Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Women You Should Know - Olivia Robertson by Siofra McSherry

"Be happy now. Don’t worry about if you were happy yesterday, or whether you will be happy tomorrow… eternity is between seconds. You find Deity, the Goddess, the God, now. And your home becomes your sanctuary. You have a sanctuary as your hearth – a candle, one candle, a stick of incense, wherever you are is Heaven. That’s what my message is … wherever you are, should be Heaven." 
~ Olivia Robertson

Women You Should Know:
Olivia Robertson

by Siofra McSherry

When she died in 2013, Olivia Durdin-Robertson was perhaps the last surviving member of the great generation of Anglo-Irish spiritualists, with Robert Graves, W. B. Yeats and Æ frequent visitors to her ancestra home, Clonegal Castle, as she grew up in the 1920s. As co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis, an international organization with over 20,000 members in 90 countries, her contribution to the global Goddess movement is unparalleled. Her leadership has energized devotees of the divine feminine from all faiths and backgrounds.

Already an accomplished author and illustrator, Robertson had her first direct mystical experience at the age of 29. The goddess Isis subsequently called her to a spiritual life. Always droll and down-to-earth about her experiences in the other world, she claimed “we had a long conversation, but afterwards I couldn’t remember any of it.” She received a lifelong vocation to redress the global imbalance between the patriarchal religion that has dominated for centuries and the divine feminine, becoming convinced that such equilibrium is necessary for the survival and happiness of humanity. To help achieve this aim she established the Fellowship of Isis in 1976, with her brother Lawrence and his wife Pamela. Lawrence had previously been a Church of Ireland minister, but resigned after becoming convinced, like Olivia, that God was female.

The Fellowship of Isis promotes the worship of Isis of 10,000 Names, providing an extensive liturgy, correspondence courses and ordination for members. Members are drawn from many religions in addition to Paganism, and no-one is expected to renounce their previous beliefs in favour of the Fellowship; rather, people are encouraged to integrate worship of the divine feminine into their existing practices. Olivia also established several internal societies, notably the Noble Order of Tara, initiates of which are dedicated environmental activists. She represented the FoI, as well as the global Neopagan movement, at the Parliament of the World’s Religions Centennial Session. She was the only delegate there to pray to a female deity.

Visitors to her home, Clonegal Castle in County Carlow, find a romantically decorated, potentially haunted seventeenth-century Irish mansion with a Temple of Isis in the basement. Shrines are dedicated to the twelve signs of the zodiac and aspects of the Goddess, and an ancient holy well can be found in the Chapel of Brighid. Olivia’s own visionary paintings and drawings of the Goddess feature prominently. Illustrious visitors have included Hugh Grant, Mick Jagger and Van Morrison, and Clonegal has become established as a New Age pilgrimage site, right at the heart of traditional rural Ireland.

As a pagan woman growing up in Ireland, Olivia’s life and work, remarkable grace, and gently intellectual promotion of the values of my faith were inspirational. The Irish establishment treated her with respect—perhaps due to her aristocratic heritage and her position within the community—and this helped me find a sense of dignity and self-esteem as a young woman struggling to find a context for my spiritual practice within a patriarchal, conservative Christian culture. Robertson passed to the Summerlands in November 2013, aged 96. She left a global legacy of inspirational spiritual leadership and a vast international organization dedicated to promotion of the divine feminine, and I am sorry I will never meet her on this plane. What is remembered, lives.

(Images used with permission - copyright  Fellowship of Isis .)

Siofra McSherry is a writer, researcher and doctoral scholar. She has published her poetry widely and writes art reviews for 

Editor's Note:  Special thanks to Siofra for being first up this year! We're grateful to her for bringing her insight and great writing!  You can find previous entries into the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012 and March 2013.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

No comments: