UNITED KINGDOM — Over the past month, there have been a number of memorial celebrations dedicated to Olivia Melian Robertson, one of British and Irish Paganism’s most enduring figures and the head of the long-standing Fellowship of Isis (FOI). Olivia was often seen around and about in London and Glastonbury, as well as in her native Ireland and the US. The recent celebrations were held around the world in British, Irish, German and American locations.Born April 13, 1917 in Reigate, Surrey, Olivia and her clergyman brother Lawrence moved to the 400 year old Huntington Castle, also known as Clonegal Castle, in Ireland when her father inherited it from a relative.
“The IRA had occupied the castle, and treated it very well,” Olivia recalled, “although they locked the cook in the dungeon, and court-martialled the butler.”
Olivia’s childhood was spent at the castle where her family entertained a number of early 20th century luminaries, including Robert Graves and W B Yeats. Perhaps inspired by this early exposure to the Celtic Twilight, Olivia herself experienced a number of visions, including that of the goddess Isis, who she described as “a cross between a queen, a ballet dancer and a gym mistress.”
“We had a long conversation, but afterwards I couldn’t remember any of it.”
Both Olivia and her brother became convinced that the goddess was a power in the world. This was somewhat embarrassing for a member of the clergy. Lawrence eventually offered his resignation to the bishop, but was told there was ‘no need.’
Over the years that followed, Olivia and her brother turned the castle cellars into a series of temples and shrines.
In 1976, Olivia, Lawrence, and his wife Pamela set up the Fellowship of Isis, designed to worship ‘Isis of the 10,000 names.’ Huntington Castle remained its base, horrifying the local villagers who did not take kindly to Olivia’s rituals for a variety of reasons. One witness said that they are “the kind of thing you sit through at weddings when couples insist on writing their own vows.”
Wisely, Olivia left the castle door open so that people could come and see for themselves, and the villagers were mollified when a series of celebrities – including Van Morrison, Hugh Grant, and Mick Jagger – showed up to have a look. Brigitte Bardot’s sister contributed two stuffed canvas dragons.
The Fellowship was modest in its requirements from participants. Dispensing with dogma, it suggested only that members believe in love and beauty. Nor did it insist that anyone should abandon their own religious practices. The result was a growing organization with a presence in a number of different countries.
Olivia was not only a priestess, but a writer and artist. She had her first exhibition of paintings at the age of 21. Over her life, she published 6 books. Her first novel was based on her experiences working with the poor in Dublin’s tenements. when she acted as a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) nurse during the war.
She died on November 14, 2013, leaving a legacy that has not been forgotten as evidence by the recent celebrations.
We asked participant and celebrant Caroline Wise about the Centenary itself and she reported that a series of events were hosted by Olivia’s friends around the world and led by those who had been her hosts on her annual travels.
The first of these gatherings took place in Long Beach, California Saturday, March 18. Linda Iles and Anniitra Ravenmoon hosted a day-long celebration, and members from a dozen FOI centers, from both in and outside the state of California, were on hand to honor Olivia’s hundredth birthday.
The event culminated in a presentation whereby Linda Iles demonstrated the dazzling effect of two mirrors reflecting a candle flame off one another. This was Olivia’s ‘Mirror Magic’ – something that she and her brother Lawrence used in their own temple.
Prior to April, the Fellowship of Isis Central website suggested 13 meditations and offerings for members around the world to enact rituals and memorials in solo or in their own autonomous groups from April 1 – 13, leading up to her birthday April 13.
Another pre-birthday gathering was held April 8 in Glastonbury. This one-day conference honored Olivia in an Egyptian-themed room, featuring reminiscences from those who had known her. She was a frequent visitor to Glastonbury, and often attended the annual Goddess Conference in the town.
On the evening of the actual birthday, Olivia’s London friends gathered with members of the FOI, as well as some of her family members, in the Wheatsheaf pub. During that time, they watched a slide presentation of her life story, and listened to lively stories from the floor. John Crow spoke with affection of Olivia’s appreciation of the work at The Cross Bone Cemetery Gates in London. Goddess author Jocelyn Chaplin spoke of Olivia’s sense of equality, her refusal to have hierarchy in her Fellowship, and how she saw each person as important as the next.
The London event ended with singer Julie Felix giving a touching rendition of Yeats’ The Song of Wandering Aengus plus Happy Birthday. Carrie Kirk Patrick, aided by Olivia’s great nephew Storm, showed a video that she had once made of Olivia, so participants could hear her voice in the room.
Olivia’s great niece Sarah messaged to say she was at Olivia’s home in Ireland and was lighting a candle for her, thus linking up the across the sea in memory.
FOI Members and centres around the world, including Germany, and in the US, Chicago, New Orleans, and Florida did hold their own celebrations honoring Olivia, a Pagan Priestess and unique visionary.