In Memory of Olivia Robertson (1917 – 2013)
Mystic, psychic, author, artist, and co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis
Now as a spirit
I shall roam
The summer fields.
Haiku by Hokusai
Joyful, amazing Olivia Robertson died on November 14. Here is a brief account of her funeral, which has just taken place in Ireland.
On the day before the funeral, Olivia lay in an open wicker coffin in her sitting room in Huntington Castle, white lilies beside her, candles burning, the mirrors in the room covered with white sheets, a honey coloured spaniel asleep on the floor at the head of her coffin.
An atmosphere of peace filled the room. Olivia now looked so different from how she had seemed in life. There was a solemn dignity in her face. She looked truly like a priestess, and like her brother Derry too. The spaniel lay so still – as if in spirit it was accompanying Olivia to the Otherworld.
Sitting in the peace of her room it was easy to remember her and to hear her voice, and easy too to imagine her talking: “Don’t think of me as dead, that’s not the way to go about this at all. I’ve woken up. I’m alive! Dying is a joyous process, a birth in the Other World. You must always remember that, and allow your imagination and your psychic faculties free rein. Think of it as painting with the brightest colours you can imagine. You have complete freedom in the imagination and in the Other world. Don’t let other peoples’ opinions concern you. They may say you’re dotty or weird, but it doesn’t matter a hoot. Allow yourself to be as creative as you like, and always remember that in being creative you have complete freedom.”
Next door in the dining room were tea and cakes. Olivia’s family and friends were there alongside neighbours from the village. This was a wake in the traditional Irish style, held before rather than after the funeral.
The castle was looking glorious in bright winter sun, its flag at half mast, and the trees in their full autumn colours. The maple by the castle gate shone like a red sun. Olivia had left with the fall of the leaves, a few weeks after Samhain, and a few weeks after she had suffered a stroke. Even though 96 years old, up until then she had been leading her usual busy life, writing letters, composing liturgies, painting and leading, as always, the Fellowship of Isis. But now, no longer able to work in the world, she had slipped away while sleeping.
The day after the wake, we gathered in the temple, in the basement of the castle, for a moving Fellowship of Isis ritual. Surrounded by her paintings and the powerful atmosphere of the temple, the harp music and the words of the ritual brought a strong sense of Olivia in spirit as we wished her well on her journey. We then followed the priestesses and priest out of the temple. Accompanied by two drummers, Julie Felix sang with her guitar, and we joined in as we took the 900 year-old yew walk through the castle grounds to wait by the gate.
Soon the piper arrived, and Olivia’s great-nieces carried her coffin to the waiting hearse. The piper led the procession as a hundred or so mourners followed the hearse down the great Lime avenue that leads from the castle to the village of Clonegal, and then up through the main street to St.Fiaac’s church.
In the temple we had been told that Olivia wanted ceremonies of the Goddess and the God, and so we all filled the church, and a Church of Ireland funeral service followed. Her niece, Anna Currey, gave a eulogy which managed to convey a strong sense of Olivia’s character and uniqueness, and the coffin was then carried outside by her great-nephews in the fading afternoon sun. As the priest recited the final prayer and his words floated across the crowd, ‘Like a flower we blossom and then wither, like a shadow we flee and never stay,’ a gust of wind picked up hundreds of golden leaves and showered them over the grave and all those standing beside it. And the last word was with the Goddess – Julie Felix picked up her guitar and sang the familiar Irish blessing ‘May the Road Rise up to Meet You’, but with the final line sung as ‘and until we meet again, may the Goddess hold you in the palm of Her hand.’
You can read the facts of Olivia’s life in her Wikipedia entry, and you can fill out these facts and get a feel for her, and her reputation, from the obituaries that have just been published in The Times and The Telegraph.
A cursory look at the many clips of her on Youtube, and at the full-length, excellent documentary available on DVD about her, can give the impression that she was just a delightfully eccentric lady, but in reality she was much more than that. She was someone who was immensely knowledgeable and wise. And she could change people’s lives. She certainly changed mine, and I am very grateful that I knew her. She opened me to the reality of the Otherworld through her extraordinary technique of inner journeying, and it was thanks to her, Pamela and Derry, that I left the sterile world of the university and went to live and study with her at the castle: an enchanting and completely life-changing experience.
Long may Olivia’s energy and insights, her humour and intelligence, inspire us all! Blessings to you, dear Olivia!
In the videoclip below Olivia talks about her painting and about our energy bodies in the Otherworld.
If we’re lucky, then in just a few days time we could witness one of the most spectacular sights in the night sky for a generation or more. Astronomers hope that on 3 December a comet will appear on the eastern horizon – Comet Ison.
For the whole month of December, millions of people across the northern hemisphere should be able to see its tail, which is several millions of kilometres long, stretching across the dawn sky. Ison has come from the Oort cloud, a belt of comets on the very edge of the Solar System, where it has been for the last 4.6 billion years. Read article
I’ve just received this message from Vanessa Vine:
Remembrance for Lost Species: lest we forget. Three species are lost to eternity every hour.
This is a chance to learn and tell the stories of those lost in the sixth mass extinction, and to renew commitments to those remaining. Extinctions are invariably linked to the loss of cultures and places too.
In 2011 and 2012, people held species memorial events around the UK and internationally. This November 30th, hold your own extinction memorial event – or just light a candle. Let us know what you are planning and we will add it to the online map of Remembrance events. Go to: https://www.facebook.com/events/1413677838849816/
The anthropogenic (human-caused) extinction rate is off the scale.
When a species is declared extinct … when we learn that they will never again draw breath, or swim, slither, flower or set seed – and that this is down to our own unconscious, disconnected hand … no President gives a memorial speech, no Queen lays a wreath.
In Britain, we might get a 7am Radio 4 headline – and that’s it .. like in October 2011, when two sub-species of rhino were declared extinct within 3 weeks of each other … We shake our heads sadly for a moment then get on with the school run and hide our hearts from the pain, because we simply cannot emotionally comprehend the enormity of it all.
How can we do anything about this overwhelming nightmare – often of our own collective causing – if we do not begin by engaging with the grief?
The flag flew at half-mast yesterday at Huntington Castle in Clonegal, Ireland, in honour of the founder of the Fellowship of Isis, Olivia Robertson, who died on November 14th. After a ceremony in the Temple of Isis at the castle, mourners followed the hearse, led by a piper, through the village, for a Church of Ireland service and burial in the churchyard. As Olivia’s body was laid to rest in the earth, a gust of wind showered golden leaves over the crowd and the churchyard. The autumn sun shone in the blue and white sky. We will always remember Olivia.
I’ve just heard that Olivia Durdin-Robertson, who founded the Fellowship of Isis and at 96 was one of the great lights of Goddess spirituality and Druidry, died peacefully in her sleep last night. She was so familiar with the Otherworld, seeming to be often half-immersed in it, that I’m sure her journey to the Summerlands will be a good and peaceful one. She was always so bright and joyful, with a wonderful sense of humour – many blessings to you on your way dear Olivia.
John Tavener was an inspired thinker and mystic as well as composer, as he reveals in this interview. In particular one of his gifts was to sense and express the insights and visions common to all religions – a universalist approach also found in OBOD.
The composer Sir John Tavener has just died at the age of 69. Here is a quote from the Guardian’s obituary:
His most famous pieces from the 1980s and 90s – slow, rapt, deceptively simple – have felt like attempts to glimpse eternity…
His phenomenal success – making him arguably the UK’s most popular composer – led some critics to accuse Tavener of writing deliberately accessible music that tapped into a vague new-agey-ness for the most cynical of reasons.
This couldn’t have been further from the truth. Tavener’s shift away from the modernism of his youth to more spiritual sources – from the Russian Orthodox church to Hindu philosophers, from Gregorian chant to eastern musical ideas – is something that, he says, “almost paralysed me. But I don’t apologise for the enthusiasm I felt. For example, when I said that my piece The Beautiful Names [a setting of the 99 names of Allah in the Koran] felt like a portrait of God, I meant it. That’s how it felt to me when the music overcame me. I composed almost daily and I used to meditate – well, I walked round the garden rather than actually sat and meditated. I’d say the Arabic words, and then usually a melody would come to me.” Despite stories to the contrary (he has said all the major religions are “as senile as each other”), he still defines himself as Russian Orthodox, even if he doesn’t regularly go to church. Read the article here
That quote about all religions being senile is worth quoting in full from this BBC article where he writes about religion and ill health:
“I think actually all religions have reached a stage of maturity, therefore decay, and, up to a point, senility,” Sir John says. “Therefore to get back to the basis of them is something very exciting to be able to do.”
Since the start of the 2000s, Sir John has been open to inspiration from other faiths and has looked beyond his Christian devotion to Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism and Native American beliefs.
“I always go back to what Plato said, that Heaven and Earth were once joined and there was one single primordial being, God,” he says.”And one understands from that, that all religions are equally true, or equally false, I suppose you could say, depending on your perspective.
“I think there will always be a possibility that God doesn’t exist because He is infinitude and into that infinitude must come that possibility.”
During his most recent illness, he has “had a lot of time to think about what I really feel about these things”, Sir John says. “I suppose it’s grown me up spiritually.”
To get a feeling for how sublime, and unusual, his music can be, listen to the second movement of his Ikon of Eros here. What a fantastic use of silence and the violin! I’ll paste in Tavener’s notes on it below.
“The choir acts like a Greek chorus, singing at some distance from the other performers. They sing key words in Greek. The solo singers may be taken from choir, if suitable voices are available. The soprano and baritone in the third movement should be trained by an Indian master, and the tenor in the last movement by a Greek Psaltis. The brass instruments represent God the Father, the strings, God the son, and the woodwind, God the Holy Spirit. The solo violin, which plays almost continuously, represents Divine Eros itself (common in its deepest sense to all religious traditions), and also our longing for God, and His longing for us. It should play form high up, above the main group. The layout of the performers will vary according to the building, but it should be in Trinitarian form, ideally shaped like a pyramid with the solo violin at the pinnacle, or at least above the orchestra. The music should be played in a resonant acoustic, with plenty of space to emphasise the musical symbolism and metaphysics. Unlike Western Art Music, Ikon of Eros succeeds or fails, as does all traditional and sacred art, and all sacred music of the East, by its ability to create an inner spiritual state.” John Tavener
When witnessing the recent tragic events brought about by typhoon Haiyan, one can come to question the sense of living in the moment. To be totally present and mindful when you find yourself facing great distress, sadness or pain can be a challenge too difficult to master. We can be forgiven, when tragedy strikes, of yearning for a future where peace might return and the loss and hurt will lose its grip on us. There are no easy answers when faced with such life-changing events; whether it be tragedy on an enormous scale, such as Manila, or the solitary encounters with our own personal losses, we will each – in that dark night of our soul’s journey – experience an absence of faith in life, aware only of the suffering.
However, when we are faced with the pain of others, we are given the opportunity to engage with our own capacity for compassion and empathy. We also given the chance to become acutely aware of the blessings that we each possess. This little film illustrates perfectly that life – despite its struggle – is beautiful; that each new day is the only time we have and should be treasured, embraced and lived with gratitude. No matter what befalls us, that one precious day is a gift and the connections that we make with each other and the world, the kindnesses we choose to share, give it depth and meaning, reminding us that we are not alone in our suffering or joy; that we are each a part of the mystery at the heart of life.
If you’d like some light relief to marvel (or groan) at the way MI5 was formed with the help of a novelist and the Daily Mail, to boggle at the eccentricity of the British Intelligence service, and to see why – for example – Mrs Thatcher gave up on the spies, read this blog post by film-maker Adam Curtis, excerpted below.
In one of his many examples of how unintelligent – and in fact downright hopeless – the so-called ‘intelligence services’ have been, he points out the way in which, at the end of the eighties, none of them predicted the collapse of communism.We could predict it – just as many of us believe we could have predicted the outcome of the Iraq war – but not them. How on earth was this possible? Curtis writes:
Mrs Thatcher’s advisor – Charles Powell – summed up the extraordinary failure:
“The biggest single failure of intelligence of that era was the failure of almost everybody to foresee the end of communism. It caught us completely on the hop. All that intelligence about their war-fighting capabilities was all very well, but it didn’t tell us the one thing we needed to know – that it was all about to collapse.
It was a colossal failure of the whole Western system of intelligence assessment and political judgement.”
But the real reason that the intelligence agencies didn’t predict the collapse of the Soviet system was because many of the people at the top of the agencies couldn’t believe it was true.
Sir Percy Cradock was one of the most powerful figure in the British establishment. He was the chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee – which co-ordinated the activities of MI5, MI6 and other intelligence groups. Even at the end of the eighties when everyone else was realising that the Soviet Union was collapsing, Sir Percy remained convinced that this was all a trick. That the Soviet Union was still aiming for communist domination of the world.
Cradock – along with a number of others high up in the intelligence agencies – really believed that Gorbachev’s reforms were just a cunning ruse to deceive the West. And – as Mark Urban has pointed out in his book UK Eyes Alpha – Sir Percy used his position to make sure that this view dominated the Joint Intelligence Committee.
But as Urban also points out – Sir Percy and his allies had no secret evidence for this. They relied on what was pompously called “analysing open source data”. Otherwise known as reading the newspapers and watching TV. Except they interpreted that data in a mad way – driven by their own fevered imaginings of a world completely possessed by infinite levels of deception.
Mrs Thatcher realised this was bonkers – and she finally gave up on the spies.