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

the occultist

introduction The words “occult,” “magical,” and “esoteric” are used here to indicate a view of the world that differs significantly from explanations offered by modern science and monotheistic religions. Magic has its roots in ancient Egyptian and Greek mystery texts and often includes later writings by Gnostics and medieval Jewish mystics. It may incorporate aspects of Eastern religion , all within a generally Christian framework. It can encompass the practical arts of alchemy, divination and the casting of spells. It frequently claims that all things are related through a series of correspondences and regards the cosmos not only as living, but as perpetually regenerating and reconstituting itself. (1) Colquhoun’s preoccupation with magic was life-long. It was a daily reality in her waking life, her dreams, and her art. She was initiated into a number of occult societies but failed in her attempts to join others. For her, the cosmos is a unity of interdependent parts connected by sympathies and antipathies, in a chain extending from the highest to the lowest. Things above, such as planets, are connected to things below, such as Man, in a network of inescapable linkages: by influence, resemblance and affinity. An action per-formed on one thing will have an effect on all other things. The outside, visible, world is reflected in, and is a reflection of, the inner, spiritual world. Material changes will have spiritual consequences, and vice versa. The theory of correspondences, as this is generally known, also asserts that the world has been created in such a way that resemblances (whether formal or structural) are the reflection of real connections. God created the world as a beautiful and harmonious whole but on a level of complexity and subtlety that is appropriate to the creator but far surpasses the limited capacity of human understanding. Man, however, carries the key to the mysteries within himself for his very constitution is a microcosmos which reflects the macrocosmos in every respect. All the answers are there if only one learns to interpret the signs. The key to all knowledge, therefore, is self-knowledge. Colquhoun spent much time and effort in seeking to understand correspondences. Her magical studies included developing and taking part in ceremonies and rituals as well as by the acquisition of esoteric knowledge. Such a hidden body of knowledge is concealed from the unbeliever and the merely curious and access is only granted to an individual who has made the necessary preparations, learned the relevant skills, carried out the rituals in the prescribed manner and who has proved in all these ways that he or she is in an appropriate state of readiness and receptivity. Magic rituals are not acts of worship, nor are they, generally speaking, performed in pursuit of personal or material gain. Instead, they are acts of discovery and transmutation, undertaken in pursuit of spiritual development. Western magic, especially in its twentieth century forms, is non-denominational although it is often loosely based on Christian and Jewish imagery. The system of magical study that has had the widest influence on contemporary magicians, including Colquhoun, was the Qabalah, the system of magical study derived from medieval Jewish mysticism. The Qabalah (this is Colquhoun’s preferred spelling, being, she claimed, more consistent with the Hebrew writing of the word than alternatives such as Quabalah, Kabbalah, Kabala or Cabbala) offers a structure to the search for hidden, yet meaningful, relationships in the natural world and correspondences between the world of nature and the world of spirit. Study of the Qabalah is greatly facilitated by reference to a diagram known as the Tree of Life. The diagram is best thought of as a symbolic map that encompasses both the macrocosm - the universe - and the microcosm - human kind. It consists of ten spheres or sephiroth which are connected by twenty-two pathways. Into this diagram is woven symbolism of the ten digits and the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each individual sephirah is associated with specific spirits and angels and reflects different levels of spiritual development. The sephiroth provided the basis for the elaborate system of correspondences in which relations, rooted in the very order of things created by God, are uncovered and elaborated. Although the Qabalah formed the basis of Colquhoun’s world view, it did not define its limits. An interest in Eastern spirituality, especially Tantra, was, as time passed, combined with earth magic, Celtic lore, Druidism and Wicca. She attempted to build bridges between apparently disparate concepts and traditions. For example, her interest in Celtic esotericism led her to researches into Celtic gods, druidical ceremonies and tree lore. As mentioned earlier, she attempted to identify correspondences between Celtic beliefs and the Tree of Life. In amongst these influences, Colquhoun’s roots in her own Christian background remain readily apparent. However, her recurring interest in the Fall, the loss of androgyny and the consequent need for gender reintegration, places her much closer to the ideas of mystics such as Jacob Böhme, Emanuel Swedenborg, William Blake and to the Martinists than to conventional Christian doctrines. Hers was a heterodox Christianity, informed also by an unfashionable interest in angelic orders. notes: 1. For scholarly discussions of these matters, good starting points are: Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, “The Western Esoteric Traditions: A Historical Introduction” (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) and Henrik Bogdan, “Western Esotericism and Rituals of Initiation” (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2007).