Showing posts with label Mechthild of Magdeburg. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mechthild of Magdeburg. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

R’ Hayyim Vital and his Female Visionaries

In previous posts I have discussed the situation of female visionaries within Christian thought. I wish therefore to say something about the situation of female visionaries within Judaism. This tradition of female visionaries is noticeably lacking with Judaism. Why is an interesting question, one that does not have any clear cut answers. One is hard pressed to even talk about the existence of female visionaries. Gershom Scholem denied that there was such a thing as female mysticism within Kabblah. According to Scholem, Kabbalah is a masculine doctrine; it lacks Islam’s Rabia or Christianity’s Mechthild of Magdeburg, Julian of Norwich or Theresa de Avila. The reason why Scholem dismisses the notion of female Kabbalists is that there are no Kabbalistic texts written by women.

J. H. Chajes devotes a chapter in his book on Dybbuks to bringing women into the history Kabbalistic thought by considering a wider range of information beyond simple source texts, which formed the basis for Scholem’s work. While we do not have Kabbalistic works written by women, women do play a major role in Hayyim Vital’s mystical diary, Sefer ha-Hezyonot, book of visions. In this work we find Jewish women who operated in ways that closely parallel the cases of Christian female mystics.

Vital consulted various women for their skills in divination and contacting the dead. Early in his career he consulted with a woman named Sanadora. She, through her technique of gazing into droplets of olive oil, predicted that Vital would become a great Kabbalist. We find a reference to Francesa Sarah of Safed and the daughter of R’ Shlomo Alkabetz being present in the house of study while Vital lectured. It would seem that that rabbinate in Safed held Francesa’s powers in high regard and that she has a certain amount of power over them. When she predicted that a plague was going to strike Safed, the rabbis decreed a public fast.

The two most important female visionaries in Vital’s writing are the daughter of Raphael Anav and Rachel Aberlin. The Daughter of Raphael Anav, we do not even know her name, was originally possessed by a good spirit, which took on the name Hakham Piso, who entered her while he was doing penance on earth. This spirit was expelled but later this girl gained a reputation of being able to serve as a medium for all sorts of good angels and spirits. Because of this various rabbis came to consult with her. She denounced various prominent figures such as the poet R’ Israel Najara and R’ Jacob Abulafia, the head of the Spanish congregation in Damascus.

Rachel Aberlin was a wealthy widow, who operated together with the Anav girl for quite a number of years and mentored her; they show up in many of the same places. Rachel was a visionary in her own right. For example she had a vision of Vital with a pillar of fire over his head and being supported by Elijah the prophet. There was another vision in which she sees him eating lettuce and radishes. Chajes sees this as a mixture of praise and criticism.

Matt Goldish pointed out to me that the major difference between the women that Vital talks about and the women we find Christian mystical literature is that, while there are numerous examples of women in Christian mystical literature who take on very active roles and are treated as figures of authority in their own right, Vitals treats his women as passive ciphers. They have little intrinsic value in of themselves; they are vessels into which spirits used in order to aid Vital and other rabbis. One can easily imagine taking Vital’s narrative and turning it around to a feminine perspective. These women could be viewed as bearers of such tremendous spiritual power that holy spirits came to rest within them, something that even most great rabbis never merited. Even R’ Hayyim Vital had to go to these women and place himself under their authority in order to receive the instructions from heaven.

While there is such a thing, within traditional Jewish thought, as a female visionary, the fact that it does not play a major role within Jewish mysticism, nothing to compare with what we find in Christianity, means that we still have not gotten around the issue of the male centricity of Jewish mysticism. Why do we not hear more about female visionaries?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Female Spirituality in Medieval Christian Thought: a Bibliography

Ahlgren, Gillian T.W. “Ecstasy, Prophecy and Reform: Catherine of Seina as a Model for Holy Women of Sixteenth-Century Spain.” In The Medieval Gesture: Essays on Medieval and Early Modern Spiritual Culture in Honor of Mary E. Giles, ed. Robert Boenig, 53-65. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000.

Benedict, Kimberley M. Empowering Collaborations: Writing Partnerships between Religious Women and Scribes in the Middle Ages. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Bell, Rudolph M. Holy Anorexia. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1985.

Brown, Peter. The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity. New York, 1998.

Bryne, Sr. Mary. The Tradition of the Nun in Medieval England. Washington, DC., 1932.

Bugge, John. Virginitas: An Essay in the History of a Medieval Ideal. The Hague, 1975.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast, Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987.
Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982

Clark, Anne. Elisabeth of Schonau: A Twelfth-Century Visionary. Philadelphia, PA: University of
Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
“Holy Woman or Unworthy Vessal? The Representations of Elisabeth of Schonau.” In Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their Interpreters, ed. Catherine M. Mooney, 35-51. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.

Coakley, John W. Women, Men, and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and Their Male Collaborators. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2006.

Conner, Paul M. “Catherine of Siena and Raymond of Capua – Enduring Friends.” Studia Mystica 12,1 (1989): 22-29.

Dillon, Janette. “Holy Women and Their Confessors or Confessors and Their Holy Women? Margery Kempe and Continental Tradition.” In Prophets Abroad: The Reception of Continental Holy Women in Late-Medieval England, ed. Rosalynn Voaden, 115-40. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1996.

Elkins, Sharon K. Holy Women of Twelfth-Century England. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Elliott, Dyan. Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennylvania Press, 1999.
“The Physiology of Rapture and Female Spirituality.” In Medieval Theology and the Natural
Body, ed. Peter Biller and A. J. Minnis, 141-73. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1997.
Proving Women: Female Spirituality and Inquisitional Culture in the Later Middle Ages. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Ferrante, Joan M. To the Glory of Her Sex: Women’s Roles in the Composition of Medieval Texts. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1997.

Frugoni, Chiara. “Female Mystics, Visions, and Iconography.” In Women and Religion in Medieval and Renaissance Italy, ed. Daniel Bornstein and Roberto Rusconi, trans. Margery J. Schneider, 130-64. Chicago, IL, University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Greenspan, Kate. “Autohagiography and Medieval Women’s Spiritual Autobiography.” In Gender and Text in the Later Middle Ages, ed. Jane Chance, 216-36. Gainesville, FL, University Press of Florida, 1996.

Hollywood, Amy. “Inside Out: Beatrice of Nazareth and Her Hagiographer.” In Gendered Voices: Medieval Saints and Their Interpreters, ed. Catherine Mooney, 78-98. Philadelphia, PA:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999.
Sensible Ecstasy: Mysticism, Sexual Difference, and the Demands of History. Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press, 2002.
The Soul as Virgin Wife: Mechtild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, and Meister Eckhart. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995.

Jantzen, Grace. Power Gender, and Christian Mysticism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Luongo, Francis Thomas. “Catherine of Siena: Rewriting Female Holy Authority.” In Women, the Book, and the Godly, ed. Lesley Smith and Jane H. M. Taylor, 89-103. Oxford: D. S Brewer, 1995.

McGurie, Brian Patrick. “Holy Women and Monks in the Thirteenth Century: Friendship or Explitation?” Vox Bendectina 6 (1989): 343-74.

Newman, Barbara. From Virile Woman to WomanChrist: Studies in Medieval Religion and Literature. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.
“Hildegard of Bingen: Visions and Validation,” Church History 54 (1985): 163-75.
“Possessed by the Spirit: Devout Women, Demoniacs, and the Apostolic Life in the Thirteenth Century.” Speculum 73 (1998): 766-67.
Sister of Wisdom: St. Hildegard’s Theology of the Feminine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988.

Poor, Sara. Mechthild of Magdeburg and Her Book. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

Ranft, Patricia.”A Key to Counter-Reformation Women’s Activism: The Confessor-Spiritual Director.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 10,2 (1994): 7-26.

Schulenburg, Jane Tibbetts. Forgetful of Their Sex: Female Sanctity and Society ca. 500-1100. Chicago IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Slade, Carole. “Alterity in Union: The Mystical Experience of Angela of Foligno and Margery Kempe.” Religion and Literature 23 (1991): 109-26.

Szasz, Thomas. The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement. New York, NY: Harper Colophon Books, 1977.

Thompson, Augustine. “Hildegard of Bingen on Gender and the Priesthood.” Church History 63 (1994): 349-64.

Voaden, Rosalynn. God’s Words, Women’s Voices: The Discernment of Spirits in the Writing of Late-Medieval Women Visionaries. York: York Medieval Press, 1999.

Zilboorg, Gregory. The Medical Man and the Witch During the Renaissance. New York, NY: Cooper Square Publishers, 1969.