Women mystics - everything old is new again

BlogHer Original Post

I remember when a teen-aged child of a friend of mine heard Hendrix for the first time and thought it was some hip new heavy metal band. We then played Steppenwolf, Janis, Cream and a few others for him and blew his socks off. The latest generation is easily convinced they invented what is cool, or hip or just plain better than what has gone before. Certainly it is wilder.

New Age spirituality offers a refreshing take on the universe, and often enjoys the mystical facet of spirituality, but it isn't as new as many folks think it is. In the annals of history we can find an intriguing thread of female mystics who envisioned God (and Jesus) as androgenized, who emphasized female qualities in God, and often experienced their relationship with God in direct and sexual terms.

Julian of Norwich in the mid 1300's in The Motherhood of God says

As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother. (And that He showed in all the showings, and particularly in those sweet words where he says "It is I" — that is to say" "It is I: the Power and the Goodness of the Fatherhood. It is I: the Wisdom of the Motherhood. It is I: the Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love. It is I: the Trinity. It is I: the Unity. I am the supreme goodness of all manner of things. I am what causes thee to love. I am what causes thee to yearn. It is I: the endless fulfilling of all true desires.") I understood three ways of looking at motherhood in God: the first is the creating of our human nature; the second is His taking of our human nature (and there commences the motherhood of grace); the third is motherhood of action (and in that is a great reaching outward, by the same grace, of length and breadth and of height and of depth without end) and all is one love. (Ch. 59)

Julian was an anchoress. That means that she lived in a little stone room attached to a local church. The room of an anchorite (male) or an anchoress (female) would be bricked up after the person had entered. There would be a little slit left open facing the inside of the church, and a window left open to the outside world. They lived their lives in contemplation and prayer and writing. Some gained favor as wise counselors and were consulted by townspeople through the outside window.

Hildegaard von Bingen died in 1179. She devoted her life to study and to writing sacred music. She had many visions and believed that "Every element has a sound, an original sound from the order of God; all those sounds unite like the harmony from harps and zithers." And, in a gentle but defiant voice she also said "We cannot live in a world that is not our own, in a world that is interpreted for us by others. An interpreted world is not a HOME. Part of the terror is to take back our own listening, to use our own voice, to see our own light." When speaking of her own music, she is quoted as saying:

Underneath all the texts, all the sacred psalms and canticles, these watery varieties of sounds and silences, terrifying, mysterious, whirling and sometimes gestating and gentle must somehow be felt in the pulse, ebb, and flow of the music that sings in me. My new song must float like a feather on the breath of God.

Catherine of Sienna reportedly started having visions when she was 6. When her mother instructed her to dress fashionably to attract a suitor, she cut off all her hair in protest. Her life included more visions and many confrontations with the church.

St Bridget of Sweden, also in the late 1300's, married at 13 and had 8 children. After her husband's death, she began having visions. They were written down. translated into Latin and circulated through Europe. She saw no distinction between having religious conviction and an active intellect. Her quote on that topic is:

Let everyone who has the grace of intelligence fear that, because of it, he will be judged more heavily if he is negligent.

The Maiden of Ludmir was Hannah Rachel Werbermacher, a nineteenth-century Hasidic Jewish woman popularly known as the only female Hasidic Rebbe, or religious leader. Her father, a Torah scholar, believed his daughter to have special spiritual gifts. He therefore provided her with a religious education that was unusual for girls in the 1800's Ukraine. She was known as a preacher of Jewish mysticism and a healer. The town built her a synagogue, but she would speak on the sabbath through a half-open door so that she could maintain her modesty and not address men directly.

Rabi'a, an 8th century Islamic mystic from Iran, began her ascetic life in the desert, where she lost herself in prayer and went straight to God for teaching. She was one of the first of the mystic Sufi order to teach that Love alone was the guide on the mystic path. She pre-dated Rumi as a mystic poet, writing Sufi religious poetry, which is often the equal of passionate love poetry.

Oh my Lord the stars glitter
and the eyes of men are closed.
Kings have locked their doors,
and each man is alone with his love.

Here, I am alone with you.

There are female mystics in all religious traditions. Their voices may have been silenced, or forgotten. However, contemporary religious thinkers are starting to have renewed interest in what our foremothers had to feel and think about spirituality.

Related Blogs

Valma Gi describes her travels in India (including some fine photos) and her direct experience of mysticism.

My journey to Varanasi – City of Light has unfolded a deep spiritual and mystic view of the Indian people and I feel like I have been taken back in time. For lovers of human civilization, culture, art, music, trade, spirituality, religion, liberation and freedom, Varanasi is the place to be.

Julia discusses Julian of Norwich and wonders how she escaped being accused of heresy, especially since "she did not embrace the idea of eternal damnation".

Linda Hill blogs about Hildegard von Bingen and says:

She may have been the inventor of opra, was an artist, teacher, counselor, medicine woman and musician. She was an abandoned child, I believe even given away to the church as a tithe. She ended up being more of a gift than anyone could have imagined and created art, music, poetry, herbalism, medicine and spiritual literature, volume upon volume.
She'd have been called many things in our time-- ADHD, hypomanic, schizophrenic~ but above all, she was considered HOLY, maybe because she had the audacity to fly her freak flag

Beverly comments on a poem of Rabi'a's, The Doorkeeper of the Heart

Mata H, CE for Religion & Spirituality also blogs her soul to bits at Time's Fool


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