O virga mediatrix / Alleluia-verse for the Virginby Hildegard von Bingen
English version by Barbara Newman
Original Language Latin
burst from your untouched
womb like a flower
on the farther side
of death. The world-tree
is blossoming. Two
realms become one.
|-- from Symphonia: A Critical Edition of the Symphonia armonie celstium revelationum, by Hildegard of Bingen / Translated by Barbara Newman|
/ Photo by Rev Stan /
Many westerners who were raised in the Christian tradition but who have gone on to explore other spiritual traditions often shy away from a figure like Mary. The emphasis on her virginity sounds to modern secular thinkers like questionable biology, and a religious disdain for normal human sexuality. Frequent references to her womb can, at times, sound as if religious thinkers only value women as vehicles through which children are born. Those notions are certainly serious social concerns, but we can understand this same imagery as carrying profound spiritual meaning, as well.
One way to understand the figure of Mary is that she represents the heart or the soul. Joseph represents the intellect. From this perspective, the gospel story of the virgin birth takes on ever deeper dimensions.
In the mystical tradition, the soul must first stop attempting to take false lovers in every outer experience (represented in the Christian tradition by the figure of Mary Magdalene), and yearn so deeply for the true Beloved within that she (the soul) becomes restored to her natural "untouched" state (represented by Mary's virginity). That is, the soul must become purified, inward focused, unattached, "untouched" by the experiences of the outer world. Mary's virginity is a virginity of awareness, what the Buddhist tradition might call "original mind".
When this happens deeply enough, the divine touch comes, and a new life is formed within you (the Christ child in Christian tradition). You experience an overwhelming sense of joy that is felt as a new presence in the body. And your heart is warmed; it opens with an immense love.
But the father of this new life is not Joseph. The heart does not conceive by the intellect, but by direct communion with the Eternal. At this stage, the intellect has a choice: Retreat into cold denial, proclaiming, 'I do not know that child' and reject the heart and the life it carries; or it can recognize that something deeply sacred is taking place, something not of its own making, and then take responsibility and provide for the growth and maturation of that inner illumination.
In this way, the Christian gospel drama is played out in you and me and in all devout mystics. This isn't something experienced only by Christians; here, we are simply using Christian language to describe a universal mystical experience...
Carrying our esoteric understanding of Mother Mary to a broader level, Mary's womb is the primal womb, the womb of creation. The womb is the empty space in which life takes form. It is emptiness, formlessness, night, void, nirvana. Mary is all these things in Christian symbolism, just as are all world images of the Divine Feminine. Mary represents the formless void, which burst forth in "light" and form and manifestation.
Let's talk about the light imagery for a moment. For genuine mystics, this light is not a mere concept; it is directly experienced. This sense of light is more than a brightness one might experience on a sunny afternoon. This light is perceived as being a living radiance that permeates everything, everywhere, always.
Christian mystics often identify this foundational light with Christ. This is the light Hildegard says has burst from the Virgin's "untouched womb."
The light is seen to be ever expanding, radiating out from a central point, "like a flower." It is immediately understood to be the true source of all things, the foundation on which the physicality of the material world is built. This is why the Gospel of John declares that "all things were made through him and without him was not anything made."
This light of the mystic is eternal and whole. Its sum is always complete with no loss and no end. And, when the mystic truly bathes in the outpouring of this light, the sense of death itself seems to be washed away. There seems to be no small sense of self apart from that light, there is nothing left that is vulnerable to death. The light is "on the farther side / of death."
And this living light is the medium that bridges the heavenly and the earthly levels of reality, "Two / realms become one." Speaking as this bridge, Christ in the Gospels states simply, "I am the way." -- a statement sadly misconstrued by literalist Christians for millennia as an assertion that Christianity is the one and only way to reach God. This light is a reality for deep mystics of all world traditions. Christians identify it with Christ. Hindus may name it Shiva or Ishwara or another face of the Divine. A Muslim may recognize it as the smile of the Beloved, a glimmering angel that leads one nearer to Allah. Or why name it at all? Better to witness it, be carried in its current to a place beyond names, a place where the world-tree (primal maternal nature and earthly manifestation) is blossoming...