Joan of Arc – Warrior and Mystic
I haven’t profiled any historic women mystics recently, and decided now is a good time to do so, while I finish reading some books I would like to review here in coming weeks, and think more about a follow-up to my Women’s Energy Body post. Although there is no shortage of material on Joan of Arc, I decided to give my take on her, because she is one of my absolute favorite mystics.
People are sometimes surprised when I refer to Joan of Arc as a mystic, because they think of her first as a warrior, and seem to think the two are mutually exclusive. But Joan’s military feats were entirely driven by spiritual visions, and most mystics through the centuries have had to also be warriors on some level, especially the women. Few got through their lives without suffering horrid persecution, and of course Joan was no exception, being burned at the stake at the age of 19.
In recent decades it has become fashionable to view Joan’s visions and spiritual experiences, as well as those of many of the other mystics I have profiled here, as the result of mental or physical illness. According to some sources, all of these women were either schizophrenic, bipolar, traumatized, or hormonally imbalanced. I don’t buy it. It smells too much like the kind of gender double-standard we see all too often in regards to aggressive female corporate executives or politicians. They are called bitchy, while a male colleague with the exact same style is a ‘go-getter.’ In the world of mystics, men who have visions are ‘prophets’, while the women are labeled insane.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, a bit about Joan. She was born in 1412 to modest French farmers, and at the age of 12 began experiencing visions of several saints urging her to drive the British, who were occupying France at the time, out, in order to reinstate the French crown-prince to the throne. She pleaded with her family to escort her to the crown-prince so she could convince him to let her lead his troops. For several years, her family refused (no wonder!), but after four years of Joan’s insistence – and some say religious signs that appeared in her presence – finally relented.
In a meeting with a garrison commander serving the prince, she reportedly predicted a military reversal in another town that occurred later that same day. This was enough to convince the commander to escort her to the prince, which was an unheard of honor for a girl of her social class. In a private conference with the prince, she reportedly also convinced him of her clairvoyant abilities by correctly answering questions he posed to her that there was no other way for her to have answered. At her insistence, and perhaps out of desperation, the prince provided her with armor and weapons and allowed her to travel to the military front.
At the age of 17, Joan led the French troops to several victories – something they had not experienced for some time. She quickly became a legendary figure amongst both the soldiers and the French population, and was known for both her clairvoyance and her religious piety and purity. This phase of her life is that most commonly depicted in paintings and sculptures of her – Joan with a sword in full armor, leading troops into battle. She became – and remains – a beloved French national heroine, in an astonishingly short period of time.
Only a year later she was captured by French allies of the British, and jailed while she awaited trial. Catholic Church officials, in league with them both, attempted to get her to renounce her visions, which she temporarily did, but later recanted, although this assured her death. Her eventual trial for heresy has become famous, partly because the transcript exhibits her remarkable faith, composure and intellect. She demonstrated that she was well aware of Church doctrine, and knew how to avoid the traps usually laid for the accused in such trials. At one point, asked if she thought she was in “God’s grace”, she responded, “If I am not, may God put me there; and if I am, may God so keep me.” Since Church doctrine taught that no one could be certain of being in God’s grace, this was the perfect answer. If she had said yes, she was admitting to heresy, but if she said no, she was renouncing her visions.
Joan repeatedly demonstrated such knowledge, and her trial has been recreated by many legendary playwrights and authors, including Shakespeare, George Bernard Shaw and Mark Twain. Nevertheless, she was convicted of heresy and burnt at the stake at the age of 19. According to witnesses, she repeated the names of Jesus and several saints until the moment of her death, as flames literally engulfed her body.
Twenty-five years after her death, Joan was retried by the official Catholic Inquisitor and declared innocent. She was canonized as a Saint in 1920, with her spiritual visions named as the requisite miracle any Catholic saint must manifest.
Here’s a more comprehensive online biography of Joan, as well as other resources. As for books, there are many traditional biographies, but I actually prefer a book called Joan of Arc: In Her Own Words, which draws on the trial transcripts and other sources for Joan’s own words. I included one of my favorite quotes of hers in my last post, and here’s another to leave you with:
“I fear nothing, for God is with me.”
For more mystics, go to the Women Mystics page.