Hildegard von Bingen
Hildegard von Bingen
I do not remember when I fist came across this enigmatic nun who was born over 900 years ago in Germany but it was probably about 20 years ago in my teens. A true polymath, she was a visionary, writer, challenger of rigorous boundaries, manager (or abbess in those days), botanist/scientist, healer, philosopher, composer, artist, teacher and mentor. God or Divinity for Hildegard was not a bearded white old white man, but the mysterious Ur-force (Ur = original, ancient), the all in everything, sent down to the Earthly dimension where it manifests as the laws of nature for us to wield and create with what we can… And she herself certainly was an extraordinary creator: Hildegard has left a body of work that survives to this day, mostly through her music and foundational work in botany and herbal healing arts. Also, all the illustrations on this page are by her.
With all this said, it would still be all too easy to file Hildegard von Bingen away as a deluded, weltfremd (“far from the world”), cloistered, Christian mystic whose works could not possibly have any sort of impact on life in the 21st century. Even easier to sneer smugly at tales of divine visions that began at age 3 and continued guiding her throughout her long life. But easy stamp offs are not what is needed these days. We need to dig deeper, within ourselves, and within those who came before and who left marks that could contain important pointers for our deranged times in 2019 – even if they were dedicated Christians.
“You are the mountain and the valley.” – Hildegard of Bingen
Who would have thought that one could find a connection between a nun from 900 years ago and a 21st century Czech stoner rock band? 🙂
“Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world—everything is hidden in you.” -Hildegard of Bingen
Being a rational-minded, ever-doubting, ever-questioning, sort-of-protestant-but-mostly-raised-secular-atheist-come-agnostic, emancipated, freethinking female member of GenY, I was myself someone who would half-sneer, half-smile, shake my head with pity and quickly move on when confronted with such lofty concepts as “divine visions”, being “married to Christ/God” (that’s what nuns are) and “giving service to God”.
Mostly this was because I was horrified at religions’ conduct in general, and how nuns (and monks for that matter – but my point makes more sense in relation to females) were robbed off an independent existence and made to pray all day and do the bidding of an invisible (bearded, white) man in the sky and his lackies, the popes and bishops and other religious high sopiety who divvied things up between them and the nobles.
Dr Sweet has learnt to ask herself “What would Hildegard do?” and become a better doctor by combining ancient wisdom and modern science and creating some kind of beautiful applied wisdom science that – for sure – plays a major role in healing in ‘2050’.
The other reason for my early lack of interest was that I had very little understanding of what these terms even meant, and how they may possibly apply to me and the human beings around me. It’s not that I have always been a staunch atheist – that was a short phase during my nihilistic teenage years – but after than I did always kind of think that maybe there might be something more out there with God-like powers but definitely not a God as portrayed by the religions.
Ah – religion (interesting word origin to ponder here: religare – to bind/tie in Latin)! Who in my age group and with a similar background and free right mind does not rate religious beliefs outdated, having done enough harm already, ready to be done away with!
[More on religion coming soon!]
But ah – here is the twist. Women in those days were baby machines and labourers with no autonomy. [This is not to say that all men around 1100AD were horrible oppressors of women with really easy, fully self-directed lives. No – one of my central points that I speak of in my disclaimer is that all genders have been and are suffering in their own ways because of the way humanity has ordered itself more or less recently – and life in those days was tough for just about anyone.] But girls and women, phew, they really were on the bottom rung of human hierachy, couldn’t own property and generally with very little say about their futures (I’m sure there were lots of exceptions to this but generally girls were valued as “less important” than Stammhalter (“tribe holders” → boys), and they also very often died in childbirth (yes I know that many boys and men died in wars, but that once again has to do with elitist oppression using human resources as canon or rather sword fodder).
So, from that we may deduce that becoming a nun 900 years ago was actually a pretty good strategy for survival and even self-direction of life. Nuns could (and did – there are fascinating stories of what they got up to) very often run their own shows as long as they didn’t do anything too outrageous, or were careful to not get caught. They could have a career, learn to read, write and play instruments, and develop their innate talents! Excepting nobility, where girls might have had some of these privileges (before being married off for political reasons and dying in childbirth), these options were not options.
[Now, of course, for most boys these were also not options – but that’s beside the point here as I’m writing about girls.]
Sure, a nun trades in the sweetness of partnership, physical love making and raising a family, and even lives in nunneries were no Zuckerschlecken (“sugarlicking”), still full of hard labour, endless praying, and probably a whole lot of bitching.
But – a girl had the opportunity to make something of her life to be remembered by. Now, most nuns of course didn’t – but Hildegard did, so there must be something about her that is outstanding and important, even to human beings of today.
“Dare to declare who you are. It is not far from the shores of silence to the boundaries of speech. The path is not long, but the way is deep. You must not only walk there, you must be prepared to leap.” – Hildegard of Bingen
Yes, with all this said, Hildegard had another reason to join the “brides of Christ” – her visionary experiences played a massive role throughout her life. There have been many people (most famously, Joan of Arc) throughout the ages who have experienced these kinds of visions and experiences and have received some kind of personal power, or a conviction of purpose.
Even today this happens – some people become “changed” after being very sick or through Near Death Experiences. Others are visited by some other-dimensional force in their sleep, during breathwork, through entheogens (which actually carry God in their name), or just while doing the dishes. I don’t think all of these can be explained away via peak experiences. There is another order at play here and it may be supremely important for humanity to find out what it is – for we know, the taboos of today are the places of progress tomorrow…
“Everything that is in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.” – Hildegard of Bingen
Of course, sadly, in more modern times, people who hear voices and see balls of lights entering their skull are usually labelled paranoid schizophrenic and become ousted, marginalised, institutionalised and medicated. Even though they may literally have access to a “direct thread to Divinity” that could answer for us all kinds of questions we can’t seem to answer by more sciencing and intellectualising! The shamanic view of mental illness takes this into account, seeing what we label “mental illness” as a spiritual emergence, the birth of another mode of human being in the world that is ever so slightly different to the dogma of materialism our scientific paradigms have imprisoned us in lately.
“When one’s thoughts are neither frivolous nor flippant, when one’s thoughts are neither stiff-necked nor stupid, but rather, are harmonious — they habitually render physical calm and deep insight.” – Hildegard of Bingen
Well, wow, that became a bit of a long wild ride, longer than I had thought possible. And so, Hildegard’s life ties into yours and mine…I do hope you are still with me! The good news is that the scientific research is beginning to happen slowly, and that the chorus of voices who hears voices or wants to hear what they say to others, is getting louder…
“Even in a world that’s being shipwrecked, remain brave and strong.” – Hildegard of Bingen
So, what is it that is so fascinating about Hildegard?
It is defnitely her multi-faceted legacy, her dedication to sophia (“wisdom”) and deep insight into the nature of human beings and the cosmos. Her legacy acts on all 3 centers of the human being – physical, emotional, mental/spiritual (spirit = mind).
I think it likely that Hildegard was a master in the transformation of energy and by that I mean that she may have been privy to the teachings of alchemy and esoteric Christianity, the Ur-Religion (Ur = original, ancient) out of which the 3 main religions have sprung. Just imagine the powerful co-creative affair that she had with the Divine – i.e. the energy she cultivated through meditation, chanting, fasting, chastity, prayer, writing, art, and her work with plants (plants are harbingers of all kinds of energies for us, especially in light of the peculiar relationship we have had for a very long time, growing and cultivating nothing less than each other…). Who knows, Hildegard may have also been tripping on something or other they used back then, giving her insight into cosmic secrets she drew and wrote about.
And what do I suggest we do with Hildegard’s legacy today?
Let it inspire us, maybe? That’s what she has done for me – giving me inspiration, courage, and a ton of things to consider. Listen to yourself, check in with what her story invokes in you. We don’t have to all become nuns now, don’t fear! But maybe it would do us good to give more service to “Divinity” in a way that makes us happy by giving us meaning – by planting some herbs, random acts of kindness, singing loudly, or simply by considering and acknowledging what it is that is divine in each of us.
“Divinity is aimed at humanity.“ – Hildegard of Bingen
Here are some gorgeous and informative websites for more ponder and action fodder.