French Figure: Alexandra David-Néel
“Un siècle de vie qui montre le chemin aux femmes” Bernard Baudouin
Mystic, anarchist, and explorer, Alexandra David-Néel was born in Paris on the 24th October 1868. The atmosphere at home during her childhood was fairly austere and her parents were strict. As a child her favourite books were the science fiction fantasies of Jules Verne, and, perhaps as a form of rebelliousness against her severe upbringing, she promised herself one day to outdo the heroes of these stories. By the age of fifteen, Alexandra had already begun to study and had obtained her first occult reading matter, an English journal produced by the Society of the Supreme Gnosis, sent to her by a woman called Elisabeth Morgan.
She later entered the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, and three years later won first prize for her soprano voice. In her early twenties she studied at the Sorbonne and became a political radical. In 1891, when she was twenty-three, disguised as a man, she joined a Paris cult led by Sri Ananda Saraswati, who used hashish to obtain visions. That same year an inheritance from her godmother enabled her to travel for more than a year through Ceylon and India. Fascinated by the mystery and magic of India and the eerie melodies of Tibetan music, Alexandra knew she would return again one day.
In 1911 she undertook her second voyage to India, and arrived at Pondicherry, the last remaining city of French India, where the police kept a close eye on her due to her extremist tendencies. Alexandra worked and explored constantly for many decades and even had her passport renewed at the age of one hundred. She was awarded a gold medal by the Geographical society of Paris and in 1969 was made a Knight of the Legion of Honour. In addition, in Tibet, she was granted the rank of Lama. She died on 8th September 1969.