Books I read in April

I’m still reading Gerald Gardner’s The Meaning of Witchcraft and it’s taking ages (it’s my bedtime reading and I am only getting a few pages read at a time. I very much enjoyed Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern-loved Gully by Amy Hale.

Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern-loved Gully by Amy Hale

I first came across Ithell Colquhoun as a child, as one of her paintings, Rivières Tièdes, was in Southampton Art Gallery. I was very drawn to the painting and I once had a significant Jungian-style dream about a building very like the one in the painting. Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern-loved Gully is a very well written book. It’s organized in four main strands — a biographical section, and sections on Surrealism, Celticism, and the occult. Each of these themes in Colquhoun’s art and life is examined, shedding light on her preoccupations with landscape, the fourth dimension, multidimensional vision, animism, and various of the more formal esoteric orders (the Golden Dawn and its successors). I would love to see Colquhoun’s Taro deck (Taro was her preferred spelling) and her cottage in Cornwall. I wish I had found out more about Colquhoun earlier, but now, thanks to Amy Hale, the life and work of Colquhoun is laid out in all its complexity for a new generation to enjoy. My only complaint is that I am still not sure what a mantic stain is. And I agree with Amy that it’s a pity that Colquhoun never wrote a non-fiction occult book laying out her theories in detail.

Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern-loved Gully by Amy Hale

The Meaning of Witchcraft, Gerald Gardner

This was alternately fascinating and frustrating. Fascinating when he stuck to the facts; frustrating when he strayed into the realms of conjecture, like the idea that there was an organized witch cult and witch districts in the early medieval period. Certainly there was witchcraft (mostly folk magic with a bit of grimoire magic thrown in), but the idea that there was an organized and widespread cult has been fairly comprehensively shown to be wrong. Nevertheless the book is fascinating because there’s a lot of information about attempts by newspapers to discredit witchcraft in the early 1950s. Anyone who remembers the “satanic panic” of the late 1980s will recognize the tropes described. The chapter on the witch persecutions is very good and refers to trial records and contemporary accounts. I would advise people to read Ronald Hutton’s Triumph of the Moon before reading GBG’s The Meaning of Witchcraft.