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

the occultist:

signatures and sigils
In 1962 Colquhoun began to sign her works with a monogram rather than her full surname. Significantly, the monogram was derived from her magical name rather than her natal name. The relationship a person has with their name is very revealing. Renaming oneself represents a turning away from the past and a former self. The adoption of a new name is a way of establishing a new identity. It occurs, most frequently, at entry into adulthood when the attitudes and attachments of childhood are left behind. As a young woman, between the age of 15 and starting her studies at the Slade, Colquhoun had previously redefined herself from the plain Margaret or Peggy of her youth to the far more exotic Ithell. (1) Now, as a woman in early middle age she entered a new age with a new name that identified her spiritual goals. Colquhoun adopted her magical name in 1952, shortly after she commenced the study programme required by the Society of the Inner Light. It is common in Western magic to choose a new name upon initiation into a magical order. It both confers a sense of fraternity (and sorority) amongst its members and it symbolises a new beginning; a spiritual rebirth. The magical name, or motto, is chosen carefully. The Golden Dawn, for example, instructed its candidates to find a motto that would encapsulate his or her highest conscious aspirations. By tradition, mottoes are generally in Latin. For her magical name Colquhoun chose Splendidior Vitro – ‘more sparkling than crystal’, or ‘clearer than crystal’. The phrase comes from the ode “O fons Bandusiæ” by the Roman poet Horace. The poem is a hymn of praise to the tutelary deities of springs and fountains. Fountains are symbols of life and fertility. They are a source of beneficent energy, enabling a supplicant to make contact with the divine source of that energy. They have peaceful, restorative properties which they give in return for the poet’s reverence and praise. Central to the poem is the reciprocal relationship between poet and nature and a sense of natural order.  Colquhoun frequently used the phrase as a focus for her meditations:  The fountain and spring is the image beneath the image; it has the meaning of ‘brilliant’ or ‘flashing’ as well as clear. Crystal suggests colours of the spectrum and absence of colour, all and none, hidden, geometric formation, symmetry, prism-making, light. (2) In choosing the phrase as her motto, Colquhoun was affirming her place in the natural order, acknowledging the wholeness of creation and recognising the importance of natural phenomena that outlast life’s own brief span. Enhancing these, then, was her personal route to spiritual development. From 1962 whenever she signed her work she did so with her monogram (more properly a sigil), formed from the initials not of her birth name but of her magical name.  She had put aside her worldly personality. Henceforth, art and magic would be one.                   Splendidior Vitro   notes 1.  Ithell was a traditional given name for girls on Colquhoun’s mother’s side. 2.  See magical diary at TGA 929/5/18, entry dated May 13 1952.