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.”

The earliest known drawing of a Siberian shaman by a European, 17th-century Dutch explorer Nicolaes Witsen. On Wikimedia Commons.

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.”

Hildegard of Bingen as herbalist. Icon by Robert Lentz, OFM may be purchased HERE.

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.

“Guardian of the Six Directions” by David Paladin. 28×38″, acrylic on canvas, 1982

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.

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

8 thoughts on “Hildegard as Shaman, continued”

  1. Avatar

    I am a shaman.

    But I never use that word to describe myself because it has been coopted by charlatans and performers. Whereas the ancient shamans lived quietly and close to nature, these infamous modern day ones are motivated by worldly gain and attention.

    Many of the ancient faithful were shamans, prophets, heyoka and more, but they never professed it. Knowledge of such holy ones was “word of mouth” and they had to be sought out. Like the poustiniki they dwelt in solitude for the most part.

    My preferred descriptor if I had to choose would be simple “wounded healer” (Nouwen).

    Patrick Perching Eagle Watters
    aka anonemoose monk }:- a.m.
    Irish Lakota Franciscan Buddhist grandfather and storyteller . . .

  2. Avatar

    Estes’s ‘take’ on Mary [Miriam] and Elizabeth:
    “The hailing of Mary by her kinswoman Elizabeth in the New Testament is probably a remnant of an ancient understanding among women: “Blessed by the fruit of they womb,” she says. In the prior night religions, the woman, just having been initiated and pregnant with knowing, would be welcomed back into the world of the living with a lovely blessing from her kinswomen….Women describe that in the midst of their descent they are in the darkest dark and are touched by the brush of a wing tip and feel enlightened.” [p. 415, Women Who Run With the Wolves.]
    The reader can imagine the wing tip as the angel of Luke’s annunciation account. I appreciate Matthew’s recent acknowledgement of the reality of angels.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      And we appreciate your appreciation of Este’s take on Mary, Elizabeth and the Angel of the Annunciation. Thank you for your comment, Gwen!

  3. Avatar
    Rosemary Sheridan

    Dear Matthew and Team, It is so good to become re-united with you via Internet. Throughout the 1970’s, I first became interested in Creation Spirituality, your Institute in Integral Studies, with subscribing to the IONS magazine, reading your books, attending Southern California Art as Meditation, Rave Mass, and your speaking engagements in Southern California. I have lived the last four decades much more vastly than my first four decades as a Roman Catholic seeker. Being enlightened by you, Johanna, R Macy, et al ~ introduced to the world of integral studies by writings of your brilliantly compassionate & intelligent staff of Scientists & Theologians, and onto meaningful mystics has been my external and internal journey ever since. (I even wrote Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict on your behalf several times.) Richard Rohr was discovered via attending Southern California Charismatic Renewal conferences and Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese Conventions in Anaheim. Know that my 34 years of teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District allowed me to inspire thousands of 12-15 year-old multi-cultural students appreciating daily the via positive & via negative of living. This great-grandmother THANKS GODness for each and all of you. P.S. For Mother’s Day, I’m sending off a one-page enclosure of Julian’s quotes on ‘God as Mother’ from your pages 49-55, to Mothers I know and love…would you like one?

    1. Avatar
      Rosemary Sheridan

      Synopsis of Julian’s Quotes from Matthew Fox’s Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond via Grandma Rosemary Sheridan: Julian (1342-1429) Revelations on God as Mother – Matthew Fox: Chapter 3, pages 49-55:

      “Just as God is truly our Father, so also is God truly our Mother.”

      “God feels great delight to be our Father and God feels great delight to be our Mother.”

      “Compassion is a kind and gentle property that belongs to the Motherhood of God in
      tender grace.”

      “Compassion is a sweet gracious working in love, mingled with abundant kindness;
      for compassion works at taking care of us and makes all things become good.”

      “Through all our fearful failings, shameful fallings, and sorrowful deaths, this kindness, love, and work of compassion never leave us.”

      “God’s Motherhood wants to be known and loved through Justice and Compassion.”

      “Justice is the thing that is so good that it cannot be better than it is.”

      “A mother’s service is nearest, readiest, and surest…a service no one person has the
      ability or knows how to or ever will do fully but God alone.”

      “Jesus is our Mother, Brother and Liberator: our Mother, Christ, and our good Lord, the
      Holy Spirit, lead us in this passing life.”

      “Our savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and from who we shall
      never be separated…we are enclosed in him and he is enclosed in us.”

      “This Second Person became our Mother of Mercy and works with us as a parent here.”

      “God chose to become our Mother in all ways, humble and tenderly cultivating the
      ground of his work in the womb of a maiden.”

      “God, the glorious wisdom of the universe, emptied himself into this earthly place,
      and made himself entirely available through our own poor flesh, offered the un-
      conditional service and duties of motherhood.

      “Being nearest to our own nature, the mother’s serving is: most immediate; un- conditionally loving; most willing; and being the truest thing there is, most certain.
      Only God could perform such duty.”

      “This nature of motherhood is a tender love that never changes but does develop
      virtues and graces…and chastises vices.”

      “Our life is grounded in our true Mother, Christ, endlessly guided by his Wisdom.”

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you Rosemary from one of the team! In reality, we are all walking the four paths of Creation Spirituality; all the time. But I’m glad to hear you have been doing it consciously and intentionally for the last four decades. Thank you for letting us get to know you, and thank you for the work you did all the years you taught.

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: