Ithell Colquhoun, Magician And/Or Surrealist

Ithell Colquhoun is a towering figure at the fulcrum between Surrealism and occultism – the fulcrum I’m trying to lever open on this blog. But her position within and between the two has perhaps not yet been fully understood.

Those who hail her power as a magician – and there’s now a growing recognition of her stature, thanks in large part to Fulgur Press – often neglect her importance as a Surrealist. Fulgur’s promotional video for Colquhoun’s Decad Of Intelligence, for example, manages not to mention Surrealism at all.

On the other hand, discussions of her as a Surrealist tend to ignore her magickal prowess. Even Penelope Rosemont’s magisterial Surrealist Women: An International Anthology downplays it, merely alluding to “alchemy, Kabbalah, and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” as an “atmosphere” that surrounded Colquhoun as a child.

It will be interesting to see how Amy Hale’s forthcoming biography of Colquhoun handles this. Hale has been quite busy lately in the wake of Fulgur’s publication of the Decad and Colquhoun’s Taro, and seems to have carved out a niche as the go-to commentator on Colquhoun. Last year she was interviewed interestingly and at length* on the Occulture podcast, and in addition to her professional academic publications she’s also written some journalistic pieces, such as this article in Sabbat Magazine. She’s also slated to speak at the Magical Women Conference in London this summer. You can bet I’ll be there, with WordPress open and my laptop on my knee.

*Actually the first 15 minutes of the podcast are a bit boring. But skip past that and you’ll get to the good stuff.

Goose of Hermogenes book cover reproduced under fair use.
Ithell Colquhoun and the Decad of Intelligence video from Fulgur Press on Vimeo.


6 thoughts on “Ithell Colquhoun, Magician And/Or Surrealist

  1. She was definitely both! The Goose is an excellent. I have written about her, I will send you the link if you don’t mind. I am also very interested in the occult side of surrealism and have written about the esoteric references in Toyen and Ernst as well, among others.

    1. Thanks for the input! Yes, Ernst and Toyen are teeming with esoteric references – as are many works by Surrealists active in the movement today. Dorothea Tanning was far from the last of us, you know 🙂

      1. I love Tanning, I plan to see her exhibition at some point when I am next in London. Her novel is very good as well. I dabble with my own fiction/poetry, some is more Surrealist than others. Surrealism can be found in a lot of places these days.

      2. Yes, I’m also planning a trip up to see the Tanning show as soon as I can. As for Surrealism being found in a lot of places… well, yes and no. Surrealism is not just a style or a genre, but a “collective adventure”, and as such it’s mainly to be found in and around the international Surrealist movement (I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that, but I’m saying it anyway for the benefit of others who might also read this). But the Marvellous is a slightly different issue: it can be found anywhere and everywhere, if we know how to look for it, and that’s arguably the more important thing.

      3. You are absolutely right, Surrealism was more than just another art movement. And a throw of the dice doesn’t abolish chance.

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