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, remember:
the call goes out,
these words
this image
that idea,
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
in retreat
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.