If, as Thomas Berry observes, the role of the shaman is returning again in our time, it behooves us to meditate on its significance and that is what we have been doing, with Hildegard’s help and others, the last few DMs. Let us continue.
Poet Bill Everson speaks to the shaman’s ways when he says, “The idea of trance is the basic psychological function of the shaman.” Hildegard was often in a trance state while receiving her visions, and she led her nuns into trance states (and no doubt the people gathered to hear and pray with them) through singing her demanding music. The work of the shaman indeed!
Steve Herrmann believes that “the musical impulse is at the heart of all ecstatic and epic poetry,” and that what flows from the artist healer enables “a poetic image to channel aesthetic and curative energies that seem to emanate from the Cosmos.” This description seems to fit Hildegard’s work well—she insists all of creation makes melody, and that she was listening to it intently. (Today’s science has confirmed this.) Her music was of the essence of her message. She tells us that her visions of the “Living Light” also emanate from the cosmos.
One shamanic practice among Native Americans involved crystals. David Paladin paints a number of paintings of crystals and describes their power and meaning among indigenous peoples. Commenting on one painting titled “Crystal Flame,” he says this:
Deep within the galaxy where Sirius reigns lies a crystal-laden asteroid. It is the mythic source of all mathematical knowledge, the source of our dreams and visions, the beacon that guides our fantasies.*
Hildegard devotes an entire chapter in her book Physica to precious stones, including crystals. She recognizes mountains and rivers as the birthplace of many stones that “contain many powers and are effective for many needs. Many things can be done with them.” Their beauty and their power are willed by God to be “held in honor and blessing on earth and used for medicine.” She offers many remedies to a variety of sicknesses from epilepsy to spider bites, depression to lunacy, drawing on the help of these stones.
One rich dream common to shamanism is that of the “magic flight,” which often includes a large winged bird with a message to tell the people.
Hildegard had such a vision; indeed, she committed it to poem, music, and drawing. It’s a vision of wisdom taking flight with three wings. She shares it with us:
O moving force of Wisdom, encircling the wheel of the cosmos,
Encompassing all that is, all that has life, in one vast circle.
You have three wings: One unfurls aloft in the highest heights.
The second dips its way dripping sweat on the Earth.
Over, under and through all things whirls the third.
Praise to you, O Wisdom, worthy of praise!
It does seem that understanding the “shaman” archetype sheds light on many of Hildegard’s gifts to the world.
See David Paladin, Painting The Dream (Rochester, Vt. Park Street Press, 1992), p. 97.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint For Our Times, pp. 85f.
See also: Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, plate 22 and commentary on pp. 142-147.
Banner Image: Amethyst. Photo by Camille Cox on Unsplash.
Meditate on Hildegard’s poem, song, and painting (all above) of the three wings of wisdom in flight encircling the cosmos and sailing through it. What is she saying to you? To us today? What do her picture, song, and poem, and the extended commentary in my book, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen (citation above), add to your meditation?
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.
Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen
An introduction to the life and work of Hildegard of Bingen, Illuminations reveals the life and teachings of one of the greatest female artists and intellectuals of the Western Mystical Tradition. At the age of 42, she began to have visions; these were captured as 36 illuminations–24 of which are recorded in this book along with her commentaries on them.
“If one person deserves credit for the great Hildegard renaissance in our time, it is Matthew Fox.” – Dr Mary Ford-Grabowsky, author of Sacred Voices.