What will it mean to find my only truest self amid the rubble of all the false selves others tried to frame about me making my safe denying distancing disfiguring? What will it mean to see my soul in the clear and dazzling light of truths daring the edges of my compassing charting comprehending? What will it mean to claim my spirit to feel reoccurring ancient bonds to sense renewing wide connections to experience returning deep union all the while grateful humble glad before the enduring powers living luring loving? They came to me, the words rushing from my soul. They came to me, the stories tumbling through my spirit. They came to me, the memories rending my heart.
Feather on the breath of God
Here is my introduction of a sequence of four poems inspired by my personal and idiosyncratic experience of Hildegard of Bingen, her life and her varied works.
I first came into contact with Hildegard when I was at university studying Mediaeval History and Literature. I spent a lot of time in the 12th century, Hildegard’s century. Even at that time I came to her life and works from inside the church box, albeit an Anglican one. For nearly a quarter of a century, however, I have been engaging her works as a pagan, specifically as a Druid, as one of my ancestors of spirit.
This, naturally, colours how I approach what she says and more importantly how she says it. It is the reason I am picking up Latin again, for the third time and now after thirty-four years, because I want to translate and read her words from very far out of the box into which she is confined by the church.
It will take some time to achieve this, but I want to see how she reads with a very different light shone on her. I believe it will be illuminating in more ways than one. From these readings I know will issue further poems than the four I am setting out here.
From how I understand and perceive her, she both more and less than what the current Hildegard ‘craze’ makes her out to be. She was a woman of contradictions and contrasts. She was fierce and formidable as well as faith-filled, potent combinations for a woman at any time, let alone the 12th century.
By way of elaboration – in the second poem of the sequence I use the word: viriditas, a Latin word that means essentially greenness. Hildegard, however, makes it her own by extending its meaning, in various translations rendered as: freshness, vitality, fertility, fecundity, fruitfulness, verdure, or growth. In her understanding, viriditas is a metaphor for spiritual and physical health. It is a word and concept as multi-faceted as the woman who used it so creatively, and it says so much about Hildegard’s approach to life and to belief.
Feather on the Breath of God – for Hildegard of Bingen One When you stood before the archbishop of Mainz being questioned, interrogated, challenged regarding your visions – You responded: I am a feather on the breath of God. Ironically, or perhaps most fortunately, the learned churchmen never really understood, would have found it quite impossible to understand – What a feather, not a soft downy one nor a flashy ornamental one . . . Oh no . . . You were a flight feather, strong and unyielding, a feather that took you far, enabled you to fly, soaring with your musics, allowing you to travel in your visions, discovering the mysteries of life, revealing the wonders of nature, probing the secrets of the Divine. Oh yes . . . A feather on the breath of God you may have been, but ooh what a feather. We will never really know what the archbishop thought at your assertion, maybe: ah . . . a docile abbess, a humble leader of nuns, a dutiful daughter of the church. They were, of course, both right, and so very wrong, for you were a strong willed, migraine suffering woman, who did not relent, nor acquiesce in the face of the wrongs of the church as they pertained to you and your community. A feather on the breath of God – indeed! Two You were overawed by the power and necessity, physically and spiritually, of what you termed viriditas; and in these times, your message takes on a different deep hue, your viriditas means so much more now as we see the fragility of ecosystems and engage in environmental degradation. Or, did you see so far ahead, see things you knew you could not write in full? People are meant to be green – Out of context, or is it? Do we know with certainty the context of your visions couched in language and explanations that preserved them for us? Three Doctor of the Church you were made, one more and final attempt to make you safe – to sequester your thought and constrict the understanding of your words, attempting to hold firmly in an ecclesiastical grasp what you said, what you saw, what you knew. Still – your feather remains a flight feather, for you can still soar and your word-wings beat above and beyond how the church chooses to interpret you. Your antiphons and responses, sequences and hymns also ascend far above the abilities of male voices; you wrote musics only women can sing, leading them to fly with you above the ranges of men’s comprehending, taking them to the realms of the Divine. Four Your word-wings, powered by your flight feathers rising on God’s breath bring you to our times, where you have become famous, because you were, eight centuries ago, a woman who dared to go beyond the limits that sought to restrict you – you wrote chiding letters to the powerful, both clerical and secular, you preached abroad in the Rhineland, you stood your ground against interdict and proscription, for neither your conscience, nor your voice could easily be confined. and certainly not silenced. Oh yes . . . You were a feather on the breath of God, a strong feather, flight feather, quill feather that did not gently fall to earth, but took you soaring where now we may, and indeed must, follow, for your words ring out timely and clear: People are meant to be green. The earth must not be destroyed.
Road Kill Speaks to Me
Yesterday, we went on a rare venturing forth to the Willow and Wetlands Centre no too far from us to get a couple of baskets. On the way, driving across the Somerset Levels we passed two creatures who had met their ends in road accidents. They were both young animals in their first, and sadly, last year.
We came across the badger first, in the middle of the road. The energy/spirit of this poor creature was still hovering around the carcass. As we came towards it, she gave me her name. This often happens and, when it does, I know that there is a service that I can perform. Using her name, I gathered her energy/spirit and together we went to the portal for badgers entering the Summerlands. Once there I made my request known, to open the way for her to cross through. The portal opened and arrayed before us were numerous Badgercestors who called to the young one and welcomed her to the badgercestral sett. I nodded my thanks and I returned to the car where I had been sitting and which had moved on.
Not long after we came upon a squirrel. This one was harder as his energy/spirit was resentful and angry, his energy was running around his mangled body chittering and scolding as his tail swayed in the wind on the roadbed. This one I called to me and quietly told him it was time to move on. That’s when a terrible grief and sadness came upon me. He stopped being angry and became still. Then his sadness broke like a storm. He lamented that he never got to live his first autumn, never got to build his own drey, never got to cache acorns, never got to plant a tree.
It was so terribly sad to hear all this regret wrapped in such small quivering bundle of energy/spirit. Using the name he gave me I finally scooped up his energy/spirit and carried it to the squirrel portal to the Summerlands. Following the same procedure as with the badger, I called to the Squirrelcestors who bid him forth to them with gentle calling. They assured him he had a place in the squirrelcestoral drey and the that there would be tress to plant in the Summerlands, for that is what squirrels do there.
As I removed myself from these experiences, I offered thanks that I am able to offer this small service to the little furred and feathered ones who lose their lives on the roads, thanks I am granted to know their names and use them to help them move on. I record all of these names and at Samhain remember them.
Remember, remember, remember:
the call goes out,
an insistent mantra
as eyes close,
as body relaxes,
as spirit wanders,
with the coming of sleep.
The mind is adamant
must sleep now
and body follows,
or is it reversed
the body is adamant
and the mind must follow?
Ideas, words, images
but sleepily repeat,
say again and over again,
to fix for morning recall
do not forget hold fast
the call goes out:
Remember, remember, remember.