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

the occultist:

magical societies
For Colquhoun, the appeal of magical groups must have been strong because she joined so many. Her commitment was steadfast and uncompromising. Her refusal to forgo her occult pursuits was one of the points of difference with E.L.T. Mesens that led to her exclusion from the Surrealist group in London in 1940. Colquhoun’s fractured relations with the surrealist group and her rejection by several hermetic orders on the one hand and, on the other, her continued attempts to join occult societies suggests two opposing sides to her character – the side that required independence and freedom, opposed to the side that sought and valued belonging to a group, the sense of shared purpose, ideals and discoveries together with the sense of order and the comfort of ritual that came with membership of magical societies.  In her pursuit of spiritual wisdom, Colquhoun  must have spent hundreds of hours with her tables of correspondences; copying, calculating and correlating. Reading about and studying magic, however, are not sufficient for its proper understanding. Knowledge comes primarily from experiences obtained in practical settings and in the production of specific psychological states. Ceremonial magical is, at heart, non-verbal. The gnosis which the magician seeks is experiential and revelatory. The knowledge of the intellect is just the preparation. The aspiring adept must be practitioner as well as scholar. In general, membership of a community of like-minded persons is required. Here is a list of the magical societies of which Colquhoun is known to have been a member, or which she attempted to join. THE HERMETIC ORDER OF THE GOLDEN DAWN At some point in the early or mid 1930s Colquhoun applied to join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (G.D.), but her application was refused. (1)   Thanks largely to the erudition and imagination of Mathers, the Order became one of the greatest and most comprehensive repositories of magical knowledge in modern Europe. Unusually for its time, the G.D. taught the theory and practice of ceremonial magic to both men and women without discrimination. Indeed, many women rose to prominence in its ranks. (2)  Mathers believed that the deity has both male and female aspects but that the translators of the Bible had systematically removed all references to the female side. For magical reasons, therefore, it was necessary to reassert a balance and to welcome women. The Order embraced Christian and Jewish mysticism, Eastern religions, paganism, Western magical traditions and the myths of ancient Egypt. It promised its initiates access to esoteric readings of sacred texts that would illuminate the hidden meanings of the world’s religious literature and reveal their secret traditions. Instruction was given in practical skills, including astral travel, scrying, alchemy, geomancy, Taro reading and astrology. The magicians of the Golden Dawn sought self knowledge in order to achieve harmony with their Higher Self and to combine their Will with the Will of God. Alas, despite its lofty aims, relationships amongst its members were characterised by factions and disagreements. As is so often the case in human activity, in the struggle between the individual and the objective, the individual, especially the powerful and the egocentric, gained the ascendancy. By 1903 the original Order was in disarray and Mathers himself had suffered the ignominy of being expelled from the society he had helped to found. The creation of rival groups followed and it was one of these, the Alpha et Omega Temple, that Colquhoun attempted to join. Despite her rebuttal she continued to pursue her personal researches and became an acknowledged expert on the organisation and MacGregor Mathers. THE ORDO TEMPLI ORIENTIS  The story of the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) is also the story of factions, expulsions and disputed leadership. Initially, it was a secret society with many recognisable Masonic and Theosophical elements. Aleister Crowley, who was an initiate of the Golden Dawn, became Grand Master of the O.T.O. in 1923 and aligned its teachings to those of his own system of ritual and belief, the Order of Thelema. The O.T.O. taught the theory and practice of sex magic to initiates of the higher grades. In this respect, Crowley was building upon esoteric traditions from both East and West in which a sexually divided cosmos is fundamental. In Western thought, many magicians (and mystics) have invested sexual intercourse with cosmic significance, making it a mysterious, mystical act that provides a human, symbolic re-enactment of creation.  From this, it is but a short step to the belief that, through sexual activity, it is possible to activate and influence cosmic forces. According to Crowley, sex magic is the most powerful of all magical operations, for orgasm is the raw power of human creativity. This, when combined with the power of the magician’s will, has the potential to bring into being anything that one desires. Under Crowley, the O.T.O. undoubtedly included fluid-related sexual magic practices or teachings. When an occultist named Kenneth Grant assumed leadership in 1955, he continued to explore sexual magic, drawing especially upon Eastern Tantric traditions. Grant also established a dependent cell, the New Isis Lodge (sometimes spelt Nu Isis), which operated between 1955 and 1962 before being reabsorbed back into the O.T.O. According to Grant, the O.T.O. is not a corporate body in a mundane sense; it is controlled by inner- plane contacts focused by individuals who channel currents outside the circles of space and time. (3) Colquhoun was a member of both the O.T.O. and the New Isis Lodge but it is unclear how far she progressed through the series of grades. She was certainly familiar with the teachings of the higher grades, as her surviving notes on the ninth Degree confirm.  In Grant’s novel “Grist to whose Mill?”, a Roman a clef featuring many contemporary occultists, Colquhoun appears as Phoebe Maxwell. THE SOCIETY OF THE INNER LIGHT This was a dissident offshoot of the Golden Dawn. It was formed in 1924 by Violet Firth (better known as Dion Fortune) following disagreements with Moina, the widow of MacGregor Mathers. It was a composite of both magical and Christian traditions and was established to maintain and expand the bridge that exists between outer worldly life and inner, spiritual, forces. Group work consisted largely of meditation, ritual and visualisation in order to engage with spiritual and psychic forces. The majority of the symbolism was drawn from the Tree of Life with additions from Western myths, including the Arthurian legends, and from Jungian psychology. Unsuccessful in her efforts to join the Golden Dawn, Colquhoun was similarly thwarted in her attempt to join the Society of the Inner Light. In 1952 she commenced the correspondence course which was a requirement for membership, but was considered unsuitable for initiation. THE ORDER OF THE KELTIC CROSS In 1965 Colquhoun was conferred as a Lady of Honour of the Order of the Keltic Cross. This was an organisation headed by the occultist W.B. Crow, who also claimed, at one point, to be the head of the O.T.O. This was on the basis that he had been appointed head of the Gnostic Catholic Church by Aleister Crowley. As head (in his view) of the O.T.O. he combined it with other esoteric orders, including the Order of Holy Wisdom, the Ancient and Universal Rite of Cosmic Architecture, and the Institute of Cosmic Studies. It is difficult to discover much about the teachings of the Order, but its lineage suggests affinities with the O.T.O.   THE ORDER OF THE PYRAMID AND SPHINX Founded by Tamara Bourkoun, this Order operated within the Golden Dawn tradition with a special emphasis on Enochian Magic. This is the system of magic developed by John Dee, the astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I. The details of the Enochian system are said to have been revealed to Dee through the scrying of his partner Edward Kelly. It is a language, an alphabet and a system of ceremonial magic. Colquhoun was a member of the Order from about 1961. Living in Cornwall and attending meetings in London when she was able, a lengthy correspondence between her and Bourkoun survives, but, alas, it is currently unavailable to study. She resigned her membership of the Order of the Pyramid and Sphinx in about 1975. THE FELLOWSHIP OF ISIS The Fellowship was founded in 1976. It is dedicated to honouring the Goddess, the divine mother of all beings and has thousands of members from all over the globe. Members come from a variety of esoteric traditions. The Fellowship supports individual and group worship and accepts members from any faith. Colquhoun was ordained as a Priestess of Isis early on in the history of the movement, most probably in 1977. DRUIDRY Colquhoun joined both English and French druidical orders. She was, for example, a member of The Druid Order, also known as the British Circle of the Universal Bond and as An Druidh Uileach Braithrearchas. In 1961, on a trip to Brittany with Ross Nichols and Robert MacGregor-Reid, the Chief of the Druid Order she was conferred as a deaconess of the Ancient Celtic Church. After Nichols split from Reid to form the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids she continued her allegiance with The Druid Order.  At about this time she joined  The Golden Section Order, an organization founded by Colin Murray and dedicated to the preservation of Gaelic lore, monuments and antiquities. She remained a member until her death and contributed poems and drawings to its journal, “The New Celtic Review”. Her pursuit of nature-based spirituality led her to write for the Pagan journal “Wood and Water” and to join in Pagan ceremonies. For example THE ORDER OF ANCIENT, FREE AND ACCEPTED MASONRY FOR MEN AND WOMEN Increasing dissatisfaction among women over their exclusion from all-male Freemasonry led to the foundation of the first co-masonic lodge in 1893 in Paris. Known as Le Droit Humain, it admitted both men and women. The first English lodge of Le Droit Humain was established in London in 1902. Just as was the case in France, many members were also members of the Theosophical Society. In fact, Annie Besant, who became world-wide President of the T.S. in 1907 was also a member of the Supreme Council of Le Droit Humain.  So, when the scandals concerning Charles Leadbeater and James Wedgwood erupted in 1922, both organizations were badly shaken. Dissatisfied with what she felt to be the lack of appropriate response by the T.S, a senior figure named Aimée Bothwell-Gosse resigned from both the T.S. and the Droit Humain and formed the Order of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masonry for Men and Women in London. She did, however preserve the traditional administrative and degree structure of traditional masonry. This was the Order that Colquhoun joined in 1962. She was initiated into the third Degree, as a Master Mason, in May the following year and later attained a higher degree; the Holy Royal Arch. Her main lodge was the Lodge of the Pilgrimage No. 1 but she was also a member of other lodges in London and the West Country. (4) It is not unusual for Freemasons to be members of several lodges or for lodges to pursue special interests in addition to their core Masonic activities. For example, one of the lodges of which Colquhoun was a member emphasized Celtic spirituality. Although documentary evidence is lacking, it is likely that Colquhoun joined the A.F.A.M. at the instigation of Tamara Bourkoun, whose own Order of the Pyramid and Sphinx she joined at about the same time and who required membership of a masonic order as part of her programme. Bourkoun herself achieved great eminence in the A.F.A.M. Occultists are seldom reluctant to accept (or award themselves) ostentatious titles, and so in 1980  Son Excellence Sérénissime la comtesse Tamara Rákóczy Palæologina Bourkoun became Most Powerful Sovereign Grand Commander of the Order of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masonry for Men and Women. By then, however, Colquhoun had resigned her membership, at about the same time that she left the Order of the Pyramid and Sphinx. (5) Colquhoun was also, at various times, a member of the Theosophical Society of England and the Martinist Order, but never, contrary to the entry on Colquhoun in the Dictionary of National Biography, the Stella Matutina.   Less magical, but still indicative of her enquiries into all spiritual phenomena, was her membership of the Fairy Investigation Society. (6) On the subject of organisational memberships, and without suggesting for a moment that any of the following have an inner esoteric order hidden from the general membership, this might be the place to mention that, at various times, she was also a member of the Newlyn Society of Artists; the Old Cornwall Society; the National Trust; the West Country Writers Association; the Council for the Protection of Rural England; the Noise Abatement Society; the Society of Mural Decorators and Painters in Tempera and the Women’s International Art Club. She also held the title of Official Bardess of the Clan Colquhoun, publishing in its newsletter some esoteric poems, the sexual frankness of which may have surprised some members.   notes 1. This episode is recounted in Colquhoun, I. “Sword of Wisdom; MacGregor Mathers and ‘The Golden Dawn’”. London: Neville Spearman, 197, pp. 17-21. 2. Greer. M.K. “Women of the Golden Dawn”. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1995. 3. Grant, K. “The Night Side of Eden”. London: Muller, 1977. 4. Papers concerning her membership of these lodges are in the Tate Archive, at TGA 929/5. 5. 6. Young, S. “A History of the Fairy Investigation Society”. Folklore, vol. 124, 2013, 139-56.