MODERN MUSINGS ON A 10TH CENTURY MYSTIC: HILDEGARD OF BINGEN
“There is the music of heaven in all things.” — Hildegard of Bingen
I was introduced to Hildegard of Bingen in the fall of 1993. In college, I was fortunate enough to have a Philosophy professor who worked hard to include women in the curriculum of his Medieval Philosophy class. She stood out as an interesting figure in an interesting class. Soon after, I graduated. Life moved on and I moved away, got a job and started a family. But I never forgot the formidable 10th century German mystic who managed to do so much at a time when it was hard for women just to survive.
Fifteen years later at a harp symposium, I found myself in a class on music therapy, specifically about playing Hildegard’s music for healing. It opened a door for me, and I became reacquainted with her. I began playing her music on the harp, and before long my college professor asked me to come back and guest lecture about Hildegard in my old Medieval Philosophy class. I played the harp, talked about her contributions and passed around her Cookies of Joy while students asked questions. It was so much fun. After that, he saved ‘Hildegard day’ for me whenever he offered that class. Over the years of teaching about Hildegard, my understanding grew and my perspective expanded. She wasn’t just an impressive historical figure, I realized she has lessons that resonate with our modern lives as well. Not just for philosophy students, but for women and creative seekers. So I retooled the class — and this time with no quiz at the end! I am still learning about Hildegard as I go, but now I’m exploring all the different ways her messages still echo across the ages, through art and journaling, music and gardening.
ABOUT HILDEGARD OF BINGEN
“Humanity, take a good look at yourself. Inside, you’ve got heaven and earth, and all of creation. You’re a world — everything is hidden in you.” — Hildegard of Bingen
Born in 1098 in Germany’s Rhine Valley, Hildegard of Bingen was a visionary who was so far ahead of her time. The Benedictine abbess was a polymath, a poet, playwright, composer, philosopher and theologian. She studied biology, cosmology and literature. She was a healer and an herbalist, and what we would recognize today as a natural scientist.
She was the “first” in many fields, producing major works of theology, music and medicine where none existed before her.
In a time when few women held positions of power, Hildegard built and managed her own abbey, ran a medieval hospital, wrote plays and composed new forms of music, and advised popes, kings and queens, leaving behind one of the largest bodies of letters to survive from the Middle Ages.
At her abbey at Rupertsberg, Hildegard created a flourishing physical and spiritual home for women. She encouraged creativity as a part of worship, including singing and composing music, art, writing, weaving and handcrafts. She also included women in theology, elevating the presence of the divine feminine in the biblical narrative.
Her mystical visions were copied down into a series of illuminated manuscripts. Her interpretations of Christian messages were blessed by the Pope and earned her a devoted following.
She wrote of the presence of the divine as the “Voice of the Living Light.” And she expanded this to include nature’s divine harmony and healing power by coining the term “viriditas,” literally the ‘greening’ power of life that inhabits all things.
In Hildegard’s many non-mystical books, she cataloged plants, animal and healing cures. She wrote recipes, prescribed medical advice, identified and named plants, wrote about the healing powers of food and even gave out sex advice. She believed the body and soul were connected, and advised a healthy lifestyle to maintain a healthy spirit. To our modern eyes, it’s holistic healing. And many of her advisements and recipes – such as her Cookies of Joy — can still be followed today.
In an era when the average lifespan was 43, Hildegard lived to be 81. She died in 1179. After nearly 850 years of petitioning by her followers, she was finally recognized as a Saint and a Doctor of the Church by the Catholic Church in May 2012.
HILDEGARD OF BINGEN’S COOKIES OF JOY
“If a person eats nutmeg, it will open up their heart, make their judgement free from obstruction, and give them a good disposition. … Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves and pulverize them. Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flower and water. … Eat them often and they will calm bitterness of heart and mind, your hearing and senses will open. Your mind will be joyous.” — Hildegard of Bingen, 1157
Hildegard’s Cookies of Joy recipe comes from her 1157 book, “Physica,” a collection of nine books that described the scientific and medicinal properties of plant and animals. Here, she lauded nutmeg for its ability to lift spirits. The original version of the recipe called for spelt, an ancient grain and type of wheat that’s more similar to barley and was used widely at the time. All-purpose flour has been substituted in this recipe.
Hildegard of Bingen’s Cookies of Joy
3/4 cup butter or margarine (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
Cream butter soften with the brown sugar. Beat in the egg. Combine dry ingredients, add to wet and mix thoroughly. Dough may be chilled to make it workable. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Form walnut-sized balls of dough, press flat on greased baking sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes (till edges of are golden brown). Cool for 5 minutes. Enjoy!
Servings: About 24