ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe

the bird or the egg


Watercolour. 10 x 6¼in. (25.8 x 16.3cm.) Inscribed verso: ‘Ithell Colquhoun’ together with the title, ca. 1940 and the Fairfax Road address. Other titles, which have been crossed out, are L'Oiseau ou L'Oeuf? and La Recherche de L'Androgyne. Provenance NT then TGA. Exhibited London, The Leicester Galleries, 1942, no. 11. St. Ives, Tate Gallery, 2009: the work was listed in the catalogue, but it was not on show. Literature The work illustrated in b/w by Ratcliffe, 2007, pl. 53, as The Bird or the Egg is, in fact, The Trees (1941). The work illustrated in b/w pl. 54 as Linked Senses (1946) is, in fact, The Bird or the Egg. In general, in works of this period that have alchemical or hermetic significance, the forms are filled with washes of transparent colour. In this work, however, the colours are dense, opaque and, even more unusually, contain stippling. The title, in common with the rejected alternatives inscribed on the reverse, concerns the origin of life and the circularity of existence. The imagery includes the chalice, the egg, the erect penis, vertical/vaginal lips and a feathery being that develops from the ejaculate. For many occultists the semen is holy and ejaculation is sacramental. In certain traditions, the sacred ejaculate is retained in an appropriate goblet for subsequent ritual usage. The egg symbolises generation. Its oval shape, an imperfect circle, represents degeneration from the perfection of the divine unity. Tantric references can be recognised. The cerebro-spinal axis is present. It starts with the conjoined genitals, symbolically depicted by the chalice with its phallic stem, then moves up the spinal column, indicated by the rising ejaculate, and terminates with Sahasrara the coronet of flames or flowers above the head.