Hildegard von Bingen: Materia Mystica

Hildegard’s observations on natural science are influenced by the view that the world around us – including the people in it – are the expression of divine agency and will. There can accordingly be no separation between the material and spiritual world, because everything – even the seemingly most insignificant particle of material – bears the divine, and hence spiritual, nature within it. Access to this world and comprehension of nature follows directly and wholly through the senses, through hearing, sight and touch, or through visions. Hildegard’s world view can thus be described as “holistic”, because there can be nothing outside the God-given material and spiritual world and man’s power to understand it.


That contradicts modern scientific paradigms to the extent that the latter measure natural phenomena rather than grasping them intuitively. The net sum of these measurements is the basis, after critical discussions, for laws whose most important criterion is the ability to predict the results of future, analogous procedures. Amazingly these observations lead in certain fields of fundamental physical research to results which equally reveal the nature of material to be highly enigmatic: the discovery of massless particles or the postulation of “negative universes” made of anti-matter, or wave-particle duality, in which elementary particles randomly appear now in material form and now in non-material wave form. Even Einstein’s famous Formula E = mc2, treating energy and mass as equivalents, negates the concept of a material world existing in isolation and creates an intellectual parallel to Hildegard’s idea of “materia mystica”. In any case the efforts of theoretical physics are increasingly aimed at the construction of a “great unifying theory” which aims to unite the four known forces (strong and weak nuclear power, electrodynamics and gravitation) within a single theory outside of which, it is claimed, no further explanation will be necessary.


Hildegard herself, one might say, was on the track of an all-embracing universal formula, albeit with other instruments, namely by means of intuition. To find the answer to the mystery of the world, she follows other mediaeval mystics in declaring abstractive theory invalid and calling upon seekers after truth to “free themselves from knowledge”, “empty themselves”, “become as children” and “leave space and time”. The day may not be too far off when cognitive knowledge and intuition are no longer diametrically opposed to one another even in the modern natural sciences, but enter into an alliance to throw open the door to new insights.

The four elements

Hildegard’s works constantly reveal the significance she attaches to the four elements. The idea that all creation can be derived from the four elements is one of the most ancient roots of our cultural environment’s intellectual milieu.

This archaic quadripartite division finds its many counterparts in the seasons, the points of the compass, the temperaments, and appears in the symbol of the cross In many cultures as a sign of material, the level of earthly being. That these elements are never seen as separated from one another, but as parts of a whole, is impressively shown by the alchemist symbolism:

Alchemist Symbolism of Four Elements

Air Earth Water Fire together form a hexagram as symbol of wholeness, the interpenetration of forces which determine one another.

Hexagram: symbol of wholeness


The concept of the four elements formed the intellectual framework for the performance entitled “Materia Mystica” given in Munich by ESTAMPIE on March 6 and 7, 1998, together with the movement, space and video artists of SLOT A LOT. The music played here by ESTAMPIE was created for this performance.

The idea of fourfold elements served to inspire both the spatial concept, of a circular stage divided in four by a cruciform walkway, and the musical arrangement. The music seeks to depict particular properties of the elements; AIR favours arrangements with voice, trombone, flute and harp, EARTH is percussive with deep, heavy drums, WATER portrays constantly flowing movement and FIRE is a percussive and vocal blaze. Another basic conceptual idea was to supplement the arrangements of Hildegard’s melodies with new compositions underpinning the four-element idea. Apart from that, the performance set out to examine Hildegard’s texts not only as esoteric, mystical utterances, as is usually the case, but as scientific statements to be accepted as representing the 12th -century standard of knowledge.

Four Elements

The interpolated sections of modem music tend to make the texts more objective, demystifying them, while strengthening the emotional and sensual character of the four-element idea.


Autore Estampie
Pubblicazione CD Booklet of album Materia Mystica, homage to Hildegard von Bingen
Etichetta Christophorus/Chrom
Anno 1998
Pagine 8-10