Between Mathematics and the Miraculous: The Stunning Pendulum Drawings of Swiss Healer and Artist Emma Kunz


Maria Popova | The Marginalian – TRANSCEND Media Service

Emma Kunz (23 May 1892–16 Jan 1963) was forty-six and the world was aflame with war when she became an artist. She had worked at a knitting factory and as a housekeeper. She had written poetry, publishing a collection titled Life in the interlude between the two World Wars. Having lost two of her siblings to childhood illness, then both her surviving brother and her father to suicide when she was seventeen, she had coped with the physical fragility of life and the spiritual difficulty of bearing our mortality by becoming a healer. Her friends called her Penta, from the Pythagorean symbol for health — a pentagram drawn with a single line.

Inspired by the Swiss Renaissance alchemist, philosopher, and physician Paracelsus, who fused the divinations and prophecies with the building blocks of the scientific method in his experiments and observations in chemistry and biology that pioneered the field of toxicology, Penta came to see the physical and spiritual dimensions of reality as one.

Emma Kunz

Like Emily Dickinson, she was inspired by botany, saw in plants a model of the mind a century before the new science of plant intelligence, and filled her garden with medicinal plants to use in tonics and ointments. Like Hilma af Klint and Agnes Martin, she found in geometry a poetic form through which to explore metaphysical questions of truth and meaning.

As a schoolchild, she had delighted in using a pendulum to make drawings in her exercise books, but it was not until midlife that she found in this process a portal to a larger world of ideas. In 1938, using a silver pendulum with a jade end she believed was guided by energy fields — a technique she termed radiesthesia — she began making large-scale drawings in pencil and crayon on graph paper, hundreds of them, to divine diagnoses of physical and psychic ailments and heal people, often with results bordering on the miraculous. While working on a drawing, sometimes for two continuous days, she neither slept nor ate, subsisting on water and the spiritual energies she believed guided her.

There is something astral in the exquisite precision of her drawings, emanating the musicality of mathematics and the sacred symmetry of mandalas, emanating the animating force of her practice both as artist and as healer — a search for harmony and transformation, a reverence for the power of connection as an organizing principle of reality. She saw mystery as the key to revelation and sought it in the language of signs and symbols, in the essences and forms of plants and crystals, in the relationships between numbers.

Penta — who appears in Jennifer Higgie’s altogether wonderful The Other Side: A Story of Women in Art and the Spirit World (public library) — considered herself not an artist but a researcher. At the peak of WWII, in the Roman quarry in Würenlos, she discovered a healing mineral she named AION A, after the Greek for “without limits,” still sold in Swiss pharmacies as a remedy for everything from inflammation to arthritis. The quarry is now known as Emma Kunz Grotto.

Penta believed she made her drawings for the twenty-first century. They were never exhibited in her lifetime.

I am haunted by the mirror-image consonance between a photograph of Emma Kunz in her studio and a photograph of Marie Curie in her laboratory — Emma in what could be a lab coat, Marie in a gown more suited to the drawing room, each bent over her worktable, each a woman in search of the elemental, making of herself an instrument of truth.


My name is Maria Popova — a reader, a wonderer, and a lover of reality who makes sense of the world and herself through the essential inner dialogue that is the act of writing. The Marginalian (which bore the unbearable name Brain Pickings for its first 15 years) is my one-woman labor of love, exploring what it means to live a decent, inspired, substantive life of purpose and gladness. Founded in 2006 as a weekly email to seven friends, eventually brought online and now included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive, it is a record of my own becoming as a person — intellectually, creatively, spiritually, poetically — drawn from my extended marginalia on the search for meaning across literature, science, art, philosophy, and the various other tendrils of human thought and feeling. A private inquiry irradiated by the ultimate question, the great quickening of wonderment that binds us all: What is all this? (More…)

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