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Hadewijch (sometimes referred to as Hadewych, Hadewig, ... of Antwerp, or ... of Brabant) was a 13th-century poet and mystic, probably living in the southern part of the Flemish province of Brabant. Most of her extant writings are in a Brabantian form of Middle Dutch. Her writings include visions, prose letters and poetry. Hadewijch was one of the most important direct influences on John of Ruysbroeck.
While little details of her life are known outside of her writings, Hadewijch may have been born in the southern part of the Flemish province of Brabant around 1200. Through her "Letters", it is suggested that she functioned as the head of a beguine house prior to 1250. There, she experienced opposition that drove her to a wandering life. Among this evidence, Hadewijch herself even reflects on the possibility of a future imprisonment or exile after she writes on being exiled from other beguines named Sara, Emma, and Margriet. This evidence, as well as her lack of reference to life in a convent, makes the nineteenth-century theory that she was a nun problematic, and thus it has been abandoned by modern scholars. Her writings suggest she received an education in Latin and French, as well as an expansive knowledge of religious figures including Saint Augustine.
Most of Hadewijch's extant writings, none of which survived the Middle Ages as an autograph, are in a Brabantian form of Middle Dutch. Five groups of texts survive: her writings include poetry, descriptions of her visions, and prose letters. There are two groups of poetry: Poems in Stanzas (Strophische Gedichten) and Poems in Couplets (Mengeldichten). Finally there is the "Lijst der volmaakten" ("list of the perfect ones").
Her forty-five Poems in Stanzas (Strophische Gedichten, also Liederen, "Songs") are lyric poems following the forms and conventions used by the trouvères and minnesingers of her time, but in Dutch, and with the theme of worldly courtship replaced by sublimated love to God. Many of them are contrafacta of Latin and vernacular songs and hymns, leading to a Dutch edition renaming them "Liederen" ("Songs") and including audio recordings of performances.
The sixteen works in Poems in Couplets (Mengeldichten, also Berijmde brieven, "letters on rhyme") are actually letters that repeat the same ideologies of 12th century French spirituality. Although, not all of them are considered authentic.
Hadewijch’s "Book of Visions" ("Visioenenboek"), the earliest vernacular collection of such revelations, appears to have been composed in the 1240s. It prominently features dialogue between Hadewijch and Christ in visionary speech, an early example of this mode of vernacular religious instruction.
Thirty-one prose letters also survive. Here, Hadewijch explains her views, which gives some context about her life. Hadewijch writes that she experienced "such passionate love" from God which can be ascertained as the beginning of her form of mysticism in the physical sense. The letters continue to describe her concept of minne by detailing her reaction to life events. In her twenty-fifth letter, Hadewijch addresses her reader to send messages to various women who are perhaps those whom she lived with. She also declares that: "[Sarah] may well leave me to my wandering." The wandering that Hadewijch mentions can be read as either a literal physical wandering or it could be read as a theoretical wandering as Hadewijch explores her own beliefs. Reading Hadewijch's twenty-fifth letter as autobiographical is problematic because later in the same letter she writes that there is an "us" to be lived with, as she pleads to the reader to speak with a woman named Margriet about the dangers of pride. In letter twenty-six, however, Hadewijch continues writing as though she is still part of a community (assumably the one she priorly belonged to) despite her literal wandering about. Due to this, it seems clear that Hadewijch belonged to a specific group of fellow believers and that she left either by exile or her own volition. Through these letters which give minor autobiographical details, Hadewijch offers a mystical didacticism to dealing with concerns including pride, loneliness, and love.
The "Lijst der volmaakten" ("list of the perfect ones"), is attached to the "Visions" in some manuscripts, and to the "Poems in Stanzas" in more recent ones. It lists several saints, such as Bernard of Clairvaux, but some entries are more remarkable, like a beguine who had been condemned to death by the inquisition.
Minne is Hadewijch's central concept, and it acts as the focal point of her belief system. Scholars have debated as to what minne refers to, and some views identify the word as a conception of a divine entity. She writes in her eleventh letter that she first experienced minne in the tenth year of her life. Hadewijch describes the love as something so powerful that she feels as though she could have died without being given a special power to withstand it by God. Hadewijch's minne is a nuanced form of love because it cannot come without a secondary power being conferred to tolerate its energy; at the same time, minne is not simply a state of being for Hadewijch, because it must be achieved through specific deeds because its presence is not a given through the deeds and charity of the desirer. The attainment of minne is always in question, as well, because although Hadewijch writes about her experience in minne, her stanzas often address the believer to put their "trust in love" which suggests minne is an unreachable end and not an experiential state. Despite minne sounding like an experience, Hadewijch directly writes that "love is all" which seems to suggest minne is present in all things, or that the capacity to see or engage minne is within all things reflexively. In the sixteenth letter, Hadewijch writes that minne is the "glue that binds" God to the soul and that God's energy is an invitation offered to existence to experience his love. Hadewijch uses the word "orewoet" to conceptualize the feeling of having once been affected or tied to the feeling of minne through God in the desire for its re-attainment.
Hadewijch refers to a masculine lover throughout her letters and poems, but the masculine gender changes to the feminine when she describes the power of God. In one passage she writes:
Love, you were God's counsel when He made me man, but now you let me perish in misery and I blame you for all that comes over me. I once believed that I was loved by love, but now it seems that she has rejected me.
Hadewijch writes that she is "man" but that the God she is writing of is also a He. Through her writings, she maintains that the love that exists within and from God is a She. Hadewijch writes that the divine "He" is not the experience that she desires because she instead wants to be entwined with the "she" (the love). Hadewijch's mysticism becomes an experiential devotion that does not directly desire God, but the experience of Love that exists within all, and is thus Godly in its own conception because of her gendered distinctions. Through the use of gendered pronouns, Hadewijch also gives judgment-centered agency to both Love and God for they both have the ability to reject the believer due to their own conditions. As a result, Hadewijch's mysticism gives agency, dualism, and gender transferal, to her God.
Hadewijch's writings influenced Jan van Ruusbroec both as a theologian and a mystic. Along with scholarly and theological influence, Hadewijch has also been placed within many anthologies of Dutch literature and is considered part of the country's literary canon.
Hadewijch's work was lost to scholarship after the mid-16th century. In 1830, historian and professor Franz Mone discovered two of Hadewijch's manuscripts in the Royal Library of Brussels.  Due to the hybridity of styles throughout her body of work, several sources have identified Hadewijch's work as a central component of the national literary canons in the Netherlands and in Flanders. Internationally, Hadewijch's work as a Medieval Mystic became the center of contemporary scholarship after a complete edition of her work was published in 1980 through Paulist Press. As a result of Hadewijch's emergence in contemporary scholarship, many popular theorists including the psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan have specifically referenced and quoted her.
Jacque Lacan's reference to Hadewijch came during Seminar XX in which he discusses jouissance. In the Lacanian system, manque is a concept in which desire is present due to a lack. In Seminar XX, Lacan explains that much like the project within his Ecrits, Hadewijch and other female mystics of her type are engaged in a jaculation that comes from beyond the pleasure principle. From this, desire is experienced on the part of the mystic to return to the state of presence; the subject, or believer, is always at odds with having or being within the experiential.