Ithell Colquhoun (1906-1988) is best known today for being a painter and author of great prominence on the British surrealist scene. She studied at the Slade School of Art in London and soon also studied the arts in France, and there met the master Salvador Dalí which made a great impact on her artistic expression. She made her debut at a exhibition in 1936 and by then already had developed her style which she herself described as "magic realism", showing strong influences of Dalí.
From 1939 and onwards Ithell often used a technique which can best be described as "automatic painting", i.e. the artistic equivalent of automatic writing, not uncommon amongst surrealist painters such as her mentor Salvador Dalí. It was also used amongst certain symbolist painters and writers, such as the Golden Dawn Adept William Butler Yeats. This is also a technique which naturally can be found in some occult circles, which leads us to Ithell's connections with the occult community, in which she was known as Soror Splendidior Vitro (see monogram at far right for this magical motto). Ithell in fact took part in the movement today commonly known as the Golden Dawn. There she used her artistic abilities in full bloom to express its occult worldview, especially connected to the Qabalistic glyph of the Tree of Life.
In the Golden Dawn community Ithell is best known to us for her seminal work and personal interpretation of the history of the Golden Dawn, called The Sword of Wisdom: MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn. This book, which basically is a biography on S.L. MacGregor Mathers, was published by Spearman in 1975 and is currently out of print. Compared to the more academically rigid and hence dispassionate works of authors like Ellic Howe and R.A. Gilbert, the work of Ithell Colquhoun is written with love and passion for the tradition and from the perspective of an initiate. This makes the work the more interesting as it draws from many sources not strictly speaking legitimate from the academic angle, such as word of mouth traditions and gossip amongst initiates, etc.
Ithell also wrote one more occult work, the hermetic-surrealist novel Goose of Hermogenes, published by Peter Owen in 1961. This work was probably developed under the influence of automatic writing, or so Steve Nichols asserts us, and can be best regarded as a modern oracle. In short Ithell's heroine finds out, while visiting her uncle at his island that exists out of time and space, that he actually is in search of the philosopher’s stone. Goose of Hermogenes can best be described as an esoteric fantasy novel which draws from scenes and imagery mostly derived from medieval occult sources. Each chapter title is also correlated to different stages in the alchemical work. It is a reading worth while for any student of the Golden Dawn or of Hermeticism.SR
her magical works..
more to follow...