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WOMEN MYSTICS

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The term mysticism is a term that is not easy to define succinctly.  The etymology of the term shows a mixed history.  Originally deriving from the Greek word muein (to close the eyes, lips and ears) this understanding was utilized by the Greek mystery cults in reference to secret initiation rites.  This brought about the connotation of silence and secrecy.  Later in the second and third centuries within the early Christian church the term mustikos was used to signify a spiritual understanding, in light of revelation, detected under the original, literal meaning of the scriptures. Then, during the fourth and fifth centuries the Greek and Christian terms began to blend together and thus bring about a meaning, especially under the influence of Augustinian thinking, that connotes an experiential union in the love of God.  Extensive prayer, meditation, varied ascetics and the experience of visions have most often accompanied this ‘union.’ Jean Gerson (chancellor of the University of Paris from 1395-1418) defined Christian mysticism as “knowledge of God by experience, arrived at through the embrace of unifying love.”

 

Women have played a significant role in Christian mysticism – a role that is seen at its high point during the medieval period.  Some have speculated that this role was so significant due to the position of women within society and the church during this time.  Women in the medieval church were placed within rigid and often silent roles, thus being forbidden to preach, teach or write concerning scripture. However, some were called, despite the rigidity of society and the church to share their visions and teachings with others. Many of these women were impugned as a result, and thus their writings and lives were seen as ‘lost’ in history.  However, due to recent scholarship many of these women’s writings and biographies are coming to life again.

 

Characteristic of mystics (both female and male)is a life devoted to prayer, service to others, and the experience of visions – the later of which has led at times to mystics being viewed as mentally unstable.  The church (and society) has often taken a long time to recognize such gifts within the community and sometimes not at all.However once these mystics have been recognized (sometimes after being officially declared 'valid') they have been viewed as teachers within the church.

 

This site is dedicated to three women mystics - and it is hoped that this number will grow in time.  These women come from different cultures, countries and histories, but they all share a deep love for Jesus Christ and a call to share this love with all.  Use the links at the top of the page to view biographies of each of the women represented.  In addition to biographical information, pieces of their writings (or dictations) that detail their visions and thoughts are included.  There are also pages dedicated to prayers written by these women, and a listing of additional resources (both print and electronic) which will be updated as needed.

 

"It is very important for any soul that practices prayer, whether little or much, not to hold itself back and stay in one corner. Let it walk through these dwelling places which are up above, down below, and to the sides, since God has given it such great dignity.  Don't force it to stay a long time in one room alone."
     - Teresa of Avila, "The Interior Castle" (1577)



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Experience the mystery...

Created by Kimberly S. Conway (c) 2004.
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