A shaman lives in two worlds at once. Poet Bill Everson speaks of the link shamans have with the Animal Powers and recognizes Christ’s relationship to such animal powers in Mark’s gospel following his baptism when he went into the desert. Says Everson, “Christ related to the Animal Powers that preceded our more sophisticated religious impulses.”
Hildegard too is much in touch with the Animal Powers. Time and time again she is visited by animals in her visions and paints them, including snakes that frame several of her paintings. She includes images of 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.” In short, “animals have in them qualities similar to the nature of the human.”
A shaman is one who has undergone deep initiation and emerges to serve and heal the community. Hildegard was such a person. Estes defines an “initiated woman” this way:
To be the keepers of the creative fire, and to have intimate knowing about the Life/Death/Life cycles of all nature—this is an initiated woman.
Was there anyone who was busier keeping the creative fire alive than Hildegard?
Jungian psychologist Steven Herrmann, in an essay entitled “The Shamanic Archetype in Robinson Jeffers’ Poetry,” gives us further insight into the vocation of the shaman when he writes,
The shamanic archetype is based on a pattern of behavior, an inborn form of perceiving the inner and outer Cosmos that operates in close relation to an effort to heal personal, social, and environmental imbalances.
The “aesthetic and healing practices” of the shaman are his/her gift to the community’s healing and “requires a proper alignment with the spirit and Nature.” One can see in Hildegard’s devotion to a Cosmic Christ theology a constant search to align spirit and nature.
Navajo artist-shaman David Paladin not only birthed many paintings from his dreams of indigenous traditions, but he writes eloquently of his shamanic world view in his book, Painting The Dream. He saw his vocation as an artist-shaman and names the shaman’s vocation:
As the source of inspiration the shaman challenges the tribe by offering the seeds of change and creative response.*
to be continued
*See David Paladin, Painting The Dream (Rochester, Vt. Park Street Press, 1992), p. 27.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times, pp. 81f.
Banner Image: “Old Wise Woman” by Jim Henterly (watercolor and colored pencil, originally done for the picture book Buried Moon, by Margaret Hodges)
Do you see yourself as an “initiated woman” (or initiated man) as Estes names such? Do you see yourself or others challenging the tribe today by “offering seeds of change and creativity” as Palladin names the vocation of the shaman?
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.