In her pursuit of spiritual wisdom, Colquhoun taught herself Hebrew and must have spent hundreds of hours with her tables of correspondences, copying, calculating and correlating. Writing, reading and studying about magic, however, is not sufficient for its proper understanding and personal development. It must be experienced to be adequately apprehended. Knowledge comes from experiences obtained in practical settings and in particular psychological states. Ceremonial magical is, at heart, non-verbal, experiential and revelatory. The aspiring adept must be practitioner as well as scholar. In general, membership of a community of like-minded persons is required. Here is a list of the magical societies of which Colquhoun is known to have been a member, or which she attempted to join.
The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
At some point in the early or mid 1930s she applied to join the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, but her application was refused.(1) Despite this rebuttal she continued to pursue her personal researches through meditation, ritual and astral travel and became, ultimately, an acknowledged expert on the organisation and its founder, MacGregor Mathers.
Thanks largely to Mathers, his erudition and boundless imagination, the Order became one of the greatest and most comprehensive repositories of magical knowledge in modern Europe. It embraced Christian and Jewish mysticism, Eastern religions, paganism, Western magical traditions and the myths of ancient Egypt. It promised its initiates access to esoteric readings of sacred texts that would illuminate the hidden meanings of the world’s religious literature and reveal their secret traditions. Instruction was given in practical skills, including astral travel, scrying, alchemy, geomancy, the Taro and astrology.
In some ways, the programme of study prescribed by the G.D. is a form of collage: the merging of separate realities contained within the individual elements to form or reveal a new identity. It is a monument to syncretism; an attempt to make an harmonious whole out of fragments, each of which contains within it a hidden aspect of a greater truth.
Unusually for its time, the Order, taught the theory and practice of ceremonial magic to both men and women without discrimination. Indeed, many women rose to prominence in its ranks. Mathers believed that the deity has both male and female aspects but that, for their own reasons, the translators of the Bible had systematically removed all references to the female side. For magical reasons, therefore, it was necessary to reassert a balance.
Alas, Alas, despite its lofty aims, relationships amongst its members were characterised by factions and disagreements. As is so often the case in human activity, in the struggle between the individual and the objective, the individual, especially the powerful and the egocentric, gained the ascendancy. By 1903 the original Order was in disarray and Mathers himself had been expelled. The creation of rival groups followed and it was one of these, the Alpha et Omega Temple, that Colquhoun, unsuccessfully, attempted to join.
The Ordo Templi Orientis
The story of the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.) is also the story of factions, expulsions and disputed leadership. Initially, it was a secret society with many recognisable Masonic and Theosophical elements. Aleister Crowley, who was an initiate of the Golden Dawn, became Grand Master of the O.T.O. in 1923 and aligned its teachings to those of his own system of ritual and belief, the so-called Order of Thelema.
When an occultist named Kenneth Grant assumed leadership in 1955, he disposed of the Masonic affiliations and realigned the Order to the Stellar Wisdom tradition, recasting it as the Typhonian O.T.O. to distinguish it from dissident lodges. The Typhonian tradition (named after Typhon, the Egyptian Goddess and mother of Set) encouraged the female principle in magic. Grant also established a dependent cell, the New Isis Lodge (sometimes spelt Nu Isis), for the purpose of channelling extra-terrestrial transmissions. This lodge operated between 1955 and 1962 before being reabsorbed back into the O.T.O. According to Grant, the O.T.O. is not a corporate body in a mundane sense; it is controlled by inner-plane contacts focussed by individuals who channel currents outside the circles of space and time. (2).
In The Night Side of Eden Grant explained the names of his Order and Lodge. Concerning the O.T.O. the East is the place of the rising sun. The sun is regarded as the male principle, represented by the rising phallus. The name of the Order, therefore, ‘means the Order of the Temple of the Exhalted or Risen Phallus.’ As for the New Isis Lodge, this represents the combined powers of celestial and terrestrial currents manifesting through the dual polarities of sex and the forces of spirit and matter. (3)
Colquhoun was a member of both the O.T.O. and the New Isis Lodge but it is unclear how far she progressed through the series of grades.
The Society of Inner Light
This Society was a dissident offshoot of the Golden Dawn. It was formed in 1924 by Violet Firth (better known as Dion Fortune), following disagreements with Moina, the widow of MacGregor Mathers. It was a composite of both magical and Christian traditions and was established to maintain and expand the bridge that exists between outer life in the world and spiritual forces upon the inner planes. Group work consisted largely of meditation, ritual and visualisation in order to engage with spiritual and psychic forces. The majority of the symbolism was drawn from the Tree of Life with additions from Western myths, including the Arthurian legends.
Unsuccessful in her efforts to join the G.D., Colquhoun was similarly thwarted in her attempt to join the Society of the Inner Light. In 1952 she commenced the correspondence course which was a requirement for membership, but was considered unsuitable for initiation.
Order of the Keltic Cross
In 1965 Colquhoun was conferred as a Lady of Honour of Order of the Keltic Cross. This was an organisation headed by the occultist W.B. Crow, who also claimed, at one point, to be the head of the O.T.O. This was on the basis that he had been appointed head of the Gnostic Catholic Church by Aleister Crowley. As head (in his view) of the O.T.O. he combined it with other esoteric orders, including the Order of Holy Wisdom, the Ancient and Universal Rite of Cosmic Architecture, and the Institute of Cosmic Studies. It is difficult to discover anything about the teachings of the Order, but its lineage suggests affinities with the O.T.O.
Order of the Pyramid and Sphinx
Founded by Tamara Bourkoun, this Order specialised in working with Enochian Magic and the Golden Dawn tradition. Enochia is the system of magic developed (or uncovered) by John Dee, who is best known as the astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I. The details of the Enochian system are said to have been revealed to Dee through the scrying of his partner Edward Kelly. It is a language, an alphabet and a system of ceremonial magic. Colquhoun was a member of the Order during the mid 1970s. Members were also required to join a co-Masonic order. Colquhoun had, in fact, been a member of various Chapters and Lodges of the Order of the Ancient and Accepted Masonry for Men and Women since about 1961 and was active until 1975, at about which time it appears she resigned her membership of both the co-Masonic order and Bourkoun’s Society. (4)
The Fellowship of Isis
This is a recent organisation, founded in 1976. It is dedicated to honouring the Goddess, the divine mother of all beings and has thousands of members from all over the globe. Members come from a variety of esoteric traditions. The Fellowship supports individual and group worship and accepts members from any faith. Colquhoun was ordained as a Priestess of Isis early on in the history of the movement, most probably in 1977.
Ancient Celtic Church
Colquhoun was a member of both English and French druidical orders. She was, for example, conferred as a deaconess of the Ancient Celtic Church in 1965. She was also associated with Ross Nichols and his Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. This was another group dedicated to maintaining a supposed ancient tradition through ritual and the celebration of nature. It was formed after its predecessor Druid Order was riven by schism. In the same year she joined The Golden Section Order, an organization founded by Colin Murray and dedicated to the preservation of Gaelic lore, monuments and antiquities. She remained a member until her death.
One of the co-Masonic lodges of which Colquhoun was a member emphasized Celtic spirituality. According to Hale, (5) the Lodge of the Holy Grail No. 5 was based at Tintagel, in north Cornwall. As the name implies, the Lodge had an Arthurian spiritual focus in addition to its traditional Masonic one. Lodge papers indicate that the central purposes of the lodge were:
1. To make research into the symbolism and legend of the Holy Grail
and Arthurian Tradition.
2. To endeavour to attain to perfection in ritual.
3. To endeavour to apply in daily life the ideals set forth in the Quest
for the Holy Grail.
This Lodge was active in the early 1960s.
For Colquhoun, the appeal of magical groups must have been strong because she joined so many. She was also a member of the Theosophical Society of England, the Fairy Investigation Society, The Golden Section Order and the Martinist Order. But never, contrary to the entry on Colquhoun in the Dictionary of National Biography, the Stella Matutina.
Without suggesting for a moment that any of the following have an inner esoteric order hidden from the general membership, this might be the place to mention that, at various times, she was also member of the Newlyn Society of Artists; the Old Cornwall Society; the National Trust; the West Country Writers Association; the Council for the Protection of Rural England; the Noise Abatement Society; the Society of Mural Decorators and Painters in Tempera and the Women’s International Art Club. She also claimed the title of Official Bardess of the Clan Colquhoun.(6)
Her commitment was steadfast and uncompromising. Her refusal to forgo her occult pursuits was one of the points of difference with E.L.T. Mesens that led to her exclusion from the Surrealist group in England in 1940. Mesens aspired to a monopoly of authority over the British Surrealist group. Colquhoun’s fractured relations with the surrealist group on the one hand and, on the other, her attempts to join occult societies suggests two opposing sides to her character – the side that required independence and freedom, opposed to the side that sought and valued belonging to a group, the sense of shared purpose, ideals and discoveries and, perhaps, the comfort of ritual that came with membership of magical sodalities. The fact that she was rejected several times suggests that others were alert to these opposing forces.
1. This episode is recounted in Colquhoun, I. The Sword of Wisdom. MacGregor Mathers and the Golden Dawn. Spearman, London, 1975
2. The early history of the O.T.O. is dealt with in Grant’s own book Aleister Crowley and the Hidden God. Frederick Muller Ltd, London, 1973. Its subsequent history is best traced via the internet, where many of the doctrines, rituals and legal disputes are all laid bare.
3. Grant, K. 1977. The Night Side of Eden. London: Muller. See p. 188.
4. Colquhoun joined the Order of the Ancient and Accepted Masonry for Men and Women in 1962. At various times she was a member of the Holy Grail Lodge No 5, the Lodge of the Pilgrimage No 1 (both of which operated from 104 Maida Vale, London), the Holy Royal Arch Chapter ‘The Tyrian Master’ No 1 and the Stability Lodge No 4. Papers concerning her membership of these lodges, and other occult matters, are at TGA 929/5.
Nichols, S. 2007, The Magical Writings of Ithell Colquhoun. Available from Lulu.com/multisell pp. 347-354 has published some membership certificates.
5. See Hale, A. The Land Near the Dark Cornish Sea. Journal for the Academic Study of Magic, issue 2: 206-225. 204. It is not clear whether this Lodge of the Holy Grail is the same as the one sometime based in London and relocated, or whether more than one Lodge shared the same name.
6. Perhaps multiple membership is not so unusual. Westcott, the discoverer of the cypher manuscript which led to foundation of the Golden Dawn, was a Master Mason and member of both the Hermetic Society and the Theosophical Society. He also became Supreme Magus of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia. Another influential occultist, Gerald Gardner, was a Freemason, co-Mason, member of the Fellowship of Crotona, the O.T.O., the Ancient Druid Order and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry before he founded Wicca and completed his own magical manual, the Book of Shadows. Perhaps, too, we might expect multiple revelations from someone with a profound understanding of, and sympathy with, such a syncretic organisation as the Golden Dawn. It is certainly true that for those who pursue occult enlightenment, the search can be relentless and the level of commitment high.
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