Monday, January 9, 2012

More history and the color scales

King Over the Water pontential cover.
Talking to a Soror from my lodge about the post about Impressionism and the Golden Dawn color scales, I realized that I need to do a follow-up to it with some additional information. She asked some questions---some involved me looking up information to confirm things I already suspected---and I realized that if she had those questions that other people might be curious about the answers too.

(For the record, it was the potential cover of Nick Farrell's book that made my mind connect several facts together and realize that the expanded color scales of Golden Dawn could only result after 1840. And as far as I know, I am the first one to realize this fact...or at least, the first person to actually consider it to be important; I don't remember anyone ever writing about this topic before.)

First, just to get it out of the way, I do not believe that Moina Mathers was a "modern woman" or a "feminist." I am not looking for an example of a modern woman or a feminist---I am looking for an artist. The reason that I am looking for an artist is that the Golden Dawn color scales have too large of a color vocabulary to be the sole invention of a non-artist.

Agrippa's color scales are an example of a set of color scales created by a non-artist; the color vocabulary is simple and basic. The Golden Dawn color scales, on the other hand, has a wide color vocabulary. Now, one quarter of it is just layering an occult idea (colors attract energies) onto the standard artist's color wheel---something that is easily produced by non-artists. But the other three quarters involve a series of colors so rich and varied that one needs a cheat sheet with paint samples on it to accurately reproduce it (or a digitual camera and a really good color printer).

I have seen no evidence that Samuel Mathers or Wynn Westcott had such a large color vocabulary. The concept that color attracted magical forces was not a new idea---Agrippa and the SRIA are solid proof that the idea was common currency among occultists. Nor have I seen any evidence that convinces me that the SRIA is actually the source for the expanded color scales. Occasionally, someone points to the SRIA as the source of the Golden Dawn Vault of the Adepts---but no one has yet to provide what I would consider proof of this fact. When Westcott mentions that there was an older color scheme for the Vault, he may have been referring to the color lore of the SRIA in his day and age.

Therefore, the idea that color attracts magical forces is common currency of occult thought of the 1890s, but the expanded range of color vocabulary is something new and is the product of an artist---therefore who is the artist? Westcott? Samuel Mathers? Moina Mathers? Someone else? Until someone proves otherwise, I am presuming that Moina Mathers was the one to expand the color vocabulary, and therefore it is she (and not Samuel or Westcott) that is truly the source of the Golden Dawn color scales.

As I said, maybe Nick's upcoming book, or maybe Tabatha's, will convince me otherwise.

Possible cover for Concourse of the Watchtowers.
The other thing that my dear Soror brought up was the possibility that it is not water colors or oil paints that are being used in the color scale work. That maybe it is color pencils that were meant to be used. I told her that I was positive that we were supposed to be doing the color scale work in "wet medium." There are some effects that can only be achieved with the use of wet medium---not even the use of modern paint programs can duplicate some of the effects. (Then again, I like the physical process of using a brush to create art.) Furthermore, I told her that color pencils are a modern art development, and that I was positive that the expanded color scales (usable by all Adepts and not just those who were professional artists) had to be an invention occurring after 1840.

Looking it up, I learned that the history of art materials backs up my conclusion. Colored pencils were not marketed to artists until after 1900. It is not until 1920s that we start to get a wide range of art-grade color pencils. Prismacolor pencils are not introduced until 1938. Likewise for other dry mediums---wax crayons 1903; oil pastels 1925; paint sticks 1966.

The only two exceptions for dry medium would be colored chalk and pastels (pastels are pure pigment with a binding agent)---chalks have been used for thousands of years and pastels for about three hundred years. Yet the amount of time that they have been used removes them from the running; if they were suitable for expanding the color scales, the color scales would have expanded much sooner and I would not be looking for an artist inside Golden Dawn to credit the expansion with. Besdies, these two mediums are not actually conductive to making talismans and lamens---which is one of the primary reasons for the Adept's studies of the color scale system.

A final thing I must mention is the fact that we do have a lot of evidence that the color scale work of the Golden Dawn Adept was a new development. The sheer amount of variation between the color scales of various Golden Dawn offshoots, and even between lodges of the same Orders, indicate that the system was not developed enourgh to have standardization. An older, more developed system would have figured out a way to decrease the number of variations.

The expanded color scales are not something that you can look back to a previous esoteric group and find purer information about...unless you want to toss it out completely and go back to the simple color scale used by Agrippa and earlier occultists. In fact, the expanded color scales are so new that the period of its best development may still be in the future.


Andrew B. Watt said...

I find that I use the very basic color scales of Air=yellow, Fire=red, Water=blue, Earth=green, and then the colors assigned from the rainbow to the Zodiac. I've tried working with the GD colors of geomancy, and I've found it quite difficult. My efforts as an artist are not always successful, but I am improving

Tabatha said...

There is no doubt in my mind that Moina Mathers had a large part in helping formulate the Golden Dawn's Color Scales. She was the one who went to the Slade Art School where she would have had to produce painting after painting after painting of color studies... showing how a single color could be changed into a tint or shade by increasing and decreasing its value with black, white, or neutral grey, and also how to change a color's intensity by mixing it with its complimentary (flashing) color.

Although Westcott was a competent draftsman--after all he did draw his own pre-Golden Dawn Tarot trumps, based on Levi and the French Tarot attributions--these were done in ink. No color was involved.

The Westcott Tablets were painted in oil paints. I assume that the artist who helped create the four Color Scales worked in oils also. Some colors of the Princess Scale are described as "flecked" gold, and these were often painted on the Westcott Tablet with metallic paint.

All the paints used to create the Golden Dawn's Color Scales required several tubes of various colors of paint--exactly what an artist would already own. A non-artist would probably not have these.

Moina had them.

Nick Farrell said...

I am less convinced. We are talking about the use of a colour wheel here and that is not advanced art.
For Mina to come up with something it would have required her to have the courage to suggest something and then for her husband to listen. Neither of which I think was likely. Anyway the first range of (queen scale) colours that came out where pretty traditional. Then it is a matter of what happens when you add that with that to get the colours of the paths.

Anonymous said...

Degas made a lot of use of pastels in the 1870s, and one of the distinctions of his pastels is the layering of color for special effects. Pastels make this kind of layering easier, but this can be done in oil paints too; the most famous example I can think of is Monet's haystack paintings, where he gets a luminosity by layering thin pink over blue, for example. I have wondered if Impressionism is where the GD got the idea for the flashing colors. There is the pointillist stuff, using tiny bits of various colors to create one color impression, but there is also layering. If you do that with flashing colors, you get some interesting effects. I have not found this technique to work in watercolors (although it does work with colored pencil as well as pastels and oils). I think it requires some opacity to work; then a thin glaze will give a nice translucency. Just an idea re pastels and Degas, at any rate.