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

poetry:

  grimoire of the entangled   thicket The title of this collection of poems and accompanying drawings is a reference to the Hanes Taliesin, a poem in the Mabinogion the well-known collection of pre-Christian Welsh tales in which the mythological hero Gwion/Taliesin who has accidentally drunk from the cauldron of inspiration and knowledge flees Cerridwen. He keeps ahead of the goddess as she attempts to outwit and kill him by constant shape-shifting: I have fled as a chain, I have fled as a roe into an entangled thicket, I have fled as a wolf cub In an echo of alchemical transformation, she captures him, devours him, becomes pregnant by him and is delivered of him. Deciphering the meaning of this poem was Robert Graves’ initial insight into Celtic mythology, elaborated in The White Goddess (1948), the book that introduced such phenomena as the tree alphabets into general awareness. Colquhoun’s reader, therefore, can expect to be plunged into a world where truth melts into druidic mythology and where tree alphabets vie for attention with finger alphabets and Ogham script. The eight poems in the volume form part of a series of twenty two poems – one each for the thirteen month Celtic lunar calendar plus nine for the pagan festivals that mark the year’s progression. The poems and accompanying drawings date from 1972, described by Colquhoun in her introduction as ‘an important year for devotees of the Silver Crescent’. In that year the thirteen months of the calendar coincided exactly with their new moons. Colquhoun acknowledged her debt to Graves but went further than he did, by suggesting links between the tree alphabets and the Qabalistic Tree of Life, suggesting that the letters of the Birch – Rowan alphabet correspond to the paths that link the sephiroth. In her introduction, Colquhoun states that the series consists of twenty-two poems. The published volume, however, contains only eight. A further four are known in typescript, but no others have been traced and there is no evidence that the sequence was ever completed. (1) The Grimoire was published by Eric Ratcliffe, a scientist specialising in thermal conductivity, who produced a number of slender poetry volumes under the Ore imprint in addition to editing Ore poetry magazine. Thanks to Ratcliffe’s determination, 50 issues of Ore appeared between 1954 and 1995. The magazine published a wide range of poetry, but its major orientation was Arthurian, Roman and pre-Roman Britain, Druidry and ‘green wisdom’. Colquhoun’s poems appeared in several issues of Ore and she also contributed a number of book reviews, being described in one issue as the magazine’s reviews editor. Not a natural business woman, Colquhoun received 5 pence for each copy sold. (2) notes 1. The ‘illuminating essay’ also mentioned in the introduction is “Worship of the Old Deity”. It has been published by Nichols (2007) The Magical Writings of Ithell Colquhoun. Lulu.com. pp. 307-325 although he does not identify it as the essay in question. 2. Some letters from Ratcliffe concerning the book are in the Tate archive at TGA 929/2/2/14/55.
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