In 1373, when she was about 30 years old, Julian of Norwich nearly died. A priest came to her bedside to issue her last rites and show her an image of Jesus Christ. Julian not only miraculously recovered but received the 16 revelations that would ultimately make her one of the most famous female mystics of all time. Julian documented each revelation in her book, Revelations of Divine Love in Sixteen Showings. The book includes Julian’s most famous quotation: “Would you learn to see clearly your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well: Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. Why did he show it to you? For love. Thus, I was taught that Love was our Lord’s meaning.”
Although alchemy is usually associated with manipulating and controlling the natural world in an effort to create things like gold, Jabir Ibn Hayyan practiced alchemy of a slightly different sort. This Eastern mystic sought “takwin,” or the ability to create life. Jabir Ibn Hayyan lived in the Middle East during the 8th century. He was the personal mystic and alchemist for Caliph Harun al-Rashid, a figure famous for his own curiosity and desire to understand existence and nature. Hayyan worked tirelessly to create life, and wrote down long instructions for creating insects, reptiles, and even humans. Though others would later get credit for coming up with modern chemical classification, Jabir Ibn.
The life of Angela of Foligno, one of the most famous female mystics, is one of both tragedy and inspiration. When Angela’s mother, husband, and children all died suddenly, she became devoted to the work of St. Francis of Assisi. In 1291, Angela experienced a powerful vision while she was walking to St. Francis’s shrine on a pilgrimage. Angela was able to dictate her visions into what would become the immensely popular Book of Experience of the Truly Faithful.
Though he was a teacher, politician, and editor, Confucius is best known as a famous Eastern mystic and philosopher. Confucius’s famous teachings, known collectively today as the basis of Confucianism, include the importance of morality and sincerity, correct social relationships, the need for justice, and a number of other traditions and beliefs inspired by Chinese tradition. Confucius’ ideas continued to evolve after his death when some of his students journeyed to the West to develop what would become known as Neo-Confucianism.
René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke, better known as Rainer Maria Rilke, was an Austrian poet and novelist. He is “widely recognized as one of the most lyrically intense German-language poets”. He wrote both verse and highly lyrical prose. Several scholars have described Rilke’s work as “mystical.”
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, known more commonly as Agrippa, was such a famous mystic during the age of the Renaissance that he is still one of the familiar mystics in history. Though he also worked as a soldier and secret agent, Agrippa is perhaps best known for his occult writings. These writings, collectively entitled De Occulta Philosophia Libri Tres, are still considered to be the most complete source of Western occult and magic. The books contain ideas on ancient wisdom and theology, theories about the world of spirits, and of course, various instruction about alchemical practices. Agrippa had a number of alchemical laboratories, and even taught alchemy in universities throughout France and Italy.
Hadewijch of Antwerp is a famous female mystic who lived during the early 1200s. Nearly everything we know about her life has been learned from the three known books she authored: Letters to a Young Beguine, in which Hadewijch included a series of spiritual letters; Poems in Stanzas and Poems in Couplets; and Book of Visions. Letters to a Young Beguine holds the majority of Hadewijch’s mystic ideas. The most prominent is the idea that the soul — created by God in his own image –constantly yearns to become one again with the divine.
It is not enough to declare Joan of Arc merely one of the most well known female mystics in history. She is undoubtedly one of the most famous mystics of any gender, faith, or nationality to have ever lived. Joan of Arc’s mystic visions began during her youth, and documents have been found attesting to the fact that it was generally assumed by many that the young girl had some sort of supernatural power. She is best known for convincing the would-be king of France of her religious power, who in turn allowed her to lead the French army at age 16.
Though he studied and became enlightened in China, the Buddhist monk Dogen remains one of the most famous Japanese mystics in eastern history. The knowledgeable Dogen taught his students a variety of subjects, though his most famous teachings included the study and practice of full self-realization — a typical idea of the Chinese Zen masters under whom Dogen studied, but a concept that was completely new to Dogen’s Japanese contemporaries.
Though some might call her a charlatan, Helena Blavatsky ranks among the most famous female mystics in history. Just as controversial in life as she has proven to be in death, Blavatsky was the sole founder of the Theosophical Society, a Spiritualist organization with ideas inspired by teachings ranging from Christianity to Hinduism. Many of Blavatsky’s most famous ideas are included in her extremely influential book, The Secret Doctrine.