ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe


overview Colquhoun wrote poetry throughout her life and regularly published individual pieces, although she only brought out two slender collections: Grimoire of the Entangled Thicket (1973) and Osmazone ten years later in 1983. Apart from a small number of extended verse sequences - Diagrams of Love, Santa Warna and Incantations being the main examples - most of her work is short. The poems are generally conventional in form; Colquhoun does not violate grammatical rules nor does she engage in the kind of semantic mismatches that can make automatic and other surrealist texts revelatory. The most difficult aspect is their specialist vocabulary. This is because her subject matter is magic in its various forms. Some poems refer to qabalistic and alchemical beliefs and practices whilst others concern Celtic and druidic lore. Just as ecclesiastical liturgy gains much of its power by being spoken aloud, so too do certain of Colquhoun’s poems. For example, there are a number of poems which consist largely or entirely of lists of properties and magical associations and which are clearly meant to be chanted out loud – indeed, some are titled ‘incantation’. The best examples are the ten poems of The Decad of Intelligence. Each of these deals with the occult attributes of one of the sephirah of the Tree of Life. (1) They include the relevant virtue, order of angels, mundane chakra, plant, perfume and taro card associated with the particular sephirah. For example, Occult Intelligence lists the attributes of the seventh sephirah, Netzach and starts: Sphere of Venus Pillar of fire Victory a beautiful naked woman Emerald bensoin red sandal rose Arsenic damiana Right foot solar plexus The lamp and girdle Seven-branched candlestick rose of forty-nine petals Brass Jupiter as metal A poem such as this would be largely unintelligible to anyone not familiar with the Qabalah, but, to an occultist, they would be of value in building up a magical image during ceremonial or meditative workings. Almost certainly, they would have been used for this purpose by Colquhoun herself: a number of manuscripts exist which record her own practice of visualizing a sephirah, projecting herself into it, and conversing with the entities she encountered. The poems of the Decad of Intelligence are related to a series of paintings of the Sephiroth that she completed at the same time, in 1978-79. There are several other instances of poems and paintings that are closely related to each other. The exploration of a subject in two different media was important to Colquhoun: in this way, the subject could be approached both verbally and non-verbally in ways that cannot be described in words. For example, sequences of poems titled Diagrams of Love and written in the early 1940s, examine the physical and spiritual aspects of desire and unity. A series of contemporary watercolour paintings are also titled, or annotated, Diagrams of Love, and similarly explore sexual or gender relationships. As usual, contact between lovers is likely to be achieved astrally as it is conventionally: In phantasmagoric dark Before sleep instead of folding Into myself as I was taught to do I plunge in another being And touched by tendrils of forest Or foam of ocean’s tongue At one with you then I sink into the abyss In another of the Diagrams the references are specifically hermetic, to the masculine attributes of fire and wand, and the female ones of water and container: Every voyage to the realm of fire Adds a flame to the wand To the worlds of water each journey A drop to the cup notes 1. One of the poems, Sanctifying Intelligence, has been published by Shillitoe and Morrisson (2014), the remainder are unpublished. Typescripts are at TGA 929/2/2/5/1 and TGA 929/5/24.
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