An Interview with Olivia Robertson, FOI co-founder and ArchPriestess
by Steve Wilson, AU, H., ArchDr., GKC
Since its foundation, the Fellowship of Isis has grown to over 11,000 members. Membership is free, and open to all who seek communion with the Goddess. Many members of the FOI are affiliated to other groups, such as The Craft, or the Church of Isis in Nigeria (which accounts for one-third of the membership). The FOI is a multi-faith, multi-cultural federation. Members work in Iseums & Lyceums, where the liturgy is performed and training given to those who wish to be ordained into the priesthood. For a copy of the Manifesto and membership details, send an International Reply Coupon & SAE to Clonegal Castle, Enniscorthy, Eire. (*)
SW: How did you become involved in matters psychic & mystical?
Olivia: It’s in my family blood, I think. My cousin Robert Graves wrote the book 'The White Goddess' and my mother said that the Graves family went in for things which she regarded as very strange. My family were friends of W.B Yeats. I remember once they were going to a séance at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Yeats, and that I had tea there. I try to remember what W.B Yeats said, but all I remember is having Chocolate Cake!
My father designed Yeats’ tombstone, which carried the inscription:
‘Cast a cold eye On life, On death Horseman, pass by!’
Later, my mother met Mrs. Yeats and asked her if she liked the tombstone, and she said "Yes, and Willie’s delighted too!"
SW: What were your first magical experiences?
Olivia: I had curious dreams. I didn’t think of them as being psychic, but I knew when things were going to happen, such as when people were going to die. My brother and I had what we called ‘extensions’ - that is, in this ancient castle I dreamt that you could go through a magical doorway and down long passages into another world. I use this now in our trance rituals.
With regards to the mystical side of life, I more and more became aware that this world is an illusion, compared with the real world which I experienced in waves, like a space between seconds. I want to emphasize a big mistake some people make when they have this experience. They think that they can do anything here, as it is all an illusion. But it’s an illusion to test us. It gives us choice. It’s teaching you through experience, and therefore the choice between good and evil, laziness and activity, intelligence and stupidity - all this is provided for by a trick story. In other words, the Great Mysteries of the Passion, which are very much like those of Isis and Osiris, are put on for us by an unseen but ever-present family of spiritual beings who are organising our life whereby we have a maximum of choice. I think sin is making a wrong choice - you lose the capacity to exercise choice. Take smoking - first you smoke because you wish to, then, because you have to! It’s the same with drink, excessive sex, or even the habit of being a serial murderer! My brother and I believe free will is something you have to strengthen. One usually makes one mistake a day so perhaps one should do one act of will a day -even getting up in the morning!
I realised this world is a delusion put on for us as a mystery play, which is why I write so many mystery dramas, so that the participants can act the parts of deities.
SW: When did you first come across the Goddess?
Olivia: It was fairly late in life when I had actual total experience - I was about 29. I described it in my book, 'The Call of Isis'. I saw this lady made of crystallised white light. I know a lot of people don’t believe in UFOs, but she seemed to come in this great spaceship, and there appeared to be an intermediary craft which brought her here. It’s a touch embarrassing talking about these things! I associated her with the Moon. The things which struck me were that we could communicate telepathically, yet I can’t remember a word she said. Her clothes were hyper-modem, too. Different strips of material ran into each other, with no stitching - an amazing dress of mauve and pale green. Her neat black hair was drawn up into a lace scarf. I have always worn my scarves like it since. People often comment on this distinctive style - but I’m copying her spiritual headgear! She had the beauty of an athlete, the elegance of a dancer, but she was also a Queen.
I think these beings evolve through the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Possibly they begin as Elemental Spirits, on a parallel evolution to us. Possibly most beings, including those seen in UFO cases, never get lower than the Etheric realm, which is the higher part of the Physical realm. The Higher Physical seems to be the place of apports and etheric doubles. It’s not Astral, it’s here, but like the sound of a bat we’re not normally aware of it.
SW: When did you first get involved with organising groups?
Olivia: First my own experiences were enough, then I went through a period of reading - I read every book going - Indian Religion, Theosophy, Gurdjieff - and then I began to get spiritual guidance and was told that I could stop reading. My brother and I were evolving in the same way, but separately - he was a clergyman, and was with his wife, who was very psychic. We were concerned with social welfare. In 1963 we got together and started the Clonegal Castle Centre for Meditation and Study. We just had a few heads of Orders come and stay, and shared ideas. From 1964 I became involved with very deep occult work, studied at the College of Psychic Studies, and did a Spiritualist course at the SAGB, which I loved. I joined with everyone - the Druids, the Alice Bailey people, and the Steiner people who were splendid. I enjoyed all of them and thought that it would go on forever.
Then things began to develop. In 1973, my brother and I became aware of the imbalance in the world. Everybody was beginning to wake up to that. I still went to Church and accepted Christianity as part of the package of world religions. Suddenly I realised the missing factor was the total ignorance of, and deliberate attack on the religion of God the Mother. My brother came to this conclusion first - he’s much more of a lighter than me. I tend to see other people’s point of view, but his determination enabled us to found the Fellowship of Isis at the Vernal Equinox, 1976. It began as my brother, his wife and myself, and the aim was to draw together people who sought communion with the Goddess and the spread of knowledge of her. We thought we’d have about 12 people - we got one lady who wrote asking to be ordained as a Priestess, so we thought we’d have one Priestess! We went to our little town of Bunclody and had our manifesto printed very badly! To our amazement people like Geoffrey Ash and Maxine Sanders joined, and people have gone on joining. The Time has come!
SW: How did people get to hear about the Fellowship?
Olivia: By advertisements in Prediction and other magazines, and by Networking. People just seemed to hear about us, and now we have over 11,300 members in 72 countries, from Africa to Siberia and Estonia.
SW: How did you come to create the beautiful and potent ceremonies which have become the Liturgy of the Fellowship?
Olivia: They were inspired. I was quite a well-known author published by people like Johnathan Cape and Random House, but I never wrote anything which was inspired. Then, through spiritual experience I began to be guided, and received a flow of inspiration. So I sit down and tune in. I do seek the jewels in great religious writings. I’m happy to say that I’ve had a wide education so I know the jewels for instance, in the Bhagavidad Gita. I’m still a school mistressy type so I want to make those jewels known to everybody - you know, Plato’s Cave, the Ages of Brahma, the Incarnations of Vishnu, African religions, the Descent of Ishtar - I use a lot of AE, but usually it’s something old like Ovid or Hesiod.
To me, it’s like a gold mine and I use these sources with the myths of the planets. I have a temple where I let the deities know what I want to do, and then sleep on it, and then wake up knowing how to. I never write anything that isn’t inspired. I get up at 5.30am, have a bath like the Hindus do, then meditate in the temple.
SW: How did your Environmental Noble Order of Tara come about?
Olivia: The Noble Order of Tara manifested because I was so flaming mad that our sacred mountain, Mt. Leinster, was threatened with open-cast mining - desecration. It’s a pre-diluvian mountain. It was Beltaine, and we needed a sword to inaugurate the Order, but in the past I’d been a pacifist, so all our swords had been put away. Looking through outhouses with the aid of a torch, I found one, but on pulling it out of the scabbard, found that the blade had rusted away. Finally, I found one which could be drawn - Swish! – a huge sword with the crown of Queen Victoria and the star of the Archangel Michael. I also received the initiation ceremony for the Order in a curious way - while lying in bed, a white light came through the top of my head - it was like being struck by lightning. That was in 1989.
The aim of the Order is to save the Earth from pollution and destruction through entirely non-violent means -to use the sword or spear of spirit. We’re more discriminating with Tara than the F.O.I, where we accept anyone who accepts our manifesto. In Tara we expect people to really work for the environment. They have to be prepared to clean up beaches, or campaign, for example, to save Oxleas Wood. Members of the Order are all active in Italy, Wales, Eire, Scotland, the USA, and England.
SW: What inspired the Order of Dana, your Druid Order?
Olivia: On a more personal level I felt rather embarrassed bringing it through. I had performed 'Danaen' workings with Ross Nichols (founder of the Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids), but I wasn’t interested in Druidry. I thought it was very Patriarchal. What I did know about it I wasn’t attracted to. My mother had told me that Irish Druids were older and generally better!
I felt the need to develop the 'Sidhe' gifts of telepathy and clairvoyance. It’s very tiring working for the environment and I was afraid I was losing my psychic gifts with all the work organising the F.O.I as well as Tara. I realised that the Gifts of Tara would be more Ying - more receptive. Dana was Yang - active. I felt guided by my original vision of Dana.
I looked back through my life and realised that my brother and I had been initiated into a pre-druidic religion by a hermit who lived by the River Slaney, called Daniel Fox. He initiated me as a little girl. We used to go there in a donkey cart from 10 to 15. He had complete vision and recall, and showed me the pre-Celtic little dark people who rose and drank from the water of the well, bathe in the Slaney and assemble round the altar stone. There was a wonderful place called the 'Faerie’s Seat', with the water rushing around it, and the 'Bee’s Rock', an enormous stone with a natural cross on it. Across the river was east, and the fairies would wait for the sun to rise. They didn’t worship the sun, but the power behind the sun - the source. I used to paint pictures of all this when I was 16, but one’s childhood is rather private. I didn’t like to share it with others. But the time had come for the Goddess aspect of Druidry to be manifested. I then discovered that my name meant ‘Olave’ - a Druid bard. I had thought it was from the olive tree! My second name, Melian, is a Welsh Celtic name, only used by my family. It means ‘Nymph of the Ash Tree’. I was 'given' a ritual, following what we had been taught by Mr. Fox. We had a well within our temple, and a ruined abbey which we used for 'Danaen' work! We had our sacred megalith, and a healing stone.
SW: How do you see the Occult, Pagan & Goddess ‘scene’ in general around the world? A lot of people on different paths are in the F.O.I.
Olivia: We believe that as the Goddess is whole, so must we be whole. We can’t divide up. I see it in Ireland, Catholics and Protestants killing each other. We believe in working for the good in all people. We don’t believe in fighting over theology. The Goddess is in all people, as she is the mother of all. Our Nigerian members have more than one wife - we believe in following conscience. We welcome people.
SW: Tell us about the Convention?
Olivia: The Fellowship of Isis World Conventions are for people to meet each other from all over the world. London is very much a focal place, and most people want to go there. It’s the Occult Capital of the world now, and it’s lovely for people of other races to come. The day is full of presentations and talks from F.O.I members. The night before, we have a lovely party for members and non-members, and they have a happy convention which is with them forever, in Eternal Reality and the real Earth.
SW: You are a great believer in equality between people in groups, aren’t you?
Olivia: Yes I am. There are beings more advanced than others, older souls, more spiritual or nicer; those who sit at the back. My brother and I have never claimed to be ‘heads’ of the F.O.I - we’re just the founders. Titles must say what you do - a secretary, or a priestess is just a definition of work undertaken. The title does not suggest that you are superior to anyone else. The equality extends to all. We have the animal family of Isis and the children of Isis. We can learn from them, too.
I was talking to some visitors once when my nephew came in, absolutely delighted. He said "Is it true about your new English member Wilfred the rat?" His wife said an English lady had rung up terribly upset in case Wilfred couldn’t be accepted because he was a rat. Of course he was accepted. David wanted to go and meet Wilfred! So you see we are all equal, aren’t we?
SW: What future do you see for the F.O.I, and the Orders of Dana and Tara?
Olivia: As we enter the new aeon, whatever alarms and excursions we have, the Golden Age is returning, and it’s coming through telepathically. You couldn’t torture someone if you felt their pain yourself. You couldn’t eat an animal if you saw and felt how it died. So I think that there is an over-sensitizing of the human race. Pagans live healthier lives, usually vegetarian. We will be able to choose more and know when we are going to the Spirit World.
SW: Olivia Durdin-Robertson, thank you very much.
Of his work since the time of this interview, Steve writes: “My own path has become more public than privately spiritual - I now sit on local government committees representing our local Statutory Advisory Committee on Religious Education, where I in turn represent paganism - the first such person in the UK! Ours is the London Borough that is hosting the 2012 Olympics! This, and my fortnightly moot and (work in) Council of British Druid Orders takes much of my time!”
(*) Note: This interview was conducted before decentralization. The Manifesto is available on this website along with indepth information about the FOI and how to become a member.
SAGB - Spiritualist Association of Great Britain
First published in Pagan News, August 1992. It is reprinted here by permission. Photo of Lady Olivia Robertson courtesy of L. Hall, used by permission. All rights reserved.