The Divine Ark: Jane Lead’s Vision of the Second Noah’s Ark

Julie Hirst

            This article will examine how the seventeenth-century visionary, Jane Lead, imagined and represented purification, redemption and salvation in her visions of Noah’s Ark using alchemical imagery as a way of describing the processes leading to the illumination of the soul.  It is important to remember, however, that it is almost impossible to separate her use of alchemical symbolism from the other occult sciences, such as magic and numerology.  Indeed, to try to do so would obscure the complicated nature of Lead’s writing.  As we shall discover, she strategically placed words to offer multi-meanings, drawing on a rich tapestry of tradition involving an idiomatic use of symbols and figurative language from a particular strand of spiritual alchemical thought.

            First, it is necessary to say something about Jane Lead.  She was a mystic and prophetess who became the religious leader of the Philadelphian Society in London at the end of the seventeenth century.  She wrote at least fifteen books and treatises, including a spiritual diary entitled A Fountain of Gardens which spans sixteen years and is nearly two and a half thousand pages in length.  Nearly all her works were translated into German and Dutch and published during her lifetime.   Phyllis Mack recognised that as a ‘blind, elderly  middle-class widow’ Jane Lead was to become ‘the most eminent female visionary of the 1690s. [1]  

            She was born into an influential Norfolk family.  She had seven brothers and one sister and her father Hamond Warde, served as a justice of the peace. [2]   Very little of her early life is recorded, although she wrote in her autobiography that her father brought her up ‘with dignity and good manners, according to his standing. [3]   Significantly, during the familys Christmas celebrations in 1640, her sixteenth year, and without any warning, she heard a voice saying, ‘CEASE FROM THIS, I HAVE ANOTHER DANCE TO LEAD THEE IN; FOR THIS IS VANITY. [4]   This sudden experience plunged her into a spiritual turmoil from which she sought a solution; ‘nothing was able to give her any satisfaction or rest, or to ease her wounded spirit ... which continued for the space of three years with very great anguish and trouble. [5]   It was then that she was determined to become a ‘Bride of Christ. [6]     However, she did marry a cousin William Leade because she tells us, he was ‘pious and godfearing. [7]   They lived in London for  twentyfive years and had four daughters, two of whom died in infancy.

            The death of her husband in 1670 brought financial distress to the family due to failed business interests abroad.  It was two months after her husbands death that she recorded in her spiritual diary, A Fountain of Gardens, a series of visions of the Virgin Wisdom, Sophia whom she witnessed as ‘an overshadowing bright Cloud and in the midst of it a Woman.  Three days later it gently commanded ‘Behold me as thy Mother, and six days after came the promise, ‘I shall now cease to appear in a Visible Figure unto thee, but I will not fail to transfigure my self in thy mind; and there open the Spring of Wisdom and Understanding. [8]


   The vision signaled the beginning of a spiritual relationship with Sophia which lasted throughout Jane Lead’s life. 

            A significant turning point in her life was when she met John Pordage (16071681), who introduced her to the writings of the German mystic Jacob Boehme (15751624).  Jane Lead moved into Pordages household as his spiritual partner and ‘mate in 1674,  where they shared the language and a set of ideas to express their mystical experiences. [9]    In the year of Pordages death 1681 she took over  his group of followers and she also published her first treatise entitled A Heavenly Cloud Now Breaking.   This publication aroused the curiosity of  Dr Francis Lee, a physician, who travelled from Leiden to meet her.  He eventually married her widowed daughter, Barbara Walton.  He regarded Jane Lead as his ‘spiritual mother and she looked upon Lee as her ‘spiritual son given to her in old age. [10]   When Jane Lead started to go blind, Lee acted as her amanuensis and editor.  As she began to become known by her published writings a small group of followers gathered at home and in Europe.  Known as the Philadelphian Society, named after the sixth of the seven churches in Asia mentioned in Revelation (1:4 and 3:7) they believed in the imminence of the millennium and the concept of universal salvation.

            In 1704 however, the death of Jane Lead  heralded the deathknell of the Philadelphian Society.  Her epitaph in Bunhill Fields reads, ‘Here lies the shed outward garment of the flesh of the Venerable Handmaid of the Lord, Jane Lead, in the year of her pilgrimmage, 81. [11]

John Pordage (1607/8-1681)

            When Lead started writing in 1670 her knowledge of an alchemical vocabulary was already considerable. [12]   She almost certainly derived her alchemical knowledge and its idiomatic application from John Pordage and his associates and from the works of Jacob Boehme.   Scholars, however, have overlooked many of Lead’s occult sources and they have failed to recognise her frequent use of alchemical imagery.  Catherine Smith has concentrated on Lead’s role as a mystic and visionary within a discourse of feminism, but failed to give a more nuanced understanding of other influences in her writings. [13]   Whilst scholars such as Joanna Sperle have stressed Lead’s Christian orthodoxy, playing down her unorthodox Behmenist source, others such as Brian Gibbons and Arthur Versluis identify only John Pordage and Edmund Brice as spiritual alchemists in Lead’s circle. [14]   Indeed, while Gibbons and  Versluis  have acknowledged Lead’s Behmenist influences, they  have not considered her use of alchemical imagery. [15]

            Some of Lead’s visions clearly contain the use of alchemical imagery as a way of expressing spiritual purification.  However, It is only recently that scholars, such as Jayne Archer, have observed that ‘the early modern housewife was an important producer and consumer of chymical literature and knowledge in early modern England’. [16]   Scholarly enquiry has generally ignored the larger subject of women and alchemy, which has often been seen as a preserve of male activity.  Archer, however, has shown that many women writers did use alchemical ideas and vocabulary.  For example, Mary Astell was familiar with alchemical terms and used them in her poem ‘Awake my Lute’, [17] as did Lucy Hastings in her poem on the death of her son. [18]   Likewise, Katherine Philips was familiar with alchemical language, and wrote ‘Epitaph On her Son’, which contains the following reference to alchemy, ‘So the subtle alchemist/ Can’t with Hermes’ seal resist/ The powerful spirit’s subtler flight’. [19]


            Lead’s version of spiritual alchemy, however, was a way of expressing how the soul could undergo a process of purification to become one with God.  Her visions of Noah and Noah’s Ark were highly unusual because she adopted alchemical imagery in her interpretation of the Noah story as a way of conveying her belief that an inner transformation could occur through the art of transmutation.  Lead thus used the process of alchemical transmutation as a way of signifying the change from a state of sinfulness, through stages of purification, to find divinity within the individual and also inside the Ark.  Thus there are several levels of meaning in Lead’s visions. 

                       By Faith Noah being warned of God, prepared an Ark to the saving

                       of his House; by the which he condemned the World, and became Heir

                       of Righteousness which is by Faith. [20]

            Lead was clearly inspired by the biblical story of  Noah and of his steadfast faith in God which is found in Genesis 6-7, and reiterated in Hebrews 11:7 and Matthew 24:37-38.   The story of Noahs Ark was, as now, culturally embedded, yet for Lead it possessed special significance.  Her visions of a second Noahs Ark increased her sense of a renewed surge of Faith, ‘But the Spirit of Wisdom hath now presented them afresh to me, as telling me they were in this Day to be looked into, for Faith to be thence revived, and Prayer envigorated. [21]    Lead thus saw Noah as a figure and a story which were particularly relevant for her times and her mission.  Indeed, her diary entry for 21 February 1687 recorded that God told her that she would become the second Noah: ‘Thou hast been learned and taught as another Noah to prepare and build an Ark of Faith in this Invisible World. [22] Just as God favoured Noah (Gen. 6:8) Lead felt herself singled out to inform others of Gods plan and she sought to prepare herself and others for the imminent appearance of a second Noahs Ark. However, her personal revelations and  her reinterpretations of the Noah story deviate in fascinating ways from biblical sources.

            This analysis will broaden our appreciation of Leads writing, for this dimension of Leads writings and imagery has not been discussed by previous scholars.  The one person who has noted Leads visions of the second Noahs Ark is Catherine Smith.  However, she wrote that they were ‘flights of fantasy and that they suggested ‘the Gothic stories that were beginning to entertain popular imagination in Leads age and the centuries to follow. [23] By anachronistically categorising Leads visions as quasi-Gothic, Smith fails to appreciate the depth of Leads religious message concerning the second Noahs Ark.  She also missed the extent to which such Noahic imagery was rooted in a previous tradition of biblical exegesis and that Leads ‘fantasies were highly meaningful. 

            This discussion will also add to the literature on the cultural history of Noah’s flood in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, not least because scholars examining the reception and interpretation of Noah have been more concerned with the history of science than with the continuing prophetic meanings of the Genesis story. [24]   At the end of the seventeenth century  natural philosophers strove to prove that the flood was universal using reason rather than revelation. [25]   As Norman Cohn has noted, in their search for traces of the flood several authors controversially interpreted Noah’s flood in terms of cometary interference. [26]   In December 1694, Edmund Halley read a paper at the Royal Society, entitled ‘Some Considerations about the Cause of the universal Deluge,’ in which he speculated the Flood was caused by the effect of a comet. [27]    In  New Theory of the Earth (1696), William Whiston also suggested that a comet was the means by which God had brought about the flood which descended into the Garden of Eden, allowing Noah enough time to build an Ark ‘before the earth’s rotation brought him in to full torrent’. [28]


In Arca Noe (1675), the German Jesuit,  Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680), considered Noah’s Ark to be ‘the greatest edifice to pure knowledge ever built, greater than the Temple of Solomon and more successful then the infamous Tower of Babel’. [29]

According to Kircher, Noahs son, Shem, ‘moved to Egypt and became the source of all wisdoms as captured in the hermetic writings, or Egyptian hieroglyphics. [30] He also regarded Noahs Ark as the first museum of natural history.  The Ark representing humanitys first attempt to collect nature for God.  Indeed, the contents and proportion and of the Ark were a matter of much speculation in the seventeenth century.  Francis Lee, too, explored the practical dimensions  of  Noahs Ark in one of his tracts ‘On Naval Architecture, as Applied to Noahs Ark, showing how it was Accommodated to Live in a Tempest of Waters. [31]

            Lead, however, was not concerned with speculating about scientific evidence relating to the story of Noah.  She wanted to discern and promulgate Gods truth from her revelations.  Leads first recorded vision of Noah was 1 May 1676, [32] and she developed the story of Noah in more detail in her companion treatises The Ark of Faith and The Tree of Faith (1696) in entries dated 18, 19, and 20 February 1696. [33]    In a reappraisal of the story she admonished ‘all those who in this Noahs Age are asleep in their dark Prison-Houses. [34]   Her millenarian prophecy warned that ‘Noahs Spirit would yet return again to condemn this present world [35] in his ‘coelestial Ark before ‘Christs third coming. [36]   In this passage she was clearly drawing from Matthew 24:37-38: ‘But as the days of Noe were, so also the coming of the Son of man shall be.  For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark.  Noah, it can be said, blocked out ‘all knowledge of the carnage that was being perpetrated around him, obeying Gods will to save only himself, his immediate family and a selection of animals. [37]    Leads version of the Noah story, however, rejected Gods favouritism which singled out Noahs family as the only humans worthy of the gift of life (Gen. 7:22-23). 

            Moreover, Lead saw herself as part of a redeemable community, not merely the few who could be saved in a re-enactment of Noah’s story. [38]   Indeed, in Lead’s vision the flood was not a tragedy which involved the destruction of the world’s inhabitants; rather the Ark, a vehicle of faith and as a means of transportation imbued with supernatural powers, was capable of conveying all humanity to God.  Although Lead drew from the story of Noah as a warning to humanity, she concentrated on the way  the Ark was a haven and did not envision the destruction of the flood.   Instead, she predicted an imminent new ‘Gospel Ministration, (which is all Love, Grace, Mercy and Peace)’. [39]   Lead represented God as love, offering redemption to everyone, not as a destroyer of life.  Thus, her vision of a second Noah’s Ark  was of a vehicle for the faithful, who could then be transported to the ‘New Paradisiacal Earth’. [40]    Her attempt to elucidate the ‘Secret and Hidden Divine Life,’ by  providing a sense of a secret unfolding and a renewed and refreshed vision reaffirmed the Christian message of redemption. [41]


A Second Ark of Redemption

            Like the first Noah, Lead was under a direct command from God and about to take on a leading role as rescuer.  Her faithfulness towards God was rewarded with help: ‘There was One known by Name, that should have of the same Spirit of Faith to concur, and build with me, and so we should mutually be made able to strengthen one anothers Hands, to carry on this great Work, as Male and Female in one Person, or Spirit, to enter first this Golden Ark of the Presence. [42]   She wrote, ‘Pray, that we may be the First Fruits, of those that are Risen with him; that so we are admitted into Faiths Flying Ark here Described, which will transport us into the New Earth of Wonders, delivering us from the Deluge of the Curse, that is from Infidelity. [43]   Although redemption was intended primarily for members of  the Philadelphian Society, as the ‘first fruits drawn from Revelation 14:4, it was actually available to everyone, in accordance with Leads doctrine of universal salvation. [44]   Admittance to the Ark was the first step in a process of selection, according to the degree of purity of each soul.   She wrote, ‘none else can have admittance into this Holy Ark, but such as are fully and wholly Purified by Faith. [45]   She stressed that, although admittance to the second Noahs Ark was selective at first, it was nevertheless open to everyone and   metaphorically, the second Noahs Ark had the capacity to transport all souls.  Indeed, in a reversal of the creation story, Leads vision of the second Noahs Ark was a story of redemption for all humanity.  Once the Philadelphians had joined together in a shared faith and embarked upon the journey in the Ark, it would travel to the four corners of the earth to collect all Gods children.   When boarding had been completed, the Ark would carry its passengers, not to Mount Ararat, but to the ‘Paradaisical Land, thus  re-uniting humankind into a cohesive group. 


           Lead predicted a surge of interest from others wishing to join the Ark, ‘For they flocked to the utmost parts of the Earth as Doves to the Windows of this Ark’. [46]    The purpose of the Ark was ‘to take in, and receive such as have looked for the Redemption, to be Saved from the Violence and Curse of the Old Earth’. [47]    As God had saved humankind in the first Noah’s Ark, the second Noah’s Ark symbolised the church by which God saved Christians.  Indeed, Lead wrote of  the urgency to board the Ark, ‘A loud Cry and Call then came out of the Ark, saying, Come, Hasten, and escape for your Lives, for here is a Shelter prepared for you, while those who do slight this Call, and have not Faith to fly away, must in another Deluge be swallowed up, which will be as the Waters in Noah’s Day’. [48]   Lead’s vision also made allowances for free will: ‘Children of Wisdom’s Kingdom, who have obeyed her Voice’ by contrast, ‘shall here be kept, having the Wings of Power ... given to them, that they might fly into this Ark’. [49]   The choice was either to go to the ‘New found Paradisiacal Land’ or to remain in ‘the Land of the Curse’. [50]  

            Lead’s vision of the second Noah’s Ark was more elaborate than the biblical description.  Not confined to sailing on the waters, this Ark had the power and speed to fly.  In her vision dated 9 February 1678, she noted that it came ‘in the form of a large ship with Wings’ which ‘being like varnished Gold, it came down with the greatest swiftness imaginable’, thus illustrating God’s strength and power. [51]   Lead depicted it as a flying ‘Golden Ark’ and ‘our Body-Ark of invincible might and strength’. [52]   On 19 February 1696, she wrote that the Ark did ‘float and fly with great force, with outspread Banners: and a mighty Angel that was in it, did sound forth his Trumpet’. [53]   In this later vision, a sense of urgency was signalled by the sound of the trumpet heralding the impending event draws on Revelation 8:6.  However, unlike  biblical descriptions, Lead’s Ark was of  ‘most diaphanous fine Gold, with Six Wings on each side branching forth from it; so that it did Fly as well as Swim: which Wings were full of Eyes’. [54] Revelation 4:8 stated that, ‘four beasts had each of them six wings about him: and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is and is to come,’ also may well have influenced Lead.


            In a vision dated 20 February 1696, Lead recorded how the Ark descended into Paradise.  It was on Paradise that Lead directed her readership to focus on their inward spiritual development.  The rules of admittance to Paradise  included: lowliness, meekness, attendance at the holy inward court, Abel-like self-sacrifice and a growth in faith. [55]   The Philadelphians as the ‘first fruits’ were privileged to be the ‘First Resurrection-Body’. [56]   Lead prophesied  that  they would make ‘a Glorious Spotless Church upon the Earth to appear, as a Flying Ark with Banners, whose Eyes as lamps of Fire may go forth, to gather in the whole Priestly and Heavenly Host, from all Quarters and Parts of the Earth,’ and thereby become the ‘Triumphant Church’ mentioned in Revelation 3:7. [57]   Lead concluded The Ark of Faith with a jubilant rhyme,  ‘Shall we the Song of our Redemption Sing/ Glory, Glory, Glory to the Triune King,’ [58]   based on Psalm 111.9: ‘He sent redemption to His people, holy is his name,’ and Hebrews 9:12: ‘Having obtained eternal redemption for us’.  Thus the Ark of Faith was a prophetic declaration of a new age and afforded the opportunity for redemption.

            As Norman Cohn has observed, Noah as a ‘type’ of Christ was a theme which flourished throughout  the Middle Ages. [59]    Noah’s ‘survival and his emergence from the Ark were interpreted as prefiguring the resurrection of Christ and his emergence from the tomb’. [60]   Lead wrote that the Ark included ‘Faith’s great Conqueror Christ Jesus; with Abraham, Noah, and all the High Elders of the Faith’. [61]   The Ark as the body of faith was represented by Christ as the head, and the Church was the Bride or the Lamb’s wife.  She recorded that ‘the Great Captain of the Ark of Faith, Christ Jesus, did steer the Ark’. [62]   The story of Noah was ‘analogous to God’s own creation and to His subsequent supervision of nature and also to the most sacred mysteries of faith’. [63]    By introducing Christ into the story of the second Noah, Lead also suggested that Noah was a ‘type’ of Christ - the chief of a new, regenerated race. [64]

            As should be clear already, the Ark was a vehicle of transformation as well as transportation.  This should not be entirely surprising as Lead was informed by alchemical, magical and Behmenist readings of the Ark.  In addition to scriptural sources, Lead probably had access to Boehme’s exposition of Genesis, Mysterium Magnum.  It contained information about Noah’s descent from Adam, and how Noah’s son, Shem became the source of all wisdom, thereby continuing the covenant between man and God, in a similar way to his account of Rebecca and Jacob. [65]   It was a story of redemption which depicted  God’s  will  and used alchemical imagery to describe the inner spiritual meaning of the story.  For example, Boehme  wrote of  the rainbow that ‘Sulphur and Mercury doe sever themselves, and produce distinct, various and Several Colours, which are betoken unto us the inward and spirituall worlds’. [66]    Illustrated in Boehme’s Theosophishe Werke was Noah’s dove with an olive branch, a messenger pigeon, and above them the Holy Ghost.  It represented the threefold spirit, of God, nature and art. [67]  

            In order to appreciate the process of redemption, however, it is necessary to consider the alchemical imagery in Lead’s visions of the second Noah’s Ark.  The Ark, in addition to its meanings detailed above, was also said to be the alchemists’ secret vessel in which the matter of the Stone underwent dissolution and putrefaction leading to the generation of the Philosopher’s Stone. [68]   The Ark and the flood were thus assimilated into alchemical processes by Lead, and her description of the flying ‘Golden Ark’ [69] can be seen as the symbol of the golden goal - the opus alchymicum.



            It is no coincidence that Lead used alchemical imagery in her retelling of the story of Noah.  As Gareth Roberts has written, ‘Among Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, Noah, Moses, David and Solomon supposedly knew the art [of alchemy], and it was also revealed to Enoch in a vision.’ [70]    The Noah story  was thus already imbued with alchemical meaning and Lead  wanted  to regain a knowledge of God that had been forfeited by the Fall.  In the Rosicrucian and mystical tradition, Noah’s Ark was  both a sign and a source of lost wisdom.  In alchemical legend Noah was said to have kept the Emerald tablet safe from the flood waters in the Ark, and to have preserved the Philosopher’s Stone from destruction by the flood and to have built the Ark with its aid. [71]   The Sophic Hydrolith (1678) stated that by the aid of the Philosopher’s Stone ‘Noah is said to have built the Ark.’ [72]   

           In biblical and alchemical symbolism Noah’s flood was both destructive and regenerative.  The old race was drowned and the new race generated from the Ark.  This new race was intended to repopulate the world, and thus alchemists viewed the story as ‘a matrix of generation’. [73]    In alchemical terms, Noah’s flood was analogous to the alchemical process of the dissolution of the Stone’s matter into the prima materia during the Nigredo stage, the original or first matter from which it was believed the universe was created.    The black waters of dissolution (mercury) threatened to drown every living creature, and yet, the deathly waters are miraculously transformed into the waters of life, which wash the blackened body of the Stone at the bottom of the alembic and resurrect it into life. [74]  

            After the deluge, the emergence of the rainbow held, and holds, a special significance for Christians as a sign of God’s forgiveness. [75]   For Boehme, it signified a critical point at which God entered into a covenant with man.  Boehme wrote of the rainbow that it  ‘hath the colour of all the three Principles’ of the divine: red representing the dark and fire worlds, white and yellow signifying God’s love, and green and blue from the chaos which produce several more colours symbolising the inward spiritual worlds. [76]    The drying up of the flood waters after the rainbow thus represented a stage where the earth or body has passed through the nigredo or peacock’s tail.  It is transformed into the white foliated earth of albedo. [77]   For Lead, the dawning of the albedo meant that purification was nearly complete and the soul was ready for illumination. This white foliated earth was also symbolic of Lead’s final destination in the Ark, the ‘Paradaisical Land’.


           Lead placed her emphasis on an expected utopia and did not dwell on the Fall and loss of  paradise.  The Paradisical Land of Lead’s visions represented a form of female utopia and it can be seen as an attempt to address a gender imbalance where male figures of power traditionally have had the ultimate monopoly.  For in Lead’s vision the ‘Princess and Governess of this Land’ was the Virgin Wisdom or Sophia. [78]   Lead wrote: ‘The Virgin Wisdom sounded a joyful Cry, saying, Come and see what an Ark is prepared for them that are Born into the Faith, as mighty Hero’s to act the Wonders of the new Creation; which Ark is made in my new Paradise, that hath not yet been inhabited’. [79]    Of paradise, Lead wrote:


we were lead out to view the pleasant Trees and Groves for delight and recreation: and the Trees did seem to be as of pure Gold, and the Branches to be laden with Diamonds, and all the variety of Precious Stones.  Besides which there were Trees also laden with sorts of precious Fruits for Food: and Rivers with Fountains flowing with spiced Wine, and Cups and Flagons round about the Fountain.  So we were all called to drink at these Fountains, and to eat of these Fruits, being entertained by these Magi.[80]



            Lead’s description is both worldly and otherworldly.  Paradise as a land of plenty clearly echoed the biblical Garden of Eden.  However, images of  trees of  ‘pure Gold’ and branches  ‘laden with diamonds’ intensified the symbolic resonance of the Bible, yet also served to highlight the richness of Lead’s creativity.  Once in the ‘Paradaisical Land’ Lead wrote that followers would find the ‘Climate was of a Transmuting Property, which would put another kind of Body upon them, that should be of such Agility, Purity, and Clarity, as the Old Body should in all its Infirmities be swallowed up into this.’ [81]   The climate thus accomplished a transformation from a corporeal or earthly to a celestial or divine configuration.  In an attempt to transcend the body and mortality she wrote, ‘what hath lain under the Death, that is to say, a Resurrection Body of pure Spirits in a new springing Paradise, which is the New Earth so much Prophesied of’. [82]   It is at this point that Lead conflated  biblical and alchemical metaphors.  I Cor. 15:51-52 states, ‘Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.’  Echoing the biblical passage, Lead thus used alchemical language as a means of expressing how the dross of sin and death could be transmuted to reveal the original pure form akin to the divine.

            This  inward  transformation would occur in Paradise.  Lead described how an aged body riddled with infirmities could be transmuted to a body imbued with ‘Agility, Purity and Clarity’. [83]   Indeed, she depicted the growth of Trees, with trunks ‘of such fine Gold’  as ‘Representative Figures of  those that were brought into the Ark’. [84]   Here, she suggested that a  process  of  change would  purify the soul leading to perfection, or gold.  It represented the transmutation of the earthly into the illumined being,  whose purified body and soul reflected  the  gold  of the divine spirit.  Lead further believed that this transmutation was imbued with magical powers with a promise of immortality: 

But there is an Age coming, as this Tree of Faith grows up in Persons in their inward ground to its full ripeness, when the Fruit being eaten thereof Magically, will Transfigure the very Elementary Body, and give it a Radical Ruby Glory; so that Mortality shall be hid in Immortality; which is the Garment that may last the Thousand Years Reign of Christ. [85]  


This chiliastic message anticipated an imminent age in which an inward transformation would occur.   The phrase ‘Radical Ruby Glory suggests in alchemical terms the final stage of the opus, the ‘rubedo which had the power to transmute base metals into gold and the earthly being into the enlightened philosopher, who could attain the consciousness of God.  Indeed, The Aurora by Boehme includes in its titleMorning Rednesse Sun That is the Root or Mother of Philosophie, Astrologie and Theologie, suggesting the powerful symbolism associated with red (rubedo) and the sun (gold).  The Aurora contained a woodcut which showed a triangle on a throne, symbolising the Trinity with rays emanating from it. [86]    Lead probably had access to The Aurora, which contained Boehmes first memoirs of his ideas, and thus was able to develop her own alchemical notions.


           Lead also may also have read alchemical works by Sir George Ripley including A Compound of Alchemy.  Ripley wrote of Noah’s Ark in connection with the alchemical stage of rubedo, ‘The Waters of Noyes flud/ On Erth, whych were a hundred dayes contynuate/ And fyfty, away or all thys Waters yode, /Ryght so our Waters as wyse men understode/ Shall passe.’ [87]   He compared the growth of the Philosopher’s Stone into the red elixir to Noah’s cultivation of grapes, ‘Sone after that Noe plantyd hys Vyneyard, Whych really floryshed and brought forth Graps anon ... For in lykewyse shall follow the floryshyng of our Stone:/ And some upon that thyrty dayes overgone,/ Thou shalt have Graps ryght as the Ruby red.’ [88]   The rubedo stage was thus as an important part of the alchemical process, which symbolised the possibility of transmutation from a sinful condition to one of  illumination, allowing a reconciliation with God.  Alchemical imagery thus played an important role as a way of expressing Lead’s theology of redemption. 


            Lead’s idea of the Ark was intimately connected with the idea that God’s inner sanctuary provided the opportunity to find the divine within, and that souls could enter Paradise.  Her vision of the ‘Golden Ark’ has further meanings, for it can be associated with the Ark of the Covenant, or the Holy of Holies.  Both contained the inner sanctuary where God revealed His will.  Both the second Noah’s Ark and the Ark of the Covenant were vessels containing mysteries of the divine.  Noah’s Ark was like a sealed box with only one skylight giving access to the outside world, and The Ark of the Covenant was a portable sanctuary symbolising God’s dwelling place on earth. [89]   Drawing directly from Revelation 11:19, ‘And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament,’  Lead prophesied a new covenant where the secret of God would be made more common and familiar than formerly.  Lead’s vision of these Arks symbolised a refuge or sacred space signifying a place where secrets are kept, including God’s strength,  described in Psalm 132:8: ‘Arise, O LORD, into thy rest; thou, and the ark of thy strength’.

            Lead’s visions showed that access to God was available to anyone who ‘would come out of the Babylonish confusion’, i.e. the ungodly world. [90]    Lead wrote that, ‘the Ark was not to rest, but to Fly and Float for more to be gathered in, till the Full Body of the First Resurrection state was completed’. [91]    The Ark was thus an ‘Ark of Faith’ - a vehicle to transport God’s children in anticipation of an intimate union with the divine, based on Revelation 19:7.  The ‘Paradaisical Land’ was the final destination of the Ark just as the Philosopher’s Stone was the final outcome of the alchemical process.

            Lead’s use of  alchemical imagery thus played a crucial role, by  investing  layers of meaning in her retelling of Noah’s story. The second Noah’s Ark symbolised not only the process of purification of the individual soul, but also a collective experience of redemption.  Her visions described how the second Ark would save humanity.  The Ark was designed to be a powerful vehicle of transportation, and it combined impressive and extraordinary specifications with  the purpose of reuniting humankind with God.  Lead believed that she was living in the Last Days, or End Times, and so the expectation of Christ returning again as prophesied in the Book of Revelation was just as tangible to her as the return of a second Noah, and the return of the Flood. Thus, in her rendering of the story of Noah, Lead saw herself as part of the biblical chronology in a new spiritual age where God unsealed and revealed new secrets.  As a story of redemption, Lead’s version of the Divine Ark offered a way transmuting a sinful condition into celestiality, ignorance of God into illumination, and lead into gold.





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Armstrong, Karen, In the Beginning: A New Reading of the Book of Genesis (London, 1996).

Boehme, Jacob, Mysterium Magnum: Or An Exposition of the First Book of Moses called Genesis (2 vols, London, 1656).

Bynum, C. W., Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality  of  the High Middle Ages (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982).

Cohn, Norman, Noahs Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought (New Haven and London, 1999).

Findlen, Paula, Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1994).

Gibbons, B. J., Gender in Mystical and Occult Thought: Behmenism and its Development in England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Greer, Germaine,  and others, (eds), Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Womens Verse (London, 1998).

Sechs Mystische Tractatlein (Amsterdam,1697).

Lead, Jane, A Fountain of Gardens: A Spiritual Diary of the Wonderful Experiences of a Christian Soul (3 vols, London, P.J. Loutherbourg, 16961701).

Lead, Jane, 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).

Lead, Jane,  The Wars of David and the Peaceable Sign of Solomon Symbolizing 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 Melchisedeck (London, T. Wood, 1700).

Lee, Francis, Apoleipomena or Dissertations, Theological, Mathmatical, and Physical with a Critical Commentary on the Most Difficult Places of the Book of Genesis (2 vols, London, 1752).

Mack, Phyllis, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley and London, University of California Press, 1989).

Roberts, Gareth, The Mirror of Alchemy: Alchemical Ideas and Images in Manuscripts and Books from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century (London, 1994).

Roob, Alexander, The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy and Mysticism (Koln, Taschen,1996).

Smith, Catherine, ‘Mysticism and Feminism: Jacob Boehme and Jane Lead’, in D. Hiller and R. Sheets, Women and Men: The Consequences of Power (Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati Press, 1977).

Smith, Catherine, ‘Mysticism and Feminism’, in Rosemary Radford Ruether and Eleanor McLaughlin (eds), Women of Spirit: Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions (New York, 1979).

Sperle, Joanna, ‘God’s Healing Angel: A Biography of Jane Ward Lead’, (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Kent State University,1985).

Tutin, J. R., (ed.), Katherine Philips, The Matchless Orinda: Selected Poems (Hull, 1904).

Versluis, Arthur, Wisdoms Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany, State University of New York Press, 1999).

Waite, A. E., (ed.), Hermetic Museum, (Maine, 1991).

Walker, D. P., The Decline of Hell: Seventeenth-Century Discussions of Eternal Torment (London, 1964).

Walton, Christopher, Notes & Materials for an Adequate Biography of the Celebrated & Divine Theosopher William Law (Privately Published, 1854).


[1]    Phyllis Mack, Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England (Berkeley and London: University of California Press, 1989), p. 409.


[3]   Lebenslauff der Autorin in Sechs Mystische Tractatlein (Amsterdam: Wetstein,1697), p. 414.  The only extant copy of  Jane Leads autobiography is in German.  My thanks to Marianne Jahn for this  translation.                                                  Dr Julie Hirst  (c) 2004

[4]  Jane Lead, The Wars of David (London, T. Wood, 1700 reprinted 1815), Publishers address. 

[5]  Ibid.

[6]   Lebenslauff, p. 418.  ‘Bride of Christ is a common motif in womens religious       history.  ‘The major theologian of the twelfth century, Hildegard of Bingen described          herself as a ‘Bride of Christ, in C.W. Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality  of  the High Middle Ages (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982).  

[7] Ibid., pp. 4178.

[8]  Jane Lead, A Fountain of Gardens (3 vols, London, P.J. Loutherbourg, 16961701), vol. 1, pp.1821.

[9]  Ibid., p. 328.

[10]  Christopher Walton,  Notes & Materials for an Adequate biography of the Celebrated & Divine Theosopher William Law (Privately Published, 1854), p.509.

[11]  Walton, MS. C. 5.30.

[12]  In the first volume of her spiritual diary, A Fountain of Gardens, Watered by the Rivers of Divine Pleasure (London, 1696), Lead used the words gold or golden 111 times and stone 96 times; many of these usages can be interpreted as alchemical references.  On 30 April 1675, Lead wrote, ‘an earthen Pot set upon a soft Fire, in which was a Liquor of melted Gold, boiling with scum on it, which was an Idea of my present State ... this gentle Fire, that will not crack the Vessel, but Refine the Golden Matter in it (p. 81).  On 24 September 1676 she wrote, ‘ye have not wrought in the Furnace, where this Golden Wedge is to be melted down, to run into every part of your Body (p. 364).


[13]   Catherine Smith, ‘Mysticism and Feminism: Jacob Boehme and Jane Lead, in D. Hiller and R. Sheets, Women and Men: The Consequences of Power (Cincinnati, University of Cincinnati Press, 1977), pp. 398-408.

[14]   Joanna Sperle, ‘Gods Healing Angel: A Biography of Jane Ward Lead, (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Kent State University,1985), p. 99.  B. J. Gibbons, Gender in Mystical and Occult Thought: Behmenism and its Development in England (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 167-68.  Arthur Versluis, Wisdoms Children: A Christian Esoteric Tradition (Albany, State University of New York Press, 1999), p. 243. 

[15]   Brice translated and probably wrote Ali Pulis alchemical treatise, Centrum Naturae Concentratum (London, 1696), and Pordages work was suffused with alchemical imagery, see Gibbons, Gender in Mystical, p. 75, and Versluis, Wisdoms Children, pp. 242-43.

[16]   Jayne Archer, ‘Women and Alchemy in Early Modern England, (unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1999), pp. i-lxxvii.

[17]   Germaine Greer and others, (eds), Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Womens Verse (London, 1998), p. 340, lines 100-03.

[18]   Lucy Hastings, ‘Lachrymae Musarum in Greer, Kissing the Rod, lines 7-16, pp. 9-10.  Lucy Hutchinson recorded that her mother, wife of Sir Allen Apsley, lieutenant-governor of the Tower, paid for experiments conducted by Sir Walter Raleigh, a practitioner of Paracelsian medicine, whilst he was imprisoned in the Tower, in Lyndy Abraham, A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 105.

[19]   J. R. Tutin (ed.), Katherine Philips, The Matchless Orinda: Selected Poems (Hull, 1904), p. 23. (My thanks to Gweno Williams for this reference).

[20]   Jane Lead, 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), titlepage.

[21]   Lead was referring to the vision she had of ‘Preparing and Building an Ark ‘several Years past, possibly the vision she recorded on 21 February 1687, in Jane Lead, The Ark of Faith (London, 1696), pp. 1-2. 

[22]   Ibid., pp. 5-6. 

[23]   Catherine Smith, ‘Mysticism and Feminism: Jacob Boehme and Jane Lead, in Rosemary Radford Ruether and Eleanor McLaughlin (eds), Women of Spirit: Female Leadership in the Jewish and Christian Traditions (New York, 1979), p. 194.


[24]   The universality of the flood had been established by the number of marine fossils found inland.  Allen argues that geological and paleontological investigations can be found in the late seventeenth-century publications of Thomas Burnet, John Ray, John Woodward and William Whiston, in Don Cameron Allen, The Legend of Noah: Renaissance Rationalism in Art, Science and Letters (Urbana, 1963), p. 112.

[25]   Ibid., pp. 92-112.

[26]   Norman Cohn, Noahs Flood: The Genesis Story in Western Thought (New Haven and London, 1999), p. 69.

[27]   Ibid., pp. 69-70.

[28]   Ibid., p. 67.

[29]   Paula Findlen, Possessing Nature: Museums, Collecting, and Scientific Culture in Early Modern Italy (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London, 1994), p. 88.  See also, Allen, The Legend of  Noah, pp. 182-91.

[30]   Alexander Roob, The Hermetic Museum: Alchemy and Mysticism (Koln, 1996), p. 592.

[31]  Francis Lee, Apoleipomena or Dissertations, Theological, Mathmatical, and Physical with a Critical Commentary on the Most Difficult Places of the Book of Genesis (2 vols, London, 1752), vol. 1, pp. 219-79.

[32]   Lead, Fountain of Gardens, vol. 1, p. 206.

[33]   Lead, The Tree of Faith, pp. 8, 11, 16.

[34]   Lead, Fountain of Gardens, vol. 1, p. 210.

[35]   Ibid., vol. 2, p. 401.

[36]   Ibid., vol. 3, pt. 1, p. 44.

[37]   Karen Armstrong, In the Beginning: A New Reading of the Book of Genesis (London, 1996), pp. 42-43.

[38]   Lead, Fountain, vol. 2, p. 401. 


[39]   Ibid., vol. 3, pt. 1, p. 210.

[40]   Lead, Tree of Faith, p. 28.

[41]   Lead, Ark of Faith, sig. M6v.

[42]   Ibid., p. 6.  This person may have been John Pordage, Leads ‘spiritual partner and mate.

[43]   Lead, Ark of Faith, sig. M6.

[44]   D. P. Walker, The Decline of Hell,: Seventeenth-Century Discussions of Eternal Torment (London, 1964), pp. 218-30.

[45]   Lead, Tree of Faith, p. 15.

[46]   Ibid., p. 14.

[47]   Lead, Tree of Faith, pp. 9.

[48]   Ibid., pp. 9-10.

[49]   Ibid., p. 10.

[50]   Ibid., p. 16.

[51]   Lead, Fountain, vol. 3, pt. 1, p. 66.

[52]   Ibid., p. 72.

[53]   Lead, Ark of Faith, p. 13.

[54]   Ibid., p. 9.

[55]   Ibid., p. 23.

[56]   Ibid., p. 29.


[57]   Ibid., p. 32.

[58]   Ibid., p. 32.

[59]   Cohn, Noahs Flood, p. 24.

[60]   Ibid., p. 25.

[61]   Lead, Ark of Faith, p. 9.

[62]   Ibid., p. 11.

[63]   Gareth Roberts, The Mirror of Alchemy: Alchemical Ideas and Images in Manuscripts and Books from Antiquity to the Seventeenth Century (London, 1994), p. 16. 

[64]   Cohn, Noahs Flood, pp. 24-25.  Noah as a ‘type of Christ was a theme that flourished throughout the Middle Ages. 

[65]   Jacob Boehme, Mysterium Magnum: Or An Exposition of the First Book of Moses called Genesis (2 vols, London, 1656), vol. 1, chapters 31-35 and 43.

[66]   Boehme, Mysterium Magnum, p. 207.

[67]   Roob, Hermetic Museum, p. 355.

[68]   Three Doves and Noahs Ark are illustrated as a woodcut in Jacob Boehme, Des Gottseeligen Hocherleuchteten Jacob Bohmens Alle Theosophishe Werken (Amsterdam,1682).  The ark was illustrated as an alchemical vessel for example, by Goossen van Vreeswijk in De Goude Leeuw (Amsterdam, 1675); Abraham, Dictionary of Alchemical, p. 11.

[69]   Lead, Fountain, vol. 3, pt. 1, p. 72.

[70]   Roberts, Art of Alchemy, p. 16.


[71] Abraham, Dictionary of Alchemical, p. 69. The Emerald Tablet is one of the most important sources of medieval alchemy, attributed to Hermes Trismegistus or the Egyptian Thoth, and said to be inscribed in Phoenician characters.  Legend has it that Noah carried the tablet with him in the ark during the flood, and that Sarah, Abrahams wife, found it in the hands of Hermes Trismegistus as he lay in his tomb in a cave.

[72]   A. E. Waite (ed.), Hermetic Museum, (Maine, 1991), p. 86.

[73]   Abraham, Dictionary of Alchemical, p. 10.

[74]   Ibid., pp. 78-79. [75]   Francis Lee wrote about ‘The Symbol of the Rainbow in  Apoleipomena, vol. 2, pp. 1-30.

[76]   Boehme, Mysterium, p. 207.

[77]   Abraham, Dictionary of Alchemical, pp. 78-79.

[78]   Lead, Ark of Faith, p. 17.

[79]   Ibid., p. 8.

[80]   Ibid., pp. 11-12.

[81]   Ibid., pp. 17-18.

[82]   Ibid., p. 2.

[83]   Ibid., p. 18.

[84]   Ibid., p. 27.

[85]   Lead, Tree of Faith, p. 91.


[86]   Jacob Boehme, Aurora, That is, the Day-Spring (London, 1656).

[87]  George Ripley, The Compound of Alchymie, sig. X4, in Ashmole, Theatrum Chemicum, p. 151.

[88]   Ibid., p. 151.

[89]   The Ark of Covenant is described as being covered with gold and carried on poles.  The lid or ‘mercy seat, was a gold plate topped with two cherubs with outspread wings.  It contained the two stone tablets inscribed with the ten commandments (Dt. 10.1ff.), a pot of manna and Aarons rod (Heb. 9:4f.).  It consisted of a set of 10 violet-blue, purple and scarlet linen curtains.  The interior was divided into 2 compartments with a veil (Ex. 26:31ff.)  The first compartment was ‘the holy place containing the ‘altar of incense (Ex. 30:1ff), the second ‘the holy of holies which housed the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:10ff.). 

[90]   Lead, Ark of Faith, p. 13. Babylon is linked theologically with the broken friendship between man and God.

[91]   Ibid., p. 15.