Lux in Tenebris, 15 





Dialogues in Ithell Colquhoun's Oeuvre

Victoria Ferentinou



p. 364 occult surrealism

"In 1929, the leader of the surrealist movement, French theorist and poet Andre' Breton (1896-1966), called 'for the profound, the veritable occultation of surrealism' ... . ... Breton himself and his comrades in Paris showed an intrest in the "occult sciences" in the 1920s, but it was from the mid-1930s and particularly from the 1940s and beyond that occultism and more generally esotericism informed surrealism ... ."

[fn. 5 "On the relationship between surrealism and esotericism see Rabinovitch, Surrealism and the Sacred; ... Bauduin, Surrealism and the Occult."]

Celia Rabinovitch : Surrealism and the Sacred : ... the Occult in Modern Art. Boulder (CO) : Westview Pr, 2003.

Tessel M. Bauduin : Surrealism and the Occult. Univ of Amsterdam Pr, 2014.


pp. 364-5, 369-70 Ithell Colquhoun and her memberships

p. 364

"The marriage of esotericism and art is particularly evident in the work of the British surrealist Ithell Colquhoun, an artist, writer and occultist who was born in India in 1906 and died in Cornwall in 1988."

[fn. 7 "On Colquhoun see ... Ratcliffe,  Ithell Colquhoun; Shillitoe, Ithell Colquhoun ... ."]

p. 365, fn. 10

"In 1928 she became a member of Mead's Quest Society. ... In the 1950s ... she joined Aleister Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis (1952) and was admitted to Kenneth Grant's New Isis Lodge (1955) ... ."

p. 369

"she joined the British surrealist group 1939. ... She was expelled from the surrealist group in Britain the next year because she refused to conform

p. 370

to the strict directives set up ... that no surrealist should participate in any other groups, including secret societies."

Eric Ratcliffe : Ithell Colquhoun. Oxford : Ma ndrake, 2007.

Richard Shillitoe : Ithell Colquhoun. Lulu Enterprises, 2009.


p. 372 power of myth

"'Myth is a volcanic force', she notes, and one cannot have liberty 'without repeated explosions'."


p. 374, fn. 51 choice of symbolic colors

"Colquhoun also used colours symbolically in the set of Tarot cards she designed in 1977, following the instructions given by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn ... .

However in other cases, she freely adapted the standard colour symbolism of alchemy ... and most specifically the colour-scales of ... Garstin's coloured diagram of Kirchweger's chain in the Aurea Catena ... ."


p. 376, fn. 57 mystical marriage

"A spiritualized version of the alchemical marriage is also given by Garstin in Secret Fire, Ch. VII, n.p. where he mentions 'the Mystical Marriage of the Philosophers' as a sort of unity of oneself with

his/her Divine Self."

{"Oversoul", in Rosicrucian jargon}


pp. 377-8 Colquhoun's painting

p. 377

"In Diagrams of Love : The Tree of Venus 1 (c. 1940-41) ... Colquhoun offers ... visually ... a tree crowned with a red heart on top and growing blue heart-shaped roots at the bottom ... .

{Herein are repraesented "charms that move Venus' [Aphrodite's] heart" (O:M 10 -- Th"AL:Ad").} {"Therefore, when laughter-loving Aphrodite ... loved him [Ankhises], ... terribly desire seized her in her heart." (HH5A 45 sq -- Th"AL:An")}

p. 378

Its branches also bear red hearts which are connected through golden rays with the uppermost heart." {Golden heart-rays indicate aptitude for being "golden-hearted" (kindly, generous) through means of the golden nectar flowing from the saffron goddess.}

{"In the painting, the connection can be seen between the pulses from the heart, which pass up the Twelve-Storeyed Pagoda to the Heavenly Pool, and the thread of the Maiden, ending in the Celestial Jade City. Connecting these two pulses is the channel from the occiput (the Moon) through which the Golden nectar flows." ("DE--MO":"H. The Weaving Maiden")}

{"The seventeenth homage is to ... the "Unfathomable Suppressor", who ... is orange like saffron, ... and ... radiating seed syllables from ... her heart, she shakes all the abodes of the great gods" ("21 HT", stanza 17).}

O:M = Ovidius : Metamorphoses.

Th"AL:Ad" = "Aphrodite Loves : Adonis". 

HH5A = Homeric Hymn 5 to Aphrodite.

Th"AL:An" = "Aphrodite Loves : Anchises". 

"DE--MO" = "The Doctrine of the Elixir -- Microcosmic Orbit". 

"21 HT" = "21 Homages to Tara". 


{Lykian poe:t Olen, in describing ""Eileithyia, styles her 'the clever spinner', clearly identifying her with fate, and makes her older than Cronos." (Description of Greece 8.21.3).[2]" (W"Olen")} {"The thread spun by Eileithuia could also be likened to that of the Taoist goddess "Weaving Maiden" : "The Maiden is a representative of the metaphysical animal soul and she is pictured set close to the kidney region. She is also representative of the negative force Yin, as is also the thread that she spins. An allegorical story tells how the Heavenly Boy (the Boy Stone Cutter) in his Cowherd aspect, once upon a time stole her clothes as she was bathing." ("DE--MO":"H. The Weaving Maiden") -- "one night the god [Bhairava] saw certain Apsarases, that had come to bathe in that holy pool of Mahākāla, and he gave this command to Ṭhiṇṭhākarāla [\ṭhiṇṭhā\ 'gambling-house' + \karāla\ 'musk-deer'] :

“While all these nymphs of heaven are engaged in bathing, quickly snatch up the clothes, which they have laid on the bank, and bring them here; and do not give them back their garments until they surrender to you this young nymph, named Kalāvatī.[1]"(KSS "VS`" CXXI 171aaa. "The Bold Gambler Ṭhiṇṭhākarāla".)

That this apsaras Kalāvatī (whose name referreth to that aequivalent to the 64 hexagrams of the Yi C^>in, to wit, the 64 Kala 'arts' : PE, q.v., citing the S`abda-Sagara) was later required to "become an image on a pillar[17] in the temple built by King Narasiṃha ['man-lion'] in the city of Nāgapura ['dragon city']" (Ibid., loc. cit.), is paralleled by how (DCM, s.v. Lethaea" -- citing Lactantius Placidus : Narrationes Fabularum Ovidianarum 10:1, along with Ovidius : Metamorphoses 10:69) LETHaia -- cognate with \RADHa\, name of the woman who, at Vr.ndavana "place of the hidden moon" [whence the Taoist "channel from the occiput (the Moon)"], while bathing underwent having her clothing stolen by Acyuta -- and her husband (cf. Taoist "Boy Stone Cutter") were both "transformed into stone statues."} {In this narrative (KSS "VS`" CXXI), the Taoist "Golden nectar" is praesent as the nectar vivifying a golden idol : (KSS "VS`" CXXI 171c. "Jayanta and the Golden Deer") "Indra had a deer made for him [Jayanta] by Viśvakarman, of gold and jewels, and life was given to the animal by sprinkling it with nectar."}

W:"Olen" = Wikipedia article "Olen (poet)". 

KSS "VS`" = Katha-Sarit-Sagara Book XVIII - "Viṣama-śīla". Chapter CXXI. 


p. 378 Union of the Two Hearts

"The frontpiece to the 1682 edition of Boehme's On the Testaments of Christ (1623) provides ... two hearts, an upright and a reversed ..., ... linking the lower world of corrosive fire with the upper realm of divine light."

{This diagram is apparently repraesentative of Jakob Bo:hme's idiosyncratic version of the Roman Catholic dogma of the Union of the Two Hearts (viz., the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart : U2H).}

U2H = The Union of the Two Hearts : An Inculturated Christological-Marian Spirituality. Roma : Aracne editrice, 2016. & 


{As for this "corrosive fire", it is repraesentive of Grace from the Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” ("BH&OFLM"). Boehme evidently was a secret devotee-initiator into the sacred mystery of the Union of the Two Hearts. The Vajra-yana aequivalent to this mystery would be "The recognizing of the Fundamental Clear Light [of Dreamless Sleep] ... called 'Blending of the Clear Light of the Mother and Son'." (TY&SD, lib. III "Y6D", cap. IV "YCL", pt. II "CLP", Pr. 2 "DS", 32)}

"BH&OFLM" = "A Brief History and Overview of the Flame of Love Movement of the Immaculate Heart of Mary". 

TY&SD, ib. III "Y6D", cap. IV "YCL", pt. II "CLP", Pr. 2 "DS", 32 = W. Y. Evans-Wentz : Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines. Oxford Univ Pr, 1935 (2nd edn, 1958). lib. III "The Yoga of the Six Doctrines", cap. IV "The Yoga/Doctrine of the Clear Light", pt. II "The Clear Light of the Path", Practice 2 "During Sleep", stanza 32 (on p. 229). 


pp. 380-1 speckled bird with prominent spine


"In Diagrams of Love : The Bird or the Egg? 

{Puzzle : "Which came first -- the bird or the egg?"}

p. 380

(c. 1940-41) ..., Colquhoun vividly depicts ... a multicoloured feathery oval-shaped being with open wings. The being's ovoid body resembles an egg and its spine ... . ...

{"Conaire had gone to the bull-feast but had left early and had pursued a flock of great white speckled birds along Merrion Strand ... . One of the birds changed shape ..., and warned him ... this was one of his geasa. ... When he returned he saw ... severed Conaire’s head.  ... Mac Cecht lifted a pillar and drove it through a ... spine." (BM"CM") This may allude to (Apokalupsis of Ioannes 3:12) : "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God."}

p. 381

Interestingly, her ... egg/bird with the colourful dotted speckles also recalls the imagery of ... some alchemical treatises ... ."

BM"CM" = Bardic Mythologies "Conaire Mór". 


{The spinal column D.D (usually transliterated "DD") most renown in religious art of TL-MRJ is that of of WSJR : in conventional iconography, it is figured as a pilastre/column. This word (\D.D\) is repraesented in <arabiy by \D.iDD\ 'a contrast; word with two opposite meanings' (DMWA, p. 628a) : such ambiguities might be referred to as "antinomies", such as those mentioned in the "automatic writing" revelation to Yeats, as requiring resolution betwixt daimones (infra, p. 389, fn. 96).} {But the non-nutritive quaffing by the head of Conaire is reminiscent (W"Zhenniao -- H&LR") "of the idiom "Drinking Zhen to quench one's thirst" ... or when comparing the Zhendu to ... monkshood.[4]" Indeed, shaped like unto a monk's hood is the entranceway into the nest of an oriole, so that this "poison-feather" bird is now conventionally identified as an oriole species, "the hooded pitohui of New Guinea" (W"Zhenniao -- E").}

W"Zhenniao -- H&LR" 

W"Zhenniao -- E" 


p. 381, fn. 68 "Bird of Hermes"

"Colquhoun uses the term 'Bird of Hermes' as a title of a play she wrote in the 1920s and well as in the epigraph of her later novel Goose of Hermogenes. ... Her source is Philalethes 'Metamorphosis of Metals', 243. Another likely source is the homonymous "hermetic" poem included in Elias Ashmole's collection Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum (1652), 213-226."


p. 381 eye-like disk-markings on tail of pavon/peafowl

p. 381

"the imagery of the peacock's tail, which ... integrates all colours ... ."

{According to Basilides, "As an egg of some ... peacock ... contains in itself numerous forms of manifold substances; so ... the ... seed of the world ... constitutes a multitude of forms and a multitude of substances ... . The motif of the Basilidean cosmic egg probably derives from Orphism." ("ThL&ID", p. 22)}

p. 381, fn. 69

"Heinrich Khunrath in Amphitheatrum Sapientiae Aeternae (1595; 1609) reserves a significant role for the peacock ... . Identified by an inscription as the bird of Hermes, the bird is depicted as rising from the head of the ... rebis ...; see Klossowski De Rola, The Golden Game, 29-30, 40, 44."  

{The peafowl is identified as "the bird of Hermes" because the peafowl is "charmed asleep by [Hermes's] playing the flute" (GM @56.a). Colquhoun's bird's eye-like markings ("colourful dotted speckles") are surely intended as referential to the myth of Argos Pan-optes, whose "hundred eyes ... Hera ... placed ... in the tail of a peacock" (GM @56.a).}

"ThL&ID" = Pietro Podolak : "Theories and Ideas about Language in Dionysius". In :- Filip Ivanović (ed.) : Dionysius the Areopagite between Orthodoxy and Heresy. Cambridge Scholars Publ, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2011. pp. 13-42. 


pp. 382, 384 (illustrated by Fig. 15.6 on p. 383)

p. 382

"Colquhoun provides an abstract ... work which she labels Diagrams of Love : Androgyne II (c. 1940-41)".

{The illustration is a depiction of a scarlet (i.e., erotically excited) vulva being approached from below by a blue-winged (i.e., energetic) flesh-colored phallos.}

p. 384

"the phallic form is blue, while the vulva-shaped is red/orange ... ."

Stanislas Klossowski De Rola :  The Golden Game : Alchemical Engravings of the Seventeenth Century. London : Thames & Hudson, 1997.


p. 384, n. 73 blueness in the aura, and of the aitheric-double

"A blue-coloured aura connotes a spiritual being. ...

It is almost certain that she [Colquhoun] was aware of the theosophical theories of the "etheric double" and its bluish colour through Besant, The Ancient Wisdom, whose 1922 edition is found in her private book collection."

Annie Besant : The Ancient Wisdom : an Outline of Theosophical Teachings. 1897. (reprint Theosophical Publ House, 1922)


p. 385 yoga & tantra

"Colquhoun acquired books on Yoga, explored yogic practices and amassed materials on both Yoga and Tantra particularly in the 1950s and 1960s.

In 1975, in the biography she wrote for Mathers, she focused on Tantra and discussed its likely employment by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn ... ."


p. 386 her book Goose of Hermogenes 

"her esoteric novel Goose of Hermogenes ... was published in 1961 but was written from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.

The story revolves around the ordeals of an unnamed heroine who visits her uncleon a desolate island, only to discover that he is an alchemist versed in witchcraft ..., and she is imprisoned in his mansion because of her ... alchemical powers.

Organized according to the twelve-stage subdivision of the alchemical opus,

[fn. 83 "Colquhoun herself reveals her reliance upon Basil Valentine's Twelve Keys; see Sword of Wisdom, 282."]

the heroine's journey parallels the alchemists' quests for the philosopher's stone.

In the course of the novel she is compelled to explore not only her uncle's ... secret life, but also her own psyche and potentials through dreams, visions and inexplicable events until her escape ... .  

... the story may be read as an allegorical account of ... Colquhoun's lifelong pursuit of personal transformation and spirituality ... ."

[fn. 84 "This interpretation was first propounded and elaborated at length in Ferentinou, Women Surrealists ..., Chapter 5 ... ."]

Ithell Colquhoun : Sword of Wisdom : MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn. London : Neville Spearman, 1975.

Victoria Ferentinou : Women Surrealists and Hermetic Imagery. PhD thesis, Colchester : Univ of Essex, 2007.


p. 387 a divine entity accompanying each mortal human

"Regardie equated ... with the esoteric principle of awareness of one's higher self, in other words of the existence of the divinity within oneself, ... the Golden Dawn's highest self, the theosophical "God within us" ... ."

{Such a divinity ever-praesent with each mortal is one's personal spirit-guide or guardian-angel, aequivalent to the daimon accompanying Sokrates.}


p. 387 her divorce & marginalization

"her divorce from del Renzio in 1947 and her marginalisation within surrealism by leading members of the English surrealist group throughout the 1940s, perhaps awakened her interest in analytical psychology ... ."


p. 388 alchemical motifs in her Goose of Hermogenes 

"a fictional union of lovers


the heroine's nightmarish decomposition and fusion with an unknown male in the graveyard


her fantasized erotic union with her beloved ...


her sisters' possession by demonic beings


her unwilling participation in a magical sex-act conducted by her alchemist uncle


her quarrel with her half-brother and encounter with the ghostly figure of her dead father



p. 389 conjunction of mortal human & immortal daimon (holy guardian-angel)

"in 1953 she writes that 'the division into male and female represents "a split in the psyche".

{The psukhe (\Psukhe\ 'soul' being the feminine substantive of the adjective \psukh[r]o/e\ 'chill, cool') is a female for males; and its correlative is a male for females : Carl Jung distinguished these as "anima" and as "animus", respectively.}

The task is to replace this unresolved duality by ... the fruitful relation of man and daimon, conjunctio'."

{Concord between oneself and one's personal daimon (Sokratic-Platonic), guardian-angel (Roman Catholic), or fravas.i (Zarathustrian), is regarded its the respective religion as the very essence of private piety.}


p. 389 Yeats's A Vision, quoted in Colquhon's Sword of Wisdom 

p. 389

"Colquhoun's ... pronouncement ... reveals her debt to W. B. Yeats's A Vision (1937) ... ."

p. 389, fn. 96

"Colquhoun admired the work of Yeats ..., since he was also involved in both occultism and art. In her Sword of Wisdom, 296, she mentions his prose A Vision,


a product of automatic writing,

{"Automatic writing" is the event wherein one's bodily limb for writing is temporarily occupied by a litterary type of daimon, for the occasion of transmitting handwritten (or typed) information from praeternatural worlds into the material world.}


and also quotes a few lines that describe the passionate love between daimons who seek union with each other to resolve their antinomies and reconstruct their own true nature."

{It is, of course, very appropriate that daimones should, via "automatic writing", transmit information concerning their own daimonic selves (abiding in their particular praeternatural worlds) to mortals (abiding in the material world); mortals could employ such information for aequivalently directing their own conduct.}


{Any intercourse (including erotic) between between pairs of daimones (which intercourse can be erotic whenever the two membres of any pair are of opposite gendre) will be naturally conducted with a view to reconciling divergencies and to maintaining concords.}


p. 390 "psychological utopianism"

"Colquhoun's utopian vision could ... be seen through ... what Petteri Pietikainen [2007, p. 16] termed "psychological utopianism", ... in which inner transformation {of each individual person} is deemed indispensable for the ensuing change in society or culture."

Pietikainen 2007 = Petteri Pietikainen : Alchemists of Human Nature : Psychological Utopianism in Gross, Jung, Reich and Fromm. London : Pickering & Chatto.


pp. 391-2 "re-enchantment of the world"

p. 391

"her ... metaphysics ... can be situated wthin the surrealist project [Donald LaCoss : "Introduction", p. vii. In :- Lo:wy 2009] 'of

{This "revolt" is directed against public hypocrisy; the "subversion" is directed to undermine the sources of private impiety, which can be a cause of hypocrisy in private actions.}

p. 392

psychical revolt and the subversive re-enchantment of the world', ...


to provide a fruitful, benevolentand egalitarian ... future, ... a viable solution to ... Western modernity ... ."

Lo:wy 2009 = Michael Lo:wy : Morning Star : Surrealism, Marxism, Anarchism, Situationism, Utopia. Univ of TX Pr.



Peter J. Forshaw (ed.) : Lux in Tenebris : the Visual and the Symbolic in Western Esotericism. ARIES BOOK SERIES : TEXTS & STUDIES IN WESTERN ESOTERICISM, Vol. 23. Brill, Leiden, 2017.