Hildegard of Bingen receiving a vision
from her work Liber Scrivias
She was a scientist, a composer, a poet, a theologian, a preacher, a prophetess, and a nun. She founded convents, wrote medical treatises, performed exorcisms, and corresponded with the most powerful men of her day. She was also a writer who left behind as large a body of work as almost any medieval author, male or female. And she was a mystic.
Hildegard of Bingen is a Catholic saint, but even through eight years of Catechism classes, I never heard her name. The women saints of my childhood were all self-denigrating and delicate. St. Teresa of Avila, that barefooted practioner of flagellation. St. Therese of Lisieux, aka the “little flower.” The oh-so-sweet St. Bernadette of Lourdes. Them, I learned about. But Hildegard seemed to be too powerful a role model for Catholic girls in the 50’s, and it wasn’t until long after I had strayed from the Church that I began to hear about her. What I learned was fascinating. Here are a few of the things that have made Hildegard my favorite mystic.
She was a trailblazer. The 12th century was not the best time to be female, but Hildegard rose to a position of leadership and esteem. Her works were widely read and highly respected even within the male-dominated Church. Some sources say even the pope went to her for spiritual guidance.
She had visions. Whether the strange and beautiful things she saw in her mystic states were a result of migraine, as some claim, or a union with powers beyond the Ordinary World, makes no difference to me—I’m an agnostic on such matters. What I love is that they were real to her and that she wrote about them with elegance, and interpreted them with intelligence.
She composed mysterious and beautiful chants that are still performed today. She considered her music to be divinely inspired. It is certainly divinely inspiring. Listening to her chants is like stepping into a cathedral.
She invented her own language, the Lingua Ignota, with its own vocabulary and alphabet, one of the earliest known examples of a constructed language. Some say her nuns used the Lingua to share secrets unknown to anyone outside the walls of their convent. You can’t be a linguist and not fall in love with that.
Finally, Hildegard embodied the four paths of the writer that I am drawn to and intrigued by, and that I have spent much of the past fifteen years writing about. She was a shaman who delved into the darkness and exorcised demons; a warrior who stood tall in a male-dominated world; a true mystic, and a devoted monk.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...