Hildegard of Bingen


Hildegard of Bingen
(1098-1179)
   Also known as St. Hildegard. A German Benedictine abbess and mystic whose advanced social and theological views are based on a series of " visions she experienced from the age of 3. On the basis of her own portrayals of these visions, one may conclude that Hildegard experienced " elementary visual hallucinations from childhood onwards, in the form of "a great light of brightness". That light was often accompanied by "verbal auditory hallucinations (VAH) which she attributed to heavenly messengers. The simple visions were later replaced by brightly coloured " complex visual hallucinations, depicting buildings, water imagery, landscapes, animals, people, heavenly creatures, and representations ofthe cosmos and the Deity. Among these were also " compound hallucinations that took the form of "personifications. Hildegard was very clear on her sensorium during these visions, writing, "I hear these things not with my bodily ears, nor the thoughts of my mind, nor perceive them through any combination of the five senses, but entirely within my soul, with my external eyes open, so that I never suffer a lapse into ecstasy, but I see them fully consciously by day or night." This characterization would seem to fit in well with the formal characteristics of "panoramic or scenic hallucinations. It is known that Hildegard's health had always been delicate. Throughout her work positive descriptions of headaches are lacking, but it has been suggested that the crises she went through from 1141 onwards were caused by migraine attacks. In 1917 the British historian of science Charles Joseph Singer (1876-1960) was the first to attribute Hildegard's visions to migraine. In Singer's opinion, Hildegard's earlier visions might well have been attributable to migraine aurae without headache, and the later ones to migraine with aura. The signs and symptoms portrayed in Hildegard's work are indeed reminiscent of what we would call "photopsia, "scotomata, "amaurosis fugax, transient paresis of the limbs, and illusory alterations in the passage of time, i.e. phenomena known to occur in the context of migraine. Although less common, the complex and compound hallucinations described by her also occur in the context of migraine. However, these latter symptoms are also reminiscent of "peduncular hallucinations. Others have suggested that Hildegard's visions may have been caused by recurring states of temporal lobe epilepsy. The combination of seeing a bright light and hearing voices has also been interpreted as a description of " synaesthesias. Hildegard's canonization may be taken as confirmation of the Church's acknowledgement that Hildegard's visions should be interpreted as " veritable. Hildegard has also been credited with being the first to provide a written description of the psychoactive effects of "nutmeg in her book Physica.
   References
   Flanagan, S. (1998). Hildegard of Bingen. A visionary life. Second edition. London: Routledge.
   Muzur, A., Sepcic, J. (1997). Hildegard of Bingen - A temporal-lobe epileptic, an ingenious woman, or both? Acta Facultatis Medicae Flu-minensis, 22, 31-35.
   Rätsch, Chr. (2005). The encyclopedia of psy-choactive plants. Ethnopharmacology and its applications. Translated by Baker, J.R. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.
   Singer, C., ed. (1917). Studies in the history and method ofscience. Volume 1. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dictionary of Hallucinations. . 2010.

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