No one probably noticed, but at the beginning of the twelfth century in Europe Spirit was in action and paradox was happening.
It was a time when what remained of the populace was barely beginning to emerge politically and culturally out of the ruins of the Dark Ages (500-1,000 AD), a time when the spiritual maxims of the Christian Church were the main “glue” holding society together. In this framework, life was to be so ordered that all the women (who carried the taint of Eve) were the obedient servants of the men, and all the men were the obedient servants of the Church.
But there were many men (and some women) who were more involved with the “worldly” than the spiritual. Popes were organizing their supporters in the “upper class,” hiring armies and using the weapon of excommunication to wage war against would-be emperors. They, in turn, were fighting back with their own “upper class” supporters, armies and anti-popes. Meanwhile, the lives of the “common” people (who vastly outnumbered them) continued to be nasty, brutish and short.
Thus, it was that at the beginning of the twelfth century in Europe the times were ripe. The established social structures and mores were being disturbed by much turbulence foreshadowing change.
And into that scene, right on cue, there stepped a most remarkable woman. She appeared both as a forerunner…one who carries the consciousness energies of the future…and as an ancestor…one who carries the consciousness energies of the past.
(Nine centuries later, Carl Jung correctly “pegged” her as the archetypal prototype of the West’s emerging woman. But he didn’t quite know what to do with her. In her own day, very few people did, either.)
She was Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179).
Hildegard…the Masculine Forerunner
In the context of holistic consciousness energies, the powers of Hildegard’s outer-oriented centers of consciousness (the root, solar plexus and throat chakras) were such that she could live as a woman in her own century, yet develop and express her futuristic masculine beingness. With Spirit-in-Action, this was accomplished.
The Early Years
Hildegard was the tenth child of “upper class” Rhineland parents, who gave her to the Church when she was eight years old. She went to live with her teacher and guardian, Jutta von Spanheim, in tiny quarters attached to the Benedictine monastery of Disibodenberg. There, Hildegard received monastic training that included a thorough command of her own Germanic language and of Latin, the language of the Church.
During those “growing up” years, which lasted until her late thirties, Hildegard’s razor-sharp mind was made ready. It revealed itself in a business acumen that would do credit to a twenty-first century corporate executive, an organizational ability that any modern manager would applaud and a political astuteness that Hilary Clinton would envy.
Moreover, this expression of a special life in the making could be perceived as Spirit-in-Action—as the unique shaping of a “masculine” forerunner.
Yet being a woman of her times, Hildegard sought to remain safely within a socially acceptable “feminine” framework and perceived these accomplishments with dismay. She reluctantly used her intellect and stepped out of the properly subservient attitude only because she believed that most of the powerful men (clerics, rulers and minor nobility) around her were suffering from a “fatigue of discernment.” In her voluminous correspondence with them, she chastised them for their lack of awareness of their God-given male responsibilities.
Here again Spirit was at work, for Hildegard was enabled to express these ideas safely. She was protected by her friend, Bernard of Clairvaux, a much respected and revered churchman. Later she enjoyed the military protection of the powerful emperor Frederick 1 (Barbarossa). With these men ensuring her safety, she could forge ahead to accomplish some amazingly “un-feminine” work.
The “Unfeminine” Years
In her late thirties…it was after Jutta’s death…Hildegard was elected as abbess of a growing community of Benedictine nuns at Disibodenberg. Afterward, she began attracting so many new communicants that she decided (with papal approval) to establish a separate convent. Despite considerable opposition from the monks, who wanted to retain the benefits of keeping her at Disibodenberg, Hildegard founded Rupertsburg, a splendid new facility that she designed (including indoor plumbing).
Many years later, when this community had become quite large and famous, she established yet another, Eibingen, across the river. And Hildegard did not hesitate to limit the membership of both convents to women from the “upper class,” since women of the same social level, she indicated, would understand and cooperate with each other. In this, she displayed a very modern executive awareness.
That managerial ability was (and still is) required by the Rule of Saint Benedict, which made Hildegard a very busy abbess, indeed. Not only was she to plan for and manage all the inner details of the convents—the religious and other duties of both the nuns and the lay people—but also to deal with the outer details—the vegetarian food supplies, the clothing, medical treatments, repairs to the premises—everything that made her convents self-sufficient. She had immense responsibilities and she shouldered them for almost half a century.
Grounded in this experience, Hildegard in her later years traveled extensively around Europe to teach both clergy and laity about developing and maintaining thriving spiritual communities. For a woman even in the twenty-first century those masculine qualities would be formidable!
But, paradoxically, Hildegard always perceived herself as a “weak woman” who had been “forced” into those actions. Not surprisingly, she assessed all of them within the context of her religion. In her old age, she made her strenuous teaching tours and other efforts only, she said, to counter the influence of ungodly churchmen and any others—the gnostics and “heretics” (eg., the Cathars) of her day—who were endangering the Faith.
The Final Adventure
Yet when put to the test, Hildegard was capable of holding out even against the Church.
Near the end of her life, she and her community were placed under a papal interdict because they had provided burial for a man decreed “excommunicated.” After actively preventing his exhumation, Hildegard and her nuns were not allowed Holy Communion and were commanded to chant their prayers in whispers. Although it was a terrible hardship, she refused to surrender. It took a year before the ban was lifted.
Thus, as a masculine energy, Hildegard can be regarded as an amazing forerunner of empowered twenty-first century womanhood.
But Spirit had ensured that she was much more.
Hildegard…the Feminine Ancestor
In the context of a holistic consciousness energy field, the powers of Hildegard’s inward-oriented feminine centers of consciousness (the sacral, heart and third eye chakras) were so great that she belongs with those other special people who have been described as the spiritual descendents of Wisdom (the Divine Mother)…the world’s prophets, visionaries and shamans. All of them, by whatever name, have been the knowers that Spirit has sent to us since (at least) the Ice Age.
What a remarkable “inward expressing” feminine energy Hildegard revealed as the feminine ancestor who carried the consciousness energies of ages past!
In the numerous accounts now available about her life, she has rightfully been referred to as a visionary. But her many admiring biographers have not accorded her the ancient (and pagan) depths that were truly hers. That is not surprising, since she did not perceive them herself.
Yet all of Hildegard’s creative accomplishments could be said to have had their roots in her feminine third eye’s pagan visioning gifts. Although there were people close to her—Jutta, her teacher; Volmer, her secretary of almost 50 years—who might have sensed this, the only one her biographers mention is her protector, Bernard of Clairvaux.
After hearing about her visioning gifts, he persuaded her to publish them. It took 10 years to produce her first book, Scivias: Know the Ways. He then persuaded his important fellow churchmen to read this remarkable book. They endorsed it and Hildegard’s fame spread across Europe, even into England. (Over the next 20 years she added two more deeply spiritual books…The Book of Life’s Merits and The Book of Divine Works…that clearly revealed her visioning gifts.)
But much earlier than this, she had become quite well-known for the music she had composed for her religious community. In her day, the plainsong (she wrote 70 of them) and the opera (“The Way of the Virtues”) she produced were so far ahead of the norm that her singing nuns were often stretched almost past their vocal limits. Even today, the music can be challenging!
And she had other wonderful creative gifts. They included two more books Natural History or the Book of Simple Medicine and Causes and Cures, the only medical texts (they included gynecology) known to have been composed in the medieval period. She was a painter whose artistry included portraits and finely detailed engravings, and she was an ecologist long before anyone even thought of the word.
And how can we “explain” this work of the Spirit?
Genetically, Hildegard came from Celtic ancestry. Even in her day there were traces of the ancient traditions in her Rhineland birthing place, where the Celts had originated. It could be suggested that she carried her “visions” and orientation towards expressive artistry, such as the music, because she was the offspring of Celtic paganism.
There is also much to suggest that she was a Celtic shaman. Her descriptions of her Living Light and of the other light that would sometimes come into her have been experienced by many shamans, especially the Celts. They were blind and forced thereby to focus only on their inner light. It was a Light that had been with Hildegard likely from her birth, but which she first experienced when she was only three years old. She must have struggled against this gift, for she reported becoming immobilized by migraine headaches, but only after she had resisted connecting with her Living Light. Other unwilling shamans have reported the same problem throughout the centuries.
Hildegard was also shamanic in her relationship with her animal guides. Although many of her visions seemed to be outside of her, her guides could come into her and empower her. Her shamanic “power animals,” whom she loved and trusted, all carried the energies she needed. It could be suggested that all of them were Spirit’s way of helping her.
Then, there were her visions. Although she interpreted their contents within the framework of Christian theology, they were filled with ancient pagan and shamanic symbolism.
And she carried that pagan flavor into her religion. It was thoroughly marked and maintained by her veneration and devotion to the Blessed Mother Mary. That consciousness energy has ancient roots in Ma-Ri, the feminine face of God. She has been here with us in all our societies from the very beginning.
In other words, Hildegard was a twelfth century embodiment of our ancient feminine ancestor.
In the context of a sacred story and life plan, Hildegard was a woman for all seasons. That’s not a usual occurrence in the evolution of mankind. Spirit-in-Action brings the great ones forward, often centuries ahead of their times. When we look at them closely, we realize that the seemingly separate “threads” in the evolutionary “fabric” have been woven together quite well.
Thus, Hildegard has reappeared in this twenty-first century as an inspiration for modern spiritual seekers. She gives us a beautiful insight into the mind of the heart and the heart of the mind. (See my Transformation Magazine column from December 2016.)
That mind/heart “dance” has been off-balance right from the beginning because one of the “dancers” (the feminine) had fallen out of step. Now that we’re slowly becoming aware of the necessary partnership of our human masculine and feminine consciousness energies, we can go back to Hildegard and look into those lost androgynous energies. And we can perceive her as an important part of our spiritual evolution, our twenty-first century path of emerging compassionate rationality.
Berenice Andrews is a shamanic teacher/healer. For more details about the healing practices mentioned above, see her book Rebirthing Into Androgyny: Your Quest for Wholeness…And Afterward. See also her articles “Finding Your True Self: A (Sort of) Socratic Dialog,” September, 2014, and “Understanding the Human Energy Being,” June, July and August, 2015 in Transformation Magazine. If you are interested in reading more and/or becoming her student, see her web site: thestonecircleclassroom.com.