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.

Panthean One

Through no act of intention the deities with whom I work are all goddesses. I’ve not put up a ‘No gods need apply’ sign on the gate of my spiritual practice, but none have hopped over or politely requested entry. In a follow-up to the recent account of my relationship with Elen, I want to write about the other goddesses who are part of my panthean. Whilst I know that in accepting Elen’s leading in my life the relationships with the other four goddesses may/will change or alter, they will not end.

Brighid

You have been with me,
accompanied me,
since before I was born.

On the list of four names
my parents were considering
to go with the Kelly
of my father’s Irish kinship,
was Brigit,
carrying then the link
to the saint though not
at that time the goddess.

You have been with me,
accompanied me,
since before I was born.

The goddess would come later,
long after I took a name for me,
the one which has brought
and led me to the life I lead,
that none of the four
optioned names could have
imagined or enacted.

You have been with me,
accompanied me,
since before I was born.

Now I embrace not the saint
of uncertain lineage
but the goddess guiding
active workings
on levels deep and wide:
personal communal economic,
poetry healing smithcraft,
personal expression to share,
communal wellbeing to share
economic pursuit to share,
each strengthening
for the clan and society.

You have been with me,
accompanied me,
since before I was born.

For years around the
sweeping plains
dense woodlands
running steams
of my internal sacred space,
you have been with me,
at the fire where I sought
and found answers,
guidance and consolation,
you are yet there
when I seek you though
the bones of the land
and the intentions of my heart.

You have been with me,
accompanied me,
since before I was born.

Trust and Assistance

It has been many weeks since I last posted. Many weeks of wondering and stressing. Many weeks of holding on to trust and continuing to know I would be led to my new home. Baskin (see previous post The Badger’s Gift) was with me, reassuring me, snuffling about quietly, but never far away.

My friends were losing sleep for me. My friends were hassling me to do this or do that. Those who were once close were giving me advice that was totally unrealistic and inappropriate. I did things in the order that worked for me. I took steps as the time presented itself to me. It was not in other’s time, or the time others were sure was right for me.

The time ticked away. I did what I could. I continued to trust. I felt the presence not only of Baskin, but also Nemetona. Other’s fretted and panicked. What would I do if I did not find a home? All I knew is that I would. I trusted as I looked on the internet at places I could not afford, in places I knew I was not supposed to live. I looked everyday. I called a few agents and when they heard my situation they pretty much told me to forget about it.

I was offered through a family member help with paying a deposit. And when I learned I’d have to have a guarantor I approached, with trepidation, this same family member to do that for me as well, the answer was of course. I breathed a sigh of relief. But with only a couple of weeks to go nothing had turned up. I was in the nearest town visiting agents when the agent for the property I was being asked to leave because it was going to be sold texted me. He had a place that had just come up and offered to show it to me. He met me at the then home and took me to the new place. It was on the other side of the village I knew I was not supposed to leave.

As soon as I walked in I said yes. It felt right. It was a home. A bit tatty. Cat airlock already there (a little porchy bit). Big fireplace. Enough space once I got rid of extraneous stuff. I breathed another sigh of relief. Things were immediately set in motion. All the papers were signed four days before I was due to be out of the old place. Unfortunately the guy tidying up the new place was not to finish until midday of the day before I had to move.

The move took ten days. I had friends and friends of friends who helped me. Cars and a trailer. I was given grace of an extra week to clear the old place, though I lived in the new place from the day I was due out. Another family member came for three days from a considerable distance away to help me, she offered I did not ask.

I am awash with gratitude. I did not have to spend any money. I was helped because I needed the help and my friends rallied around me. An hour or two here and there, willing hands and generous hearts. I said thank you lots and some of them got little gifts that were appropriate and suddenly given. There was never a plan, only knowing at the time this was for that person.

As I sit here still getting rid of stuff there is not room for and things I do not need, I reflect on the gifts of friendship. I ponder the inexplicability of trust. I give thanks, so much gratitude to so many.

I am aware that Baskin is still with me and is a guardian of this home, this sett he helped me to find. I am aware of Nemetona whose presence graces the energy in which I now reside in a way much fuller than from the place from which I came. I am aware of the determined energy and power of trust, when coupled with the inadequate actions I could take in the face of what confronted me. I did my bit, and all along I was aware I would need a different sort of assistance.

On the last day of dealing with the previous property another lesson came. It was a rainy morning, I was told I really needed to sort out the garden before the owner of the property came the next day to do an inspection. I was tired. I did not think I could do any more there, and was surrounded with what felt overwhelming where I was. All of a sudden I felt a presence of one I had not thought of in over 20 years. I felt the presence of St Fiacre, yes I am a Druid but I am willing to receive assistance from those who offer it, the patron saint of gardeners. I felt within a few moments renewed energy. I knew I was not alone in this project. When I got to the house in the rain, wellied and waterproofed, with my sturdy push broom and a bag with a plastic dustpan and a stiff boat brush, I got to work. Two sheds had been in the small sloping garden for a number of years so I had to reshape the slope and take up six cement squares supporting the larger hexagonal shed. When I flagged I knew I could lean on Fiacre’s spade for a bit. In a little over two hours what looked like an impossible task had been completed. I was a mess, but it was done.

I was texted the next day by the letting agent that the owner was perfectly happy with the way I’d left the place and that I’d done a great job with the garden.

Now I am working my way to bring order out of chaos. Of getting back into a routine in a place I know will be good for creating. I feel I have missed a lot of the early spring. I’ve not really been on a proper walk, not taken any photos. But I am home. I know I have friends and family who love me. I trusted. I did what I could do. I accepted assistance when offered, and was willing to ask for it when I needed it. I learned much. I have a renewed sense of contentment and energy. I am home.