Recently I found myself with a group of pilgrims in the Land of Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179), near the Middle Rheine in Germany. Most of travelers were transpersonal and/or Jungian psychologists who had traveled all the way from South Korea in search of the wisdom of this saint, prophet, poet, dramatist, physician, abbess, preacher and Doctor of the Roman Catholic Church. A visionary in every sense of the word, Hildegard is perhaps best known for the hymns and canticles that she specifically wrote for the nuns of her own convent.
As a child, Hildegard saw and heard visions, but it wasn’t until she was “42 years and seven months old” that she received a disturbing vision from God commanding her to, “Write what you see and hear,” in order to spread news of God’s words and ways. Thus she began work on her first book, Scivias (Know the Ways). Written over a period of ten years, the book describes a total of 26 visions on the subjects of creation, redemption, and sanctification.
It would take a lifetime of scholarly pursuit to fully explore and come to some understanding of Hildegard’s theology. Nevertheless, I am going to boldly describe one of my first impressions, from a psychosynthesis point of view. What particularly struck me was the remarkable similarity between her third vision, called “God, Cosmos, and Humanity,” described in the first part of Scivias, and Assagioli’s model of the human personality. Perhaps, you also will intuitively recognize some similarities, but here are just a few that appeared before me.
In Hildegard’ vision, the outermost zone of shining fire symbolizes “God who burns everywhere,” and inside this fire are three torches, which “keep the fire from falling down upon the globe itself.” Hildegard writes that these torches:
“…descended from heaven to earth and, leaving the angels behind in heaven, gave help by showing heavenly things to people while they were in their souls and bodies… These people living in their souls and bodies raised the Word up with faithful joy.”
How similar these torches appear to Assagioli’s symbolic depiction of the Higher Self (6) as a star! Also Hildegard’s reference to the help these torches offer to people could also be seen as transpersonal experiences that come from the superconscious or directly from the Self. Once these torches touch the people with “heavenly things,” they are able to live “in their souls and bodies” in faithful joy. This seems to speak to the fundamental journey of psychosynthesis towards our ultimately reconnecting the will and consciousness of the personal “I” to the will and consciousness of the Self.
Our personal field of consciousness (4) as shown in Assagioli’s model could also be equated to Hildegard’s description of the circle right below the torches in which she saw a “globe of reddish fire which was so great that it lit up the entire inside.” She equates this “light of burning Love” to how “every creature is illuminated by the brightness of the Word’s light.” Similarly, Assagioli states that the personal “I” (5), our center of consciousness and will, is a pale reflection of the Self.
Remarkably, Hildegard goes onto to explain that the globe can also lift itself upward from time to time during which “more of the fire on the outer edge … would rush to meet it.” This image parallels Assagioli’s understanding of how the “I” can strive through spiritual psychosynthesis to ascend to the Self and superconscious material. She also explains how the globe would “move itself downward and coldness would come to meet it,” but then the globe would “remove itself from this coldness very quickly.” How familiar this movement may feel to us as, despite all our efforts towards synthesis, we easily fall into past patterns of behavior and, quickly becoming aware of our old ways of being, struggle to lift ourselves up beyond them.
Finally, the globe is surrounded by the purest of air, containing:
“…many clear spheres everywhere, upon which the globe of reddish fire shone its brightness. The globe of reddish fire would send out some of its fire now and then to these clear spheres, and then draw it back to itself.”
This element seems to describe the pure consciousness and will of the “I” observing and directing the many subpersonalities that encompass our being.
Strikingly different from Assagioli’s model is the third circular element underneath the globe in Hildegard’s vision. She describes this as a dry globe with a mountain inside separating light and dark. Unlike the globe of reddish fire, this dry globe is held by the surrounding air and unable to glide. Hildegard describes this dry globe as symbolizing that fact that “among the strong creatures of God, there is a person of deep thought … covered in virtues” and these virtues can never be separated from the person in anyway.
Assagioli and Hildegard, on the surface, could not be more different. One was an Italian psychoanalyst with Jewish roots living in the 20th century, the other a Benedictine nun from 12th century Germany. Hildegard’s vision is a description of the cosmos and Assagioli’s vision is of the inner psyche of the human being. But Assagioli’s model extends beyond the singular human psyche to include a Higher Self – a universal cosmic force of Love and Will.
It is this similarity of vision that perhaps strikes me the most – that Assagioli and Hildegard both believed that the will and consciousness of a Higher Being is both universal and personal, cosmic and earthly, majestic and, at the same time, human. And my feeling is that they also understood our fundamental need to reconnect to that higher source of Love and Will, as we become authentic human beings, able to recognize the Divine in the here-and-now and in everything around us.
Hildegard von Bingen (1986). Mystical Visions, translated from Scivias by B. Hozeski. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Bear & Company Publishing.
Hildegard von Bingen (2011). Geschaut im Lebendigen Licht – Die Miniaturen des Liber Scivias der Hildegard von Bingen. Beuroner Kunstverlag: Beuron.
Hildegard von Bingen (1990). Hildegard of Bingen: Scivias, translated by C. Hart & J. Bishop. Mahway, New Jersey: Paulist Press.
Maddocks, F. (2001). Hildegard of Bingen: The Woman of Her Age. NY: Doubleday.