The British Isles have given birth to female mystical voices for at least 1400 years… here are some i have come to love and respect so far… starting with THREE from the seventh century AD through to Doreen Valiente and Kate Bush in the 20th. Their stories and voices deserve to be heard, their messages are clear, profound and simple. They are the missing voices of ecstatic love modern culture badly needs.
“For the woman is the crown of man, and the final manifestation of humanity.
She is the nearest to the throne of God, when she shall be revealed.
But the creation of woman is not yet complete: but it shall be complete in the time which is at hand.” (Anna Kingsford)
ST MELANGELL c 640
Daughter of an Irish king, Melangell escaped the wedding plans her father had for her, taking refuge in Powys, central Wales, seeing no man for 15 years. The legend says that Brochwel Yscythrog, Prince of Powys, was hare hunting and came across her shining in a state of radiant devotion in a thicket, the hares hiding under her dress and his dogs unable to approach, wailing at a distance. He listened to her story and gave her that piece of land to open an abbey where she lived to an old age, offering healing and wisdom. Melgangell is the patron saint of hares.
ST WINIFRED 7th century
Daughter of a Welsh chieftain, when Winifred decided to become a nun her suitor, Caradoc, was so upset he decapitated her. Legend says her head rolled down a hill and where it landed a healing spring appeared. The fortunate magical intervention of her maternal uncle Saint Bueno restored head to body and her to life, and also called down the intervention of heaven against Caradoc, who fell dead on the spot, with the ground opening to swallow him. Winifred became a nun, then abbess for some years until called by God to seek a new resting place, setting off on a pilgrimage that included a visit to Rome. In 1138 her relics were taken to Shrewsbury to be part of an elaborate shrine which was a major pilgrimage centre until destroyed during the reign of Henry VIII.
HILDA OF WHITBY 614-680
Described as ‘a ray of light in the dark ages’, Hilda was the daughter of the nephew of King Edwin of Northumbria. Her father was murdered by poison and she was brought up in Edwin’s court. The whole court underwent a mass baptism into Christianity at Easter 627. HIlda founded and led a mixed gender monastic community in Whitby (then called Streanaeshalch – Whitby was the name the invading Danes would later give the place), at which the Venerable Bede tells us all virtues were practised, especially love, virtue and peace. Men and women lived separately but worshipped together at the abbey. Hilda was known as Mother, and her wisdom was sought out by both commoners and kings. The nuns at Whitby reported seeing visions at the time of Hilda’s death. The Danes destroyed all trace of the abbey when they invaded and monastic community would only be reestablished in Whitby after the Norman Conquest.
CHRISTINA OF MARKYATE 1096/8-1155
An Anchoress and head of a community of nuns, as a young girl Christina took a vow of chastity and dedicated her life to the church. When her noble family forced her to marry she resisted consummating the deal and went on the run becoming an Anchoress, living in a tiny closet barricaded in by a tree trunk, spending her time in prayer and also offering spiritual guidance to those who came seeking it. When her husband annulled the marriage she was able to come out into the world – a priory was founded for her in Markyate, which survived until the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. Christina was known for her ecstatic visions of the presence of God.
MARGERY KEMPE c. 1373-1478
Born King’s Lynn (then called Bishop’s Lynn), daughter of merchant, mayor and MP John Brunham, married John Kemp and had at least 14 children. Marjery, like other medieval Catholic mystics, sought a greater intimacy with Christ…. She did not join a religious order, but lived her mysticism in the world, being prone to public displays of wailing, sobbing and writhing. She dictated her mystical visions into what is considered the first autobiography – The Book Of Margery Kempe, including the stories of the ‘temptations to lechery’ she underwent, of her trial for heresy. The book highlights the growing tension between institutional religion and public dissent. Marjery is known to have visited the anchoress Julian of Norwich, who affirmed the validity of Margery’s visions and revelations.
JULIAN OF NORWICH 1342-1416
Serious illness around the age of 30 brought the lady Juliana joyfilled visions of Christ which led her to dedicate her life as an Anchoress, living in a small hut near Norwich. She wrote the first book in English known to have been written by a woman: ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ in which she describes seeing God holding a tiny thing in his hand, like a small brown nut, which seemed so fragile and insignificant that she wondered why it did not crumble before her eyes. She understood that the thing was the entire created universe, which is as nothing compared to its Creator, and she was told, “God made it, God loves it, God keeps it.” She was troubled by the plight of souls who never got to hear the gospel, but was assured by spirit “that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” “Glad and merry and sweet is the blessed and lovely demeanour of our Lord towards our souls, for he saw us always living in love-longing, and he wants our souls to be gladly disposed toward him . . . by his grace he lifts up and will draw our outer disposition to our inward, and will make us all at unity with him.”
“I knew by the common teaching of Holy Church and by my own feeling that the blame for our sins clings to us continually while we are on this earth…How amazing it was then to see our Lord God showing us no more blame than if we were as clean and whole as the angels in heaven!… in spite of all our feelings of sorrow or well-being, God wants us to understand and know by faith that we are more truly in heaven than on earth.
MOTHER SHIPTON c.1488-1561
Soothsayer and prophetess, said to be born in a cave in Knaresborough to a very young mother who refused to name the father. After two years living in the cave the Abbot of Beverley took pity and found a family to bring up the child, with mother going to a nunnery. Ursula had severe physical deformities and spent a lot of time alone, making healing potions and developing her skills of prophecy, for which she became very well known. Her prophecies appear to cover the internet, air travel, underwater vessels, and cinema/tv, but she saw a lot of violence and suffering too:
Around the world men’s thoughts will fly, quick as the twinkling of an eye.
When pictures seem alive with movements free, when boats like fishes swim beneath the sea. When men like birds shall scour the sky. Then half the world, deep drenched in blood shall die.
References to a dragon’s tail in the night sky (a nuclear weapon?), natural disasters that have the survivors running to the hills, make a for a frightening read, but she sees hope in the end (coming from the galaxy?):
And before the race is built anew, a silver serpent comes to view and spew out men of like unknown to mingle with the earth now grown cold from its heat and these men can enlighten the minds of future man to intermingle and show them how to live and love and thus endow. the children with the second sight. a natural thing so that they might grow graceful, humble and when they do the golden age will start anew.
QUEEN ELIZABETH I 1533-1603
“There is but one God, one Jesus Christ; all else is dispute over trifles.” Our virgin Queen was a mystic, preferring her private practice of communion with God over lectures and sermons. It was her policy to rise above the division between Catholics and Protestants over whether the wafer eaten during Mass was literally (Catholic) or symbolically (Protestant) the body of Christ. This, incredibly, is the central issue of Transubstantiation that led to so much war and destruction in Europe. The new Book of Common Prayer in 1559 attempted to appease as many of her subjects as possible with the phrasing,
“The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life; Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.”
Her moderate and tolerant attitude of course angered the extremists on both sides – the Catholics who were looking for a reason to stage a revolution, and the extreme Protestants who wished to establish a more puritanical regime. But she had observed the horrors of the religious wars in Europe and her policy led to a more tolerant society with less religious tension.
Her reign was also saw a surging interest in all things metaphysical. This was the Renaissance period, the time of new thinking, of the fusion of astrology, kabbalah, alchemy, of Nostradamus, John Dee, Francis Bacon, with new visions of the coming Golden Age forming left, right and centre.
In 1555 alchemist and magician John Dee was imprisoned for heresy, but four years later he cast the horoscope that was used to choose the date of Elizabeth’s coronation. In the following years Dee developed a deep mystical practice with Edward Kelly, a medium who connected with spirit guides using a crystal ball. They channelled works from the angelic realms, eg the Enochian alphabet and the Heptarchia Mystica. Via the angel Uriel they foretold the death of the Queen of the Scots and the coming of the Spanish Armada. Fear of their activities (which were suspected of having homoerotic elements) led to a mob burning down Dee’s library at Mortlake in 1583. The men took their work to Krakow and Prague for some years, then in 1595 Dee became warden of Manchester College. Kelly died the same year, but Dee lived on until 1608, a respected citizen in a golden age for mysticism in Britain.
ANNA KINGSFORD 1846-1888
English campaigner for women’s rights and vegetarianism, Anna Kingsford became the president of the London Theosophical Lodge in 1883. She received insights in trance states and sleep, which were recorded and published posthumously by her friend Edward Maitland in the book Clothed With the Sun, a reference to Revelation. Anna is perhaps the spiritual mother of feminism and her vision is profound:
“For the woman is the crown of man, and the final manifestation of humanity.
She is the nearest to the throne of God, when she shall be revealed.
But the creation of woman is not yet complete: but it shall be complete in the time which is at hand.
All things are thine, O Mother of God: all things are thine, O Thou who risest from the sea; and Thou shalt have dominion over all the worlds.”
ANNIE BESANT 1847-1933
Theosophist, socialist, campaigner for women’s rights, Annie left her boring anglican vicar husband and set out to change the world, at first joining the secular society and nearly going to jail for advocating birth control. In the 1890s she became a Theosophist, joining this philosophical movement created by Helena Blavatsky in 1875, and went to live in India. She brought the young Krishnamurti to the world’s attention, believing him to be the next World Teacher sent by God, a claim he completely distanced himself from in 1929.“In a deep metaphysical sense, all that is conditioned is illusory. All phenomena are literally ‘appearances,’ the outer masks in which the One Reality shows itself forth in our changing universe. The more ‘material’ and solid the appearance, the further is it from reality, and therefore the more illusory it is.”“Sun-worship and pure forms of nature-worship were, in their day, noble religions, highly allegorical but full of profound truth and knowledge.”
EVELYN UNDERHILL 1875-1941 Born in Wolverhampton, Evelyn was a poet, novelist, pacifist and mystic, who wrote the classic study Mysticism (1911). Early 20th century England saw an excitement about the advance of science and understanding that went hand in hand with the exploration of psychic phenomena and spirit. Evelyn found Anglican Protestant religion too rigid in this environment and sought to meet life directly through the heart, to live life as a sacred journey. She viewed the world’s mystics as the spiritual pioneers of humanity and her studies of greats such as Neoplatonist Plotinus and 14th century Flemish writer Ruysbroeck led her to draw a 5 stage map of the mystic path. Stage 1 = Awakening of Self. 2= Purgation of Self (as illusions are stripped away). 3 = Illumination. 4 = Dark Night of the Soul (the trial period, when the light once gained seems gone). 5 = Unitive Life (when love has conquered the darkness, a state bursting over with creative energies.) For Evelyn, the true mystic is active in the world bringing this divine creative energy forward, not a reclusive dreaming lover of God, is in a passionate engagement with life, not studying with detachment. “In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram —impersonal and unattainable—the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive.” “The business and method of mysticism is love.”“The individual is reminded that in him, no less than in the Archetypal Universe, real life must be born if real life is to be lived.”
ALICE BAILEY 1880 – 1949
The first writer to make major use of the term ‘New Age’, Alice was born in Manchester and spent most of her life in the USA. She wrote many books on Theosophical subjects, saying that they were channelled from a Tibetan master source, Djwal Kuhl, in which she downplayed traditional devotional, inward gazing, spiritual practice in favour of service to humankind. She predicted that “the day is dawning when all religions will be regarded as emanating from one great spiritual source” and believed in a hierarchy of Master souls guiding our evolution. Her books are classics of modern esoteric mysticism, they include ‘Initiation, Human and Solar’, ‘A Treatise on Cosmic Fire’ and ‘Discipleship in the New Age’. She gave the world the much used and loved Great Invocation:
“From the point of Light within the Mind of God
Let light stream forth into the minds of men.
Let Light descend on Earth.
From the point of Love within the Heart of God
Let love stream forth into the hearts of men.
May Christ* return to Earth.
From the centre where the Will of God is known
Let purpose guide the little wills of men –
The purpose which the Masters know and serve.
From the centre which we call the race of men
Let the Plan of Love and Light work out
And may it seal the door where evil dwells.
Let Light and Love and Power restore the Plan on Earth.”
*Many religions believe in a World Teacher, a “Coming One”, knowing him under such names as the Lord Maitreya, the Imam Mahdi, the Kalki Avatar and the Bodhisattva. These terms are sometimes used in versions of the Great Invocation for people of specific faiths.
DION FORTUNE 1890-1946 Occultist, artist, psychologist and mystic, Dion was huge influence in the revival of the mystic arts in Britain. She was born Mary Violet Firth in Llandudno, north Wales, joined the Theosophical movement and the Order of the Golden Dawn but was frustrated by their efforts so set up the Community (then Society) of the Inner Light, which still operates. The Cosmic Doctrine is one of her famous written works. During the second world war she insisted on remaining in blitz London, organising meditation groups to resist the attackers from the spiritual plane.
ELSA GIDLOW 1898-1986 Born in Hull, Yorkshire, Elsa went on to live in Canada and the USA. Her writing circle in 1918 created the first gay magazine in North America… Les Mouches Fantastiques. From 1954 she lived in California. naming her ranch Druid Heights. Among her companions there was philisopher Alan Watts, with whom she found the Society for Comparative Philiosophy, and her friends included Maya Angelou, James Broughton, Allen Ginsberg, Neil Young and Ram Dass. She wrote poetry for 70 years, drawing on her own ecstatic experience of sexual passion with her lesbian lovers, and was a pioneer of sexual-spiritual freedom. Woman, so gentle in my armsLoving, you have opened to meFierce, my own dark heartAnd found therein and to me reflectedMy source of light…..Here on this bed, holding youSo human in your need (and knowing mine)Miraculous, the human veil is rent.Lover-beloved, WomanSmall and strong in my armsI know in youThe Goddesss, Mystery, fecund EmptinessFrom which all fullness comesAnd universes flower.””What if we smashed the mirrorsAnd saw our true face?What if we left the Sacred Books to the wormsAnd found our True Mind?What if we burned the wooden Buddhas?Gave the stone Buddhas back to the mountains?Dispersed the gurus with a great laughAnd discovered the path we had always been on?”
KATHLEEN RAINE 1908-2003
"Kathleen Raine, who died aged 95, was a poet who believed in the sacred nature of all life, all true art and wisdom, and her own calling. She knew as a small child that poetry was her vocation. "William Blake was her master, and she shared his belief that "one power alone makes a poet - imagination, the divine vision". As WB Yeats, her other great exemplar, put it, "poetry and religion are the same thing". To this vision she committed not only her poetry and erudition, but her whole life. She stood as a witness to spiritual values in a society that rejected them. "When asked how she wished people to remember her, Kathleen Raine said she would rather they didn't. Or that Blake's words be said of her: "That in time of trouble, I kept the divine vision". Better to be a sprat in that "true ocean", she believed, than a big fish in a literary rock pool." Janet Watts Guardian 2003
‘There are but two alternatives. The first alternative is that of secular materialism – appealing to the authority of a science whose only reality is the measurable – “nothing is sacred” – and no bounds set to destructive exploitation. The second alternative – embraced in every tradition of wisdom – holds that man and nature alike are a manifestation of immeasurable spirit. If that is so, we are custodians of a world in which, in William Blake’s words, “everything that lives is holy” and our sacred trust.’ Kathleen Raine.
‘None is lost, not one, All are there, all That were or will be, none That is can cease. Dust, angels, particles, Number or song, We are they, and there The soul is gone. For through our sleep the bright River flows on.
Scent of the leaf, Scent of the lily, Scent of the may.
Whence and whither The memory-stirring Untellable, infinite Scent of the leaf? Everywhere nowhere Pole of the world
Immutable, stable, There the spindle Leaps in its circuit.
There sits the goddess Mother of number Duration and multitude. Setting her seal Upon all that grows. Scent of the rose.’
VERA STANLEY ALDER 1894-1984
“Vera Stanley Alder was a successful portrait painter who began to explore into the meaning of life and researched into what is known as ‘The Ancient Wisdom.’ This she defined as ‘the vast body of information dealing with the meaning and purpose of man himself and the constitution and evolution of the whole universe.’ She saw her task as one of simplifying and summarising this information in order for it to be more accessible.” (albion.org.uk) In her 1979 memoir she warns the spiritual quester ‘only through the resonance of his own integrity can he follow the golden thread of Truth to its ultimate fulfilment – and this is a hard but glorious pilgrimage.’
“This century has seen world war for the first time. It has seen a world civilisation threatened with self-destruction, not only through war but through the exploitation of all the kingdoms in nature. It has also seen the beginnings of international alignment and collaboration.
Let us avoid being misled by the apparent irresponsibility of the crowd with its absorption in crime films, dog racing and gambling, and its immorality and apathy! This side of human nature has always existed.
“What then is missing? An ideology which would produce full harmony, co-operation and growth in alignment with the laws and economy of nature!
“The age-old metaphysical conceptions of the Divine Plan for mankind shows us the story of the human spirit learning through a long series of incarnations upon earth all those lessons which will finally give him sovereignty over all the forces of growth, and knowledge as to how to work in with the pattern of creation – as a Group.
“World Unity is the goal towards which evolution is moving. When we can see the pattern of life as a whole, and understand how the spirit of give-and-take and of sharing is as necessary in the greater World-Body as it is between the cells of our own bodies, then we will unfailingly give our help in the right direction, and not be led into being anti-this or anti-that, or into harbouring destructive criticism against others – or even against ourselves. World progress depends gupon the time which it takes for you and me and all of us to realise our responsibility and do our bit towards bringing it about.”
OLIVIA ROBERTSON 1917-2013 Born in London, Olivia was co-founder and archpriestess of the Fellowship of Isis, which she ran from her Huntington Castle in Co. Colway, Ireland. Immersed in psychic work from an early age, a series of visions beginning in her late 20s convinced her of the femininity of God – she said telling others about this was like “trying to explain colour to someone born blind or a symphony to someone who’s deaf”. Visions of Egyptian Goddess Isis and Irish Dana “made me realise that patriarchy had taken over religion, once the domain of matriarchs… and patriarchy had led to wars, greed and exploitation of the earth.” The Fellowship’s castle became a centre of Goddess worship and received many visitors: “Some religions preach poverty, obedience and chastity,” Olivia explained. “We believe in love and beauty and have no truck whatsoever with asceticism…The point about the Fellowship of Isis is that we don’t interfere with anybody’s religion, they have all got something to offer…. The only thing we don’t like is people being boiled alive or burned or having their heads chopped off, that type of thing.” As high priestess of Isis Olivia travelled to temples around the world and in 1993 she walked alongside Chicago’s Roman Catholic Cardinal in the opening procession of the World Parliament of Religions as representative of neopagan faiths.
DOREEN VALIENTE 1922-1999
Doreen has been called the ‘Mother of modern Witchcraft’ because of the work whe did to develop Wiccan practice and to spread knowledge of it. With Gerald Gardner she was key in the revival of paganism following the removal of the 400 year old ban on the craft in the 1950s. Her work, the Charge of the Goddess, is very influential in magical circles, and deserves to be known by all:
“For I am the Soul of Nature, who giveth life to the universe; from me all things proceed, and unto me must all things return; and before my face, beloved of gods and mortals, thine inmost divine self shall be unfolded in the rapture of infinite joy.
“Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth, for behold: all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals. And therefore let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honour and humility, mirth and reverence within you.
“And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou know this mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.” (From the Charge of the Goddess)
“The initiates of the ancient pagan Mysteries were taught to say ‘I am the child of earth and Starry Heaven and there is no part of me that is not of the Gods”. If we in our own day believe this, then we will not only see it as true of ourselves, but of other people also.” (Speech at Croydon Hall, 1997)
SISTER WENDY BECKETT born 1930
Born in South Africa and raised in Edinburgh, art historian Wendy leads a life of prayer in a Carmelite monastery in Norfolk. She has written many spiritual works and is well known for her research into the expression of the sacred in art throughout the ages
“If we confuse ‘the sacred’ and ‘the solemn’, we are only allowing God to come to us from one direction.”
“This is the real power of joy, to make us certain that, beneath all grief, the most fundamental of realities is joy itself.”
“God never sends suffering. Never. It is never “God’s will” that we should suffer. God would like us not to suffer. But since the world brings suffering, and since God refuses to use His almighty power and treat us as foolish children, He aligns Himself with us, goes into Auschwitz with us, is devastated by 9/11 with us, and draws us with Him through it all into fulfillment. This is a high price to pay for our human freedom, but it is worth it. To be mere automatons for whom God arranges the world to cause us no suffering would mean we never have a self. We could not make choices.”
“We were created to be fully human – a lifetime effort – and using our minds intelligently and reverently is essential to full humanhood.”
DIANA COOPER born 1940
Born in the Himalayas as the first bombs were hitting London, Diana’s mystical life began aged 42 when divorce brought her to rock bottom. Crying out to the universe for help a tall angel appeared and her journey of bringing to the world awareness of the angelic realms and of ascension began. She has written 24 books and runs her own school, which includes teachings for children. She teaches that we are no in a 20 year transition period post 2012, with the new Golden Age due to begin in 2032. http://www.dianacooper.com
KATE BUSH born 1958
Kate’s work has all been magical, inspired and full of spirit. Her 2014 concerts were called ‘Before the Dawn’. She is a Mother Spirit of Albion.
“We raise our hats to the strange phenomena.
Soul-birds of a feather flock together.
We raise our hats to the hand a-moulding us.
Sure ’nuff, he has the answer,
He has the answer
He has the answer, be-duh-be-duh-be-duh-be-duh…
“Om mani padme,
Om mani padme,
Om mani padme hum” (Strange Phenomena 1978)
The Ninth Wave B-side of the Hounds of Love album in 1985 tells the story of a young woman drowning at sea who goes on as a ghost to visit her lonely husband, then meet her future self in spirit and experience rebirth into a new human body,
“I am falling/ Like a stone/ Like a storm/ Being born again/ Into the sweet morning fog/I’ll kiss the ground/ I’ll tell my Mother/ I’ll tell my Father/ I’ll tell my loved one/ I’ll tell my Brothers/ How much I love them”.
In Lily (1993) she featured an invocation to the archangels and the voice of her psychic medium friend….
“Oh thou, who givest sustenance to the universe
From whom all things proceed
To whom all things return
Unveil to us the face of the true spiritual sun
Hidden by a disc of golden light
That we may know the truth
And do our whole duty
As we journey to thy sacred feet”
Her 2005 album Aeriel is a symphony of soothing mystical sounds, these lines from Nocturn….
“The stars are caught in our hair
The stars are on our fingers
A veil of diamond dust
Just reach up and touch it
The sky’s above our heads
The sea’s around our legs
In milky, silky water
We swim further and further
We dive down… We dive down
A diamond night, a diamond sea
And a diamond sky…
We dive deeper and deeper
We dive deeper and deeper
Could be we are here
Could be we are in a dream
It came up on the horizon
Rising and rising
In a sea of honey, a sky of honey
A sea of honey, a sky of honey
Look at the light, all the time it’s a changing
Look at the light, climbing up the aerial
Bright, white coming alive jumping off the aerial
All the time it’s a changing, like now…
All the time it’s a changing, like then again…
All the time it’s a changing
And all the dreamers are waking.”