Hildegarde Von Bingen, Saint of Mature Female Creativity
by Karin Bolstad, 2017
Every Goddess, Saint or Heroine has an energy or special message that connects to something within; and just for, US. I refer to this as an "activating force": which is what energies does a Goddess, Heroine, or Saint have for awakening the dormant or blossoming mirror energies within ourselves. We then can use these forces both for personal growth, as well as to make the world a better place! I read in a book once the our purpose in our lives is to "make heaven on Earth" - rather than focusing on how to GET to heaven. Hildegarde's Archetypal "activating force" is that of EMPOWERING THE CREATIVITY OF THE SECOND HALF OF WOMAN'S LIFE.
Hildegard is a strong Icon for:
Hildegarde Von Bingen was a German Benedictine Abbess who was born in 1098 and died at the age of 81 in 1179. She was a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian Mystic, visionary, healer, environmenalist, and political activist - all in a time when all of these things definitely fell out of the realm of what women were supposed to do, or even be ABLE to do.
The Story of Hildegarde
At the tender age of 3, she started receiving visions - what she described at "The Shade of the Living Light". At the age of 8, her parents offered her as an oblate to the Benedictine Monastery of Disibodenberg, and she was placed in the care of a woman named Jutta. Jutta herself was a visionary, and taught Hildegarde the bible, as well as how to play the psaltery (pictured at her feet, below the falling sheets of music). At the age of 14, she and Jutta were "enclosed", or "cloistered" - meaning they inhabited a room or a group of rooms attached to the monastery, separated from the world, to prevent distraction from prayer and the religious life. Anchorites (a title for women who were enclosed) took part in a religious rite of consecration much like that of a funeral rite, because they would be considered "dead" to the world, a type of living saint. You can see this illustrated at the bottom of my Icon Illustration. Hildegarde and Jutta were the core of a growing community of women attached to the male monastery.
Jutta passed away in 1136, and Hildegarde was unanimously voted the next Magistra by her fellow nuns. In 1141, when Hildegarde was 42 years old, she was instructed by God to write down what she saw and heard in her visions. Initially she resisted, but after suffering an illness- which she attributed to her resistance to Gods' request- she started writing the first of three volumes about her mystical experiences. This is illustrated in the bottom left corner of the Hildegarde Icon. The first book, Scivias ("Know the Ways"), took her ten years to complete. Just before she finished Scivias, in 1150, Hildegarde (after resistance from the Abbot of Disibodenberg) took her nuns and founded a new monastery, Rupertsberg, in order to assert her independence. This monastery is illustrated in the top left corner of my Hildegarde Icon Illustration.
Her following books were Liber Vitae Meritorum ("Book of Life's Merits) and Liber Divinum Operum ("Book of Divine Works"), started in 1158 and finished around 1172. She also wrote books about her healing practice, which was based on tinctures, herbs and semi precious stones. Her "healing garden", within which she is pictured with a basket of herbs, is pictured on the left hand panel of the Illustration. She wrote Physica, which was a volume of nine books, about the scientific and medicinal properties of various plants, stones, fish, reptiles and animals. The following book, Causae et Curae, was an explanation of the human body, its connection to the natural world, and causes and cures of common ailments. Hildegarde viewed the human body as a microcosm to the macrocosm of the Universe.
Laced amongst ALL her writings was the term "Viriditas" (Latin for "greeness"), which is one of Hildegarde's guiding images. In her works It has been translated in various ways, such as freshness, vitality, fertility, fecundity, fruitfulness, verdure, or growth. In Scivias, the word viriditas was used as an attribute of the divine nature. Hildegarde uses viriditas as a metaphor for spiritual and physical health, which is visible in the divine word. Discussion and exultation of the natural world is a common theme in Hildegarde's writings, and has been an inspiration to modern day Environmentalists.
"The earth is at the same time mother, She is mother of all that is natural, mother of all that is human. She is mother of all, for contained in her are the seeds of all. The earth of human kind contains all moistness, all verdancy, all germinating power. It is in so many ways fruitful. All creation comes from it. Yet it forms not only the basic raw material for humankind, but also the substance of the incarnation of God's son." -Hildegarde von Bingen
The twining vines that lace the sides of the Hildegarde Icon represent Viriditas, as well as the color of her nuns' habit. Also on the right side of the piece is a vine of Passion Flowers. Passion Flowers were not native to Germany, but I included them because the "Passion" in "passion flower" refers to the passion of Jesus Christ. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish missionaries associated the different flower parts and structures of Passiflora, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and his crucifixion.
Besides her writing career, Hildegarde was an accomplished musician, and composed sixty nine musical compositions with original poetic texts. She also composed the Ordo Virtunum, a liturgical drama about vices and virtues, which is the oldest surviving morality play. She also wrote her own language, called the Lingua Ignota, which was a modified medieval Latin. It is believed she created this language to increase solidarity among her nuns.
Hildegarde also wrote and received an extensive amount of letters, numbering 390, if not more. She corresponded with emperors, kings, queens, popes, archbishops, abbesses, abbots, nuns, monks, and laymen and women. People wrote asking not only her advice but her prophecies of the future. By believing herself to be the voice of God (and others believing that as well), she was able to be forthright in a way that women of her time would never been allowed. She considered herself to be a means of transmitting God's message which often were attacks on corruption in both church and state, and vices of her fellow clergy or of people in power. She often referred to Justice as the "daughter of God". She also took her (Gods') message to the people, conducting four preaching tours throughout Germany, denouncing clerical corruption and calling for reform. In this way she became a powerful figure in the politics, which is extraordinary for a woman in medieval times.
On October 7th, 2012, the feast of the Holy Rosary, the Pope Benedict XVI named her a Doctor of the Church, the fourth woman of 35 saints given that title by the Roman Catholic Church. He called her "perennially relevant" and "an authentic teacher of theology and a profound scholar of natural science and music." Her feast day is September 17th.
On a scroll that she is writing on in the Icon Illustration are the words "Trust Shows the Way" from the full sentence "Trust shows the way, with the passion of heavenly yearning, we all produce rich fruit."
Hildegard calls on us to trust the flowering of our creative selves as the divine source that it is, in all chapters of our lives, for there is no part of a woman's life that is not creative.
Voice of the Living Light: Hildegard of Bingen and her World by Barbara Newman. University of California Press; 1998.
Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times by Mathew Fox. Namaste Publishing, 2012