Women in the Christ Business
by Revilo P. Oliver
IF YOU PREFER to read gospels and rhapsodies about Jesus and his dad rather than better-written and coherent stories of the supernatural by Robert Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Tolkien, you will be pleased to learn that a fresh bundle of your favorite fiction has just become available in English.
In 1098 a German family in the lesser nobility had a daughter and gave her the fine name, Hildegarde, which means ‘patroness in battle.’ They suffered, however, from the Christian disease, so they took the little girl, who would have become fit to inspire warriors and bring forth fighting men to expand their nation’s territory, and shut her up in a convent, when she was only eight, to please their dread Jew-god by what amounts to a form of race-suicide.
The unfortunate girl grew up in that unnatural and tainted atmosphere, and seems to have begun to have hallucinations about the time of puberty. (You will find an interesting description of this not uncommon phenomenon in a realistic story by Daphne du Maurier, “The Pool,” which is included in most collections of her short stories.) She eventually developed a physiological disorder and disease of the nervous system that induced in her, as in many other women, such as Jeanne d’Arc, religious hallucinations, and Hildegarde is cited as an example of the effects of migraine (1) in Barry L. Beyerstein’s excellent article, “Neuropathology and the Legacy of Spiritual Possession,” in the Spring 1988 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer.
(1. I need not remark that the colloquial use of ‘migraine’ to designate a severe headache, such as may be caused by indigestion or some other temporary indisposition, is to be eschewed. The word properly designates only a chronic pathological condition, comparable to epilepsy; see any respectable dictionary.)
Hildegarde had visions, formed in her consciousness by her imagination, which had been charged by the mythology she had been taught from childhood, and, having the delusion that she was divinely inspired, began to prophesy. She acquired a great reputation for sanctity in her Benedictine order and soon became Abbess of her convent. She eventually established a new and elaborate convent of her own near Bingen on the Rhine, and therefore is now generally known as Hildegarde of Bingen. She also acquired great prestige in the world outside the convents, where it was believed that she was personally acquainted with Yahweh & Son and on intimate terms with them. At least two Popes and two Holy Roman Emperors consulted her for information about what the boss up in the clouds really wanted, and at least one leading theologian submitted to her soteriological problems that she, as an habituée of Heaven, could solve from personal observation.
Hildegarde dictated detailed reports of her visions to a monk named Godefridus, who was her close friend and may have been her paramour. The first and most important collection was entitled Scivias [sic], seu visionum et revelationum libri III. The odd title is probably to be understood as the very rare but regularly formed present singular imperative of scire + vias (i.e., ‘Know the ways [to Heaven]’). Decades ago, I read considerable parts of this and some other writings of Hildegarde in Volume 197 of the Latin section of Migne’s Patrologia.
English translations of the Scivias and other works by Hildegarde have now been published in a series of five paperback volumes by Bear & Co., P.O. Drawer 2860, Santa Fé, New Mexico. I have not seen these books and, needless to say, cannot comment on the accuracy of the translations. They are, of course, addressed to readers who dote on “mystical illumination.”
Migraine (like epilepsy) is an affliction that may accompany a high degree of intelligence when the disease is in temporary remission. Hildegarde is reputed to have made observations of the properties of herbs and other plants that show a capacity for scientific thought. I have not read the work in which she recorded these observations, but extracts from it are evidently translated in a paperback entitled Hildegarde of Bingen’s Medicine. This is said by the publisher to be of great value today, when the therapeutic value of herbal remedies is being recognized, to the distress of the manufacturers of very expensive and often dangerous “miracle drugs.”
I have given here this brief notice of Hildegarde because she is a good example of what Spengler calls “pseudo-morphosis,” a phenomenon that does occur in many cultures. If you seek the source of Hildegarde’s influence, you will find it, not in Biblical (i.e., Jewish) Christianity, but in the Aryan religions from which was taken the Western veneer that made the Christian cult acceptable to our race. The real precedent for Hildegarde and her visions is the Völuspá, the revelations of the völva (‘prophetess, sibyl’). Hildegarde was possible only because Christianity in her time had been altered by the old Aryan respect for women, which had always extended into religion and is seen in innumerable manifestations, such, for example, as the cults of three Matres that were prevalent in Germany and commemorated, after the Roman occupation, in hundreds of extant inscriptions, or earlier in the Classical Sibyls. (2)
(2. It is true, of course, that goddesses appear in many Oriental religions and were even included in the Jews’ pantheon in the fifth century B.C., before the Jews became henotheists and the Jew-Book was compiled in its present form, but in most of these non-Aryan religions goddesses are represented by male priests (or in some cults by eunuchs), and we seldom or never hear of priestesses or sibyls, although temples equipped with female prostitutes are common enough. Goddesses do not necessarily bestow dignity upon mortals of their sex — not even in societies in which queens are not politically impossible. A good example of Aryan influence is the soteric cult of Isis, which survived the determined opposition of the Roman aristocracy during the Republic and spread widely in Roman territory under the Principate, eventually supplying elements and seasoning that the Christians incorporated in their religious emulsion (e.g., the prayer, “give us this day our daily bread,” was taken from a prayer to Isis in which it makes sense, since she had been identified with Demeter, and the prayer means “do not permit a failure of the grain crops and a consequent famine”). The worship of Isis was conducted by priests, imported from Egypt, but when the cult had Graeco-Roman votaries, we begin to hear of priestesses, who often attained such rank and prestige that, for example, Plutarch dedicated two of his treatises to a priestess of Isis who bore the Greek name Clea and may have been the historical Flavia Clea. It is significant that the Christians did not copy the Isaic music, sung by choirs composed of both men and women; nasty females were excluded from the Christian choirs, and that made necessary the sexual mutilation of impuberate boys to provide the soprano voices of castrati.)
Early Christianity inherited, of course, the Jewish contempt for women, especially as formulated by the Essenes and most obvious in the gospel attributed to a “Marcus” in the “New Testament.” The early Fathers of the Church naturally were inclined to believe that women had no souls, but, probably because the Fathers also knew how much property was in the hands of widows who could be sold spiritual nostrums, some of the Fathers devised the doctrine that if women were pious and adequately endowed the Church, Jesus would, when they died, replace their sexual organs with male equipment, thus qualifying them for admission to a Heaven of which the doors bore the warning, “Men Only.” As late as A.D. 585 a Catholic Synod heatedly debated the question whether women were human beings or animals, and the authentically Christian view of females persisted in the orthodox Mediaeval definitions of a woman as a “pestilential beast,” a “destroyer of men,” a “bar to salvation,” etc. — the full text runs to about fifteen lines of Latin invective. And this opinion, by the way, was endorsed by the blood-thirsty social reformers of the French Revolution, who, although they thought themselves anti-Christian, were really applying the essentials of the old Judaeo-Christian doctrine in all that they did. Burke in his Reflections summarized their view of the lovely sex as: “Woman is but an animal, and an animal not of the highest order.”
That is sound Christian doctrine, but it was intolerable to our racial instinct to esteem, cherish, and love women for their femininity. (A point that has escaped the brawling harridans of the “Liberation Movement” today.) (3) So Christian doctrine was necessarily modified by a persistence of our old “pagan” regard for women, which gave us, for example, the Valkyries and retained Aphrodite as a goddess in men’s hearts, worshipped by a litany far older and nobler than any salvation-cult’s dreary rites. That gave us our whole tradition of chivalry and even the gynaeolatry of the Provençal poets’ domnei en cor gentil, which reappears in Dante’s Beatrice. That gave us all the romantic tradition without which modern literature would be barren and jejune. But you won’t find a word to authorize it in the Jew-Book. (4)
(3. An excellent and politically neutral study of this fantastically irrational agitation is Nicholas Davidson’s The Failure of Feminism (Buffalo, Prometheus Books, 1988), to which I intend to devote due attention in some future issue of this periodical.)
(4. This has relatively little to do with the current fracas in many Christian sects over the ordination of women as full-time salvation-hucksters. There is really no religious question involved. The churches that refuse to ordain women take Christianity seriously and refuse openly to contemn and repudiate its basic doctrines. In the other churches, there is really no reason why ambitious females should not be admitted to the lucrative business of peddling spiritual hokum to the ignorant and credulous.)
Hildegarde thought she was a Christian, but she was really an authentically Germanic and Nordic völva, and she is an excellent illustration of the cultural process known as pseudo-morphosis. She is a memorable symbol in the history of our race’s reaction to a thinly-disguised alien superstition of which we are now experiencing the deadly narcosis.
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Source: Liberty Bell magazine, July 1988