The Shift Network Blog

Discover 7 Feminine Wisdom Figures for Personal Guidance on Your Spiritual Path
Mirabai Starr
By Mirabai Starr
InterSpiritual Teacher, Mystic-Scholar

Have you noticed that the traditional religions tend to primarily reflect the face of the masculine and that, whether you are a man or a woman, you have trouble finding yourself there?


Fortunately, beneath the surface of the institutionalized versions of spiritual life lies a deep wellspring of feminine wisdom, and it is now as accessible as it is needed!  

Juicy mystics like the Christian visionary, Hildegard of Bingen and the Sufi ecstatic, Rabia al Basri are rising from the shadows of the patriarchy to bless us with their treasures.  

And feminine archetypes such as the bodhisattva Tara in the Tibetan tradition and the Indwelling Feminine Face of the Divine in the Jewish tradition, Shekinah, offer timeless guidance for navigating perennial problems.

Each one of these great wisdom figures holds a vital piece of a map to help us navigate a contemporary landscape of spiritual awakening and sacred service.  

And here are 7 beings you may draw upon as resources for your own journey:
 

1.  Teresa of Avila

The sixteenth century Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila, modeled a beautiful balance between rapturous adoration of the Divine as Beloved and exceedingly practical and levelheaded action in the world. Between bouts of longing for God with such intensity that she is said to have lifted off the ground in prayer, the middle-aged nun managed to reform an entire order of the Catholic Church, restoring its original contemplative values of silence, stillness, and voluntary simplicity.

Teresa was smart, tough, and funny. In a time when the Inquisition sought to eradicate anyone who deviated in the slightest degree from orthodoxy, this feisty woman with Jewish genes charmed the world and bequeathed us with some of the greatest mystical masterpieces ever composed. She teaches us to cultivate the inner life with rigor and courage, and then to offer the fruits of that journey to the world in service.

 

2.  Julian of Norwich

During a near-death experience, the medieval English mystic, Julian of Norwich, experienced a vision of Christ. There were a couple of startling aspects to what she saw: One, Christ appeared in feminine form, and revealed himself as God-the-Mother, and two, she informed Julian that there is no such thing as sin and that we are unconditionally adored by the Holy One. She concluded that Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, had to be a woman because who else but a mother would break herself open and pour herself out for her children, and then love them with all her might and forgive them no matter what? 

Julian is a shining exemplar of embodied spirituality. Dare to believe what Julian tells us, a powerful promise that has resounded through the centuries: All will be well and all will be well and every kind of thing shall be well!
 

3. Mira Bai

Like Siddhartha Guatama, who became the Buddha, the North Indian devotional poet, Mira Bai (also known as Meera) was born into a life of wealth and privilege and left it all behind to devote the whole of her body and soul to Krishna, the god of love. It was a choiceless choice. Driven by the fire of desire, Mirabai sang and danced her way through life, composing love poems to the Dark One — filled with an intoxicating blend of sorrowful yearning and ecstatic encounter.

Her songs and poetry still resound throughout the world today, touching the strings of devotion in our innermost being. Do not buy into the cold notion that wanting God is a sign of delusion. It is the doorway to union. Reclaim longing!
 

4. Kuan Yin

In his brilliant book, Becoming Kuan Yin, the late great contemporary sage, Stephen Levine, wrote: “Opening the gate of Kuan Yin we discover parts of ourselves almost too beautiful for words.” Known as “She Who Hears the Cries of the World,” this ancient Buddhist wisdom figure teaches us to let go of false dichotomies between good and evil, right and wrong, and instead embrace the brokenness of the world inside our own broken hearts.  

By opening to the suffering of other beings — humans, animals, the air and water — we discover our own vast capacity for compassion. It is from this place that we access the energy and the wisdom to act to alleviate pain in the world.
 

5. Hildegard of Bingen

Viriditas is the word that the twelfth century Rhineland visionary, Hildegard of Bingen, coined for the divine breath that infuses all of life with growth and “greening.” She recognized the Divine Mother is the embodiment of this vitalizing energy, and she praised Her through masterful choral compositions and ecstatic prose, detailed artistic illuminations and carefully researched herbal healing remedies.

Hildegard was a Renaissance woman long before the Renaissance! She championed stewardship of the Earth and she cherished personal friendships. Hildegard is a shining example of the feminine mystics who are not interested in transcending this world, but rather fully embracing and embodying it, holding sacred our connection with one another, with the animal kingdom, and with the earth herself.
 

6. Rabia

The eighth century Sufi saint, Rabia al-Adawiyya, was the embodiment of fierce devotion, of uncompromising spiritual discipline and all-consuming spiritual fire. She was not afraid to speak truth to power. Nor did she avoid confrontation with obstacles in her own being that separated her from a full encounter with the Holy One. "Oh Allah!" she wrote, "If I worship You from fear of Hell, burn me in Hell. If I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise. But if I worship You for Your own sake, grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty."  

Rabia teaches us that the way of the feminine mystic sometimes means picking up the sword of the spiritual warrior and cutting through illusion to lay the Truth bare.
 

7.  Mother Mary

While Mary is traditionally depicted as “meek and mild,” she is anything but! Mary was a prophet. From the moment she had the vision of the angel Gabriel informing her that she, a poor Jewish teenager, was to give birth to the Prince of Peace, Mary rose to the prophetic call and dedicated her life to being an instrument of unconditional love. In bearing witness to the execution of her beloved son and then gathering his lifeless body in her arms, Mary models the sacred power of grief and loss to break our hearts open to greater love.  

People of all faiths turn to Mother Mary for strength, solace, and reconciliation. Two thousand years after her death, Mary of Nazereth speaks more directly to our lives than ever before.


Let these short introductions serve as doorways that lead you into a deeper relationship with these great wisdom beings. Explore their timeless teachings and drink deeply from their well of sacred energy, allowing them to infuse and transform your life.


PS - If you'd like to discover how you can walk the ecstatic path of feminine mystics like Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich and the great Sufi poet Mirabai — and surrender into the arms of grace — I invite you to download my free hour-long recording here: