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Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others

Olivia Durdin-Robertson 


Written and compiled by George Knowles 

Olivia Melian Durdin-Robertson was a respected author, novelist, writer and artist who together with her brother the Rev. Lawrence Alexander Durdin-Robertson (21st Baron of Strathloch) and his wife Pamela Mary (nee Barclay) co-founded and established the renowned “Fellowship of Isis” on the 21st March 1976.  Since then the Fellowship of Isis has grown into an international spiritual organization devoted to promoting awareness of the Goddess as the feminine aspect of God and today has thousands of members worldwide. 

Olivia Durdin-Robertson was born on Friday 13th April 1917 at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington, London, England.  She was the second eldest of three children born to Manning Durdin-Robertson (1887-1945) and his wife Nora Kathleen (nee Parsons, 1892-1965).  Her father was a respected architect and town planner and the author of “Everyday Architecture”, “Foundations of Architecture” and “Approach to Architecture” (the last co-authored with his wife Nora, who also wrote “Thrifty Salmon Fishing”).  Her elder sister Barbara Helen Pryor (nee Durdin-Robertson) was born on the 01st Sept 1913, and her younger brother Lawrence Alexander Durdin-Robertson was born on the 06th May 1920). 

At the time of Olivia’s birth the family lived in Reigate, Surrey, England, before moving back to their ancestral home “Clonegal Castle” (also known as Huntington Castle) in County Carlow, Ireland, which had been inherited by her father from her grandmother Helen Alexandrina Melian Durdin in 1925.  Being well connected within the literary community, the family soon formed close relationships with many of Irelands leading authors and poets, including William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) and George William Russell (1867-1935, the mystic writer better known as “AE”).  Indeed after the death of Yeats on the 28th January 1939, her father designed his tombstone baring the now famous inscription:  “Cast a cold eye / On life, on death. / Horseman; pass by!”


William Butler Yeats’ and his gravestone with the famous epitaph

Another literary family connection of note is Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves (1895 – 1985), a cousin related through her grandmother, and the author of the best selling classic book “The White Goddess”.  However, there seems to have been little social contact between them.

Robert Graves

Olivia’s early education was taken at Heathfield School in Ascot, Berkshire, England, an independent Catholic boarding school for girls, and from 1938 she continued her education at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in Pimlico, London.  In 1940 during World War II, she briefly joined a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) serving as a nurse in Bedfordshire.  VAD’s were part of a voluntary organisation founded by the Red Cross in 1909 to provide unqualified basic nursing services to hospitals within the UK, thus relieving qualified nurses to work overseas and on ships during the course of a war.  

Returning to Ireland before the war ended, Olivia completed her education at the University Collage Dublin in 1942, and as a graduate in the study of European Art History was awarded a Purser-Griffith Travelling Scholarship for distinction.  In the following four years she worked for the Dublin Corporation Playgrounds Department where she theorised that many of the games played by children were based on ancient mysteries.  After further research she wrote about her findings in her first book “St. Malachy’s Court” (1946), leading her into a career as a writer and novelist. 

As well as writing, Olivia was an accomplished Artist and illustrated all her own books.  She had two public art exhibitions, the first in 1938 at the age of 21 years, and the second in 1956 after the release of her last book.  Her publishers included Random House and Jonathan Cape; for which she received good reviews in the London Times Literary Supplement and the Chicago National Herald.  Her second book “Field of the Stranger” (1948) won the London Book Society Choice Award.  This was followed by “The Golden Eye” (1949), “Miranda Speaks” (1950) and “It’s an Old Irish Custom” (1954).  Her last book of that period was “The Dublin Phoenix” (1956) which sold-out on it’s first print-run. 


Photo of Olivia taken in 1956 and used on the dust jacket of one of her novels. 

In 1960 Olivia moved back to Clonegal Castle and the family ancestral home.  After the death of their father in 1945 the Castle had passed down to her brother Lawrence, which he shared with his wife Pamela.  Later Lawrence also had the ancestral family title reinstated and became the 21st Baron of Ruadh or Baron Robertson of Strathloch, which was registered and re-issued in 1979 by the Chief Herald of Ireland.   

By the early 1960’s when she returned home, both Olivia and Lawrence, who by then was a Priest of the Anglican Church of Ireland (he had been ordained in 1948), independent of each other, they each begun to conceptualise the feminine aspects of God as a woman.  To explore this concept further in 1963 Olivia, Lawrence and his wife Pamela founded the “Centre for Meditation and Study” at Clonegal Castle, about which Olivia later wrote: 

“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 (Spiritualist Association of Great Britain), which I loved.  I joined with everyone - the Druids (Philip Ross Nichols visited in 1970.  Nichols was a teacher, poet, artist, author and naturist who founded The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids (OBOD) in 1964), the Alice Bailey people (Alice Ann Bailey was a writer and theosophist in what she termed “Ageless Wisdom”), and the Steiner people (Rudolf Steiner was a Austrian literary scholar, philosopher, theosophist and social reformer.  He founded the ‘spiritual science’ movement called Anthroposophy, and created the first Waldorf School based on his own educational system that has since been adopted worldwide).  I enjoyed all of them and thought that it would go on forever.” 

After much research, discussion and meditation, Olivia, Lawrence and his wife Pamela came to the realisation that the feminine aspect of Goddess spirituality needed to be addressed and brought into equality with the masculine aspects of God worship as a natural balance of polarities.  Between them they decided that the Egyptian Goddess “Isis” best represented the mother of all Goddesses, and by the 1970’s both Olivia and Lawrence began writing about her.  They then created an underground temple dedicated to Isis in what used to be the Castle dungeons.  

In 1972 convinced by his research and his new spiritual convictions, Lawrence resigned as a Priest in the Anglican Church of Ireland to take up a new vocation as a Priest of Isis.  This led to the formation of the “Fellowship of Isis” and its formal dedication at the Spring Vernal Equinox of 1976.  Lawrence as the main theologian among the three founders also introduced the need and importance for the creation of a ritual liturgy to be used by the Fellowship, and impressed that need upon his sister, Olivia, for which she dedicated the rest of her life to writing.  In 1975 she had already written her spiritual autobiography “The Call of Isis” and followed it with “Isis of Fellowship”, which is a detailed account of how the FOI was founded.   

When asked about forming the Fellowship of Isis, Olivia later explained in an interview with BBC Radio 5 on the 21st June 1992:  “It was a direct spiritual experience, as with my brother, that I had a direct spiritual vocation to do this from God – the feminine aspect of God, God who is also feminine - to emphasize this because the world is threatened by destruction through pollution, through misuse of nature, often through stupidity and greed.  We’re destroying the planet and the Divine Plan appears to be to emphasize the feminine – charity, kindness, care for nature, nurturing, and motherhood – all that side.  Not to get rid of the male aspect, but to balance male aggression and materialism.  And this linear, logical, mental though – always analysis, analysis.  We’re more for healing and synthesis.” 

Such was his belief in his new vocation as a Priest of Isis, for the perpetuity of the temple they had dedicated to her in the dungeons of the Castle, in 1981 Lawrence made over by “Deed of Gift” the temple to the care and control of the FOI, which today consists of twenty-six shrines set in a winding pattern throughout the cellars.  They include a nave, a high altar and a chapel of Brighid located near an underground Neolithic Well known as “Brighid's Well”, which is famed for it’s healing properties.  There are also twelve shrines dedicated to the twelve signs of the Zodiac as well as five small chapels devoted to the Elements - Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Spirit.

Olivia with her brother Lawrence 

Over the ensuing years and perhaps because it was dedicated to the pagan Goddess Isis, many people seem to think that the FOI is strictly a Pagan organization.  This however this is not necessarily so, as Olivia stated during an interview in 2002 in which she explains that the FOI is a multi-faith, multi-racial, and multi-cultural organization, and despite worshipping Pagan deities it does not consider itself to be a Neopagan faith, more that it is a religious plural organisation:  “I would like to correct an inaccuracy in the definition of the Fellowship of Isis as a Pagan organization.  We are happy to have 1000's of Pagans among our members in so many countries.  But we also have Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, Spiritualists and Hindus as members.  All love and follow the religion of Isis of 10,000 Names.” 

Since the founding and dedication of the FOI in 1976, Olivia travelled constantly promoting Goddess spirituality and appeared at numerous Isian conventions and festivals all around the world.  In 1993 at the age of 90, she was a delegate at the Centennial Session of the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago, where together with Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, USA, the FOI had been chosen to represent the growing worldwide Goddess movement.  While there she was one of eighteen world religious leaders (only two women) to address the opening plenary, and later commented that breakfasting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama was one of the high points of her life.

Olivia Robertson in August 1993 representing the Fellowship of Isis at the Parliament of the World's Religions Centennial Session.

Today the Fellowship of Isis is one of the world’s largest Goddess spirituality groups with hundreds of Iseums (centres) and Lyceums (teaching groups) spread around the world supporting thousands of members.  Many people also gather at Clonegal Castle each year for the four annual festivals, one is held each season and involves intensive meditation sessions followed by refreshments in a nearby public house. 

Olivia never married and at the age of 96 following a short illness, she sadly passed away on 14th November 2013 at the Wexford General Hospital in County Carlow, Ireland, surrounded by members of her family.  May she rest in peace. 

After the death of Olivia the last of the three co-founders of the FOI (her brother’s wife Pamela passed away in 1987, and Lawrence himself passed away on the 04th August 1994), the custodianship and legacy of the FOI passed into the trusted care of three Foundation Unions known as “The FOI Foundation Union Triad.”  These consist of the Archpriesthood Union, the ArchDruid Union and the Grand Commander Union. 

The Archpriesthood Union was founded by Olivia in January 1999 and consists of 32 members of the FOI Priesthood (sixteen ArchPriestesses and sixteen ArchPriests).  The ArchDruid Union was founded in October, 2009 and consists of 32 ArchDruids and ArchDruidesses of the Druid Clan of Dana, while the Grand Commander Union (also founded in 2009) consists of 32 Grand Knight Commanders and Grand Dame Commanders of the Noble Order of Tara.  Together these three unions now act as Custodians of the Fellowship of Isis.   

Olivia also created a series of advisory boards to act as consultancies to the three main Unions.  These are made up of ArchPriesthood Union members and include:  The Star of Isis-AU (created in 2003), the Circle of Brigid (Ireland, 2004), the Circle of Isis (USA, UK, Germany, 2004.) the Circle of Pelagia (USA, 2006), the Nemeton of Dana (for the Druid Clan of Dana, 2006), the Round Table of Tara (for the Noble Order of Tara, 2006) and the Star of Elen (United Kingdom, USA and Europe, 2008).




St. Malachy's Court, 1946

Field of the Stranger, 1948

The Golden Eye, (1949)

Miranda Speaks, (1950)

It’s an Old Irish Custom, (1954)

The Dublin Phoenix, (1956)

The Call of Isis, (1975)

Isis of Fellowship: How the Fellowship of Isis was Founded, (2002)

Ordination of Priestesses and Priests: of the Fellowship of Isis, (2013) 

Other media: 

Olivia: Priestess of Isis, a film of her life was released on DVD in 2011. 

Magick TV has also done several interviews with Olivia, which can be seen at

First published on the 31st May 2016  © George Knowles



Best wishes and Blessed Be



Site Contents - Links to all Pages


Home Page


A Universal Message:


Let there be peace in the world  -   Where have all the flowers gone?


About me:

My Personal PageMy Place in England / My Family Tree (Ancestry)


Wicca & Witchcraft


Wicca/Witchcraft /  What is Wicca What is Magick


Traditional Writings:


The Wiccan Rede Charge of the Goddess Charge of the God  /  The Three-Fold Law (includes The Law of Power and The Four Powers of the Magus) /  The Witches Chant The Witches Creed Descent of the Goddess Drawing Down the Moon The Great Rite Invocation Invocation of the Horned GodThe 13 Principles of Wiccan Belief /  The Witches Rede of Chivalry A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality


Correspondence Tables:


IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals




Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /


Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /


Other things of interest:


Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 Doreen Valiente Witch” (A Book Review) /  Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /    


Sabbats and Festivals:


The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)


Rituals contributed by Crone:


Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon




Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing




Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar and Totem Animals) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansUnicornWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat /  Rats /  Unicorn




In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder


Sacred Sites:


Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /


Rocks and Stones:


Stones - History, Myths and Lore


Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:


Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble


Wisdom and Inspiration:


Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /


Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:


Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark


Old Masters of Academia:

(Our Ancestors)


Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagorasParacelsus /  Abramelin the Mage Archimedes AgrippaSocrates  /  Aristotle 





A "Who's Who" of Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)


Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)


Pagan Pioneers:  Founders, Elders, Leaders and Others


Aidan A KellyAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /   Allan Bennett - the Ven. Ananda MetteyyaAllan Kardec (Spiritism) /  Alphonsus de SpinaAmber KAnn Moura /  Anna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman SpareBalthasar Bekker /  Biddy EarlyBarbara Vickers /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /   Charles WaltonChristopher PenczakChristina Oakley Harrington Cornelius Loos /  Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-NowickiDonald Michael Kraig Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edain McCoy /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne /   Frederick McLaren Adams - Feraferia Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen DuncanHermann Löher /  Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Heinrich KramerIsaac Bonewits Israel RegardieIvo Domínguez Jr. /  Jack Whiteside Parsons - Rocket Science and Magick /  James "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJean Bodin Jessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” / Johann Weyer  / Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /   Johann Georg Fuchs von Dornheim  -  the “Hexenbrenner” (witch burner) /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John Score /  Joseph “Bearwalker” Wilson /  Joseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen Lady Gwen Thompson - and "The Rede of the Wiccae" /  Lambert Daneau /  Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceLodovico Maria Sinistrari Ludwig LavaterMadeline Montalban and the Order of the Morning Star /  Margaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMichael Howard and the UK "Cauldron Magazine" /  Margaret St. Clair - the “Sign of the Labrys” /  Marie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMartin Antoine Del Rio Matthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /  Michael A. Aquino - and The Temple of Set /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillOlivia Durdin-Robertson - co-founder of the Fellowship of Isis /  Paddy SladePamela Colman-SmithPatricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPaul Foster Case and the “Builders of the Adytum” mystery school /  Peter Binsfeld /  Philip HeseltonRaven GrimassiRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Richard BaxterRobert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Rossell Hope Robbins /   Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWalter Ernest ButlerWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  



Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)



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