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

the occultist:

magic and colour
The ‘unity in diversity’ that underpins the natural world may be uncovered through the study of correspondences. Colours and forms - the very stuff of art - are amongst the properties that can be revealing. Certain colours and forms held particular significance for occultists and for Colquhoun. MAGIC AND COLOUR As early as 1934, in Design for a painting on Silk, an elaborate hermetic colour theory is at work. In an explanatory Colquhoun made reference to the colour scales which govern depictions of the Qabalistic Tree of Life in Golden Dawn teachings, as elaborated by MacGregor Mathers. (1) Somewhat later, in The Thirteen Streams of Magnificent Oil (c.1940), her adherence to Golden Dawn colour attributions for the painting of the limbs and torso of the human body is particularly striking. In other works, such as the series of Alchemical Figures, whilst her choice of colours is often determined by reference to G.D. schemes, it is less slavishly so. One difficulty in understanding works such as these is that there are different schemes of colour attributions, depending on tradition and specific magical purpose. For example, some of the colours in the male figure in Alchemical Figure (1940) correspond to the so called King Scale whilst others do not. In fact, there are a number of instances where Colquhoun was prepared to deviate deliberately from accepted practice. Ceremonial magic is, after all, active and experiential. Magicians would expect to use established ideas as a starting point for their own researches rather than as a confining straitjacket. (2) Red and blue are the traditional colours of the male and female principles which come together to form life and which must be transcended if the Great Work is to be achieved. Rivulets of red and blue, suggestive of the ribbon of life, are seen in Ages of Man (1944) and the earlier Rivières Tièdes (1939). For Golden Dawn magicians, colour was of prime importance. In one of the Golden Dawn rituals (initiation into the 50 = 6 grade) it was proclaimed that ‘colours are forces and the signatures of forces’. The implication of this is that colour plays an important part in meditation and can be an avenue into worlds other than the one of everyday perception. Colour can be the instrument of a change in consciousness. To assist in this process, the G.D. devised its own colour scale, a kind of hermetic colour wheel, known as the Rose of Twenty-Two Petals or the Rose Cross. In the Rose, colour symbolism was combined with the colour attributes of the elements, the planets, the zodiac, the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet and the 22 paths of the Tree of Life to give a complex colour code of mystical knowledge. The originators of the Rose were aware of contemporary colour theory and the importance of complimentarity. Using the Rose, the Order advocated, for example, that the sigils of the zodiacal signs should be painted each in its appropriate colour upon a background of its spectral opposite in order to obtain maximum visual impact. Several of Colquhoun’s essays deal with practical concerns related to this. In one, for example, she gave specific advice on how to obtain the maximum psychic impact from zodiacal and other sigils by painting them in the appropriate colours, writing that ‘a sigil does not begin to live until it is represented in colour’.  In another, she dealt specifically with the role of colour in elucidating the meanings contained within the complex alchemical diagram known as the Golden Chain of Homer. (3) Colquhoun made her own copy of the Rose aand  produced coloured charts, glyphs and sigils as aids to contemplation and reflection. Colour obviously played a key part of these devices, but so too did the materials from which they were made. She believed that the use of gold and silver leaf (the metals gold and silver standing for the male and female principles respectively) was universal in early magical, especially alchemical, designs.  It is significant, therefore, that a number of her own works with clear magical content, such as Star Painting (1964) with its depiction of a supernal triangle from the Tree of Life, made use of gold and silver foil as required. She also pointed out that Golden Dawn order papers recommended that sigils be painted in enamel paint, in order to give the right opacity and intensity of colour.  When this was achieved, the colours would be found to ‘flash’. Caused by the attraction of Akasic current from the atmosphere, this would result in an altered state of consciousness in which the divinatory powers of the magician would be temporarily increased. It is perfectly possible, therefore, that her extensive use of enamel paint in later years owed as much to magical influences as to painterly ones. The culmination of Colquhoun’s coalescence of art and magic occurred between 1977 and 1979 with the production of a set of Taro cards and a set of designs of the ten sephiroth of the Tree of Life. Both the Taro cards and the Sephiroth were painted using enamels. notes 1.  The typescript is in the Tate Archive and the painting is in the Penlee Art Gallery, Cornwall. Sadly, the painting is in poor condition and not fit for exhibition. 2.  For traditional G.D. attributions and correspondences, see Regardie, I. “The Golden Dawn”. 6th revised edition. St. Paul, Minnesota: Llewellyn Publications, (2002), in particular the Fifth Knowledge Lecture (pp. 77-111), the section on Talismans and Sigils (pp. 479-504) and the Complete Symbol of the Rose Cross (pp. 310-316). 3.   Colquhoun, I. “The Zodiac and the Flashing Colours.” The Hermetic Journal no. 4 (1979): 5-7; “Colour and the Two Sigils.” The Hermetic Journal no. 4 (1979): 8-9 and “Notes on the Colouring of the Homer's Golden Chain Diagram.” Hermetic Journal no. 6 (1979): 15-17.