Sunday, January 8, 2012

Impressionism and the GD color scales

King Over the Water by Nick Farrell.
The Book of the Concourse of the Watchtowers by Sandra Tabatha Cicero.
The other day, I was reminded that there are some soon-to-be-released books that are on my shopping list (well, after I managed to crawl out of the monetary hole that I have fallen into). Both Nick Farrell and Sandra Tabatha Cicero posted possible covers for their respective books (I say "possible" because I know how things change at the last moment in publishing).

Looking at the covers, I realized something---our required color scale work in Adept Minor (5=6) was not possible previous to 1841. Or at least, not in the form and style that we do it today.

Don't believe me? Think about how you did your color scale studies. Were there tubes of paint involved? If there were tubes of paint involved, then you are using a post 1841 method. Or did you use watercolors of straight from the pans of a box? In which case, your method of study could not have developed before 1832. The idea of using watercolors from a box only dates to 1766; before that point, watercolors were sold in lumps that had to be hand-grated before using.

The ability to do color studies while sitting in your living room is a product of the Victorian Age. Before the improvements to watercolor paints by Henry Newton and William Winsor in 1832, only professional artists worked with paints. Amateurs did not start to paint until Newton & Winsor developed the methods of creating watercolor paints that could be used directly from the box. Queen Victoria helped lead a national passion for amateur painting.

Paint tubes were invented by an America, John Goffe Rand, in 1841. Rand's invention was a technological leap for the artworld. Rand would tell his son that without his invention that "There would have been no Cezanne, no Monet, no Sisley or Pissaro; nothing of what the journalists were later to call Impressionism." I would go one step further and say that there would be no required color scale work in Adept Minor if he hadn't invented the paint tube.

Please remember that I am not saying that color was not important in magic previous to the Victorian Age (Agrippa is enourgh proof of the importance of color in magical work among our magical ancestors). What I am saying is that the creation of color scales studies and flashing tablets were much harder before that point, and were unlikely to have been an important part of the esoteric lesson plan---at least among amateur artists.

Westcott mentions that there is an older color scale that were used in the ancient Vault of the Adepts. Exactly what this older color scale looked like is hard to say for sure; the Adept Major ritual doesn't develop the idea enourgh to get a clear look at it without some knowledge of art history. There are also alchemical formulas that are actually about making pigments. So while there is definitely color scales involved in the older magical systems, they were placed much higher in the estoteric Grade system.

One of the things that Nick and I have disagreed over (publically on the internet if you want to go looking---I can't remember what Golden Dawn forum it was on) is the importance of Moina Mathers in the creation of the modern Vault of the Adepts and the modern color scales. My logic tends to be: if I needed a crash course in color theory to understand the color scales and its development into the Vault, then an artist had to be involved. My best bet is Moina Mathers, who was trained as an artist. Nick says that Samuel (MacGregor) Mathers and Westcott could be the ones that brought it in---I am not sure if he was implying that the color scales were built up by a previous esoteric group prior to their founding of the Golden Dawn or if it was invented by them (Nick will reply in the comment section about that one).

One thing that would be helpful to determine which one of us is right would be knowledge about whether Westcott or Samuel Mathers were amateur artists before meeting Moina. If they only started working with the complicated color scales after meeting Moina, then I am inclined to continue crediting Moina---after all, she is the one that was responsible for painting the first RR et AC Vault of the Adepts. I am hoping that one or both of these upcoming books reveals some evidence that would make the answer to this question clearer. Knowing the source authority would clear up some questions that I have about the color scales...beyond how much credit to give to Moina.

But while I am unsure about the source authority for our color scale work, I am positive that it is definitely an esoteric development of the Victorian Age. Before that date, the color scales were much simplier, and applied in a different manner when it came to magical workings. This fact affects a lot of stuff that we do and study today---a cascade effect---including the Tarot and the making of magical talismans.

And just in case, you are wondering, the modern Victorian Age color scales is something that I am not willing to abandon, no matter how wrong they are according to the older esoteric material. I may not be good at alchemy, but I am a fair hand with a paintbrush. For maximum outrage, just remember I use the modern color scales with the Elder Futhark (the Norse Runes).

1 comment:

Peregrin said...

Thanks for this very interesting post, Morgan :)

Yes, I agree the colour scales are definitely a Victorian expansion/innovation of traditional lore, for all the reasons you mention.

That said, I once had a few talks with a visiting traditional Chisiti Sufi (not one of the modern western Orders)> We compared notes and he said that in some traditional Sufi work the Arabic letters are seen (visualized) in specific colours and meditated on with the breath, in a similar way to the Vibratory Formula of the Middle Pillar. He did not mention colouring the letters physically with paint though. So that is all interesting :)

Besides the availability of paint, which you rightly focus on, people also forget the fact that in medieval and ancient times, and in some areas up to the pre-modern era, some pigments were hard to get or prohibitively expensive. Purple for example.

I have always pegged Moina for much of the colour scales work. I can't quite remember Mary K Greer's take on it all, but may look it up once I am home.

I have always wondered if the Mathers and Westcott were organising it all today if they would use some of the newer fluoro colours available now :)

Thanks again :)