Jane Lead (her original name was Jane Ward) was originally from Norfolk. She was one of nine children belonging to Hammond Ward, a magistrate, and his wife Mary, the daughter of Sir James Calthrope of Cockthorpe. When Jane was fifteen she had a profound spiritual experience which left her melancholic for the next three years. During this time she began to study the Bible closely, attending religious meetings and listening to a several preachers, most notably the antinomian Tobias Crisp. In 1644, she married William Lead, a distant cousin from King’s Lynn. Their marriage of twenty-seven years ended with her husband’s death on 5 February 1670. Later that year, she received a vision of the Virgin-Wisdom, a Sophia figure often characterized as the female aspect of God. Her husband’s death left her and her daughters destitute. In 1676, her brother offered to take care of her financial woes, but Lead refused, having already committed to live as ‘fellow labourers’ in the ‘Paradisical Husbandry’ with John Pordage, a Christian mystic who was prosecuted as a heretic by Cromwell’s government. He and Lead had met in 1663, but it was not until 1675 that the two mystics became cohabitants and co-seekers of Divine Wisdom. Pordage died in 1681, the same year Lead published Heavenly Cloud now Breaking, in which she explains the fundamentals to her theology, including Boehme’s cosmology and explanations on Divine Wisdom. In 1683 she wrote the preface to Pordage’s Theological Mystica. In 1694, Francis Lee found her living in a cell at a home for impoverished gentlewomen. Though partially blind, her charisma inspired Lee with her vision. He secured her a household and pension on married her widowed daughter Barbara Walton. They were soon joined by the Reverend Richard Roach and together formed an international theosophical movement that became known as the Philadelphian Society.
During the next decade, Lead published fifteen books, including The Enochian Walks with God, found out by a Spiritual-Traveller (1694); The Ascent to the Mount of Vision where many things were shewn (1699); and A Fountain of Gardens, or, A Spiritual Diary of the Wonderful Experiences of a Christian Soul under the Conduct of Heavenly Wisdom (1700), as well as updated versions of her previous works Heavenly Cloud and Revelation of Revelations before her death in 1704. Lead’s teachings were influential among the Pietists, Behmenists, and Christian mystics, including the German social reformer Nikolaus Zinzendorf.
For more on Lead, see Julie Hirst, ‘“Mother of Love’: Spiritual Maternity in the works of Jane Lead (1624–1704),” in Women, Gender, and Radical Religion in Early Modern Europe (2007), 161-88; Julie Hirst, Jane Lead: Biography of a Seventeenth-century Mystic (Gower Publishing, Ltd., 2005); Julie Hirst, “Dreaming of a New Jerusalem: Jane Lead's Visions of Wisdom,” Feminist Theology 14.3 (2006), 349-365. For more on the visionary prophetesses of the seventeenth century, see Curtis Freeman, A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011); and Rachel Adcock, Baptist Women’s Writings in Revolutionary Culture, 1640-1680 (Farnham, Surry, UK: Ashgate, 2015); Julie Hirst, "“Mother of Love”: Spiritual Maternity in the works of Jane Lead (1624–1704)." Women, Gender, and Radical Religion in Early Modern Europe (2007): 161-88.
Annotated Bibliography on Published Works
1. Lead, Jane. The Heavenly Cloud Now Breaking: The Lord Christ’s Ascension Ladder sent down; To shew the way to reach the Ascension and Glorification, through the Death and Resurrection. London, 1681.
Heavenly Cloud Now Breaking is Lead’s first publication and it marks the beginning in the series of prophetic works which will largely characterize her literary career. In this text she offers some of the fundamental tenets to her theology, particularly the notion one’s soul must go through phases in a particular order in order to receive Heavenly salvation. These steps are as follows: first, mystical death, then spiritual resurrection and finally ascension, which is when the soul parts from the body and is “carried up to have conversation with the Holy Trinity, and all those princely Dignities in heavenly Places.” Lead’s target audience are the “dying Saints” who she hopes will find guidance through the direction provided in her book.
2. Lead, Jane. The Revelation of Revelations: Particularly as an Essay Towards the Unsealing, Opening and Discovering the Seven Seals, the Seven Thunders, the New Jerusalem State, the Twelve Gates and the Magical Eye. The which have not hitherto so far been brought forth to light (except to the Spiritual Discerner) to any degree of Satisfaction, as to the understanding of the grand Mystery. London, 1683.
In Revelations of Revelations, Lead delineates further on the frameworks of her theology, putting forward her notions of the Seven Thunders, the Seven Seals and the discovery of the New Jerusalem State. She also addresses the role of the Divine Magia and its relationship to the Holy Ghost, offering clarification to statements she made in her previous publication. Revelations of Revelations also continues in the same style as Heavenly Cloud Now Breaking. Lead fashions the text as a book of guidance for those who are seeking (The Nazarites).
3. Lead, Jane. The Enochian Walks with God: Found out by a Spiritual Traveller, Whose Face Towards Mount-Sion Above was Set; with an Experimental Account of What was Known, Seen and Met withal There. [ A Revelation of the Immense and Infinite Latitude of God’s Love, to the Restoring of his Whole Creation, and How, and after what Way and Manner we are to Look, and wait for this Last Appearance, and Coming of our Mighty God, and Saviour Christ Jesus.] London, 1694.
4. Lead, Jane. The Heavenly Cloud Now Breaking – Second Edition: The Lord Christ’s Ascension Ladder sent down; To shew the way to reach the Ascension and Glorification, through the Death and Resurrection. London, 1701.
5. Lead, Jane. The Revelation of Revelations – Second Edition: An Essay Towards the Unsealing, Opening and discovering the Seven Seals, the Seven Thunders, and the New-Jerusalem State. With an Appendix. London, 1701.
6. Lead, Jane. The Laws of Paradise: given forth by Wisdom to a Translated Spirit [God reveals further the requirements for those of the High calling of the Nazarites who shall have access to Paradise while still within their mortal bodies.] London, 1695.
7. Lead, Jane. The Wonders of God’s Creation: Manifested in the Variety of Eight Worlds; As they were made known Experimentally to the Author. [A Manifestation Concerning the Eight Worlds or Regions, Allotted to Human Souls; According to their several Degrees of Ascent or Descent.] London, 1695.
8. Lead, Jane. A Message to the Philadelphian Society: Whithersoever dispersed over the whole Earth. Together with a Call to the Several Gathered Churches among Protestants in this Nation of England. London, 1696.
A Message to the Philadelphian Society is Lead’s sixth published prophetic work and in it she offers a rallying call to individuals who feel spiritually depraved and misguided by contemporary churches. Lead assesses the states of various Christian denominations and finds them all to be lacking; she does not believe that any church at the time is qualified to be considered the true Bride of Christ. She offers critiques on these churches, pointing to their false teachings regarding 144,000, a number with deep Biblical significance. Without the Bride of Christ, Jesus will not return, a notion which Lead uses to raise the urgency of her cause. A year later in 1697, Lead officially forms the Philadelphian society alongside Francis Lee and Richard Roach.
9. Lead, Jane. A Second Message to the Philadelphian Society: A further Manifestation Concerning the Virgin Philadelphian Church: Given upon New Year’s Day in this Present Year MDCXCVI. Being A Second message to the Philadelphian Society, and a Touchstone to the Gathered Churches. London, 1696.
10. Lead, Jane. The Tree of Faith: or The Tree of Life, Springing up in the Paradise of God from which All the Wonders of the New Creation, in the Virgin Church of the First-born of Wisdom must proceed. London, 1696.
11. Lead, Jane. The Ark of Faith: or A Supplement to the Tree of Faith, &c. for the Further Confirmation of the same. Together with A Discovery of the New World. London, 1696.
12.Lead, Jane. The Messenger of An Universal Peace: A Third Message to the Philadelphian Society including “The Marks of a True Philadelphian.” London, 1698.
13. Lead, Jane. A Fountain of Gardens: Volume I Watered by the Rivers of Divine Pleasure, and Springing up in all the Variety of Spiritual Plants; Blown up by the Pure Breath into a Paradise. Sending forth their Sweet Savours, and Strong Odours, for Soul Refreshing. London, 1696.
14. Lead, Jane. A Revelation of the Everlasting Gospel Message: Which Shall Never Cease to Be Preach’d Till the Hour of Christ’s Eternal Judgment Shall Come; Whereby will be Proclaim’d the Last-Love Jubilee, in order to the Restitution of the Whole Lapsed Creation, Whether Human or Angelical. When by the Blood of the Everlasting Covenant, all Prisoners shall be set free. London, 1697.
15. Lead, Jane. A Fountain of Gardens: Volume II Being a Continuation of the Process of a Life according to Faith, of the Divinely Magical Knowledge, and of the New Creation. In Mutual Entertainments Betwixt The Essential Wisdom, and the Soul in her Progress through Paradise, to Mount Sion, and to the New Jerusalem. London, 1697.
16. Lead, Jane. The Ascent to the Mount of Vision: Where many Things were shewn, concerning; I. The First Resurrection; II. The State of Separated Souls; III. The Patriarchal Life; IV. The Kingdom of Christ: With an Account of the Approaching Blessed State of this Nation. London, 1699.
17. Lead, Jane. The Signs of the Times: Forerunning the Kingdom of Christ and Evidencing when it is Come. London, 1699.
18. Lead, Jane. The Wars of David and the Peaceable Reign of Solomon: Symbolizing the Signs of the Times of Warfare and Refreshment of the Saints of the Most High God to whom a Priestly Kingdom is shortly to be given, after the Order of Melchezideck. London, 1700.
In The Wars of David, Lead presents two messages to her usual audience, the Nazarite sons and daughters of God. In Lead’s first message, she instructs her fellow Nazarites to focus firmly on the internal war, the one which rages over the fate of one’s soul. She tells her followers “to expect and believe” so that they may be used as vessels for God. In Lead’s second message, she offers further details on what constitutes someone as a vessel—attributes like a high degree of Faith and a discipline over desires of the flesh. She encourages her readers to adopt a quiet and resigned disposition so that their internal war may be won by the spirit of the Lord.
19. Lead, Jane. A Fountain of Gardens: Volume III: Part ONE A Spiritual Diary of the Wonderful Experiences of a Christian Soul, under the Conduct of the Heavenly Wisdom. London, 1700.
20. Lead, Jane. A Fountain of Gardens: Volume III: Part TWO A Spiritual Diary of the Wonderful Experiences of a Christian Soul, under the Conduct of the Heavenly Wisdom; continued ... London, 1701.
21. Lead, Jane. A Living Funeral Testimony: or Death Overcome, and Drown’d, in the Life of Christ. With a Further Description of the Various States of Separated Souls, as to what they may expect will ensue after Death, whether in Christ or out of Christ. London, 1702.
22. Lead, Jane. The Resurrection of Life: or The Royal Characteristics and Identifying Marks impressed on Those, Who with Christ are Resurrected TOGETHER WITH An Appendix of Some Prophetic Revelations all from the known Authoress, JANE LEADE. London, 1705.
The Resurrection of Life was Lead’s last prophetic piece and it is a piece which succinctly encapsulates all of the main components of her teachings. Lead died months after the text was published, but many historians have characterized the text as the final culminating point to her spiritual meditations. The Resurrection of Life, in its original 17th century English was lost over time, leaving only the Old German version behind. For more than three hundred years, the text was unreadable to English-speakers until it was finally reverse-translated back to English in the 20th century.
Critical References to Jane Lead
Hirst, Julie. "“Mother of Love”: Spiritual Maternity in the works of Jane Lead (1624–1704)." Women, Gender, and Radical Religion in Early Modern Europe (2007): 161-88.
Hirst, Julie. Jane Leade: Biography of a Seventeenth-century Mystic. Gower Publishing, Ltd., 2005.
Hirst, Julie. "Dreaming of a New Jerusalem: Jane Lead's Visions of Wisdom." Feminist Theology 14.3 (2006): 349-365.
This page assisted by Ray Delva, Georgia Southern University