St. Joan of Arc was born at Domrémy around January 6, 1412. When she was 13 years old, she heard what she called “celestial voices”.
Early in 1429, during the Hundred Years’ War, when the English were about to capture Orléans, the “voices” exhorted her to help the Dauphin, later King Charles VII of France.
Joan succeeded in convincing Charles that she had a divine mission to save France, and she was granted titular command of an army that quickly lifted the siege of Orléans on May 8, 1429. She defeated an English army at Patay on June 18; and after accepting the surrender of the city of Troyes and other towns, as a reward for her service, Charles VII granted her noble status along with her family on December 29, 1429.
Captured at Compiègne on May 23, 1430 and transferred to the English, she was placed on trial in Rouen by a selected group of pro-English clergy, many of whom nevertheless had to be coerced into voting for a guilty verdict. Convicted and burned at the stake on May 30, 1431, she was subsequently declared innocent by the Inquisition on July 7, 1456 after a lengthy re-trial.
The presiding Inquisitor, Jean Bréhal, ruled that the original trial had been tainted by fraud, illegal procedures, and intimidation of both the defendant and many of the clergy who had taken part in the trial, and she was therefore described as a martyr by the Inquisitor. Now let’s face it, for the Inquisitor to declare a trial a fraud, it must really have been bad! After the usual lengthy delay associated with the slow process of canonisation, she was beatified on April 11, 1909 and canonised as a saint on May 16, 1920.
Those are the bare facts as we know them, but what is it about St. Joan that keeps her memory and legend so alive, more than 580 years after her execution? Much has been made of Joan’s youth and her humble beginnings, but while we all know about her clairvoyant or clairaudient abilities, she was not convicted of witchcraft but of heresy in believing she was directly responsible to God and not the Church! This, I believe, is because of the Church’s somewhat ambivalent attitude to what we would call Joan’s psychic gifts: for while the Old Testament, in the Book of Exodus, states that, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” the Church was only too well aware of St. Paul’s letter stating that prophecy (or clairvoyance if you like) was a gift from God; and then, as now, the writings of St. Paul were considered by the Church to be unarguable holy writ, overriding much that was written in the Old Testament.
That one sentence in Exodus has been the driving force behind much of the world’s antipathy towards anyone with any sort of psychic ability and even those women and men who did nothing more than collect healing herbs.
The persecution of witches declined about 1700 banished by the Age of Enlightenment. One of the last outbreaks of witch-hunting took place in Massachusetts in 1692, when belief in diabolical witchcraft was already declining in Europe.
Recent research indicates that much of the hysteria at the time was caused by the ergot fungus in Rye. Consumption of ergot-infected rye results in both physical and mental harm, including convulsions, and hallucinations.
The attitude of the Orthodox Churches towards Spiritualism today remains undecided. First they tell us that we should not talk to Spirit, and then they ask us to pray to Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Indeed, one lady of my personal acquaintance was told by her parish priest not to talk to Spirit, and her reply was, ‘I don’t talk to them, they talk to me!’
Despite St. Paul’s letter, some still regard clairvoyance etc. as ‘the work of the devil’ and so do not hear the wonderful messages of love, reassurance, and survival that are regularly heard from demonstrators at Spiritualist services.
Modern law still has prohibitions against Clairvoyance, or Fortune Telling as it appears on the statutes, despite the valiant work done by Spiritualists in the mid to late 20th century which was instrumental in taking away much of the intolerance and misinformation. However, comments such as - Are you sure it’s safe? Do you know what you’re getting into? and They’re Devil worshippers, aren’t they? are still heard even today.
We can all help bring Spiritualism into the 21st Century by being open about our beliefs: for example, when we are asked to name our religion when filling out official documents, instead of putting down the generally accepted C of E or Catholic, we could write Spiritualist. If those in authority don’t like it, you can tell them that the Australian Constitution, Clause 116, guarantees us, in law, the right to freedom of religious beliefs, without any interference by anyone; and this freedom is one of the legacies of St. Joan. Joan’s other belief, that she was responsible to God and not the Church, was also the guiding force behind John Wycliffe who died in 1384, and was referred to as the ‘Morning Star’ of the Protestant Reformation; and Augustin Baker who died in 1641. Baker was a prominent Benedictine who insisted that each of us could approach God directly, without the aid of clergy, which is what St. Joan was doing – talking to God on a one-to-one basis, which we can all do!
Like St. Joan, we know we can approach God directly. We also have the Seven Principles to guide us, given to us by Spirit through Emma Hardinge Britten in 1871.
Like St. Joan, we can stand up for our beliefs and those Seven Principles; we can tell other people what those Principles are, and how they show us that Mankind is one brotherhood under the fatherhood of God, and that we are secure in the knowledge of the eternal existence of the Human Soul.