MARY OF AGREDA
Extrasensory perception opens a door.
Mary of Agreda was a seventeenth century Spanish nun known to the Native Americans of the West and Southwest as "the Lady in Blue." Her life was an extraordinary, if little known, chapter in American history. In 1620, as the Pilgrims were landing at Plymouth Rock, Mary was embarking on an eleven-year period of her life when she would make some five hundred "journeys" between her convent in Spain and the tribal homelands of a peace-loving people whose way of life would soon and forever be disrupted as conquistadors and settlers moved westward. Mary and the "gentle-mannered" peoples she visited had more in common than might be surmised. For one thing, both lived in a world that extended beyond their five senses—an "omniverse"—in which spirit and nature were an integral whole.
As shall become apparent, the Agreda story asks many questions:
How did Mary, without ever leaving Spain, manage to cross an ocean and a continent?
What motivated her to do so?
What were the circumstances out of which her remarkable spiritual and psychical abilities developed?
How did her paranormal means of travel and communication come to light?
What persuaded her inquisitors that the accounts of her "flights" to the New World were true?
The chapters that follow seek answers to these and other questions for what her life can reveal about the paranormal powers with which all persons, although to varying degrees, are innately endowed.
This beautiful nun, who wore the blue cape of the Poor Clares, was one of the most highly developed mystics and psychics of all times. Her reputation as a mystic has been well established by authorities on this subject in whose judgment she "reached the summit of perfection in the progress of the soul," and who acclaimed her "one of the great mystics in an age known as the golden age of mysticism." Her psychic gifts, however, because they were so far beyond the ordinary and could not be explained, have been largely ignored. But since these gifts, extraordinary as they may have been, were not unique to her, they can be compared with the documented experiences of other, better known psychically-gifted persons.
Why, though, has so little been written about her life?
Had we lived in Continental Europe during the seventeenth century her name would have been familiar. She was, after all, advisor and confident to King Philip IV of Spain for twenty-two years. She was also a prolific writer, whose four-volume The Mystical City of God would become one of the most widely read and highly proclaimed books of the seventeenth century. Moreover, its popularity would live well into the next century and be the only book, in addition to his breviary, Father Junípero Serra would bring to the New World from Spain where he had been a university professor. Serra, in fact, credited Agreda’s writings with leading him to the American West where he would be remembered as the founder of the California Missions.
As for Agreda, why is the obscurity around her paranormal activity on American soil only now lifting? The most obvious answer is that none of her writings, or those about her, were translated into English until the twentieth century, even though her New World activities had been thoroughly investigated, documented and published in Spain as early as the 1630’s. Interestingly, the investigations into her paranormal travels were not initiated in Spain, but at the insistence of the Native Americans themselves who claimed a beautiful white woman wearing a blue cape came down from the sky and spoke to them in their own language. She then, they insisted, disappeared back into the clouds. Nor did this happen just once but over and over again.
The discovery of her identity is a fascinating story in itself. During the years of her appearances, members of one tribe presented themselves at a Franciscan mission near Albuquerque and asked that priests return with them to their tribal lands some three hundred miles away. They tried to explain to the padres that the one known to them as "the Lady in Blue" had instructed them to come and make the request. And perhaps they could have made themselves understood had there not been a credibility gap as well as a language barrier. In any event, the tribal emissaries returned with the same request for six consecutive summers, until finally, the story came to the attention of Alonso Benavides, custodian of the North American Franciscan missions. From the tribal people’s description he recognized the blue cape as that of a Franciscan nun. On this basis he determined to return to Spain in order to seek out the woman held in such high regard by the native peoples of his own mission field. Following the clue of her habit, he discovered the mysterious "Lady in Blue" to be none other than Sister Mary Jesus of Agreda, abbess of the Poor Clare convent there.
For two entire weeks Benavides carried on his interrogation. In the end he was convinced the accounts were true. What convinced him, he explained, was that Mary, under her vow of obedience, knew more about his mission territory than he himself did! He concluded that she must have traveled there bodily. Mary, however, said she couldn’t answer with certainty as to whether her visits were in the body or out of the body. "God knows," she replied and quoted St. Paul who wrote of a similar experience.
Benavides, in his "Memorials," tells of Agreda’s work among the Native Americans. These documents are among the most priceless pieces of Americana in existence, yet they were not available in English until 1945. In his "Revised Memorial of 1634" he describes Agreda’s appearance, her clothing, her character, and the details she was able to give him about the territory over which he was mission custodian. This document was widely circulated in Spain and on the Continent and may explain, at least in part, why King Philip IV sought out Mary as his adviser and confident in matters both spiritual and political. The king once wrote that "Except for Sor María’s counsel, the unity of Spain could never have been preserved." Sadly her advice concerning treatment of those native to the lands being explored was not followed. It should be noted, however, that in a Native American revolt against the Spaniards in 1680, the Jumanos, whom Mary had visited on numerous occasions, did not participate.
In the mid twentieth century, when the Agreda story did begin to appear in English, it was met with cool reception by a scientism that by then had taken the place of religion, and a skepticism that had usurped faith in all except what could be rationally explained. Fortunately, this attitude began to change as the scientific method itself came under scrutiny, and the climate towards spirituality—if not religion—ever so slowly began to warm. With the awakening of a new physics and a new biology to the interdependency—even the interpenetration—of the visible and invisible worlds of matter and spirit, Agreda’s life now can be viewed for what it has to reveal about the circumstances under which "the paranormal is normal."
To appreciate what attracted the young nun to the peoples of the American Southwest, her life needs to be observed within the context of her natural spiritual affinity. In doing so, her relevance to our changing assumptions about the nature of reality will become apparent.
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Mary was a Franciscan—but not because of the habit she wore or the rule by which she lived. Rather she was a true daughter of the "most seraphic Father Francis," as she wrote in the dedication of her Mystical City of God. In spiritual lineage both she and Francis were mystics of a particular bent—a mysticism that knew the spiritual and natural worlds as forming a unitive whole. Particularly apropos of Agreda were the words of Lyall Watson in Gifts of Unknown Things:
It is only through earth awareness that we can reach higher levels of consciousness. You have to be grounded before you can fly.
Celtic monasticism was another, earlier branch of this same nature-grounded spiritual lineage, and to which the latter-day Transcendentalists of England and America also belonged, as did Agreda’s Native Americans. Theirs was a nature mysticism that knew God not as but through creation, a creation animated and united by the one all-embracing, all-encompassing Great Spirit.
Agreda and those native to the Southwest, though born cultural worlds apart—one tribal, the other ecclesiastical—appeared to have shared the same unitive field of consciousness that made telepathy and even teleportation between them possible. In spite of their kinship, Mary had been religiously conditioned to believe that all souls needed to be "saved" by being christianized. Yet the openness with which she was accepted, and the fact that her memory was perpetuated in their legends, suggests that what passed between them was not an imposed indoctrination but the revelation of a higher spiritual awareness to which both were attuned. Moreover, if Agreda was indeed as high a mystic as acclaimed, then perhaps she was also one of those rare instruments through whom the divine was able to reach directly into the hearts and souls of others in order to call them to a greater awareness of themselves as eternal, spiritual beings.
For those living within a tribal society the call of Spirit might be to come out of a strictly collective identity and move into a greater awareness of themselves as individually significant spiritual beings. Whether this is called "salvation," "transformation," or "evolution," whether we live in a "primitive" or "civilized" society, the need is the same—to transcend whatever racial, cultural, social, or religiously-held identifications condition and limit persons’ perceptions of themselves as created for and called into relationship with the divine, with the One called by some God and by others "the Great Spirit."
As the ways of Spirit are known to be both mysterious and omniscient, perhaps her appearances were for a purpose similar to that of the angels in Gethsemane—to lend comfort and strength for what lie ahead. For North American tribal peoples, already in motion were the wheels that would lead to the loss of so many of their lives as well as the extinction of their culture and its knowledge of the greater reality in which all live. And although Mary couldn’t hold back the tide of events, she could offer what she knew to be a source of strength for the soul in time of trouble.
Because of the times and circumstances of her birth, Mary’s fervor to serve God was directed towards a particular people who were not only receptive to God’s grace through her, but who were the means through which her own life was enriched, and whose gift to her was a wealth of memories she would carry with her to her own mystical heights.