Hildegard also wrote two treatises on medicine and natural history called Physica and Causae et Curae.
Her scientific and medicinal writings is a body of encyclopaedic lore describing the characteristics of elements, mammals, reptiles, fish, birds, trees, plants, precious stones and jewels, nutrition and sexuality.
Causae et Curae, as the title suggests, is a medical manual looking into the various causes and cures of diseases and offering nutritional guidance and natural medicinal remedies and treatments using plants.
For Hildegard, physical events, morality, faith and spiritual experiences were equally important. She saw healing both as medical and miraculous, and the higher power was interwoven in her healing arts. As written in Scivias: ‘I (God) am the great Physician of all diseases and act like a doctor who sees a sick man who longs to be cured.’ She saw the origin of the remedies stemming from God, and wether or not they would make a person heal depended on God’s will.
Like other medieval healers, Hildegard inherited her view humeral theory from her medicine-forefathers such as Hippocrates and Galen whom saw diseases and cures linked to the four cardinal humours, (Latin for liquid or fluid):
Yellow Bile, Black Bile, Phlegm and Blood.
These medical theories are also rooted in the four elements of the world and combine with the four primary qualities of heat, cold, moisture and dryness. The first fluid, or temperament, corresponds with Fire, the second Earth, third Water and lastly Air.
Once more we see a microcosmos within a macrocosmos, where the human body is mirroring and resembling the structure of a macrocosm. Hildegard’s medieval idea is also not unlike that of the complex and powerful Five Element theory essential to Traditional Chinese Medicine (five quintessential processes or phases represented by Fire, Earth, Water, Wood and Metal = spirit/ether.) and also Indian Ayurvedic medicine that in a similar manner has its basis in humeral theory, and where the human body is a microcosm of the universe. The ancient Egyptians and Buddhists also understood the elements as fire, water, air and earth and western astrology even makes use of these four classical elements in astrological charting.
In Hildegard’s era harmony along these medicinal agents represented health – illness, likewise, was caused by imbalance of these juices. As Hildegard wrote “As long as the flow of the humours in a person functions properly and maintains warmth, moisture, blood and flow, then the person enjoyed good health. But as soon as the flow is in excess and without caution, they create sickness and cause death.”
(Joyce Suellentrop, Hildegard of Bingen: Medieval healer of the Rhine. Mother earth living 1995)
The spiritual dimension described in Hildegard’s healing also consists of the subtle qualities contained in nutritional herbs and spices, and she divided foods according to their healing qualities. She refers to a search of harmony by determining the ‘value’ of each of them and she had a deep ingrained concept of the usefulness of plants and herbs. This value, was also something she adapted to suit her spiritual worldview.
Hildegard was concerned with the inner unity of the soul and the body, and she ascribed harmony to her health concept where she saw that bad nutrition and bad attitudes can affect balance of man. Like for example, disorders of the bowel are related directly to the lack of harmony in the world, she said, as she saw a physical relationship between the body, or spiritual vessel, and the earth. She focused the process of healing not so much towards healing the individual, but more as a natural process that restored the balance of the person, the community and the world as a whole. In a sense she viewed the human body much as she saw plants – as a living, breathing organism, through which either good or ill could be achieved.
Health could be obtained through a balance of diet, exercise, sleep and thoughts – a wholeness that is innately connected with proportioned harmony.
Hildegard had a holistic approach to health that can be compared to the holistic view of alternative medicine today where the whole person is taken into account, not only the symptoms of disease as separate entities to be band-aided. Her theories and therapies have a close resemblance with homeopathy, phytoterapy and other unconventional medicine in our present time (that thankfully are gaining more respect today). In Hildegard’s approach to healing, we are also reminded of that our cures for illness depend on our natural world and our place in it.
Hildegard says, there is a power that has been since all eternity, and that force and potentiality is green. And according to her, all of creation is infused and charged with this greening power she calls Viriditas. A word and concept that might be the union of two latin words: Green and Truth. It is a vital essence, energy, a movement of spirit.
Viriditas in a green leaf is a sign that the roots of the plant are able to draw moisture and needed nutrients from the ground. Greenness is health – and the outward and visible sign of an inward, invisible process. So in the symbol of Viriditas, Hildegard also uses it to connect an everyday experience in the material world with the importance of the spiritual elements of a persons life.
The image of healthy greenness is a metaphor for physical and psychological health, vigour for the soul. Viriditas is a sustaining life-force, the spark that kindles life. In Hildegard’s symbolic world-view, Viriditas can be seen as a metaphor for grace, as a fundamental condition for creation and holiness. The greening power and divine essence she saw as an expression of heaven, the creative power that is everywhere around us and in everything. This divine life force within all creation infuses every blossom in the garden, the green grass in the meadow, the sun, the moon, stars, stones and animates animals and humans. It is similar but still distinct from the soul. And since a plant supposedly can not have a soul, Virditas is its essence. And when humans ingest these plants we are sustaining our own Viriditas, or balanced essence.
O Nobilissima Viriditas
“O most noble greenness, you whose roots are in the sun and who shine in bright serenity in a wheel that no earthly eminence can comprehend.”
– Hildegard von Bingen
The late, prominent ethnobotanist and philosopher Terrence McKenna wrote in his Plan, Plant, Planet (1987) :
“Inwardness is the characteristic feature of the vegetable, rather than the animal’s approach to existence. The animals move, migrate and swarm while plants hold fast. Plants live in a dimension characterised by the solid state, the fixed and the enduring. If there is movement in the consciousness of plants then it must be the movement of spirit and attention in the domain of the vegetable imagination. Perhaps this is what the reconnection to the vegetal Goddess through psychedelic plants, what the Archaic Revival actually points toward, that the life of the spirit is the life that gains access to the visionary realms resident in magical plant teachers. This is the truth that shamans have always known and practiced. Awareness of the green side of mind was called Viriditas by the 12-th century visionary Hildegard von Bingen.”
Two versions of Hildegard depicted within an outside and green coloured Ouroboros, open and shaped like a square, looking in as ‘a seer’ and as if transcended to another dimension.
A second, round Ouroboros is drawn around the Earth. (From the book of Divine Works)
The Ouroboros snake/dragon, symbol of the never-ending Holy Circle.
Similar to her use of the humors in her medicine, Hildegard saw Viridtas as the living part of the duality with the Aridtas – the dryness and drought, an infection that can arise when the flow of this green vigour is blocked. So physical disease and spiritual decay were evidence of a lacking flow of greenness that penetrated every aspect of life.
Hildegard believed that Viriditas, like Chi, (or Qi, the vital energy/life force concept in oriental medicine and philosophy) can be transmitted to humans through the food we eat, giving us greater vitality.
Hildegard says: ‘Each spices has more or less strength according to the Viriditas provided by the sun.’
Like blood, she says, Viriditas moves through human veins and without it, humans become weak and tires and they lack spirituality.
Hildegard’s Viriditas isn’t really a thing, so much as it is an energy. All the different parts of nature have their role to play in circulating, condensing and conveying Viriditas.
And to Hildegard, Viriditas came close to being God himself.
Being one of only four women in history, Hildegard has been proclaimed a ‘doctor of the church’ and canonised as a saint. But having lived only a few hundred years after her time, surly she would have been named a witch and burned at the stake by the same men and authority who later canonised her, as so many of her herbalist ‘sisters’ and midwifes so grotesquely and tragically did.
Fortunately she did not.
And after centuries of silence, Hildegard of Bingen has more than eight hundred years since her death resurfaced and been rediscovered. And now almost everybody seem to know her. Hundreds of books have been written about her, her music is being sung and recorded. Films have been made. Her medicine has been adopted and practiced in various forms and she has even become the label of certain natural cosmetics.
Through my own research on this rather mysterious and exceptionally gifted individual, I have come to see Hildegard as kind of a cornerstone of our past. She is a part of our heritage and she has left a brick in history we ever since have been building on. Hildegard’s seedlings have since her days crept, climbed, braided and blended their way through time. And shoots have opened up and given way to new things. As a true visionary and illuminata, she still lives on today. Also as an inspiration when conventional education and social norms do not seem to encourage new and original thought, on the contrary. It takes courage to think differently and move forward. And it takes great strength to stand out from the rest, to be original and creative and to hold on to ones own inner truths and beliefs, and then to share them with the world. Hildegard von Bingen did just that, and she was brave and spoke up against men within the patriarchal framework of the church. She rose up and proclaimed the full power of the feminine and held on to her beliefs and fought for the cause her theories supported, even if it at times cost her dearly.
Hildegard illuminates our own time and casts a light on the past. Her voice is one story we can use to fill our cup of distilled wisdom. A cup we can lift to our lips with an ingredient that may shine a warm light to support us and help quench some of the contracting feeling of despair and helplessness that in these rather unstable and troubled times can fall upon us.
Hildegard’s particular vista and perspective came through her faith in God. And her conviction was also shaped by the particular time and place in the world she was living. Yet her revelations are universal and ageless, and they can be appreciated and consecrated whether a belief in a particular God applies or not.
For a long time now we have been separated from the sacred, cut off from any magical part of reality and we have been uprooted from Nature, the very Mother whom has birthed us and whom is making all life on this planet possible.
Hildegard reminds us of what we already in our souls know to be true, that the sacred always has existed, everywhere, and that it is right here around us – in that tree, that baby’s face, that fox, that stone or in that tender spark in our lovers eyes. “Even the stones under your feet worship God, for hidden within every stone is a divine spirit…”
Besides Hildegard’s religious devotion and the kind of monastic life she lived that included austerity, obedience, wows and celibacy which most of us today feel far removed from – this lost sense of spiritual awe and kinship with the divine and nature stands at the base of Hildegard’s teaching.
And if we leave the Middle Ages for a second and put on our modern-time glasses of the twenty-first century, we can see that the kernel of her credo fits straight into the concept of ‘quantum theory’ today. A set of contemporary scientific theories (quantum physics) of the relationships between consciousness and the body, where consciousness is a field or a sphere that in a mystical way is self-aware within a universe made out of energy in vibration where everything is interwoven and entangled, and all is One. But again, the name and concept ‘God’ may originally only be another epithet for this same precise thing…?
In my own exploration of Hildegard, I have personally found many of the lessons ringing true. And I believe if we let ourselves be inspired by her teachings and have her words and illuminating voice take root in our hearts and sprout in our minds, there is hope.
Through her music she dares us experience spiritual ecstasy, though her poetry she invites us into a place of stillness where we can touch the wellspring of our spiritual beings, and through her visionary wisdom she helps us glimpse the face of the One in all that is.
How would it be if we were to respond to her call – to go deeper and search higher, and let ourselves become more receptive to a ‘Mothering Wisdom’ and infinite horizon beyond our material and rational world? We could take up her invitation, without a confinement of a religious order or organisation, and go on a quest seeking a true home of greater depth of existence where we could let ourselves become reinvigorated by the mystical core within our own beings.
If in our search, we were rendered some new truths, who knows what mysteries we might uncover?And if we invited some more sacredness into everyday life admits the busy calls and activities of the modern world, what would that do to us? Wouldn’t we all do well stopping up a bit more, put our bare feet on the living fertile ground and ears to the sky and truly listen, and celebrate the invisible, intangible yet all surrounding sacred balm that also permeate the reality of our five senses?
The enormous broad spectrum found in Hildegard von Bingen’s various works invites to project one’s own views and wishes onto her, and on my personal Hildegard-pilgrimage I have especially found her extraordinary visions to be interesting. Also the messages found in Viriditas and the Sacred Feminine seem particularly poignant and enticing to me. These matters are like two chiming golden bells, calling me. I can hear their song in my own ‘inner ears’ and know them in my heart to be true.
Thus another gift from Hildegard has made its way into my own very special cup of wisdom.
Inspired as I have become by this extraordinary woman’s teachings and though, I have created a ‘green tonic’ for the body to support our vital bodily energy and overall health. It is a beautiful scented plant based ‘power body oil’ with immune and detoxifying properties.
In my own humble tribute to Hildegard, I have named it Viriditas. It can be found in Alabastra’s collection in the Boutique. You can also read about its rare and exciting, rich and nurturing medicinal ingredients and a little bit about our bodies immune system here.
There are many texts written on Hildegard, some works more scholarly and dry than others. And then there are the ones more animated and attainable. There is one book in particular that has served as great inspiration for this portrait presented of Hildegard and that I would like to recommend to anyone having an inclination in venturing a little bit deeper into the world of this twelfth century christian mystic.
It is the book ‘Hildegard of Bingen’ by Mirabai Starr.
The author is a wordsmith, making the historical persons she writes about come to life on her pages. And I am in deep gratitude to her for bringing Hildegard back to life in such a poetic and beautiful way, and thus assisting in making her spirit available to me.
“You have eyes for observing and looking about you.
Where you see dirt, wash it; and what is dry, make green.
And make spices you have release their perfume.
Now, had you no eyes, you would be able to exude yourself.
But you do have eyes. So why not use them to look around?
But you are eloquent in rationality. Many times you judge others in things for which you do not wish to be judged.
Yet sometimes you say the things that bring you out wisely.
Mind therefore that you carry your burden properly and collect good works in the purse of your heart…
Imitate the turtledove in chastity; but administer the chosen vineyards diligently so that you can look on God with a pure and righteous face.”
Hildegard of Bingen
(From Mirabai Starr’s book Hildegard of Bingen – Devotions, Prayers, and Living Wisdom)