Leonora Carrington’s Esoteric Symbols and their Sources

M. E. Warlick


Leonora Carrington’s paintings reveal her diverse interests in a variety of occult traditions including Irish Folklore, classical and Mexican mythology, alchemy, witchcraft, magic, astrology, the Kabbala, tarot, and Tibetan Buddhism. In interviews and biographical accounts, she, and those authors who knew her personally, often identified many of the esoteric publications she researched to learn more about these traditions, including those of E.A. Grillot de Givry, Kurt Seligmann, Robert Graves, G.I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky, Gerald Gardner and C. G. Jung. This paper examines the visual symbols illustrated in some of these texts in order to establish the range of her transformations of visual source material.  Many of these symbols lent their traditional esoteric meanings to her paintings, but the freedom with which she transformed and blended these symbols in her paintings reveal her very personal adaptations and combinations of found imagery.  In her complex combinations of esoteric symbolism, her paintings reflect the structure of esoteric publications during the mid-twentieth century, which likewise presented a multitude of esoteric traditions, while pointing to deeper spiritual powers that could be unlocked through their contemplation.  Her use of these symbols stemmed from her own ritual practices and reveal the power she infused into her work to activate the unconscious.

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Leonora Carrington, painting, esoteric symbolism

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