Hildegard’s gift to me was an invitation into a certain kind of realm of spirit touching the heart.
A meditative kingdom where vocal sounds brushed the celestial and at the same time touched an interior deep inside me.
Racing past more than nine hundred years, through the heavenly chorals’ vibrational notes, the Sibyl of the Rhine’s heart and spirit connected with mine.
Some of the music I heard was beautiful and melodious, other parts were more ‘untameable’ and ecstatic, taking flight soaring high up towards the open blue sky above us.
And somehow I found the music ‘soul provoking’ I can remember.
I suppose I so readily accepted Hildegard’s initial invitation and easily gazed in delight through her portal towards the ethereal Divine because of where I was – in the embrace of the old stone building’s sun-kissed walls, overlooking the soft rolling hills and medieval village near by in my beloved Tuscany, steeped as it is in its own ancient history, captivating beauty and religious tradition.
It all was so fitting.
And I felt drawn to her, this female composer living almost a millennia ago – as if allied by nature and the depth of unassuming feminine strength and wild beauty beyond limits.
It is only later I realised that Hildegard von Bingen also was a Medicine Woman. And today I know she was even way, way more than that.
Beyond creating breathtakingly music and being the first known female composer in the Western world, Hildegard was also a poetess, an artist, a theologian, herbalist, healer and prophet.
Because of her intellect she was sought out by kings, emperors, popes and other noble people around Europe for her ideas and wise counsel.
This impressing person was a visionary who wrote extensive works of mysticism, philosophy, astronomy and books on medicine. She wrote the first morality play and even created her own coded language of about 900 words as well as an alphabet in which to write it! All this in an age when a woman hardly wrote more than an occasional letter, if she even knew how to read and write at all.
Hildegard was a ‘illuminata’, a universal spirit and a Renaissance woman way before her time. As a remarkable female figure with intellectual powers and clarity living in tumultuous twelfth century, she radiates a light in a fiery dance of colours uniquely her own.
Hildegard had a deep and distinctive sense of the sacred and a special intimacy with the natural world that made her view ‘green’, integral and holistic. Again and again she spoke of wholeness and the complex weaving together of the human, the cosmic, the divine and the elements of the natural world. She experienced the deep, organic quality of nature and her cosmology and theology grew out of her understanding and appreciation of the living power of light residing in all created beings.
“In the beginning all creatures were green and vital.
They flourished amidst flowers.”
No one knows the precise date of Hildegard Von Bingen’s birth. She herself supposedly gave 1100 as the year she entered the world, but all records, however, point to the summer of 1098. The exact location of birth is also of some dispute, but someplace by the Nahe River near the town of Bingen, close to Mainz in German Rhineland is the position.
Hildegard was the tenth child of a noble couple, whom in keeping with medieval custom, gave her to the church as a ‘tithe’ since she represented 1/10th of the children they had produced. At the age of eight Hildegard was given over to God in the care of the ascetic Jutta Von Svonheim, a woman a few years older than herself and an acquainted of the family. Hildegard was living together with Jutta and possibly another woman in enclosed dwellings consisting of a couple of rooms built against the wall of a secluded Benedictine male monastery at Disibodenberg. At the time Benedictine nuns lived protected from outside influences and spent most of their time alone in meditation. In the coming years Hildegard was educated and tutored by Jutta in basic Latin and how to chant Psalms, while immersing herself in the Bible and being involved in other monastic duties.
Despite Hildegard’s restricted condition and separateness from both the outside world and the male section of the abby, much points towards that her upbringing in the convent included tending a herbal garden and getting aquatinted with plants and their healing qualities.
When Jutta died in 1136, and Hildegard was 38 years old, she was elected magista in her stead as teacher and mistress of the female community of the monastery which had grown in size over the years and slowly had turned into a Benedictine nunnery.
The position as abbess she retained until her own death in 1179.
Rupertsberg convent, near Bingen, the first of two monasteries Hildegard founded and had built for her sisters around 1150.
The remains of the monastery Disibodenberg.
(Photo: Saharadeserfox https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Kloster_Disibodenberg_02.jpg)
Already at a very young age, Hildegard showed unusual visionary and clairvoyant gifts. Vivid visions of strong light that apparently caused her great physical pain. The bright light that she saw, followed by debilitating aftereffects, would almost certainly have been diagnosed as migraine attacks today. (As theorised by the famous neurologist Oliver Sacks.) But although we know that Hildegard was impaired by frail health throughout her life, and that most likely she indeed did suffer from migraines, it surely takes more to be an illuminated mystic than severe headaches alone. And besides, they would still not explain her prophetic vocation. Similar flashes of illuminations have also been experienced by other saints and shamans throughout time that have brought them out of the ordinary context of human life into a different and transcendent world.
The visions that came to Hildegard were of a divine source and inspiration, shaping the pattern for her understanding of life. She described them as a fiery light that filled her field of perception with a voice she could not hear with her physical ears, only with her ‘inner ears’ – her soul.
Through these luminous revelations she witnessed the creation of the universe and the synergistic systems with all its myriad of beings, planets and stars, angels and devils, plants, animals, minerals and elements. She learned that the human being stands at the centre of creation, the wheel, and is supported by all that exist. Humanity contains all of creation and is a microcosmos of the whole universe, which is the macrocosmos filled with the melody of God’s love.
Hildegard came to understand the phenomenon of the blitzing visions she saw as “the reflection of the living light”. These visions were not some kind of ecstasy or trance induced by fasting, or dreams, but happened when she was lucid and awake, in full use of her senses. And what she saw were astonishing images she described as cosmic eggs, sparkling gems, pulsating stars, shimmering orbs, towering walls and pillars and curious towers… They all had religious meaning to them and they were occasions of contact between Hildegard and God.
A wheel was shone to me,
wonderful to behold….
Divinity is in its omniscience and
like a wheel,
that can neither be understood,
nor begun nor ended.
It is easier
to gaze into the sun,
than into the face of the mystery of God.
Such is its beauty and its radiance.
Hildegard of Bingen
(from the book ‘Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen’ by Gabriele Uhlei)
And so was it that the exceptionally Hildegard from Bingen by the Rhine river became a living instrument of The living light, manifesting the divine and holy in every aspect of the human experience.
Mirabai Starr writes in her beautiful book Hildegard of Bingen, devotions, prayers & living wisdom:
“The living light taught Hildegard the healing properties of minerals and crystals. She learned how certain herbs are toxic when ingested raw, but purify the blood when eaten as boiled greens. She cataloged the details of her knowledge in precise compendia and applied the fruits of her experiments in a clinic continuously filled with the ill and the broken. She treated nightmares and cancer, poor memory and rotten teeth. She eased the pain of menstrual cramps and resolved complications of difficult childbirths.”
During the middle ages, the Bible was woven into the fabric of life and the scriptures were seen as a space within where a person could find the meaning of his or her being in the world.
Hildegard herself was deeply influenced by sapiential theology which roots lie in the Wisdom literature. The book of Wisdom (also called the Wisdom of Solomon) refers to Wisdom, in the concept of a feminine entity.
In the old Hebrew Scriptures, God was recognized as the fountainhead of all wisdom, and this Wisdom was God’s collaborator and consort in his work of creation.
These old Hebrew scriptures were still an integral part of the Bible in the medieval church at Hildegard’s time.
Wisdom (sapientia in Latin), also called Love (Caritas) and Sophia (from Greek), is feminine.
Thus, Wisdom equals the divine feminine, or anima mundi, the world soul, and is an aspect of the godhead. It is the divine Mother, or Lady Wisdom, whom as an agent forms the material from which the Word of God commands.
The Divine feminine, or Wisdom, was not viewed as truth or knowledge, but more like the virtue
– fairness, goodness or righteousness. The spirit of Lady Wisdom is intelligent, holy, unique, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, loving and good, irrestitable, free from anxiety (Wisdom 7:22)
And because of her pureness she penetrates all things.
She is full of depth and mystery and it is this Wisdom that lies as the base of Hildegard’s original feminine images of divine power, archetypes, and female manifestations of God in her cosmology and anthropology. In which she claims that the Divine is as female in spirit as male, and that both the elements are essential for completeness. She depicts God as a cosmic egg, both male and female, pulsating with love. The feminine aspect is immanent – existing throughout and within, and the male transcendent – above and beyond into the light and heavenly bliss.
This concept is comparable to that expressed by the ancient Taoist symbol of yin and yang. With the principle and energy of Yin (inward, earth, feminine, moon, dark…) and Yang (outward, heaven, masculine, sun, light..) flowing together, creating a circle (egg?) of wholeness.
We also find parallels with Hindu mythology, where male divinity can do nothing alone, but must be complemented by the female – and vice versa. Lord Shiva, the primordial cosmic energy is pure consciousness, the male principle and Shakti, the feminine maternal principle, is the activating, creative force and energy. And until the creative energy (the feminine) is impregnated with consciousness (the masculine) it is lacking in knowledge and is purposeless. Creative energy alone can not produce anything, it needs consciousness to have form, content and direction. And conversely, consciousness without energy is dormant and aimless. Shiva and Shakti are manifestations of the all-in-one consciousness – different sides of the same coin.
O wise woman, O lovely and loving Mother,
you are the ground of all being.
We greet you as children.
O wise woman, O luminous Mother,
we want you to plead for us,
for our lives, for our radiance,
to ask for us that same sweet shining that you have.
The seed that sprouted from your womb
bore delicious fruit that feeds us.
We are the guests at this feast of joy.
O Mother Wisdom,
so greatly does God delight in you,
so enthralled is God with you,
that he has sunk deep within you the fire of true love,
and your body, complete with ecstasy,
resounds with the full symphony of heaven.
Hildegard von Bingen,
(From Mirabai Starr’s book Hildegard of Bingen, devotions, prayers & living wisdom,
Page 230, (Published 2008 ISBN 978-1-59179-626-8)
Divine Love, stirring everything into existence and causing all life to glow with its light…..
The descriptions of the sacred feminine – Caritas, Sophia, Mother Wisdom, the Earth are so beautiful that she becomes someone one wants to know well and intimately. Hildegard knew her both well and passionately, and as she praises the Divine Mother in her personal and poetic way, she graciously makes her visible and available to us. – The Divine Feminine lies in the goodness of our hearts and in the purity of our spirits and souls.
the Fiery Life of Divine Wisdom
sparkle in the waters
I burn in the sun
in the moon and in the stars
When we become familiar with Hildegard of Bingens music we are usually struck by the simple pristine beauty and profundity in the heavenly chorals. During her lifetime Hildegard created seventy seven musical works designed for various religious services and celebrations in the Church calendar. But they were also a vehicle for her own mystical experiences as they celebrated the divine feminine and the wonders of the natural world. She also considered music a way for mortals to experience joy and heavenly ecstasy.
For Hildegard, music was the ultimate form of communication as she saw God as symphony. She told that music is echoing the divine song, helping us remember our true voice, which is God, the Beloved’s voice.
CARITAS HABUNDANT IN OMINA
Divine Love Abounds in all Things
Loving tenderness abounds for all,
from the darkest depths to the brightest heights beyond the stars,
for she has given the highest King the kiss of peace.
Caritas abundant in omina,
de imis excellentissima super sidera,
atque amatissima in omina,
quia summe Regi osculum pacis dedit