivian Andes, which I visited in 2022. The entire complex was once an important initiatory centre of the homonymous pre-Inca civilisation who walked the land in the old times. While no written language existed, some of the knowledge the Gate inscribes is preserved within its structure, physical positioning and psychedelic engravings.

The Gate was in fact constructed with fine astronomical knowledge to act mostly as a solar calendar. Twice a year, during equinoxial evenings, looking from a designated observation point within the courtyard, the sun set over the head of Wiraqocha, the mysterious god engraved in the centre of the portal, known in Andean mythology as both the creator and the civiliser. From spring the alignment with the setting sun gradually fell towards East to reach the last figure engraved in the frieze during the Inti Raimi festival, at the time of the summer solstice. As the trumpet rang to mark the beginning of the Aymara year, the sun started its return West to finally set over the figure on the opposite side of the frieze during Capac Raimi, on the winter solstice.

This megalithic calendar granted the ancient people of the Andes the ability to develop finer agricultural skills in an environment that, due to its extreme altitude, required careful consideration of the seasons and of the farming duties to be carried out on the land. This marked a profound turning point for the Andean civilisations, helping to transition from a violent social organisation of hunter-gatherers, to the rise of a cultured people with a broader historical consciousness and with the knowledge of time, the stars and the cycles of nature.

Thus, the Gate Of The Sun was a threshold beyond which human consciousness rose, with the help of Wiraqocha, who guided his people from a chaotic past, to an age of harmony between human activity and divine will.

Leonard: Vanitas,(2023), inkjet print, 58 x 67 cm | A photographic Vanitas portraying the Berlin fetish-wear designer Leonard Condemine with a human skull.

Is society standing on a threshold in this moment? How can initiatory knowledge serve the contemporary world?

We live in historical times riddled with pressing global issues.

The humanitarian and ecological crises across the world are but different expressions of the same problem ingrained in the Western paradigm of systematic global oppression. The late capitalist system under which we live has for too long sustained itself through global inequality and the destruction of the natural world, which are rooted in the Global North’s exploitation of the Global South’s labour and the extraction of its resources. The hegemony of Western powers over the global financial system further polarises wealth in the hands of the few, leaving a growing majority impoverished and creating wars, famine and climate disasters elsewhere in the world.

The Western countries that preach to live by the standards of freedom, democracy and human rights are only but defending the privileges of their own elites through violent colonial structures that cripple the world and jeopardise its very future. All the while, the ruling class demonstrates its utmost unwillingness to account for the problems it has created and work towards their resolution.

The unfolding genocide in Gaza, in my opinion, is the most brutal confrontation of the hypocrisy and moral degradation of the Western neoliberal paradigm. We watch as the EU provides diplomatic support to Israel to enable its massacre, while billions of euros are taken from European taxpayers to supply weaponry known to annihilate Palestinian children and civilians. In the meantime, an equal amount of money is fuelled to the media complex in an attempt to manufacture public consent, while censorship and deportation policies are introduced into legislation to silence critical voices. With Gaza we see in full sight the extent to which these morally rotten Western “leaders” are willing to go to safeguard their settler-colonial projects and domination over global resources. 

As the world crumbles, Western society stands on a moral and existential threshold. The ruling class insists on defending their business as usual, which can only further global inequality, intensify conflicts and accelerate the climatic collapse. On the other hand, more and more people are awakening to the urgent problems and injustices of the world, understanding the need to fight for a paradigm shift. 

Initiation rituals traditionally marked the adept’s passage from a profane and individual condition, to a broader and holier existential perspective. This is the real esoteric ground common to all religious scriptures ever to appear on Earth; a profound reverence for the sacrality of life, rooted in social justice and the respect for the whole of creation. Through this prism, the urgent problems of this world can act as a collective initiatory threshold. They can awaken us to the true meaning of our lives and our shared humanity and they can sparkle a new vision of the world we want to co-habit. Through this portal we are asked to re-imagine and enact radically different ways to live together towards a more equitable, just and sustainable future for all.

Luna Duran: Venus Conjunct Chiron, (2023), inkjet print,100 x 130 cm | The extreme ritual performance of the Bolivian artist Luna Duran, embodying the myth of the wounded centaur conjunct with Venus in the night sky through a full body hook suspension and hand-made jewellery pierced onto her thigh.

You collaborated with Bolivian suspension artist Luna Duran on the photograph titled ‘Venus conjunct Chiron’. Could you speak about the transcendental nature of this body ritual and the mythology captured in the process?

For this work I followed Luna in a mystical journey of hers, sparkled by a celestial alignment that occurred in October 2022 during the Occulture Conference in Berlin. This was also the occasion in which we were both exposed to each other’s work for the first time, both of us being part of the programme. During the closing ceremony Luna performed a breathtaking suspension ritual where her painted naked body whirled suspended in the air for minutes in an hypnotic, awe-inspiring dance. To me, it was an instant recognition that we needed to collaborate. All the while, a mythological narrative began to unfold for Luna, connecting her profound understanding of the night sky with her unique practice as a suspension artist.

That night in Berlin, by the side of the Full Moon rising behind the roofs of the industrial buildings where the conference was held, the brightest celestial object in the sky was the planet Venus, conjunct, further out in the sky, with Chiron, a small asteroid orbiting between Saturn and Uranus. In Greek mythology Chiron was a refined centaur who learned the healing arts from Apollo. His fate was sealed by an incurable wound caused by one of Hercules’ poisonous arrow which accidentally injured one of his legs. Being the son of a god, Chiron could not die and was therefore destined to live a life of eternal suffering.

In astrology, Chiron is thus known as the “Wounded Healer” and symbolises the individual potential to transform our inner pains into our ability to heal ourselves and others. 

In the photograph Luna and I created, we wished to bring this myth alive by suspending her naked body in the air like a celestial object in the night sky. The inverted posture with the bent leg embodies the therianthropic, half-horse figure, and the jewellery pierced into her thigh symbolises the bloodshed of his eternal wound. On the other hand, the conjunction with Venus, goddess of beauty, expresses itself in this work through a mystical over-layering. It conveys Luna’s intention to use the pain induced by the body subjected to this extreme experience as a transcendental portal. A vehicle that can help to overcome our deepest pains by transmuting them into a form of art and performing them as an act of love and devotion.

Hieroglyph & Beyond The Naked Eye (2023), concrete / steel, 50 x 35 x 10 cm / 58 x 44 x 11 cm, A concrete artefact reinterpreting a prehistoric symbol that appeared throughout every continent. A planetary hieroglyph made of steel off-cuts inscribing the alchemical sigils of Neptune, Uranus and Pluto.

In the sculpture ‘Beyond The Naked Eye’ the three represented planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are associated in astrology with generational and social shifts. What does this motif represent to you?

With this sculpture I wanted to venture further out into the cosmos and work with three heavenly bodies I am less familiar with. Known astrologically as the Spiritual or Transpersonal planets, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto lie beyond the threshold of visibility, being imperceptible to the bare human sight. This requisite to understand them already invites us to venture into a more elevated state of consciousness, overcoming the restrictions of the visible material reality. As the outer planets of our solar system, they also share longer orbital times around the sun, moving through the zodiac constellations in intervals of years. Their influence therefore shapes broader generational events as opposed to individual experience, holding the power to bind us together on Earth as collective beings beyond the realm of the ego.

In Beyond The Naked Eye, I inscribed three-dimensionally the alchemical symbols of these planets within a single structure that merged the bent “H” surmounting the ring of Uranus, with the trident of Neptune and the suspended circle above the cross and crescent of Pluto. This hieroglyph appeared to me during a meditation after I spent two weeks sketching the structure of a larger and bulkier concrete sculpture, frustrated by the lack of satisfying results. The symbol immediately uplifted my spirit and prompted me to switch to a different sculptural approach, using metal to sigilize it and aiming for a finer, rather light-weighted object.

Its magical intention is an invitation to be aware of the methods by which invisible cosmic forces operate, as a tool to progress towards greater personal and collective awareness. It also asks us to heighten our psychic ability, to familiarise with our spiritual patterns and the hidden forces that guide us and act upon our lives. In my experience, befriending the unseeable is also a fundamental precondition for any real magical initiation.

Tarot: Thoth, (2022), inkjet print, 48 x 60 cm | Still life composition of a Thoth Tarot deck portraying “The Magus” Trump and its four elements.

Have you used any divinatory or magical practices to create this exhibition?

One divinatory instrument whose magic has been active for me lately is the Tarot, as I began a meticulous study of the deck and its infinite knowledge rather recently. I also regularly used the Tarot to guide myself through the creation of the exhibition, following the subtle layers of advice that it offered. While “Thresholds” came to life with few struggles, the deck presented reassuring messages, so we established an immediate bond of trust, to which sometimes I surrendered against all odds.

I also decided to include the Tarot as a subject of the exhibition, given its profound relevance to the Western initiatory knowledge, where it is used as a portal to uncover entire spiritual dimensions. The Thoth Tarot, depicted in this photograph, is a particularly stunning deck thanks to the striking compositions saturated with rich syncretic symbolism. It was the product of an alchemical marriage: the profound understanding of the deep mysticism of the Kabbalah model on which it is based, coming from its conceiver Aleister Crowley, combined with the exceptionally elaborate visual translation of Lady Frieda Harris, who painted the 78 cards. It took the two more than five years to bring this deck to life in a process of tireless correspondence and exchange.

In this still life composition, I wanted to portray the “The Magus” Trump next to the four suits of the Minor Arcana: a Palo Santo stick standing as the Wand, a copper vase as the Cup, a tiny knife as the Sword and a circular pyrite as the Disk, which represent the four elements of fire, water, air and earth respectively. These same objects appear also within the tarot card itself to represent the infinite force of the Magus, who masters the four elements as tools of creation. As such, this work is rather a meta-representation of the Magus’ archetype.

To me, it exemplifies my understanding of art as a magical practice and the role of the artist as a contemporary magician.

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Author/Contributor: Lora Mateeva