Female Mystic: Who Was She? 10 Druids, Volvas and More
What exactly is a mystic? We often hear all about the men who became saints, warriors and gods. But when will we remember the female mystics who lived, loved, taught and fought alongside them? In this article, our favorite spiritual women from the annals of time come to remind us of their lives. Their rituals. Their triumphs. Here we learn about ancient to Medieval female druids, priestesses, mystics and more.
First, What is a Female Mystic?
If you look up the definition of mystic, you’ll find a plethora of different answers. To me, a mystic is someone who seeks to look beyond the natural world and into the spiritual. A mystic may engage in esoteric practices, strict devotion to deity, and/or look for answers to life’s questions outside the normal means. The mystic is deeply spiritual and may also be religious but their understanding of the universe and god transcends the typical dogma. While the women below might not be called mystics by general standards, I felt they should be honored here all together.
10 Female Mystics from Druids to Pagan Priestesses to Nuns
1. Scathach: Scottish Warrior Queen and Sorceress
Scathach (whose name means Shadowy) is mentioned in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology. While we don’t know if she truly lived or is a mythical figure, the fact that she trained the hero Cu Chulainn in martial arts and weaponry is enough to honor her here. This fierce female warrior queen lived in Scotland on the Isle of Skye in a castle called Dun Scaith (which means Castle of Shadows). She lives sometime around 200 BC and had a daughter named Uathach that guarded their castle. In some legends, Scathach was also a sorceress and seeress. She had magical abilities and could tell the future. Cu Chulainn’s deadly spear was a gift to him from Scathach.
2. Gullveig or “Heidr”: Volva from the Voluspa
Gullveig is a female mystic, more specifically a volva, mentioned in the Poetic Edda, specifically in the poem called the Voluspa. In the poem, she comes to Odin’s Hall to prophesize an epic war between the Aesir and Vanir gods. And essentially warns Odin of the end of the world called Ragnarok. There are theories that Gullveig is actually Freya in another form, yet others claim the volva in this Edda was based on a volva who lived in ancient times. Interestingly, when she first comes to Odin’s Hall, she is killed by spear by the gods three times. Then she’s reborn three times and her name changes to Heidr. Upon her third birth, she starts practicing Norse witchcraft and seership referred to as Seidr.
3. Queen Priestess Jezebel
Phoenician Princess Jezebel was raised to worship the god Baal and the goddess Asherah. Her name means Where is the Prince? Baal. She was married to King Ahab of Israel around 860 BCE. In spite of leaving her home country and everything she knew, Jezebel’s dedication to her gods grew and inspired her to spread veneration among the Israelites. She set up altars to Baal and Asherah, named eight hundred+ prophets, and she was given the title Priestess of Asherah. Unfortunately, the Hebrew people turned on her and brutally murdered her. Then smeared her name. Today, a “Jezebel” is often a slang term used to describe a scandalous or “evil” woman.
4. Marie Laveau: Voodoo Queen
Marie Laveau was a well-known Voodoo Priestess and pillar of the community in New Orleans in the 1800’s. She was of mixed descent: African, Native American and Caucasian. And grew up in the city of New Orleans, brought up in the Voodoo tradition by a local Voodoo priest. She was considered a “free woman of color” in a time when they were few and far between. Her magical abilities and people skills made her famous and today, some believe she is one of the Loa. She is honored on altars and shrines throughout the city of New Orleans and is commonly referred to as the Voodoo Queen.
5. Hildegard of Bingen: Female Mystic, Nun and Visionary
Hildegard of Bingen was a female mystic and nun who lived in Germany in the Middle Ages. She became a prioress of a monastery, then moved and became an abbess. Throughout her life, she claimed to have had enlightening visions and divine experiences (some of which seem to me as astral projection and trance states). In addition to being dedicated to god and humanity, Hildegard wrote three large volumes of visionary theology, recording her divine visions, as well as composed music AND practiced medicine. “She became well-known for her healing powers using tinctures, herbs and precious stones” (quote via Wikipedia). You can read her medical texts today.
6. Hypatia: The Last Pagan Philospher & Female Mystic
Hypatia was a Neoplatonist philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt circa 400AD. She was a mathematician and brilliant astronomer who lost her life because of either politics or religion. Scholars debate whether her influence in the politics led to her brutal death OR whether it was her pagan beliefs that pissed the Church off. Whatever the real cause, Hypatia was a threat to the men in power in Alexandria and they had to get rid of her. Her name was smeared, being called a sorceress and rumors that she was involved in “Satanic wiles” of music and magic. And so she was brutally killed by a mob in 470 AD. She is called the Last Pagan Philosopher, because she was the last philosopher of the Alexandrian University.
7. Albruna: Germanic Seeress
Albruna was a seeress in ancient Germany held in high regard by the Germanic tribes. She’s mentioned in Chapter 8 of Tacitus’ Germania. He calls her Aurinia, which is the latin version of Albruna, and says she was venerated as “divinity” like another prophetess before her. Interestingly, her name translates to “possessor of the secret wisdom of the Elves,” indicating she had the ability to communicate with the faery realm to predict future events.
8. Bodhmall: Female Mystic Druidess
Bodhmall is a figure in the Fenian Cycle of Irish mythology. She is a female mystic druid who raises the legendary hero Fionn mac Cumhaill. When Fionn’s father fears for the boy’s life, he sends Fionn to live with his sister Bodhmall and her partner Liath Luachra (a fierce warrior woman) in a secret forest. Eventually they must send Fionn on his way when news of his whereabouts spreads across the country.
9. Hatshepsut: Pharaoh, Fenale Mystic and Priestess of Amun
Hatshepsut is one of the most famous pharaohs of ancient Egypt for a few reasons. One – because she was a woman and women didn’t weren’t often given Pharaoh status. And two – because her successor tried desperately to erase her name from history…and failed. Hatshepsut was a female mystic with wisdom and strength. Moreover, she used her knowledge of religion and her bloodline to gain the throne, ruling alongside her young nephew Thuthmose III. She established herself as the God’s Wife of Amun and was ultimately one of the greatest priestesses of Amun. In addition, she established strong trade routes and was one of the most prolific builders in ancient Egypt.
10. Þorbjörg Lítilvölva (Greenland volva)
Þorbjörg Lítilvölva was a well-known volva in Greenland most likely in the Middle Ages. She’s mentioned in the Saga of Erik the Red. She was one of nine sisters, of whom she outlived. The farms in Greenland were struggling at the time and called upon Þorbjörg to visit and prophesize for them. The Saga of Erik the Red gives details on this Norse volva’s customs, what she wore, and things she said and is well worth the read.