Mechthild of Magdeburg


Mechthild of Magdeburg was born ca. 1207 and died ca. 1282 at the convent of Helfta near Eisleben, Saxony-Anhalt. She lived and worked for about 40 years as a Beguine in Magdeburg. Born in a castle near a city, she joined the Medieval Poverty Movement at the age of 20 and consequently chose the “descent” from the castle, where she grew up, to live in the city. Up to today she is famous for her book “The Flowing Light of the Godhead” that she wrote in Middle Low German, the vernacular and the language of the poor. Her writings unite bridal mysticism of the song of the songs in the Old Testament with poetry of the courtly love lyric (Minnesang) creating a new poetry, which reveals comprehensibly her immediate experience of God. Mechthild’s “The Flowing Light of the Godhead” is classified as the most important book of German mysticism before Meister Eckhart.

What seems today as a literary jewel, was a “stone of offence” back then, because a FEMALE Beguine composed writings with a theological content in vernacular German and not in Latin and she referred to a divine authorization for her mission. Her criticism of church dignitaries, religious laxity and claims to theological insight aroused so much opposition that some called for the burning of her writings. With advancing age, she was not only alone, and the object of much criticism, but she also became blind.

Weakened by hostility and disease, Mechthild secluded to the convent of Helfta around 1270, where she wrote and later on dictated her last book and where she died at a very old age. Encouraged and inspired by her independent way of speaking about God, two young and highly educated nuns, Mechthild of Hackeborn and the famous Gertrud of Helfta, also known as Gertrud the Great, wrote down their own visions – only in Latin. For over 10 years the convent of Helfa had been the common home for three highly gifted writers and mystics who established the reputation of the convent as one of the most important centers of female mysticism in the Middle Ages. Marked by languishment, Mechthild died at an old age around 1282.

Taken in part from:

Mechthild of Magdeburg’s ideas are inspiring in their own right, but are all the more amazing considering the era she lived in (1207-1282) – a time from which women’s voices are mostly lost in the mists of time. How fortunate we are that her words survive so we can bask in her reflected light.

Lord, you are my lover,
My longing,
My flowing stream,
My sun,
And I am your reflection.

The day
of my spiritual awakening
was the day I saw—
and knew I saw—
all things in God
and God in all things.

Love your fellow beings—
for they are all
tabernacles of God.

Of all that God has shown me,
I can speak just the smallest word,
not more than a honeybee takes on her foot
from an overspilling jar.

In the fire of creation,
gold does not vanish,
the fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature,
how could I resist my nature,
that lives for oneness with God?

The Holy Spirit is our Harpist;
all strings which are touched in Love, must sound.

I cannot dance, Lord,
unless you lead me.
If you want me to leap with abandon,
You must intone the song.
Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment
beyond all human sensations.
There I want to remain,
yet want also to circle higher still.

I who am Divine am truly in you.
I can never be sundered from you:
However far we be parted,
never can we be separated.
I am in you and you are in Me.
We could not be any closer.
We two are fused into one,
poured into a single mould.
Thus, unwearied,
we shall remain forever.

I, God, am your playmate!
I will lead the child in you in wonderful ways
for I have chosen you.
Beloved child, come swiftly to Me
for I am truly in you.
Then I shall leap into love.

How should one live?
Live welcoming to all.

When are we like God? I will tell you.
In so far as we love compassion and practice it steadfastly,
to that extent do we resemble the heavenly Creator
who practices these things ceaselessly in us.

I who am Divine am truly in you.
I can never be sundered from you:
However far we be parted, never can we be separated.
I am in you and you are in Me.
We could not be any closer.
We two are fused into one, poured into a single mould.
Thus, unwearied, we shall remain forever.

O you pouring God in your gift!
O you flowing God in your love!
O you burning God in your desire!
O you melting God in the union with your beloved!
O you resting God on my breasts!
Without you I cannot exist.

Do not fear your death.
For when that moment arrives,
I will draw my breath
and your soul will come to Me
like a needle to a magnet.


“If there were anyone who knew about insecurity or a sense of not “measuring up,” it would be the thirteenth century, “stealth theologian” Mechthild de Magdeburg: she wrote as a woman in a largely male-dominated world of letters; she did not know the more academic Latin of her time and instead wrote in her lay, mother tongue of German; and as one of the wandering, marginalized and soon-to-be-outlawed “Beguine” mystics, she rejected the patriarchally prescribed routes for women in her time (marriage and family, or the nunnery). So Mechthild has something to teach us about how to overcome our insecurities. The following seven ways to “shush” insecurity in your life come directly from Mechthild’s spiritual “treatise” of sorts (if this eclectic mix of allegory, poetry, aphorisms, and visions could be called this), The Flowing Light of the Godhead.

1. Remind yourself that God is Love and that God in God’s love has imprinted God’s very Self on you in the form of your soul; then let God love you by in essence “waking up” to this love.

2. Remember you belong to the community of God’s Triune Self as the Father’s “daughter” (son), the Son Jesus’ “sister” (brother) and the Holy Spirit’s spouse. Think about this for a moment: your life is caught up in the life of God, so that you not only are intimately known by God but belong with God and in God; strive to live into this reality.

3. View everything you do as an equal means of honoring God (and in turn taking yourself less seriously). That means, as Mechthild spells out, that satisfying our most basic bodily needs…can become a way of honoring God when we do it with love of God.

3. Welcome the things that scare you or make you question yourself or your place in the world as gifts from God, and reject anything that separates you from God’s love (most notably, willful sin).

5. Remind yourself that other people are not what they seem: those who claim to be “religious” are often not; just as those who claim to be “secure” about their relationship with God and the course of their lives, are often not; so don’t compare yourself with anybody else, and instead learn to look within yourself to see how God is drawing your unique self to Love, which is really why you are alive in the first place.

6. When you feel most unworthy, poor, lowly or unable to give the world anything of value, that is when God is most ready to use you, just as God used Mary the mother of Jesus. God says to you this, in the words of Mechthild: “The highest mountains on earth cannot receive the revelations of my favors because the course of my Holy Spirit flows by nature downhill”.

7. Meditate on how God is using even your insecurities to bear something beautiful and “holy” (or “set apart”) within you, in the same way that Mary, the mother of Jesus, bore God’s very Self within her when she was most vulnerable and felt most unworthy.”

“A fish cannot drown in water,
A bird does not fall in air.
In the fire of creation,
God doesn’t vanish:
The fire brightens.
Each creature God made
must live in its own true nature;
How could I resist my nature,
That lives for oneness with God?”

“Humanity is forever united to God.”

“You have written me in the book of your Godhead, You have fashioned me in Your own image.”

“God is all in all. God’s eternal love dwells in the soul.”

“God has given all creatures the desire to seek and foster their own nature.”

“I rejoice that I love the One Who loves me, and I pray that I may love Him without measure and without ceasing.”

“Love rules over all.”

“God does not deny Himself to anyone.”

“O God! You are so generous in pouring out Your gifts! You are so flowing in Your love!”

“There is nothing so wise, nor so holy, nor so beautiful, nor so strong, nor so perfect as love.”

“O Lord, if it could ever happen to me that I might gaze upon you as my heart desires and hold you in my arms, then the divine pleasures of your love would needs permeate my soul to the degree possible for people on earth. What I would be willing to suffer thereafter has never been seen by human eyes. Indeed, a thousand deaths were too little. Such, Lord, is my painful longing for you!”

“I delight in loving him who loves me, and I long to love him to the death, boundlessly, and without ceasing. Be happy, my soul, for your Life has died for love of you. Love him so fiercely that you could die for him. Thus you burn ever more without ever being extinguished as a living flame in the vast fire of high majesty.”


About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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2 Responses to Mechthild of Magdeburg

  1. Mike Fitzpatrick says:

    A mighty girl!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Multiple Worlds and Wonders of India | Anna Citrino—Poetry, Place, Pilgrimage

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