We have been meditating on the return of shamanism in our time. This ought not to come as too big a surprise because in many ways we might call this return the “return of the shadow.”
What this means is that what modern, industrial, anthropocentric philosophy (and education and politics and economics and religion) left out of the picture they paint of human nature is what shamans bring in: A sense of the whole, a connection with spirits, the value of alternative states of consciousness, the vocation to serve and heal the larger community, the sacredness of “all our relations,” whether with tree people or cloud people, Earth or Sky, the four-leggeds or the winged ones, the slithering and finned ones. In short, a relationship with the cosmos thus that our psyches and the cosmos are aligned.
This is why indigenous wisdom is often echoed so deeply in creation mystics of the pre-modern world and medieval times such as Hildegard. Both lineages assure us that we are blessed by the universe itself, by existence itself. And that the cosmos is the original blessing of all. Shamans in turn also bless us by drawing on the powers of the universe with their insight and perspective and healing power, a power that does not begin with the human but with nature itself, creation itself.
Artist-shaman David Paladin puts it this way in commenting on his painting called “Guardians of the Four Corners” (see Matthew’s video below for the painting and a further discussion).
The artist-shaman, drawing upon his ability to contact the spirit world, attempts to determine the true nature of the spirit beings who are said to watch over the Four corners area of the Navajo reservation. He first encounters the Blue Guardian of the four directions (upper left). In a vision he then sees the Three-Horned Serpent guardian upper right). Then he encounters the Twin Spirits of Good and Evil Nature, who are responsible for keeping the balance of nature (lower left). The last spirit he meets is the spirit of the Sacred Deer. This painting draws up on traditional native legends as well as my own way of seeing.*
Hildegard too encounters the spirit world. It is striking to me that Hildegard of Bingen often paints the sacred deer (like Paladin above) and places it within the human heart and equates it with Christ. She pictures Christ as a deer and symbol of love.
Hildegard tells us that both her music and her visions of the “Living Light” emanate from the cosmos itself. Indeed, she named her collection of 72 songs a “symphony of heavenly revelations.”
She says “all creation is awakened, called, by the resounding melody, God’s invocation of the Word.” For Hildegard, word is music and music is word. A ‘Resounding melody” is inherent in every being, and a resounding melody is found in every single corner of the universe. The whole universe is vibrating with music, making melody. “God’s Word [i.e. music] is in all creation, visible and invisible.”
*David Paladin, Painting The Dream, pp. 82f.
Adapted also from Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint For Our Times, pp. 85, 12, 11.
Also from Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen.
Banner Image: Hildegard receiving and recording a vision. Public Domain, on Wikimedia Commons.
What does it mean to you that the Word and music are the same thing? That the “sacred deer” stands for love and Christ for Hildegard and is Sacred among the Navajo also? That shamans represent the “shadow” side to modern consciousness?
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.