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

the occultist:

the taro pack
 Taro was Colquhoun’s preferred spelling of the more usual Tarot, believing it to be more in keeping with the pack’s alleged Egyptian origins.  The Taro was of central importance to the occult activities of Golden Dawn magicians and their contemporaries. Today, it remains a significant resource for the practising occultist. Eliphas Levi, who had made a major contribution to the study of the pack, was the first occultist to work out systematic correlations between the twenty-two trumps of the Major Arcana and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. A.E. Waite, who translated Levi’s works into English, was responsible for much of the iconography found in the best known modern pack, the one illustrated by Pamela Coleman Smith and published by the Rider Press in 1910. Colquhoun was critical of the Waite pack. One of her accusations was that he had introduced gender imbalance into the court cards by substituting Knaves for Princesses. (1)  Her own use of the suit name of Disks rather than the more current Pentacles may be another criticism of Waite, who was responsible for introducing the term “pentacles”. Colquhoun believed that the pack had valuable applications that went beyond mere fortune telling. She saw the use of the pack as a mantic practice that could help the adept achieve higher and more subtle planes. Being charged with visionary and spiritual experiences, the cards help lead the practitioner towards those experiences. Over the years she made several paintings inspired by individual cards. The earliest date from around 1930. Later, in 1936-7, she incorporated figures from two of the cards of the Major Arcana into a mural painted for Moreton in Marsh hospital. One wonders how many of the patients and staff at the newly- refurbished building, when looking at her decoration in the waiting room, realised that the figures were based on The Star and Temperance cards. Later, in about 1949, she painted a set of Aces in watercolour. In 1977 she painted an entire deck, (see here) consisting of seventy eight cards, divided into four suits of fourteen cards (ace to ten, plus four court cards), together with the twenty-two trump cards that make up the Major Arcana. In her designs she sought to ‘render the essence of each card by the non-figurative means of pure colour, applied automatically, in the manner of the psycho morphological movement in surrealism’.  (2) The cards follow the colour and associative symbolism of the Golden Dawn which links the four suits with the four traditional elements of alchemy. That is, Air (Swords: pale yellow); Water (Cups: deep blue); Fire (Wands: scarlet) and Earth (Disks: indigo). The esoteric titles of the individual cards were inscribed beneath the image. For Colquhoun, the titles of the cards were as important as the design. In her view, each title acts as Mantra to the design's Yantra. For example, the card more widely known as the Ace of Swords is entitled the Root of the Powers of Air. Each card is, of course, the product of a physical as well as a spiritual process. In some cards the colours have been allowed to flow and mingle without intervention, save, perhaps, for a discrete tilting or turning of the paper. On occasion the paint has been augmented with flecks or dots, as one might pipe icing onto a cake. In other instances the paint has clearly been manipulated and swirled with a small rod or stick; perhaps the reverse end of a paint brush. In these works Colquhoun has been as Cerridwen at her cauldron, stirring and churning her brew, or as a magician raising galaxies and nebulae with her wand. The cards have only been shown in public once, shortly after their completion, but in 2005 Adam McLean published a limited edition of the pack. For more information, click here. notes 1.  Colquhoun, I. “Sword of Wisdom; MacGregor Mathers and ‘The Golden Dawn’”. London: Neville Spearman, 1975. p. 250. 2.  Colquhoun, I. “The Taro as Colour.” Sangreal 1 no. 2 (1978): 31-33.