From the Archives: Embracing Fierceness by Mary Sharratt

This was originally published on September 9, 2015

This essay is inspired by Donna Henes’s brilliant post, I am Mad. Too often as spiritual women, we are told we have to perform niceness all the time, even if it means compromising our boundaries and principles.

Mainstream religions tell us we must forgive those who mistreat us. Too many women in very abusive situations literally turn the other cheek–to their extreme detriment. As Sherrie Campbell points out in her essay The 5 Faults of Forgiveness, the obligation of forgiveness oppresses survivors of abuse because it makes it all about the perpetrator and not about the healing, dignity, or boundaries of the survivor.

In my own Catholic upbringing I learned to swallow my anger and rage until it erupted in depression and burning bladder infections. My background did not teach me to skillfully dance with anger and it’s been a difficult learning curve for me. But I learned the hard way that owning my anger was crucial if I wanted to stand in my power and speak my truth.

Once when I felt a particularly strong need to break out of a dysfunctional situation, I had a powerful dream of a black snake, as beautiful as it was terrifying. In the course of the dream, I realized that the huge black snake was my own repressed anger, power, and strength. The beautiful inner self longing to be claimed.

black snake

Meek and mild women don’t make history. Hildegard von Bingen, whose feast is coming up on September 17, famously spoke her mind and ferociously stuck up for what she thought was right, famously locking horns with Emperor Barbarossa himself. She also defied her archbishop and suffered an interdict as a consequence, nearly dying an excommunicant. But she was a strong woman who would not be silenced. We should all be so brave and bold.

Claiming our true spiritual power means claiming each part of ourselves, including our fierceness. Our scary side.

Fierceness means embracing our gut wisdom. Voicing the sacred NO to protect ourselves and our loved ones from compromising situations.

I see modern day women like holistic healer Susun Weed embodying this fierceness as she empowers women and girls to recognize the sacredness of their own bodies, the holy mysteries inherent in menstruation, childbirth, and menopause, which are too often pathologized in male-dominated medicine.

Over the years I’ve learned to trust and act on my own inner knowing and discernment. To know when to say NO. By using strong, no bullshit women like Hildegard and Susun Weed as my role models.

Each time I trusted myself enough to act on my gut wisdom, to trust the inner NO, and speak my truth, it has served me well, although it’s sometimes been a painful learning process.

Anger and fierceness wake us up to what is wrong and needs to be changed. There is so much energy in anger that can be harnessed for healing and transformation. Fierceness is the strongest, most protective form of love, the ferocity with which a mother bear defends her cubs.

Coiled inside each one of us is a snake of great power. Let us all dance in our power and strength.

minoan snake goddess

Minoan Snake Goddess, ca 1600 BCE, Knossos, Crete

Mary Sharratt is committed to telling women’s stories. Please check out her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, and her new novel Revelationsabout the mystical pilgrim Margery Kempe and her friendship with Julian of Norwich. Visit her website.

Visions of the Great Mother by Mary Gelfand

During late summer a few years ago I had a vision.  I know it was summer because it was hurricane season and there were several active storms in the Atlantic & Caribbean.  Since I grew up in Florida and lived in New Orleans for many years, I have a lot of experience with hurricanes.

In this vision, I found myself seated at the side of the Great Mother Goddess looking down thru a portal at planet Earth.  The Goddess looked at me and then turned back to the portal.  She put a finger out and touched a place on the planet with a spark of light.  Then She turned to me and said, “The energy must be discharged!”  She repeated this multiple times and ultimately put her finger on planet Earth five times, each time touching a spot where a hurricane was active. 

The energy must be discharged! 

Continue reading “Visions of the Great Mother by Mary Gelfand”

The Way of the Mystic

Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are coming out of a long pandemic winter and entering a new season of waxing light, hope, and growth. Yet these continue to be turbulent times. Even with the progress of the Covid vaccine, none of us truly knows when life will ever return to “normal.”

Like us today, the medieval mystics Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe, the heroines of my new novel REVELATIONS, which will be published on April 27, lived in a time of pandemic and social upheaval, yet both women bore witness to the divine promise that ultimately all shall be well.

During a near-death experience, Julian received a series of divine visions and spent the next forty years unpacking them in her luminous theology of an unconditionally loving God who is both Mother and Father. Julian offered radical counsel to Margery Kempe, a failed businesswoman and mother of fourteen, who was haunted by her own visceral mystic experience. With Julian’s blessing, Margery walked away from a soul-destroying marriage and became a globe-trotting pilgrim-preacher and rabble rouser. Though these two women might seem like polar opposites—Julian, the enclosed anchoress, and free-roving Margery experiencing her visions in the full stream of worldly life—they complement each other. Together their lives and work form a Via Feminina, a distinctly female path to the divine.

The women mystics have always fascinated me. I identify very powerfully with Hildegard of Bingen, the heroine of my previous novel ILLUMINATIONS, as well as with Margery and Julian as spiritual women facing the roadblock of an institutional, male-dominated religion that side-lined them precisely because they were women. But instead of letting this beat them down, they found within their own hearts a vision of the divine that mirrored their female experience. I believe it’s no mere coincidence that both Hildegard and Julian dared to create a theology of the Feminine Divine, of God the Mother. All three women seized their power and their voice to write about their encounters with the sacred, preserving their revelations to inspire us today.

In our modern world, when many traditional religious institutions are crumbling, we can follow in these women’s footsteps and seek the divine—however we perceive the divine—within the sanctuary of our own hearts. This is the birthright no one can take from us, our eternal refuge. This is the Way of the Mystic.

Learn more about Margery and Julian as I discuss these mystics in a series of free virtual events.

My virtual tour kicks off with a very special Literature Lover’s event, sponsored by Valley Bookseller and Excelsior Bay Books in Minnesota. You can watch the video above. I am in conversation with acclaimed author, Elissa Elliot .

For a deep dive into Julian of Norwich’s spirituality, I am teaming up with Christine Valters Paintner of Abbey of the Arts to offer a Virtual Mini-Retreat on May 13, Julian’s Feast Day. You can learn more and register here.

To stretch body and mind in a creative virtual retreat that combines Yoga, women’s spirituality, and writing women back into history, please join me and Stephanie Renee dos Santos for SHEStories + Saraswati Flow on May 15 – 16.

REVELATIONS may be pre-ordered through any of the links below. As a midlist author, I am profoundly grateful for every single purchase.

PRE-ORDER HARDCOVER & EBOOK: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Indiebound | Hudson | Powell’s | Target |

PRE-ORDER AUDIOBOOK: Amazon / Audible | Kobo

Read an EXCERPT.

Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, is published by Mariner. Her new novel Revelationsabout the globe-trotting mystic and rabble-rouser, Margery Kempe, will be published on April 27. Visit her website.

Margery Kempe: The Self-Made Mystic

In the 15th century, as now, independent female travelers faced harassment and suspicion.

I’ve always been fascinated with the women mystics, such as 12th century powerfrau and visionary Hildegard von Bingen, the heroine of my 2012 novel, ILLUMINATIONS. Likewise my new novel, REVELATIONS, which will be published in April 2021, is centered on two 15th century English mystics, Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich. Like Hildegard, they were women of faith facing the roadblock of institutional, male-dominated religion that sidelined them. But instead of letting this beat them down, they found within their own hearts a vision of the divine that mirrored their female experience. I believe it’s no mere coincidence that both Hildegard and Julian dared to create a theology of the Feminine Divine, of God the Mother. All three women seized their power and their voice to write about their encounters with the sacred, preserving their revelations to inspire us today.

While Hildegard and Julian are iconic, Margery Kempe is a more marginal figure–well-known among medievalists but much less known to a general audience. I first encountered Margery in a post-grad course entitled Late Medieval Belief and Superstition. I was blown away by the story of this enterprising woman who survived postnatal depression and a soul-destroying marriage to become an intrepid world traveler and literary pioneer. The Book of Margery Kempe (c. 1436–38) is the first autobiography in the English language.

Margery’s story explodes our every stereotype about medieval women.

She was not just a desperate housewife and mother of fourteen. She rebelled against the straightjacket of an abusive marriage by becoming an entrepreneurial businesswoman. First she ran a brewery, then a grain mill. When both businesses failed and she’d had enough, she left her husband behind and took to the road as a pilgrim, traveling to Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago de Compostela. This in an age when very few women traveled even in the company of their husbands, Margery blazed her own trail across Europe and the Near East.

Alas, like strong women throughout history, her independence and eccentricities drew suspicion. Before long she found herself on trial for heresy. A guilty verdict would have seen her burned at the stake, yet she kept her spirits high by regaling the Archbishop of York with a parable of a defecating bear and a priest.

Before leaving on her monumental pilgrimage, Margery sought the counsel of her sister mystic, Julian of Norwich. This was an exceedingly vulnerable time in Margery’s life. In leaving her husband and children behind, she had broken all the rules, and she was filled with self-doubt and uncertainty. Julian’s advice to trust her inner calling and not worry too much about what other people thought seemed to have a profound and empowering impact on Margery. While Julian had chosen to wall herself into a cell and live as an anchoress, she gave Margery her blessing to wander the wide world.

Sadly, some historians and theologians try to pit Julian and Margery against each other. Julian is held up as the real saint, the real deal, while Margery is dismissed as a hysterical wanna-be. Because she had the habit of copious weeping when in the throes of mystical experience, many people, both in her time and ours, have refused to take her seriously.

Yet a number of fascinating synchronicities connect Margery and Julian. In so many ways, their stories intertwine and complement each other.

Margery was born in 1373, the same year that thirty-year-old Julian received her “showings”—the divine visions that would inspire her landmark book Revelations of Divine Love, the first book written in English by a woman. Both women lived in Norfolk, in cities less than 45 miles away from each other. Both women were literary pioneers whose lifework was lost to obscurity, only to resurface in the twentieth century.

Immersing myself in Julian’s radical theology of the primacy of divine love was a profound experience. Like Margery, I often found myself moved to tears by the beauty of Julian’s visions, by her absolute assurance that no matter how dire things may seem, all will be well.

But what took me by surprise was how revelatory Margery’s dance with self-doubt was for me. In writing this book and delving into medieval mystical texts, I discovered that our doubts, as painful and wrenching as they are, aren’t a flaw or hindrance. In fact, they lead us deeper into the divine mystery, the vast “Cloud of Unknowing” where God dwells. Only when we set aside our preconceived notions of what we think we believe the divine to be, can we enter this numinous place.

As a mystic, Margery’s especially fascinating to me, because she found her spiritual bliss not in the cloister, but as a laywoman, in the full stream of worldly life with all its wonders and perils. May we all have the power to reinvent ourselves as courageously as Margery did.

Mary Sharratt is on a mission to write women back into history. Her acclaimed novel Illuminations, drawn from the dramatic life of Hildegard von Bingen, is published by Mariner. Her new novel Revelationsabout the globe-trotting mystic and rabble-rouser, Margery Kempe, will be published in April 2021. Visit her website.

Mysticism as a Female Path by Mary Sharratt


Women have been sidelined and marginalized in every established institutional religion in the world. Even in alternative spiritual movements, male teachers and leaders abuse their authority toward their female students and followers. This is why women’s circles and spiritual groups are as relevant and necessary in 2020 as they ever were. Those women who can’t find spiritual community often chose to go it alone on a solitary path. But they are not entirely alone–they follow in the footsteps of a long ancestral line of female seekers and mystics, who rejected a life of slavish obedience to male authority figures in order to contemplate the deep mysteries of the soul on a path of inner revelation.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines mysticism as the belief that there is hidden meaning in our existence, that every human being can unite with the divine. The American Dictionary states that mysticism is the belief that it is possible to directly receive truth or achieve communication with the divine through prayer and contemplation. Continue reading “Mysticism as a Female Path by Mary Sharratt”

Connecting Heaven and Earth: Singing Hildegard

September 17 marks the feast day of 12th century Benedictine abbess and powerfrau, Hildegard von Bingen.

Born in the Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard (1098–1179) was a visionary and polymath. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, and wrote nine books addressing both scientific and religious subjects, an unprecedented accomplishment for a 12th-century woman. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine.

Over eight centuries after her death, Hildegard was finally canonized in May 2012 and in October 2012 was elevated to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for the most distinguished theologians.

But most people today know Hildegard best for her soaring ethereal music.

The first composer for whom we have a biography, she composed seventy-seven sacred songs, as well as Ordo Virtutum, a liturgical drama set to music.

Her melodies are completely unlike the plainchant of her era—or anything that has come before or since. Likewise her lyrics are highly original and feel fresh to us even today. She was the only 12th century writer to compose in free verse.

Hildegard and her nuns sang the Divine Office eight times a day. She believed that song was the highest form of prayer—the mystical power of music reunited humankind to the ecstasy and beauty of paradise before the fall, connecting the singer directly with the divine, and joining heaven and earth in celestial harmony.

I’ve spent years researching Hildegard. I’ve visited the sites of her abbeys along the Nahe and Rhine, studied her writings, and written a novel about her, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, published in 2012. I’ve had the privilege of discussing Hildegard’s life and work with scholars, musicians, and people of faith from around the world. But not until last month did I have the opportunity to experience firsthand what it would be like to sing Hildegard’s wondrous music.

In August I took part in a retreat entitled “Connecting Heaven and Earth: The Chant of Hildegard” at Hawkwood College in Stroud, southern England, led by renowned soprano Dame Emma Kirkby and by author, spirituality teacher, and musician Caitlin Matthews. I’ve been reading Caitlin’s sublime books from the moment she started publishing in the 1980s. Caitlin’s Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God is a spiritual classic I highly recommend. I also own and adore Emma’s iconic 1985 album, Feather on the Breath of God, which first introduced Hildegard’s music to a wide mainstream audience.

This course was open to singers of all abilities. I would describe myself as an enthusiastic amateur, better suited for folk songs than Hildegard’s soaring octave leaps, but as a lover of Hildegard, how could I not at least give it a try? I’ll confess I was somewhat intimidated to learn that many of the participants were professional or semi-professional singers who were quite adept at sight-reading and that some of the scores we worked with were not in modern notation but in the medieval neume pattern. I found our singing classes quite daunting, even grueling, for we were experiencing a heat wave and our classrooms were all south facing with huge glass windows and radiators we could not shut off!

Hildegard’s music is challenging, especially for amateurs like me. It requires a huge range of voice, from ascendant scales that even the experienced sopranos sometimes struggled with, to deeper, profounder notes. But as the weekend went on, I began to slowly grow in confidence, following the stronger voices around me, and enjoying the sheer beauty of the music.

Caitlin helped balance the retreat by sending us on outdoor walking meditations through the beautiful gardens and woodlands where we could meditate on Hildegard’s vision of Viriditas–the sacred as manifest in the green, growing world.

On our last evening, we performed a recital with an audience of one, a friend of one of the participants. Some of the more accomplished singers sang solos while the rest of us joined in the chorus and in other songs. Listening to the soloists, I nearly wept, it was so beautiful and transformative. Listening to Hildegard’s music, particularly when performed live, moves the spirit within. These sacred songs are literally uplifting, just like the dramatic leaps in scales. After our recital, our single audience member told us that she felt the music lifting her heart energy toward heaven.

Our evening recital at Hawkwood. Caitlin and Emma are front and center. I am the short one with the long hair in the back, on the right.

While writing Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen, I listened nonstop to CDs of Hildegard’s music, creating a wall of sacred sound that helped inspire and empower my writing. But singing her music live as an amateur was a completely different and possibly more authentic experience than listening to polished and digitally mastered CDs. Hildegard composed her music to be sung by her sister nuns, not all of whom would be accomplished vocalists. She might have had sisters who were tone deaf or had a very limited vocal range. In sacred song what matters most is the spiritual intention behind it, rather than talent or technique or polish. Each song is a prayer offered to the divine. Sacred song is all about the mystery of devotion rather than the mastery of notes or neumes. Singing in a group of like-minded women, even with such a broad range of ability as we had, we reached a sublime place, our voices joining, so that we could hear the Voice behind our individual voices.

“There is the music of heaven in all things,” Hildegard wrote. “But we have forgotten to hear it until we sing.”

Happy Hildegard Day!



Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is published by Mariner. She has also written about another female composer, Alma Schindler Mahler, in her new novel Ecstasy. Visit Mary’s website:

Three Herstorical Divas to Die For by Mary Sharratt

The Urban Dictionary defines a diva as a woman who exudes great style and confidence and expresses her unique personality without letting others define who she should be. In my mind, a diva is a woman who stands in her sovereignty and blazes a trail for other women. We all need to claim our inner diva to truly dance in our power. And if you’re looking for inspiration, I present three herstorical divas to die for.



  1. Sappho ca. 630 – 580 BCE


Sappho of Lesbos wrote the book on love. Literally. Her searing love poetry addressed to other women gave us the word lesbian. She was the first—and the best!—to describe passion as a visceral experience, in which we are seized and transfixed by Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Though much of her work was destroyed by the patriarchal fun police, the fragments of her poetry that survive are timeless, haunting, and utterly true.

What we must remember is that Sappho’s poetry wasn’t just romantic or erotic–it was sacred, each poem a holy offering to Goddess Aphrodite.

Continue reading “Three Herstorical Divas to Die For by Mary Sharratt”

We Are Music by Natalie Weaver

Natalie Weaver editedWhen I was about eight years old, I dreamed one night that I stood inside the workings of an immense instrument, so big it filled the sky. It was crafted of wood and gold, and although there was no obvious source of light, it was brightly illuminated. I could have confused it for the inner workings of a clock except that I could hear the sweet music it produced resonating throughout its cavernous hollows. It was curious to me that there seemed to be no atmosphere there either to breathe or to carry sound. Within it, I did not perceive any movement. And, there was no actual melody that it produced, which could be sung or repeated. There was only an enveloping harmonic thrumming. The sound was multiplicative and voluminous although not piercing. I understood it in the dream to be cosmic, structural, primordial, and generative. When I awoke, I had the feeling that I had seen something divine. It was not heaven. It was not God. It was more like the instrument of the universe, or the universal instrument, created as a first work among creation

It was puzzling to me that I had such a dream because I was not then a musician. I felt that I understood its meaning, but I was surprised by its discontinuity with things in my normal frame of reference. My mother played piano, but she had no music theory in her background. She surely did not have any training in musical cosmologies, such as those produced in antiquity by the philosophers and theologians. I occasionally mentioned the dream over the years when context seemed to warrant it, but, more or less, I filed it away. Continue reading “We Are Music by Natalie Weaver”

Hildegard: A Saint Eight Centuries in the Making

hildegard & volmar

The visionary abbess Hildegard von Bingen (1098-1179) has long been regarded as a saint, with her feast day of September 17, yet she was only officially canonized in May 2012. Why did it take the Vatican over eight centuries to canonize this great polymath, composer, and theologian?

The first attempt to canonize Hildegard began in 1233, but failed as over fifty years had passed since her death and most of the witnesses and beneficiaries of her reported miracles were deceased. Her theological writings were deemed too dense and difficult for subsequent generations to understand and soon fell into obscurity, as did her music. According to Barbara Newman, Hildegard was remembered mainly as an apocalyptic prophet. But in the age of Enlightenment, prophets and mystics went out of fashion. Hildegard was dismissed as a hysteric. Even the authorship of her own work was disputed as pundits began to suggest her books had been written by a man.

Newman states that Hildegard’s contemporary rehabilitation and resurgence was due mainly to the tireless efforts of the nuns at Saint Hildegard Abbey in Eibingen, Germany. In 1956 Marianna Schrader and Adelgundis Führkötter, OSB, published a carefully documented study that proved the authenticity of Hildegard’s authorship. Their research provides the foundation of all subsequent Hildegard scholarship.

In the 1980s, in the wake of a wider women’s spirituality movement, Hildegard’s star rose as seekers from diverse faith backgrounds embraced her as a foremother and role model. The artist Judy Chicago showcased Hildegard at her iconic feminist Dinner Party installation.

hildegard judy chicago dinner party setting

Medievalists and theologians rediscovered Hildegard’s writings. New recordings of her sacred music hit the popular charts. The radical theologian Matthew Fox adopted Hildegard as the figurehead of his creation-centered spirituality. Fox’s book Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen remains one of the most accessible and popular books on the 12th-century visionary. In 2009, German director Margarethe von Trotta made Hildegard the subject of her luminous film, Vision. And all the while, the sisters at Saint Hildegard Abbey were exerting their quiet pressure on Rome to get Hildegard the official endorsement they believed she deserved.

Pope John Paul II, who had canonized more saints than any previous pontiff, steadfastly ignored Hildegard’s burgeoning cult, possibly because he was repelled by her status as a feminist icon. Ironically it was his successor, Benedict XVI, one of the most conservative popes in recent history—who, as Cardinal Ratzinger, expelled Matthew Fox from the Dominican Order where Fox had served for thirty-four years—finally gave Hildegard her due. Reportedly Joseph Ratzinger, a German, had long admired Hildegard. He not only canonized her but elevated her to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title given to only the most distinguished theologians.

But I believe the true credit for Hildegard’s triumph is due to the Benedictine Sisters at Saint Hildegard Abbey for keeping Hildegard’s flame burning.


This is drawn from Ann K. Gebuhr’s book, Hildegard!

Take some time to listen to and contemplate Hildegard’s beautiful musical meditation on the Holy Spirit, O ignis spiritus paracliti:

O spirit of fire, bringer of comfort,

Life of the life of every creature,

You are holy, anointing those perilously broken;

You are holy, cleansing festering wounds.

O breath of loveliness,

O fire of love,

O sweet savour in our breasts,

Infusing heart with the scent of virtue.

O clearest fountain,

In which we see

How God gathers the alienated

And finds the lost.

O breastplate of life

And hope of the whole human body,

O belt of honour, save the fortunate.

Guard those imprisoned by the enemy

And free those who are bound,

Whom the divine power wishes to save.

O mightiest course

That has penetrated all things

In the heavens and on earth

And in every abyss–

You reconcile and draw all humanity together.

From you clouds flow, wind flies,

Stones produce moisture,

Water flows in streams,

And the earth exudes living greenness.

You are always teaching the learned,

Who, through wisdom’s inspiration,

Are made joyful.

Thence praise be to you who are the sound of praise,

And joy of life,

And hope and greatest honour,

Granting the gift of light.

(This is Susan Hellauer’s translation from the insert booklet of Anonymous 4’s CD, The Origin of Fire: Music and Visions of Hildegard von Bingen.)

Read Hildegard’s poem slowly as a prayer, contemplating how the Sacred Flame, however you envision it in your own spiritual tradition, relates to your life.

Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen won the Nautilus Gold Award and was a 2012 Kirkus Book of the Year. Visit her website:

Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen By Barbara Ardinger

The Great Goddess and Divine Mother of Us All manifests where and to whom She chooses, no matter what faith we hold. In the 12th century, She manifested to a German nun named Hildegard. Hildegard’s story has been told in many places, including a highly detailed entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which is a wonderful resource for stories about saints. I’ve just finished reading Illuminations (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a splendid new novel about Hildegard by Mary Sharratt, who is the author of other excellent novels, including Daughters of the Witching Hill.

illuminationsHildegard, who lived from 1092 to 1179, was the tenth child of a family of minor nobility in the Holy Roman Empire. She’s a sturdy child who loves the outdoors and enjoys running through the forest with her brother. But early in the novel, she learns that she is to be her family’s tithe to the church. Her mother has already arranged for this bright and curious eight-year-old child to be the companion to Jutta von Sponheim, a “holy virgin” who yearns to be bricked up as an anchorite in the Abby of Disibodenberg. Being an anchorite means that, like Julian of Norwich (about 250 years later), this girl and her magistra are bricked in. There is a screened opening in the wall through which their meager meals are passed and through which they can witness mass and speak to Abbott Cuno, the other monks, and visiting pilgrims, but they can never go out. Never. In the Afterword, Sharratt writes that “Disibodenberg Abbey is now in ruins and it’s impossible to precisely pinpoint where the anchorage was, but the suggested location is two suffocatingly narrow rooms and a narrow courtyard built on to the back of the church” (p. 272). As Sharratt vividly shows us, Hildegard survived in that awful place for thirty years. Continue reading “Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen By Barbara Ardinger”

Fun With Bumper Stickers By Barbara Ardinger

I was driving through one of the more conservative corners of Orange County, California, a couple weeks ago and went past a very pretty brick church with a tall, proud steeple and signs in the front yard giving times of worship services. I have no idea what kind of church it was, but as I went past, a car pulled out of the driveway and began following me. It’s a public street, I said to myself. Looks like a tony neighborhood. No need to worry about being followed. So I neither sped up nor slowed down. At the red light, the car behind me pulled up beside me and the driver, a young man, looked at me. As soon as the light changed, he sped ahead, changed lanes, then slowed down just a little. As I pulled up behind him at the next red light, a hand came out of the driver’s window. A finger was aggressively elevated.

Good grief! How had I insulted this driver? The guy made a right turn, I stewed and fussed a couple of miles…and then it dawned. My bumper stickers. I have four on my car. PROTECT OUR MOTHER EARTH—SHE’S THE ONLYONE WE’VEGOT. THANK GODDESS. BRIGHT BLESSINGS. And my current political bumper sticker: IMPEACH THE SUPREME COURT. (This last, of course, is a comment on the Citizens United decision, which many people think is doing incalculable damage to the political process.) For years, my friends have been telling me that at any gathering, they can always tell I’m there by the bumper stickers on my car. Continue reading “Fun With Bumper Stickers By Barbara Ardinger”

“Eating Our Words” Decoupling Women’s Eating Habits from the Language of Sin: Part 2 by Stefanie Goyette

This post is the second part of a two-part series. Read Part I here.

In my previous discussion of the language associated with women’s eating habits, I mostly left aside the problem of weight. Weight, and certainly obesity, was hardly a concern in the Middle Ages, whereas I do not think that it would be controversial to suggest that fatness in the modern era is viewed as nothing less than a moral weakness, a failure of self-control. This viewpoint that is emphasized by weight-loss programs on television, in magazines, etc. But this is another matter that deserves a full discussion, which I cannot offer today. Rather, I would like to suggest that gluttony as a moral concern has shifted in meaning between the Middle Ages and the modern era, building on the fact that in medieval Europe, gluttony was an explicitly religious problem, a cardinal sin, even when separated from the related issues of libido and lust.

Despite the intense moralization of alimentary behavior in the Middle Ages, medieval writers often refused constrictive, moralized models of food and eating. Hildegard of Bingen, in her manual of natural medicine, the Physica (twelfth century), recommends different foods that help feed and diminish sexual desire, in order to balance the body rather than to suppress its needs. Continue reading ““Eating Our Words” Decoupling Women’s Eating Habits from the Language of Sin: Part 2 by Stefanie Goyette”

The Sainthood of Hildegard von Bingen by a Feminist-Friendly Pope? by Cynthia Garrity-Bond

While I celebrate the rise in status of Hildegard to official saint and soon to be Doctor of the Church, I cannot help but be suspicious of the Vatican’s motivations.  One only has to take in the last two months behavior of the CDF, sanctioned by Pope Benedict, to see the real intentions of this papacy—the continued subjugation of all women to clerical authority.

The past month or so has been a very busy time for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith or CDF and their examination of women. First they (and this includes Pope Benedict XVI) decided American nuns are guilty of the sin of silence by not speaking out on abortion & homosexuality.  Their “radical feminist” ideology of standing with the poor and disenfranchised, while good, is not good enough for the CDF.  The firestorm of solidarity coming from both laity and religious surely caught the Vatican off guard.  Right?  Well, not quite.  This past week the CDF began its investigation of the Girl Scouts for their purported association with the likes of Planned Parenthood and Oxfam.  While both address the needs of the poor, it is the latter and its troubling advocacy for safe sex via condom use that initiated the inquiry. Keep in mine that in 2010 Pope Benedict retracted from his earlier position and bane on condoms, seeing instead their use as a “lesser evil” in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  The CDF angst is that the message of condom use might be too much sex-talk for impressionable young women.  Continue reading “The Sainthood of Hildegard von Bingen by a Feminist-Friendly Pope? by Cynthia Garrity-Bond”

Hildegard of Bingen to be Canonized and Named Doctor of the Church By Gina Messina-Dysert

Known as the “Sybil of the Rhine,” Hildegard of Bingen was a remarkable woman who produced multiple visionary writings and major theological works throughout her life (1098-1179).  During a time period when women received little respect, Hildegard was consulted by religious and political leaders and advised popes and kings.  Her contributions are many and include founding a convent, composing music, and writing about the medicinal uses of natural objects such as plants, trees, animals, and stones.

It was recently announced that Hildegard of Bingen will be canonized and declared a doctor of the church.  Hearing this I was among the many who were surprised by the news since I had assumed that Hildegard was already canonized, particularly since she has been called St. Hildegard and has had a feast day on September 17th since 1940 (although only within the Benedictine order in Germany).  Nonetheless, I have recognized Hildegard as a crucial woman in Christian history – as crucial as St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux who have already been canonized.  So why the delay in granting this honor to Hildegard of Bingen? Continue reading “Hildegard of Bingen to be Canonized and Named Doctor of the Church By Gina Messina-Dysert”

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