Saturday, August 13, 2011

A woman who stands out....

Whilst today when someone says 'traditional medicine' some folks think of mainstream doctoring, infact its only in the last few centuries that prescriptions meant manufactured pharmaceuticals, surgery and  highly technological treatments rather than nature based cures. At the moment I find the process and tales of this transition fascinating, and a little scary....

 One woman who stands out from the 1100s in Germany, is Saint Hildegard of Bingen, who was a nun, and then an abbess. She is rare in that she was a woman who could combine the physical healing properties of herbs with spiritual healing of incantations yet not be burned at the stake for it, although I imagine at the time people might well have tried. In the story of early written herbals she is mostly among male company.

She was a seer of visions, a writer of music, manuscripts, and healer. She wrote two treatises on medicine and natural history, known in English as Book of Simple Medicine and Book of Composed Medicine, between 1151 and 1161. (In some manuscripts the two are combined as The Subtleties of the Diverse Natures of Created Things.) They are often referred to by their Latin titles, Physica and Causae et Curae, respectively. The number of manuscript copies of these works still in existence indicates that these works were widely read and influential.

She was part of a intergenerational monastic tradition of doctoring monks. and nuns, working for love not money. They were often well travelled and communication between areas allowed for comparisons, and exchange, of information about treatments. At its best they were not trying to increase their patient base, or turn a profit, but offered a kindly herbalism based on a practical knowledge of the plants in their gardens and surrounds, when practices such as blood letting and purging were popular.

One aspect of what I read of her work that I find interesting is her belief in a force she called 'viriditas' meaning 'greeness' or 'greening power' a kind of nature based lifeforce. Hildegard wrote that God transmits life into plants, animals, and gems. People eat plants and animals and acquire gems, thus obtaining viriditas. then thry, in turn give that essence out by virtuous acts, in a kind of passing on of life force through and with intention.

Hildegard followed on with the ancient Greek belief that the four elements comprised everything in the universe, air, water, fire and earth, and that peoples bodies reflected as a microcosm of this in posessing four  humors—choler (yellow bile), blood, phlegm, and melancholy (black bile).
Balance of the elements was seen to lead to health, imbalance to disease.

"Like billowing clouds, like the incessant babble of the brook.
The longing of the spirit can never be stilled."

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