The Fiery Cosmic Egg of Hildegard von Bingen
The language of prophecy is frequently enigmatic, bewildering, and even disconcerting. Most of us are familiar with some of the cryptic messages of Nostradamus, Mother Shipton, Edgar Cayce, and other seers. Hildegard von Bingen is another in history’s long line of clairvoyants and prognosticators. Born the tenth child of a knight, she was, according to custom, destined to devote her life to the Catholic Church. She entered the convent either as an older child or a young teenager at Disibodenberg, Germany. By the mid-12th century she was serving as the mother superior of the monastery she had founded at Rupertsberg on the banks of the Rhine River.
At a very early age Saint Hildegard had begun experiencing regular holy visions that continued throughout her lifetime. In addition to being a nun with mystical and prophetic insights, she was a true pre-Renaissance polymath: political and social moralist, musical composer, poet, naturalist, herbalist, gemologist, author of medicinal and botanical texts, and playwright. She even penned the earliest morality play.
Sequestered in her meditation cell, Hildegard would receive a series of bizarre psychic tableaus that she sketched on wax, which were subsequently turned into paintings. Her accompanying interpretations of these visions were also later transcribed. In an illuminated manuscript called Scivias (“Know the Way”), she presents these 26 visions, each with a Biblical exegesis.
Saint Hildegard in her meditation cell, inscribing her visions in wax and dictating them to her scribe.
One vision in particular concerns us here.
From Vision Three:
After this I saw a vast instrument, round and shadowed, in the shape of an egg, small at the top, large in the middle and narrowed at the bottom; outside it, surrounding its circumference, there was bright fire with, as it were, a shadowy zone under it... But from the fire that surrounded the instrument issued a blast with whirlwinds, and from the zone beneath it rushed forth another blast with its own whirlwinds, which diffused themselves hither and thither throughout the instrument. In that zone too there was a dark fire of such great horror that I could not look at it, whose force shook the whole zone, full of thunder, tempest, and exceedingly sharp stones both large and small. And while it made its thunders heard, the bright fire and the winds and the air were in commotion, so that lightning preceded those thunders; for the fire felt within itself the turbulence of those thunders.
The firmament in the likeness of an egg and what it signifies: For this vast instrument, round and shadowed, in the shape of an egg, small at the top, large in the middle and narrowed at the bottom, faithfully shows Omnipotent God, incomprehensible in His majesty and inestimable in His mysteries and the hope of all the faithful; for humanity at first was rude and rough and simple in its actions, but was enlarged through the Old and New Testaments, and finally at the end of the world is destined to be beset with many tribulations.
Illustration depicting the fiery cosmic egg
Surrounded by a field of blue ether, this egg-shaped “instrument” is engulfed in flames. At the top of the teardrop-shaped figure is the blazing Sun, along with three vertical red stars—probably the outer planets of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, but they could instead represent the belt stars of Orion as they appear on the eastern horizon. The next darker layer inward shows heaps of hailstones from which issue red tongues of lightning. The figure inside of this resembles a blue, almond-shaped vesica piscis filled with the golden fixed stars, the Moon, and two vertical red stars, which perhaps represent the inner planets of Mercury and Venus, or alternately, the Hyades of Taurus.
Going inward, we find ten light-green humps surrounding a violet layer of nested lines, as well as a blue-white layer that may correspond to the moist atmosphere. At the very center of this mandala we see what Hildegard called the “sandy globe of great magnitude,” which is the Earth itself, with what appears to be a river streaming through it. Each layer has its corresponding source of air (“whirlwinds”), depicted by a curious tri-faced form. The top of the picture is oriented to the East, the bottom to the West, the right to the South, and the left to the North.
Some commentators have noticed that the overall shape basically resembles the female genitalia, which may have been the unconscious impulse for this particular vision. Feminist author Dianna Elizabeth Conner comments: “Hildegard the theologian compared God to a Cosmic Egg that surges flames into the universe, emptying and filling itself like a womb—creative, beneficial, and nurturing to all life within. She spoke of this sacred feminine as Divine Love, the essence of the universe—the highest fiery power that shines in water, burns in the sun, moon, and stars, stirring everything into existence, and causing all life to glisten with this light.”
More important, though, is the fact that Hildegard associated egg iconography with a temporal progression that is eschatological, culminating in the “end of the world” with its accompanying hardships and suffering. Many of the details of Hildegard’s visions resonate with those found in the Book of Revelation.
Various cultures all over the globe have depicted the cosmos as a sort of Ovum Mysterium. The golden egg of the Hindu Rigveda texts, the ancient Egyptian sun-egg laid by a primeval goose, the benben stone of meteoric iron upon which the phoenix perched in his temple at Heliopolis near the Nile, the Dogon egg of the creator-god Amma, the cosmic, serpent-encircled egg of the Greek Orphic religion, the omphalos stone at the oracle of Delphi, the Hopi Mystery Egg at the end of the current Fourth World, which contains the sun-yolk, a whirling swastika (pre-Nazi), and a spot of menstrual blood. All these representations of the ovoid shape hide within them the alpha and the omega, the first and the last principles, the beginning and the ending of time. “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16)
The visions of Saint Hildegard tapped into this archetypal knowledge and shared it with the medieval world in strikingly vivid colors and forms. We are now poised on the brink of a transition between ages. We watch as the fiery cosmic egg begins to crack, and the spirit-bird of a “new heaven and a new earth” arises.
For more on the Mystery Egg, see my book Star Shrines and Earthworks of the Desert Southwest , or visit my website.
Copyright © 2014 Gary A. David
Featured image: Artistic rendition of Saint Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179 AD)