In yesterday’s DM video we discussed the shamanhood of Navajo painter David Palladin and in the essay Thomas Berry’s recognition that today we need more shamans and fewer priests and professors. Berry connects shamanism to the wild and feels that the wild is calling more and more people today. He invokes Thoreau’s essay on Walking: “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.”
Berry distinguishes a shaman from a prophet in the following way: “The Shaman is more comprehensive in his field of consciousness… The prophet is a message bearer…and the prophet critiques the ruling powers. The Shaman functions in a less personal relationship with the divine. He is more cosmological, more primordial, personally more inventive in the source of his insight and his power.” This description fits Hildegard well.
For example, Hildegard’s Mariology leaves out a personal piety toward Mary, focusing more on the Cosmic Mary and the archetype of the Divine Feminine than on the person of Mary. Historian Barbara Newman comments, “There is a strikingly impersonal quality in her lyrics: she cared as little for the ‘personality’ of Mary as she cared for the psychology of Eve. Both women are larger than life, not individuals but cosmic theophanies of the feminine; and the purpose of the feminine is to manifest God in the world.”
The Cosmic Christ plays a far larger role in Hildegard’s Christology than does a relationship with Jesus. Clearly she is more cosmological, more primordial, and more inventive with her insights than most theologians since her day. We still don’t know to this day where all her medicinal knowledge came from.
A shaman, such as we heard in the David Palladin story yesterday, lives in two worlds at once. Poet and former Dominican Bill Everson calls Jesus “perhaps the greatest of all shamans… Forty days in the desert, the carrying of the cross as a Sun Dance.” He continues, “The link would seem to be the Animal Powers. Christ would relate to the Animal Powers that preceded our more sophisticated religious impulses.”
Hildegard is much in touch with the Animal Powers. Time and time again she is visited by animals in her visions; and she paints them, including snakes that frame several of her paintings and also bears, leopards, lions, birds, vipers, scorpions, lobsters, and fish. Many of these beasts speak to her and advise her.
She devotes an entire chapter in her book Physica to a discussion of animals and their uses for healing and assistance in our work. She recognizes that birds symbolize “the virtue a person reveals in his thinking when, by his internal premeditation, he reckons many things before they come forth in an illustrious deed.”
Animals that run on land represent the “thoughts and meditations a person brings to completion in work,” as well as spiritual longing. Lions mirror the will of a person, while panthers show “ardent desire.” Tame animals that walk on land show “the gentleness of the human being.”
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen, a Saint For Our Times, pp. 83-85.
Do you feel the difference between a prophet and a shaman as Berry describes that difference? One can be both of course. Do you feel Hildegard’s shamanhood in these passages? Do you feel a “wildness” and wilderness calling you today?
Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century
Matthew Fox writes in Hildegard of Bingen about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her.
In an era when women were marginalized, Hildegard was an outspoken, controversial figure. Yet so visionary was her insight that she was sought out by kings, popes, abbots, and bishops for advice.
“This book gives strong, sterling, and unvarnished evidence that everything – everything – we ourselves become will affect what women after us may also become….This is a truly marvelous, useful, profound, and creative book.” ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.