First published May 2022
The Fellowship Of Isis (FOI) is now an international esoteric organisation that spans the globe, with over twenty-five thousand members, but it’s origins can be traced back to an obscure castle in a tiny village in county Carlow in Ireland.
It all began with the Durdin-Robertson family, an Anglo-Irish family that can trace it roots back to the Norman Esmondes who arrived in Ireland in 1192 and who built the first castle on which Huntington Castle now stands. The current castle, which was built in 1625, houses the orginal Temple of Isis in its basement, which may have one time served as a dungeon. In in the corner of this temple lies an ancient holy well, dedicated to the goddess Brigid, a part of the temple life that has always held great significance for both the founders and members that attend or visit the temple. In 1963 Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, together with his wife Pamela and sister Olvia, formed the Huntington Castle Centre for Meditation and Study. This small group would be the nucleus from which the FOI would eventually emerge.
Although all three played their part, initially Lawrence (a former Anglican priest) was the driving force behind the fledgling goddess spirituality emerging from Huntington Castle in the tiny village of Clonegal. He began to write on the divine feminine from 1970 onwards, publishing a series of books and became a declared priest of Isis on 1972, although it was not until the vernal equinox of 1976 that he formed the Fellowship, in conjunction with Pamela and Olivia.
This may sound somewhat mundane from our current standpoint, in the early decades of the next century, but at the time it must have seemed quite a revolutionary and extremely eccentric act to most people. One must bear in mind that Ireland, a deeply conservative and slow changing country, was still very much in the grip of the Roman Catholic Church at this point and this would have gone very much against the grain.
I never met Lawrence or his wife Pamela, but I did meet and get to know Oliva and other members of his family, after my first visit to a ceremony at Huntington Castle in 2003. Even at this time, when I mentioned ‘The Castle’ to a man from a nearby town, he declared that they ‘were all nuts, witches and devil worshippers’. Clearly, almost 30 years after the foundation of FOI some people in the area continued to have a very low opinion of the Robertsons and what what they had created!
None-the-less, despite the disapproval of many locals, those in surrounding towns and undoubtedly the Catholics hierarchy, FOI gradually grew from small gatherings of sometimes less than dozen people to a swelling congregation, continuing to grow after the death of Pamela in 1987. Pamela came from a Scottish quaker family and her influence highlighted the reverence and importance of the natural world within FOI. Subsequently, in 1992 The Druid Clan of Dana (An Clann Draoidheachta Danann) was established by Olivia and Lawrence and it was stated "The purpose of the Druid Clan of Dana is to develop nature's psychic gifts."
The following year, 1993, Olivia was invited to attend the Parliament of the World's Religions Centennial Session, as representative of the Fellowship of Isis, along with other appointed FOI delegates. This was the first time that the religion of the Goddess was publicly acknowledged as a world faith at this parliament. Olivia was one of two women and sixteen men who addressed the opening plenary from the platform and she gave the blessings of Isis to the world in her speech.
Almost exactly a year later, in August 1994, Lawrence passed away, leaving the Fellowship solely in the hands of his sister and co-founder Olivia, by which time both had written several books and a multitude of essays, rites and a complete liturgy. The FOI began to grow at an exponential rate, attracting people from the UK in great numbers and as far away as west coast USA and Australia.
By the time that I first visited the Temple of Isis in 2003, FOI had become a major player on the world stage of esoteric organisations, having exceeded anyone’s expections and defied the ill-will of many. My initial impressions of Olivia were that she was highly excentric and perhaps a little nutty, but clearly a woman of great intelligence, gravitas and love of life. She radiated an immense positivity that was almost tangible but underpinning her irreverant and humorous exteria one could detect a very deep and profound inner spiritual strength.
Olivia was often surrounded by followers, worshipers almost, the curious and opportunists too, but beneath the good cheer and seemingly randomness of much of her directions and endeavours, flashes of her unadvertised qualities would sometimes emerge. I remember her once dealing with an attendee/member (who had got out of line) with just a few words. It was instantaneous, direct, succinct but amazingly powerful, like an extrmely polite bolt of lightning, that vanished as quickly as it arrived.
Like the divine goddess, that so inspired Olivia, she was many things to many people and hence she was in constant demand from members, the congregtion and a steady flow of journalists and film-makers. I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with her by myself or with her and a small number of others, which revealed a more pensive and quiet side to her nature. Eventually, in 2009, she initiated me into the Druid Clan of Dana, where-after I was lucky enough to be invited to drink tea on rare occasions in her sprawling kitchen.
By this time Olvia had become quite the celebrity – travelling to America to visit various FOI centres and also becoming a regular and revered guest of the annual Goddess Festival in Glastonbury, England. Despite being in her 90s, Olivia was remarkably spritely and incredibly sharp mentally and she loved to travel, meet people and continue to lead the ever-growing ceremonies at FOI Foundation Centre at Huntington Castle.
Towards the end of her life, there were clear rumblings regarding the future of FOI and certain events led to a reduction in open invitations to The Castle for a while and also the updating and strengthening of the FOI Manifesto and Code of Ethics. Unfortunately in 2013 Olivia fell and broke her leg, leading to a prolonged hospital stay. Shortly before she was due to be allowed to return home, she suffered a severe stroke which led to her passing over a short time after. By the time of her passing, the notion of a goddess movement, of the acceptability of the divine feminine had transformed from a hopefull dream to a genuine reality.
Olivia might be regarded by some as a proto-feminist - she was scholar, worked successfully in education and was a successful author of both fiction and non-fiction long before FOI was even imagined. Her aim, spiritually speaking, as far as I recall, was to restore balance to spirituality that had become dominated by a male-centric, patriachal viewpoint, which was dragging the world downwards into a spiral of self-destruction. Although the focus of all three founders was clearly on Isis, the fellowship has always acknowledged a wide variety of divinities, including the masculine gods. One could say the aims of the FOI are restoration and achieving a holistic balance, as oppossed to replacement of one form of worship with another, that is equally one-sided.
I cannot speak of the other two founders, who I did not know personally, but of Olivia I can say that she was incredibly humble and self-effacing, given her undeniable influence and torch-bearing for the re-emergent goddess spirituality. The legacy of FOI and Olivia Robertson is undeniable, with the small dreams of three people in a miniscule village, creating a ripple that would eventually become a tidal wave in time. Olivia was well aware of what they had achieved, by the time of her passing, and she was keen that the work should continue long after her death. From her perspective, her personal celebrity and influence were of no real importance – what mattered to her was the Work, the unfolding of the Divine Plan and she felt she was merely fulfilling her role in helping that to manifest itself.
We are all here to do what we can, in the time that we have, Olivia and her co-founders were an inspirational force that is greatly missed, but their influence is still here and will remain so, the work continues and we must all play our part in day by day, as Olivia said (Bealtaine 2013) “To touch one heart is to touch the world”.