Porete to me is one of the most haunting and mysterious figures of the medieval period. As the painting on the cover seems to suggest, when you read Porete you seem to feel as if you are coming across a being who is human yet not quite of this Earth, and there is an ethereal glow of transcendant love in Porete's words.
Porete was one of a series of female mystics in the medieval period known as 'beguines.' Beguines were lay women who either were unable to become nuns, because to join a nunnery usually required the payment of an expensive sum (and only upper class or aristocratic women could afford that in the middle ages) but who still desired the spiritual life. Along with men (beghards) this group produced many interesting mystics.
Porete was charged with heresy and forbidden from circulating her work, the Mirror, by high ranking clerical officials. Porete refused to shut up, and was brought before the inquisition. Unrepentant, like Joan of Arc, she was burned at the stake.
The Mirror was also burned but copies were made and her work was kept and studied, and was not directly connected to her again until the 20th century. Much detailed scholarship has shed a lot of light on this work and on Porete herself.
The Mirror, like many mystical works of the time, describes a process of the union between the human soul and God through love. Porete describes a seven stage process by which the soul of the mystic is 'annihalated' and its will lost in God's infinite being and love. Most controversial, and perhaps what raised the ire of the inquisitors and theologians, was Margaret's argument that after the early stages the mystic was so united with God there was no need for the mystic 'annihalated' in God to take part in the sacramental life of the church, or listen to sermons on things such as heaven and hell. Eventually the soul becomes so united in God distinction seems to be lost, and the mystic passes into the ineffable seventh stage of death which completes perfect union with God and is therefore inexpressible.
The Mirror is a beautiful work of literature and Margaret shows a surprising knowledge of theology, spirituality, and of literature, and herself has considerable abilities as a writer. Like other beguine mystics such as Hadjewich and Metchild, the process of love and uniting to God by annihalating self-will and by a spiritual marriage with the word of God, Jesus, with the soul, seems to be critically important and at many points Margaret borrows the tropes of secular troubadour literature to express her mystical union.
It is quite possible Porete influenced Eckhart and other mystics, and no doubt she had a unique and couragous spirituality. Whether though Christian mysticism can only ever accept the union of God as between two loving but seperate wills, or of complete merging of being, I am not sure, but in my own view Margaret went too far in terms of seeing herself as in indistinct union. Nevertheless, even from afar, we must love and admire this brave woman who is said to have endured the flames in a state of noble equamity.