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The amazing woman who brought all the major religions together in one small backyard

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posted on Sep, 19 2011 @ 04:46 PM
Most ATS’ers would agree with me that we have one thing in common – whether we are dreamers, questioners, tinfoil-hat-wearers or mysterious subject-matter lovers – we have found a niche spot on the internet where we can congregate and share ideas.

But I often wonder what life would have been like for the “pre-internet ATS’sers” – those people who questioned their existence and the meaning of life and went against the norms and confines of the status quo – but who did not have access to the abundance of material or had the ability to instantly make contact with like-minded (albeit anonymous) individuals via the great invention of the internet.

Coupled with the fact that many communities were much more guarded and close-minded in their belief systems and that dogmatism and conservatism were abundant in our earlier days, I cannot help but wonder exactly HOW difficult it must have been for a free-thinker living say, 100 years ago.

As illustration of my question, I would like to tell you the story of Helen Martins.

Helen was born into the conservative Afrikaans society of Nieu Bethesda in 1897. Nieu-Bethesda today is a beautiful and peaceful community where artistry abounds and all sorts of free-thinking folk converge. However, when Helen was born, Nieu-Bethesda had been established with the intention of creating a new Bethesda of the Bible (hence the name), and Nieu-Bethesda’s leaders were also the “Fathers of the Church” and were very strict in laying down a dogmatic and conservative society in which Christianity ruled all facets of life. This belief system was very much the norm for white South African communities in that time.

Nieu-Bethesda was created as an idyllic resting place in the middle of the great Karoo – which is a vast semi-desert area in South Africa.

I made a pilgrimage to Nieu-Bethesda a couple of years ago, and visited Helen Martin’s abode which is today known as “The Owl House”.

Helen had a difficult childhood. Her father was domineering and subversive, and her mother (who Helen adored greatly) was very sickly for most of Helen’s life. Helen’s father contracted stomach cancer, and this ailment apparently amplified his vile nature – he became very abusive in the latter part of his life. Unfortunately Helen had to return to her childhood home after completing a diploma from a nearby college, in order to care for her ailing mother and father. Her mother’s passing in 1941 devastated Helen and she “apparently slept in the room with her mother’s coffin” after her passing.

After Hester’s death, Helen refused to have anything to do with her father and a social worker was called in to look after him.

After Piet’s death, Helen bricked up the windows of his room, painted it black and affixed the words “The Lion’s Den” to the exterior. Nobody was allowed to enter and Helen had a fierce and mangy cement lion constructed to guard the door.

And this is where Helen’s life took a turn and became one that has fascinated people ever since.

Legend states that one night when Helen was lying in bed contemplating the moon shining in through her window, she realised how dull and grey her life had become and resolved in that moment to bring light and colour into her world.

That simple resolution would become the driving force in her life, the obsessive expression of her deepest desires. Helen’s home would house a horde of real and fantastical creatures created out of her imaginings. Almost every surface would be covered in crushed glass. Mirrors would dominate the interior, reflecting and refracting light, opening up unexpected perspectives of Helen’s world.

And she went to work on her now-passed parents’ house with a fanatic fervour, and indeed took to hand the task of transforming every surface of the property that had brought her so much suffering and grief. She set on a mission to introduce reflective glass to “allow the light in” and mysterious characters started to adorn her garden.

Helen started on the construction of concrete figures and statues. She had long dreamed of visiting those “mysterious and exotic” places that she had up to then only been able to read about. At this point in her life she could only create what she dreamed about – her hands were the canvas and they gave life to all that she could envisage.

Helen was utterly alone in her task. She had no-one who shared her interest. In fact, the community had at this point completely shunned Helen, and made great effort to walk wide circles around her and whisper in condescending tones when she had to make the occasional trip to the local store. I cannot imagine how amazing Helen must have been in life – to be shunned by all, but to persevere in her task.

In 1964 Helen employed Koos Malgas to help her in constructing the cement and glass statues which fill the “Camel Yard” outside her house. Malgas became Helen’s closest friend and companion and spent the last twelve years of her life at her side, much to the sneers and suspicion of her Apartheid-era neighbours.

It is not known in what order Helen tackled her great life’s work. It has been accepted that the interior of her house was completed before work on the exterior began. Mundane articles were translated into emblematic imagery. Sun-faces, owls and camels predominate. Helen was influenced by Biblical texts, the poetry of Omar Khayyam and the works of William Blake, and she was inspired by the postcards her sister Alida sent her from Egypt and other exotic global destinations.

Over a period of twelve years she and Koos Malgas created the hundreds of sculptures and relief figures that haphazardly crowd Helen’s space. The arched entranceway to the yard proclaims in twisted wire words, “This is my World.”

In the end, the Owl House became the story of Helen’s life.

I can only describe Helen’s domain as being a mixture of wonder, sadness, I’ll say it – creepiness – but there is an overwhelming sense of awe. This was a woman who had lived past her conditioning and her limitations and who had no other resources other than a few postcards and some books.

Helen Martin's works of art, displayed in the Camel Yard, are a bustling kaleidoscope of cement sculptures. Predominant themes are the nativity, a curious mélange of Christian and Eastern philosophies (particularly the Bible and the writings of Omar Khayyam), as well as a large number of owls. Helen Martins was especially fond of owls and considering them a kind of totem animal - associated with intuition and insight and wisdom.

edit on 19/9/2011 by shimmeringsilver73 because: Changed subject

posted on Sep, 19 2011 @ 04:48 PM
I can only describe her creations as being “curiously creepy and alive”. There are mermaids with aqua-blue and piercing eyes, grinning buddhas, giant cats and all kinds of strange characters. And obviously there is a large amount of owls to be found everywhere – big owls and small owls, fat owls and glaring owls. Perhaps Helen was one of the first to subconsciously document an abduction experience (just a way-out thought).

Helen’s eyesight began to fail (as a result of grinding up glass to mix in with the paint that she applied to the walls of her house). She could not bear the thought of going blind, and took her own life by swallowing caustic soda in 1976.

After visiting the Owl House, I went to the local graveyard. In amongst the lofty and grandiose marble and stone gravestones was stationed a simple owl. Helen’s closest friend and ally, Koos Malgas, made her this owl in memoriam after her death. The simple hand-written inscription was difficult to read, but I manage to decipher “Memoriam – Helen Martins – Rest in Peace”. It was the most emotional and poignant part of my day and I was once again reminded of her loneliness and the segregation that she had to endure all her life due to her “unique outlook on life”.

At the end of the day, we are all versions of Helen Martin. We may not be all as creative or as “slightly-crazed” as Helen, but we all question, search for the truth and seek inspiration in different ways.

What would we have done as the people that are the product of the information-age, in Helen’s disempowered position of 100 years ago? Would we have succumbed to the peer pressure exerted by a conservative society and withdrawn into a morose-and-barely-alive existence? Or would we have broken free of our shackles and ushered in a new era?

We can count ourselves lucky. We are privileged to be living in a time of “awakening”.

“Dying isn’t the problem. Living is the problem. That is why we must live our lives passionately and to the full. My agony would be to “live dying” without being able to work.” – Helen Martins

Further reading:

Helen Martins : This is my world

Biography of the Owl House

posted on Sep, 19 2011 @ 04:54 PM
reply to post by shimmeringsilver73

What an interesting story! I've never heard of this woman before. Thank you for the thread. Regarding what we ATSers did in the pre-internet days, I, for one, spent a lot of time at the library.

You added another section to the thread while I was posting. How sad that she took her own life at the end. It also seems sad that she wasn't able to visit her sister in Egypt and see the sights for herself. I wondered about abduction too, given all the owls; aren't owls also symbols from earlier mystery religions? Thanks again for the research and all the pictures, very interesting!
edit on 19-0920119-1111 by gwynnhwyfar because: Added to comments.

posted on Sep, 19 2011 @ 05:15 PM
reply to post by gwynnhwyfar

Thanks for your post.

Yes, her story is very sad. A person can feel the sadness in the house - it has permeated the walls. Hers was a story of great suffering.

I do believe that there is something to the owl symbology that abounds on the property - what it is though I am not sure. Funny story - I left Nieu Bethesda the day after my visit and stopped to buy a souvernir owl outside the Owl House. The local community now makes these mini concrete owls in order to generate additional income.

I then travelled approximately 700 km due West, and booked in at a self-catering house in a very remote nature reserve.

When I arrived at my new destination, I saw two glinting eyes peep out at me from under the foliage. "Could it be" I wondered? I reached in and took out a small concrete owl - it was made exactly in the style of the souvenir owl that I had bought that very morning some 700 km away.

When I turned the owl over, my heart gave a small jump. The owl was made and signed by Koos Malgas - the man of the Owl House legend himself!

What a great synchronicity that was! Of all the thousands of houses within the 700 km span, I had to book into the one that had a Koos Malgas original owl in its garden. It was so inspiring after the previous days' events.

posted on Sep, 19 2011 @ 06:28 PM
the obelisk's the pyramid, the owls, and this >

all caught my eye as being somewhat occultist, the crescent moon and pentagram reminds me of baphomet worship and the owl reminds me of Babylonian worship like what occurs at bohemian grove

maybe she had no idea what any of it meant and it just struck her as something worth creating, who knows

posted on Sep, 19 2011 @ 06:37 PM
reply to post by pryingopen3rdeye

2nd liine agrees and quite possibly
the 3rd agrees too.
Yes, it does.

posted on Sep, 19 2011 @ 11:59 PM
reply to post by shimmeringsilver73

Thank you, very much, for sharing this adventure you had.
The story of this woman and her art caused me to cry a bit. And I didn't mind at all.

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 01:17 AM
That was really cool, the story and the pics. Stuff like this intrigues me. It reminded me of Coral Castle in the whole tons of random artwork for no apparent reason thing but I find it so interesting and pretty. Thanks for sharing this.

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 02:16 AM

Originally posted by pryingopen3rdeye

all caught my eye as being somewhat occultist, the crescent moon and pentagram reminds me of baphomet worship and the owl reminds me of Babylonian worship like what occurs at bohemian grove

maybe she had no idea what any of it meant and it just struck her as something worth creating, who knows

I do feel that she installed these statues in order to afford her with some so-called "protection" - protection from what I do not know. The owls on the front verandah leans forward quite menacingly as if to scare away potential visitors. The entire property is fenced quite high, and strange characters and owls sit around the boundary walls together with a massive constructed arch, facing outwards - as if to ward something off.
edit on 20/9/2011 by shimmeringsilver73 because: (no reason given)

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 02:32 AM
Some more photos that I took.

There is this strange guy... wonder whether anybody with occultic / mythological knowledge can recognize anything interesting about the fellow?

There is a clock tower in the middle of the yard. It would seem that some characters are either chained to the clock, or are trying to bring the tower down or change the time. The chain is connected to the minute hand of the clock - which seems to be placed at just past the 10 minute mark. The clock therefore reads 12:10 / 12:12?
A symbol that represents Helen's need to have time turned back?

A view of the inside fireplace. Notice how all the wall surfaces have been painted with a paint and crushed-colour-glass mixture.

A massive smiling sun adornes the ceiling of the main living area.

Helen's bedroom.

She was indeed a mystery.

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 05:23 AM
I think is absolutely beautiful.
Never heard about this woman before, so thank you for this great post. It brought a warm feeling in my heart.
Never stop dreaming, never give up to the darkness...well, her way to do that was amazing.

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 05:37 AM
While I'm not big on religion, I found this story to be interesting upon closer inspection.

Seriously cool artwork. Kudos to that lady
edit on 20-9-2011 by OpioidFreud because: (no reason given)

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 05:42 AM
WOW. i liked the story very much. great article.

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 07:56 AM
lol all these statues are creepy. I wouldn't want to be stuck there alone at night.

Cool story tho

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 08:30 AM

Originally posted by pryingopen3rdeye
the obelisk's the pyramid, the owls, and this
maybe she had no idea what any of it meant and it just struck her as something worth creating, who knows

Then again, maybe she did know and it's us that don't really know the significance of them?!


posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 09:27 AM

Originally posted by WhiteHat
Never stop dreaming, never give up to the darkness...well, her way to do that was amazing.

That was beautiful! I could not agree more.

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 09:46 AM
reply to post by SatoriTheory

Yip - I would say so.

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that Helen did work toward some purpose.

She did not just randomly create the figures for the sake of creating - there is too much purpose in the placement of the figures, and just too much effort made to exclude the outside world. I am now certain that the owls were meant to provide some form of protection - but what against though? "Demons" in the night? Her own personal shadows? Pesky aliens?

I cannot help but think of all the instances in which abductees report seeing owls - and what usually features prominently in their discourse is the fact that the owls had giant black eyes. Helen's owls have all that - creepy large black eyes. Obviously just a very-out-there-thought, but seriously - what would drive a small-town woman living in isolation to produce these figures with a almost religious fevour? Owls are usually regarded in African culture as being harbingers of doom and death. Hmmm...

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 12:14 PM
reply to post by shimmeringsilver73

AMAZING story and brilliant compilation. Thank you for sharing your insight.


posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 12:24 PM
reply to post by shimmeringsilver73

Great positive thread..Nice story..Thank you for sharing this interesting story of this amazing woman.

posted on Sep, 20 2011 @ 02:14 PM
reply to post by shimmeringsilver73

It reminds me of that Edward Leedskalnin guy, who created Coral Castle.

There are some interesting videos about Coral Castle, showing 'links' with masonic lodge art work. Interesting stuff.


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