Ithell Colquhoun - the combination of obscure medieval occult references with highly lucid automatic writing techniques. At times the reader is in the dark as to whether Colquhoun is describing a stream-of-consciousness piece of surrealist abstraction or incanting a nefarious spell of sorts

2317854
Ithell Colquhoun, Goose of Hermogenes, Peter Owen Publishers, 2003. [1961.]                     
www.ithellcolquhoun.co.uk/


The heroine of this fascinating story (described only as ‘I’) is compelled to visit a mysterious uncle, a black magician who lords over a kind of Prospero’s island that exists out of time and space. Startled by his bizarre behaviour and odd nocturnal movements, she eventually learns that he is searching for the philosopher’s stone. When his sinister attentions fall upon the priceless jewel heirloom in her possession, bewilderment turns to stark terror. She realizes she must find a way off the island . . .
Goose of Hermogenes is an esoteric dreamworld fantasy composed of uncorrelated scenes and imagery mostly derived from medieval occult sources. That will repay several readings. Each chapter title in the book has a title relevant to a stage in alchemical progressions. However one wants to approach this obscure tale, it remains today as vividly unforgettable and disturbing as when it was first published by Peter Owen in 1961.

'Lurks somewhere between the territory of Beardsley and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast . . . shudderingly enjoyable.' - Guardian

'The whole novel possesses a haunting, visionary quality most uncommon in present-day prose.' - Daily Telegraph

'An extraordinary book . . . the descriptions have a gripping hallucinogenic clarity... Part Gothic fantasy, part emblematic progress through a dream world where we are never sure we have the complete key to the meaning, we see the workings of a perceptive and curious painterly eye.’ - Snoo Wilson


Recently read, there is little I can add to 50 Watts’ enthusiasm (here) for Goose of Hermogenes,  one of those discards found in the dollar bin of my local bookstore, landing there because the casual browser failed to see its worth, a diamond in the dung. Steeped in surreal and occult imagery which seems to have come to Colquhoun as easily as breathing, it is a deceptively short text which calls for re-readings, a characteristic it shares with Gracq’s Chateau d’Argol and Kubin’s The Other Side (another work by a predominantly visual artist).
This is the relation of a young woman's trip to a dreamy and forbidding coastal island, a transitional space between the worlds, ruled by the narrator’s uncle. The uncle being an elusive but omniscient presence, an occult Prospero, the narrator is left to explore the secluded mansion and its environs.  There is a true sense of isolation and menace, broken by visions (a sea-Amazon arising, with an ancient underwater kingdom, from the waves; an arboreal bordello where her enslaved sisters service spirits of the netherworld), a tableaux of Tarot imagery, wherein her uncle has collected the symbols of the minor arcana, the “Museum of the Mosaico-Hermetic Science of Things Above and Things Below”, and the occasional presence of a mysterious anchorite who acts as her keeper and protector.
If your tastes run to the occult or surreal, watch the dollar bins for this little masterpiece, or order your own from a semi-reputable dealer. - makifat.blogspot.hr/






Steve Nichols, The Magical Writings of Ithell Colquhoun, Lulu Enterprises, 2007.

Many of Ithell's magical writings are collected and published here for the first time, nearly 20 years after her death in 1988. There are a series Tarot lectures that she gave to either the Golden Dawn, Masonic, OTO, Druidic or Gnostic Orders in which she was ordained. Also four essays on the Qabalah - "The Crown and The Kingdom". Other articles offer profound insights into Neoplatonic (Hermetic), Alchemical or Gnostic philosophy, The Cube of Space, Druidry, there is a Ma'at ritual, painted and hand-drawn illustrations, De Astris Interioribus - Western and Eastern Chakras, The Pilgrimage - a one-act play, Tattwas through the Day, Crowley - The Dying Kick of the Dying-God, Taro as Colour (surrealism & Yeatsian automatism), plus an Introduction by Steve Nichols, and Appendixes including Dion Fortune, impressions of Initiation Thoth-Hermes GD Temple, WB Yeats and Maud Gonne, and a brief Biography
Richard Shillitoe, Ithell Colquhoun: Magician Born Of Nature,

Ithell Colquhoun (1906 - 1988) was an important surrealist painter, writer and occultist. The author has used newly available archival material, personal papers and recently re-discovered art works to produce the first comprehensive analysis of her art and magic. The book also contains a detailed catalogue of her art works, an annotated bibliography of her writings, a full exhibition history and is illustrated with photographs of many little known paintings and drawings.This revised and greatly expanded second edition is an important source of information and reference for anyone wishing to know more about Colquhoun and her place in the history of art and the Western occult tradition.ix








Goose of Hermogenes by Ithell Colquhoun (Peter Owen 1961),
from the collection of Craig Brownlie




Craig Brownlie*, a long-time reader of this blog, turned me on to the British painter and writer Ithell Colquhoun (1906–1988). He kindly shared scans of his Colquhoun collection, along with some other goodies which I'll feature soon (his favorite publisher is Peter Owen, so our collections overlap nicely).
Craig says, "My most treasured book is a beautiful signed first edition of Goose of Hermogenes (which along with Kavan's Ice must be two of the wildest books ever written, and both by posh English ladies)."This grabbed my attention because I love Anna Kavan. I confessed my complete ignorance of Colquhoun and Goose of Hermogenes, and Craig soon sent a full description which I share here:
Distinctively, Ithell Colquhoun’s Goose of Hermogenes reads like a hermetic hybrid of The Wicker Man and Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain. Her two previous books, The Crying of the Wind: Ireland and The Living Stones: Cornwall, both intriguing works of 'travel writing' provide some indicators of her interests and concerns as a writer and an artist, which she explored to delirious effect with Goose of Hermogenes. Using her travels as a departure point, she places emphasis on the retelling of the folklore and mythology of particularly mystical areas. Her explorations also focus on the shifting relationships between the natural and the more elusive, spectral worlds. Scenes of great natural beauty are evoked and at the same time, the mystical and occult atmosphere is keenly captured. Indeed, at times, one is reminded of the paintings of mystical scenes by the great symbolist artist, Arnold Böcklin.
However, the defining feature to her writings is her deeply felt belief in the occult and the supernatural. Colquhoun speaks of the fantastical like it is ordinary and commonplace, simply part of the fabric of the everyday. From this position she commands a certain authority, as it is apparent from her life that she truly immersed herself in occult literature and practice. Colquhoun’s world is one definitely attuned to the ether, to the arcane realm of spirits and phantasmagoria. Therefore, it can be argued that her interests are not intended to serve as a mere literary device, rather they represent a matter-of-fact acceptance of the co-habitation of our world by the other, and it is this realisation of her scholarly pedigree, as well as her artistic preoccupations, that ultimately makes Goose of Hermogenes all the more extraordinarily and disarmingly strange
.
It truly is a fantastic concoction: the combination of obscure medieval occult references with highly lucid automatic writing techniques. At times the reader is in the dark as to whether Colquhoun is describing a stream-of-consciousness piece of surrealist abstraction or incanting a nefarious spell of sorts. Again, like in the travel works, there is a certain visionary and dream-like trance quality to her prose that only adds to the overall sensation of disquiet.
A second effect of this alchemical marriage between magick and surrealism is that when the book really takes flight it can be utterly baffling and cryptic, albeit in quite a spectacular way. Again there is a certain appeal in this -- I like to think that Colquhoun has concealed many incredible occultist secrets and images into the text which could be revealed through a lifetime of scholarly robe wearing. Alternatively, it’s just wild nonsense. Either way it will linger in the mind like an old dolmen in a field, collecting multiple interpretations like moss.

I naturally splurged on a first edition of Goose immediately.
Peter Owen's information from the 2003 Goose of Hermogenes reprint:
The heroine of this fascinating story (described only as ‘I’) is compelled to visit a mysterious uncle, a black magician who lords over a kind of Prospero’s island that exists out of time and space. Startled by his bizarre behaviour and odd nocturnal movements, she eventually learns that he is searching for the philosopher’s stone. When his sinister attentions fall upon the priceless jewel heirloom in her possession, bewilderment turns to stark terror. She realizes she must find a way off the island . . .

Goose of Hermogenes is an esoteric dreamworld fantasy composed of uncorrelated scenes and imagery mostly derived from medieval occult sources. That will repay several readings. Each chapter title in the book has a title relevant to a stage in alchemical progressions. However one wants to approach this obscure tale, it remains today as vividly unforgettable and disturbing as when it was first published by Peter Owen in 1961.

'Lurks somewhere between the territory of Beardsley and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast . . . shudderingly enjoyable.' - Guardian

'The whole novel possesses a haunting, visionary quality most uncommon in present-day prose.' - Daily Telegraph

'An extraordinary book . . . the descriptions have a gripping hallucinogenic clarity... Part Gothic fantasy, part emblematic progress through a dream world where we are never sure we have the complete key to the meaning, we see the workings of a perceptive and curious painterly eye.’ - Snoo Wilson, Mandrake Speaks






ITHELL COLQUHOUN (1906–1988) was a painter and writer who, along with Eileen Agar and Leonora Carrington, one of the best-known English women surrealists. A friend of André Breton, she was also associated with Aleister Crowley. Her writing has been compared to that of William Blake and Walter de la Mare -- the latter being a fan of her work.






 
























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