The Illuminated Life


95 pages
ISBN 0-894800-10-9
DDC C811'.54





Reviewed by Beryl Baigent

Beryl Baigent is a poet; her published collections include Absorbing the
Dark, Hiraeth: In Search of Celtic Origins, Triptych: Virgins, Victims,
Votives, and Mystic Animals.


Women who have an interest in feminist spirituality will gravitate
toward this book with its cover illustration, “The Mystical Body
Taming the Devil,” inspired by the 12th-century Rhineland mystic
Hildegard von Bingen.

Hildegard saw herself as a prophet who “illuminates the darkness.”
Mackenzie clearly has the same expectation for her opus. She creates
poems to blend cosmos and technology, and like her mentor she describes
spiritual awakening with light imagery. She speaks of “particles of
stardust” and of lighting “candles against the night.” Other light
images include sunshine, oil lanterns, “the chandelier of the sky,”
and twilight, to name just a few.

Revealing “the illuminated life” may shed too much brilliance on
the literary world. One needs to view this luminosity through a pinhole,
as when one watches the eclipse of the sun. These minute glimpses are
sufficient to open the heart. Many examples exist in “Called to
Wake”—“the sun now slanting,” “a crane in the slough,”
“air’s/ecstatic pattern,” and even the “smell of coffee.”
Mackenzie trusts in “The Essence of Things,” recalling “the colour
of the wind,” “shadows at night / how suddenly elves may appear,”
and “fields of daisies / and of gatherings of people / for the summer
solstice.” She encourages readers to “Dance naked in the clearing /
to meet [their] totem animal.”

Like Hildegard, Mackenzie endeavours to bring together science,
spirituality, history, and art in her book. The subtitles of the four
sections are “Medical Treatises, Herbals, Hunting Books, and
Encyclopedias,” “The Battle of the Virtues and Vices,”
“Chivalrous Histories,” and “The Book of Hours.” She wants her
readers to know that “the land of the poets is a changing land. / It
lays its lines of power over you.” In this statement, she makes no
excuses for the blatant evocation of Hildegard von Bingen. The way of
the mystic is to relate microcosm and macrocosm, and the imagery of
trees (arbutus, pine, oak, wild rose, and mock orange) suggests such a
healing of the cosmos.

Mackenzie leaves us with a line from a sixth-century Byzantine hymn:
“Hail, for the earthly meet the heavens in song.” We should embrace
her profound appreciation of life and her spiritual suggestions.



Mackenzie, Nancy., “The Illuminated Life,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,