Co-founder of the Findhorn Community - a New Age priestess on the shores of the Moray Firth
Friday 05 January 2007
Eileen Jessop, spiritual leader: born Alexandria, Egypt 26 August 1917; MBE 2004; married 1939 Andrew Combe (one son, four daughters; marriage dissolved), 1957 Peter Caddy (died 1994; three sons; marriage dissolved); died Findhorn, Moray 13 December 2006.
In 1962 Eileen Caddy, with her husband Peter and a friend, Dorothy Maclean, went to live in a caravan near Findhorn on the windswept shores of the Moray Firth in Scotland. The spiritual community they subsequently established grew into the Findhorn Foundation, dedicated to "planetary service, co-creation with nature and attunement to the divinity within all beings", and now has 100 permanent residents and 14,000 visitors a year.
When she was born in Alexandria in 1917, no one would have predicted that Eileen would grow up to become the inspiration for a New Age generation - and a crackpot to the more spiritually challenged. She was the second of four siblings, born into the conventional, affluent, ex-pat middle classes. Her father, Albert Jessop, was Irish, the director of Barclays Bank DCO (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas), and her mother Muriel was English.
Naturally, Eileen was sent home to England to be educated and attended a number of boarding schools, where she was unhappy and did not shine academically. The only early sign of future religious fervour was her childhood love of reading the Bible, though her eventual pursuit of her own idiosyncratic spiritual path might have been hinted at by her refusal, in her teens, to be confirmed in the conventional church.
Eileen's father died in Egypt of peritonitis when she was 16. The family moved back to England after his death, and, two years later, she suffered a second terrible blow when her mother died of meningitis. A year on, Eileen and her brother Paddy bought a pub near an RAF base in Oxfordshire and in 1939 Eileen married an RAF officer, Andrew Combe, months before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Over the next decade, Eileen Combe produced a son and four daughters and the airforce family was posted to America and Iraq. So far, so very conventional, but in 1952, when she was 35, her personal and spiritual life was turned upside down. That was the year Andrew Combe introduced his wife to a fellow officer, Peter Caddy, a man fascinated by the occult and the spirit world, and a man who fascinated Eileen.
Caddy had already decided that his second wife, Sheena Govan, to whom he was still married, was a mystic and visionary. Soon Eileen Combe left her husband to be with Caddy, and she became a visionary too. Within a decade, they were destined to become the favourite loony-tunes couple of the popular press.
It was shortly after she left Andrew Combe for Peter Caddy that Eileen - distraught that Andrew had forbidden her from seeing their five children - first heard her "inner voice", saying, "Be still and know that I am God." The voice reassured her that, despite her turmoil, all would be well and that her adultery was just part of God's plan. She and Peter had been brought together to do God's work "as one".
The psychological view would be that a woman who had given up five young children and everything she knew for a charismatic, twice-married stranger would have such a deep need for reassurance that she might create a comforting inner voice. But Eileen came to believe - with some persuasion from Peter - that it was God indeed who spoke to her that day at Glastonbury. Her followers believe that still.
God proved quite a taskmaster. He told Eileen that Sheena, still Peter's spiritual teacher, had to be her teacher too. Understandably, she found that a touch problematic but, by 1956, Eileen and Peter, by then parents to two sons, had moved to Scotland to be part of a little community in which Sheena was spiritual queen. They soon found themselves in the newspapers as members of the Nameless Ones, followers of Sheena, who was by then dubbed "the woman Messiah".
Eventually, Peter and Eileen (who were married in 1957), along with another Nameless One, Dorothy Maclean, left Sheena to become hotel managers at the Cluny Hill Hotel, in Forres, on the Moray Firth. Some current members of the Findhorn Community, just down the road from the Cluny Hill, gloss over the details of the Caddys' management of the hotel, back in 1961. Then again, perhaps a neat body-swerve is all you can do when faced with one of the nuttiest episodes in the lives of the Caddys.
Peter Caddy, however, tells all about his hotel management career in his autobiography, In Perfect Timing: memoirs of a man for the new millennium (1996), and how he cut down the trees at the back of hotel without the owners' permission. The trees had to go, Caddy said, because extra- terrestrials ordered that the space be cleared so they could land a spaceship and rescue selected Earthlings - presumably including the Caddy family and Dorothy Maclean - from nuclear disaster. The hotel owners were, by all accounts, furious.
The Caddys were moved to a different hotel in the Trossachs, where they lobbied endlessly to move back to Forres and "their mission". When they were eventually dismissed from that posting, Eileen's inner voice told her that her family - by then there were three sons - and Dorothy ought to move into a holiday caravan in a trailer park, a few miles from Forres and a mile from the village of Findhorn.
Soon the press were at the caravan door, to ask about the giant vegetables the Caddys and Maclean had begun to grow in the less than promising sandy soil around their caravan. They appeared on television, displaying their monster produce, and talking about the power of meditation, the God within and how Dorothy's connection with plant spirits or "devas" had created the massive carrots.
To the sceptical press and local villagers, the Caddys and Maclean were cranks, but to people seeking alternative life styles and belief systems across the globe, Eileen Caddy, by then writing under the spiritual pen-name "Elixir", was becoming a veritable New Age priestess. The community that became the Findhorn Foundation slowly started to grow and by 1970 was about 50 strong and attracted some 500 visitors a year.
Now, the original Caddy caravan is preserved like a shrine in the middle of trees and flowers within the community's grounds. The current leaders are delighted to show it to visitors but even keener to point to their ecological innovations - admired by all sorts of people, even the spiritually empty - such as little houses made from whisky barrels and very plush, environmentally friendly, "breathing wall" mansions. Some of the locals remain hostile, determined to see the community as a hippie, dippy haven for the international brown-rice brigade. But plenty of others recognise the great part Findhorn now plays in the local economy.
Peter Caddy left Findhorn in 1978 after falling for a young female community member - Eileen's inner voice apparently told her to accept their parting. He went on to marry twice more and to start a Findhorn-style community in California, before dying in a car crash in 1994. Dorothy Maclean moved to the United States in 1973.
Eileen Caddy stuck by the community she founded right until she died. She was definitely more inspiration and presence to Findhorn than dictatorial guru. A small, round motherly woman, who looked like a cross between the Queen Mum and Mrs Doubtfire, she led by quiet example, meditating three times a day, and seems to have been content to let the community run itself. Throughout the 1980s, she travelled all over the world speaking at spiritual events and publishing books that were translated into 30 languages.
In 1996, when she was 79, her inner voice suggested she stop giving workshops. The following year she celebrated her 80th birthday with all eight of her children - she had been reconciled with her first brood for many years.
Eileen Caddy was appointed MBE in 2004 for services to spiritual enquiry. She and Findhorn had become respectable in an age when alternative spiritual belief and ways of living were being sought, and a concern about global warming, climate change and humanity's relationship with nature had taken hold.
Caddy, who had started life so conventionally, had become almost mainstream again. When she received the insignia of her MBE, she marvelled at the way Findhorn had grown. "I have been blessed with an incredible life, and I'm grateful," she said.
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