ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
© All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe 2015-16  All artworks copyright the estate of the artist.

the major themes

eastern influences Many of Colquhoun’s visual works show the influence of Tantric doctrines, especially those of the chakras and of Kundalini, the so-called serpent power. Tantra proclaims that everything is the active play of a female creative principle, the Goddess, sexually penetrated by an invisible, indescribable, seminal male. Consequently, the imagery of Tantra is inescapably sexual. The principal energy that flows through the subtle body is said to be that of the Great Goddess, Shakti, imagined in the form of a coiled serpent, Kundalini, who lies dormant at the base of the spine. Spiritual enlightenment results from the release of Kundalini and enables her progression upwards through the chakras – the power centres within the body - until she reaches the topmost one where she unites with the Supreme Being, Shiva. The devotee or practitioner seeks to energize Kundalini through the use of yogic postures, muscular control and sexual intercourse. The conventional sequence of the chakras through which Kundalini ascends starts at the base of the spine in the region of the genitals then through those at the navel, heart, throat, pineal and terminates at the crown of the head where the rays of energy open onto the supernal space. This level can only be reached by male and female joined in sexual union. The spinal axis, commencing with conjoined genitals at the root and ending in a flame or flower of brilliance above the crown, appears in a number of paintings, most memorably in The Bird or the Egg (c.1940) and most mysteriously in The Sunset Birth (c.1942) where the human figure has dissolved completely, leaving only the pathways of the nadis and their points of intersection at the chakras.  Colquhoun is seldom interested in the precise positioning and number of the chakras, which, in any event differ according to individual Buddhist and Hindu texts. Her central concern is with the idea that the unity of Shakti and Shiva can only be achieved through the sexual union of a man and a woman and it is this that her imagery explores. Her interest in Tantra and the serpent power adds an Eastern dimension to her explorations of sexuality that are usually contained within Neo-Platonic and Christian frameworks. In a rare excursion into esoteric Islam, Torso (1981) concerns the lataif-e-sitta, the six subtleties said by Sufis to be part of the spiritual self, in the way that biological organs are part of the physical body. Sufic development involves the awakening of these dormant spiritual centers in a set order. The sequence is: Nafs, (blue: ego); Qalb (yellow: mind); Ruh (red: spirit); Sirr (white: consciousness); Khafi (black: intuition) and Ikhfa (green: deep perception). The angular connecting arrow indicates the order of awakening commencing with Nafs, the pale blue background. In 1958 Colquhoun wrote about the strong similarities between Eastern and Western occult systems, especially as they relate to the Tree of Life: Taken in the microcosmic sense, the Tree has some resemblance to the diagram of the Chakras or ‘Lotuses’ of the Laya-yoga systems now familiar in the West. This is, of course, a simplified version. Sanskrit texts give many more than the usual seven ‘centres’: but the main point is that the Sephiroth are vortices comparable to the Chakras, while the Netibuth are currents comparable with the occult nerve-channels or Nadi of Yogic thought. Perhaps a closer parallel is to be found in the Shri Yantra of the Tantrik system, which would correspond fairly well with the Tree if this were drawn as a series of superimposed concentric circles. A still closer parallel may be drawn from the literature of Sufism. Amin, a Dervish of the Naqshabendi order, describes a symbolism which recalls, too vividly for coincidence, the upper part of the Tree. Here the ‘centres’ are related to various sages and each is assigned a colour; and these colours tally very well with those ascribed to the Tree as it appears on one of the planes of being. Another Islamic writer, Prince Mohamed Dara Shikoh, indicates the following arrangement. Here the ‘hearts’ appear to be equivalent to the Anja, Anahata and Muladhara lotuses of the Hindu glyph, in which these three contain a Trikoni or Yoni, the shape of an inverted triangle, which is a ‘knot’, through which the central column has to pass. The Jains, too, have a glyph, more spatial in character, of the polarity underlying the universe and the concentration of its force into nuclei or ‘ganglia’ connected by currents or channels. Another example, better known to Western students, is the Caduceus of Hermes, which has obvious analogies with the diagram of the Chakras. All these, together with the Qabalah’s Tree of Life, are attempts by the seer to record a vision of suprasensible realities. It is essentially the same vision; but having been perceived in each case through a different racial temperament and against a particular ethnic and cultural background, the records show dissimilarities as well as likenesses. In so far as the vision is true, it relates to a sphere of timeless being; so it is not surprising to find it recorded at widely separated dates in human history. (1) Notes “The Crown and the Kingdom: the Qabalah”. Prediction. May 1958: 39-41.