God's Words, Women's Voices: The Discernment of Spirits in the Writing of Late-medieval Women Visionaries

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Awareness of the ecclesiastical doctrine of discretio spirituum (the means of testing whether visions were truly of divine origin) was vital for medieval women visionaries. Visions and prophecy offered medieval women one of the few pathways to the religious and, in some cases, the political life of their time, but were subject to stringent checks due to the combination of women (deceitful by nature) and deceiving visions. However, those women visionaries who conformed could effectively fulfil their divine mandate to communicate their revelations. This book explores discretio spirituum in the works of a number of female visionaries: they include St Bridget of Sweden, who was eager to present her experiences as impeccably orthodox and valid; Margery Kempe, whose ambivalent reception is shown to be due to her inconsistent conformity to the doctrine; and Marguerite Porete and Joan of Arc, whose deaths by burning at the stake demonstrate the severe consequences of their failure to conform, their visions being deemed of demonic origin.Dr ROSALYNN VOADEN teaches in the Department of English at Arizona State University.