MARY OF AGREDA
THE PARANORMAL WORLD IS NORMAL
By wonder are we saved.
The extraordinary woman who would come to be known as "the Lady in Blue" was born María Coronel, on April 2, 1602, in the little town of Agreda in northern Spain. Her initial years lend credibility to the findings of early childhood researchers who hold that the "paranormally gifted" child is normal. Her parents, however, from the time she was two years old, did not consider her at all normal. They, in fact, found her bewilderingly different from other children in both her mental acuity and her extreme shyness. Among young children with gifts similar to Mary’s, often as they grow older their unusual aptitudes become less apparent. But the remarkable thing about Mary was that as she matured her extrasensory means of acquiring knowledge continued to develop, and to such a degree as to be disbelieved.
Only in recent years, as physics and psychology have found common ground, has there been a basis for understanding the paranormal as an expansion of human consciousness. Until now, Agreda’s experiences have been dismissed as "contrary to reason," and therefore as not having happened. Or where accepted, they have been written off as "supernatural," "miraculous," and sometimes as "demonic," but in any case as beyond explanation. As a result, the relevance of her life to the study of extrasensory or paranormal phenomena has not been given the serious consideration it has deserved.
Times, however, are changing. A new world view—a new concept of the nature of reality—is turning the conceptual universe inside out. Attention is now towards the infinitesimal, with one result being the mapping of the microscopic encoding underlying the manifest world. On this leading edge of the natural sciences, the division between spirit and matter, energy and form, realms visible and invisible is being re-conceptualized, with the two now seen as interpenetrating and even as occupying the same space.
As the "real world" is redefined, the Agreda story at last begins to make sense!
Over the last century psychology as well has made significant progress in mapping the inner worlds, levels, or dimensions of human consciousness. This also has made Agreda’s story remarkably timely.
In this chapter, the child Mary’s earliest years come under scrutiny for the insight they offer into how paranormal faculties develop in a child, or conversely, how these same talents can be lost through lack of encouragement, misunderstanding, and even ridicule.
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Mary’s parents belonged to the Spanish nobility. Her father, Francis Coronel, owned the largest castle in the province. Her mother, Catherine of Arana, who had borne eleven children (seven of whom died in infancy), confided to her friend, Joseph Ximenez y Samaniego, that she felt her daughter had been born with a "special blessing." She explained to Father Samaniego, who would write both her biography and Mary’s, that the birth of this child had been different from the rest in that she had experienced no pain during labor or delivery.1
Then on April 11th, when the infant was baptized "María" in the little church in Agreda, Catherine experienced what she described as an "extraordinary joy and consolation" as her daughter was dedicated to the service of God.
When Mary was two years old her mother was astonished by what she observed to be the child’s ability "to reason." And by the time she was four her phenomenal memory had become apparent. As her story unfolds, this particular early indication will help explain one of the most remarkable feats of her later life.
Also around the time Mary was four, her parents were confronted with an aspect of her personality they found both baffling and disturbing. She spoke of entertaining "visitors" and of hearing "voices"—neither of which were apparent to her parents. And even though Mary tried to explain that the voices came from God, her parents refused to believe her. As a result the child felt rejected, and so spoke no more of her visitations. She instead became secretive and retreated whenever she could to a remote corner of the castle. There, at least, she could be with her "friends." It was around this time her parents began to speak of her as "difficult," and that Catherine expressed her disappointment that her daughter showed no interest in the social activities of the castle.
Because of her parents’ failure to understand the expanded world in which she lived, by the time Mary was six she had come to feel utterly rejected by both her mother and her father. To compensate she took further consolation in the "friends" of her inner world, and retreated even further from the outer life of the castle. As one misunderstanding led to another, Catherine concluded she had been too lenient with her precocious daughter and, after conferring with her husband, decided to put Mary under strict discipline. The child, however, interpreted her parents’ harshness as their lack of love for her. This so troubled her that she became ill. Around this time Catherine confided to an intimate friend that she was coming to think of her daughter as "a burden."
From Father Samaniego we learn that Mary’s early loneliness would remain with her throughout her childhood and up to the first year of her novitiate as a Poor Clare nun in the Order of Saint Francis.
Mary’s plight could have been even worse had the kindly priest, who was Mary’s friend as well as her mother’s, not persuaded Catherine to spend more time with her daughter and to act as the young girl’s tutor. He further affirmed Mary in her mother’s eyes by saying that from her birth he had considered the child to be a saint.2
Thus Catherine came to set aside her own expectations for her daughter, and began to accept Mary’s interests in spiritual matters. As a result, she invited Mary to accompany her to church. When Mary showed so keen a delight in this practice, Father Samaniego next encouraged Catherine to permit Mary to have her own oratory in a remote section of the castle. And so, away from the social interactions of the castle, this oratory of her own became for Mary the laboratory of her developing spirituality.
Father Samaniego reported that it was apparent to him, even at this early age, that Mary had another trait which spiritually-gifted children often display—a sense of generosity towards others. In Mary this was expressed through her habit of secretly leaving for the castle servants the choicest bits of food on her plate. She was, in fact, so loving by nature that the villagers who worked about the castle grounds were recorded as having said that when she walked out-of-doors she left a trail of fragrance behind her. Later, this same concern for others whom she considered less fortunate would reappear as her desire to "save souls."
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Like all children of her day and religious upbringing, Mary was taught about the torments of hell. It grieved her to think that the souls of a faraway people would be lost because of their lack of opportunity to hear the Gospel. Mary’s two brothers, who were studying in the nearby Franciscan monastery, had fired her imagination with stories of the exciting missionary activities taking place in New Spain. Mary longed to have a part in so great an endeavor, regardless of the fact that she was a girl born in a era when women didn’t go to such places. She would gladly, she said, volunteer her own life if as much as one soul could be saved. So fervent a desire planted in one so young would take root in her very being. To comprehend this is to understand how twelve years later she would—in consciousness if not in body—cross thousands of miles of sea and land in order to minister to countless Native Americans whose descendants, to this day, revere her memory as their "Lady in Blue."
In the judgment of the late psychiatrist and psychic researcher, Dr. Nandor Fodor,3 it was the intensity of Mary’s desire that was the operative factor of her "historic flights" to the American Southwest.
Naturally strong-willed, by the time Mary was eight years old she had made up her mind to become a nun. Her parents, however, felt that she should wait until she was older. Although wait she did, she never faltered from her goal. In fact, by the time she was twelve she had became so eager to enter a convent that her parents finally agreed to place her with the Sisters of Teresa in the Convent of St. Anne in nearby Tarrazona. It was around this time that the practical-minded Catherine experienced what her daughter had many times before—a vision. The message the mother received would change the lives of the entire Coronel family, the little town of Agreda, and even effect the lives of the peoples of New Spain, all of which will be considered. But first there are several conclusions to be drawn as to how paranormal gifts can be recognized in young children, and how they can be developed rather than stifled.
From the experiences of the child María, it would seem that children who are labeled "different" tend to withdraw from those who unthinkingly belittle their paranormal experiences or attribute them to "wild imaginings." Wiser are those who realize that a child may be more closely connected to the surrounding world than are most adults, and who remain open to the possibility that some children really may be in communication with non-ordinary levels of reality.
G. N. M. Tyrell was a physicist, a mathematician, and an expert in wireless telegraphy who had studied under Marconi. At the time of his death in 1954, he was president of the Society for Psychic Research in London. After studying paranormal phenomena for thirty years, he came to the conclusion that the faculty labeled paranormal was not something in and of itself but an integral part of the human personality.4 He also understood the tendency to disbelieve the paranormal as an instinctive desire for life to be familiar, and for the world to be limited to clear-cut issues. He saw this as the mind’s defense, and as its rationale for dismissing as "rubbish" evidence for anything varying from what was revealed through the five senses. To thus limit reality kept life from becoming overly complex. It fulfilled the need for certainty. It protected the solid ground of the mind’s rational, physical world. To contemplate knowable reality as anything more would be mentally unsettling. It could even be emotionally destabilizing, and to the degree that a person’s sense of security was anchored to the "certainties" of the sensorial world.
Young children, however, have not heard of the scientific method and its requirement that the data of experience must be limited to the five senses. Initially, all they experience—sensory and extrasensory—is accepted. And they tend to continue to do so until they meet with criticism or feel ostracized when they speak of their experiences in other than ordinary, everyday reality. Thus the shutdown begins. If adults succeed in persuading them to reject what they have experienced, then their openness to other dimensions of consciousness may close entirely. But even in the event they don’t come to disbelieve their experiences, they may decide these are best forgotten. In this case their gifts may be lost through disuse. In other words, paranormal gifts can be lost if not used. This might also explain why tribal peoples have greater psychic powers than the so-called civilized. Who, after all, needs telepathy when telephones are at hand? And with travel by jet available to the farthest reaches of the globe, what missionary of today would need to resort to Mary’s non-mechanical means of travel?
By noting what goes on when very young children are at play, their interactions with unseen worlds can be observed. My oldest grandchild, until he was four, had several playmates similar to Mary’s "visitors," and another grandchild had an "old friend with long arms and short legs" who visited him repeatedly. He found it puzzling that his mother could never see the "old man." Parents, then, are wise in encouraging their children to talk about such experiences, and in taking seriously what children are willing to share about their supranormal encounters.
Science has been slow in coming to recognize the human faculty for extrasensory perception as a universal and therefore normal function of consciousness. Rather than focusing on the miraculous or supernatural, greater effort now needs to be directed towards discovering the natural laws at work in extrasensory and paranormal ways of knowing. Favorable for this is the new paradigm in which the visible world is recognized as a limited, even infinitesimal, part of a greater reality—one sometimes apparent to children during those years when their multidimensional awareness is still open.
It should, however, be noted that even if paranormal powers are an extension of ordinary consciousness they can be used for evil as well as for good. But when operating through divinely-attuned channels, as in Mary’s case, they can accomplish astonishing results.
It was Dr. J. B. Rhine who discovered that spiritually-focused persons tended to be more psychic than others. And according to Arthur Ford, coauthor with Marguerite Bro of Nothing So Strange5, when groups gathered regularly for the purpose of prayer, it was not unusual for several members to discover within themselves "gifts" they hadn’t know they had. Nonetheless, it would be misleading to equate spirituality with the paranormal, or to limit a saint to someone who performed miracles. In the past this tendency has hindered research directed towards understanding paranormal faculties as integral to human personality. But even though psychic and spiritual development are not synonymous, the two often do overlap, most certainly they did in the life of Agreda whose goal, from the time she was a child, was to seek God’s will for her life in selfless service to others. And through her seeking to love with all of her heart, mind, soul and body, she would come to be what Jesuit scholar Herbert Thurston described as "one of the most surprising mystics of all times."6
Father Samaniego’s sensible attitude of accepting her childhood gifts as a part of God’s grace and for God’s glory was and still is the wisest of courses to follow. It was to Mary’s benefit that the priest advised her parents to accept her talents even though they didn’t understand them. Unfortunately, not all the religious advisers of her day were so wise. If she was misunderstood as a child, she was even more misunderstood as an adolescent, and even persecuted as an adult when she was ordered by her superior to burn all of her writings, including the diary of her missionary work in America. Later, in her four-volume work, The Mystical City of God, she would write about her earlier disappointments:
I should not be astonished to hear myself condemned as audacious. This condemnation will be more than justified in these our present times . . . when even prudent and wise persons are disturbed and even troubled at the least mention of a higher life . . . looking upon visions and revelations as most suspicious and dangerous paths for the pursuit of Christian perfection.7
Samaniego wrote that Mary received undeserved reproach for her spiritual aptitude, and that she was even accused of being "insensible." Yet the same criticism was leveled at the late Padre Pio whose piety won for his section of southern Italy a seven million dollar Home for the Relief of Suffering, built on the mountain side next to the Capuchin Monastery where the friar had lived and served as priest from 1917 until his death in 1968.
This much-revered and saintly man, as a boy named Francisco, had a teacher who also mistook his interest in spiritual things for stupidity, and who concluded he should give up schooling and go to work in the fields. Like the saintly Mary, Padre Pio also knew when he was eight that he wanted to become a monk. Fortunately, his father believed in him and migrated to America to work as a day laborer to pay for the boy’s education. Instead of accepting the teacher’s judgment of his son, he put the child in the hands of a competent and understanding instructor, and one of the twentieth century’s spiritual giants was spared for service to humanity.8
Gratitude also is due Mary’s understanding priest and biographer who helped preserve abundant details of her spiritual progress, and who encouraged her to write down her experiences as well as to give a full account of her life. Some day the world will be able to read these testimonials with better comprehension than is possible with our present, limited knowledge of the soul’s wider world.
Assuredly with Agreda, the explanation of what she was able to do lies clearly in her willingness to allow her life to unfold from within out. And it is to this progression we next turn.