The Daughter Of The Firmament, The Dweller Between The Waters

Taro As Colour
by Ithell Colquhoun
with an introduction by Amy Hale
Hardback, 206 pages
Fulgur Press 2018

Fulgur Press is having a sale at the moment, so you can grab a copy of Taro As Colour at the knock-down price of £40.

If £40 doesn’t sound very “knock-down” to you, I know how you feel, but trust me: it’s worth pawning your shoes, selling your granny, and living on baked beans for a month to afford this book.

Colquhoun devised and produced her own “taro” (her preferred spelling) deck during the 1970s. The whole deck was exhibited in 1977 at her local gallery in Newlyn, Cornwall, where it seems to have been largely greeted with incomprehension.

Instead of taking the figurative approach familiar from traditional tarot decks, Colquhoun’s cards consist of abstract enamels on paper. The bulk of this book is devoted to full-size, full-colour plates of each card. The reproductions are lavish, and the results are stunning.

The book also includes the short essay Colquhoun wrote to accompany the 1977 exhibition, and a superbly lucid introduction by Amy Hale.

After I had completed the pack I saw some slides showing nebulae in outer space and the birth of stars. These recalled my designs and confirmed my conviction of their cosmographic function.
– Ithell Colquhoun, 1977

At the back of the book there is an “index”, with thumbnail images of each card and a short explanatory note. Unless you have a decent command of the Golden Dawn magickal system (and/or a copy of Israel Regardie’s manual), you are going to need to refer to this index, because Colquhoun uses the Golden Dawn’s secret names for the cards, rather than the more familiar names. The card otherwise known as The Star, for example, is presented here as The Daughter Of The Firmament, The Dweller Between The Waters.

As if all of this were not already enough to make your head spin, Colquhoun also organises the Major and Minor Arcana in a new way.

The elemental correspondences of the suits are as one would expect: Air/Swords, Fire/Wands, Water/Cups, Pentacles/Earth. But in Colquhoun’s system, each of the four elemental sequences arises from the conjunction of the Ace with a specific Major Arcanum that is its “shakti”.

With the element of Air, for example, the Ace Of Swords couples with its shakti, The Spirit Of Aether (otherwise known as The Fool), to generate the Sword court cards. The court cards in turn generate the numbered Minor Arcana – not in the exoteric numerical sequence, but in a sequence dictated by the court cards from which each numbered arcanum arises. The remaining Major Arcana are then arranged according to their elements, rather than their numbers. And all of these sequences, relationships and correspondences are represented on each card in the choice and positioning of the colours (with the added twist that Earth is indigo).

Still with me?

What the good people of Newlyn made of it all at that 1977 exhibition, god only knows. It’s an esoteric system of Colquhoun’s own devising, so intricate and sophisticated that it takes hours of study even to fully grasp the sequencing of the cards.

The deck as a whole is a visual and intellectual masterpiece, as moving as it is dazzling – and arguably the culmination of Colquhoun’s life’s work.

Image credits:
NASA image of Cat’s Paw Nebula in the public domain
Book cover image reproduced under fair use

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