What is Hildegard’s Viriditas?

“O most honored Greening Force,

You who roots in the Sun;
You who lights up, in shining serenity, within a wheel
that earthly excellence fails to comprehend.

You are enfolded
in the weaving of divine mysteries.

You redden like the dawn
and you burn: flame of the Sun.”
–  Hildegard von Bingen, Causae et Curae

Viriditas: the greening power of the Divine (or Divine Healing Power of Green)

Viriditas is one of the most recognizable contributions of Hildegard of Bingen. For Hildegard, viriditas encapsulated the divine force of nature, the depth and breadth of which is reflected in the various translations. These words within the word are laden with meaning; with lively, powerful connotations that capture the essence Hildegard had conceptualized so long ago.

The origin of Viriditas may be the union of two Latin words: Green and Truth. But like most Latin words, Viriditas does not easily translate into convenient, straightforward English. While being difficult to translate may be frustrating to some, there is beauty in this complexity.

The Basic Definition and Origin

The definition is both literal, as in “green”, “greenness”, and “growth”, yet also metaphorical, as in “vigor”, “verdure”, “freshness” and “vitality.” For Hildegard, the spiritual aspects were just as essential as the physical meaning. In much of her work, viriditas was “the greening power of God.” It was in everything, including humans.

This “greenness” was an expression of heaven, the creative power of life, which can be witnessed in the gardens, forests, and farmland all around us. And like those lands, she saw viriditas as something to be cultivated in both our bodies and our souls.

Viriditas vII

The Lush Greenness of Nature

Viriditas was a guiding image for Hildegard, appearing regularly in her work. The translations of her work vary in their interpretations, but there is unity in how she viewed this greening power of nature as a metaphor for physical and spiritual health. Viriditas was, in part, the visible aspect of the lush, greenness of the divine in nature.

Many believe that her damp, green surroundings at Disibodenberg inspired her association of this greenness to the vitality of spirit mind body. She lived in the valley around the Rhine River in Germany her entire life. The greenness of this region likely had a significant impact on her, leading to much of her work on life energy, abundance, and the sustaining power of nature being rooted in the notions of lush, green, and moist.

Healing Power of Green

Viriditas was meant to reflect nature’s divine healing power, a constant force, but also a momentary condition in which God heals through the greening power of a living plant. When one consumes a healing plant, this divine power is transferred from the plant to the humans and it becomes a moment of viriditas. This experience is meant to be a daily occurrence as you eat, a means to stay vital with the greening power but also a reminder of our eternal interconnectedness with nature.

Modern Variations of Greening Power in Medicine

A modern medical practitioner, Dr. Victoria Sweet was inspired by Hildegard’s ancient wisdom, and her concept of viriditas in healing patients.  After obtaining her MD, Dr. Sweet went back to get a PhD in history; both her masters and doctoral theses were on the subject of Hildegard medicine.

In Dr. Sweet’s TEDx talk at Middlebury College, (The Efficiency of Inefficieny) she describes Hildegard’s belief that human healing resembles the greening power and regenerating capabilities of plant life. In 2014, Dr. Sweet published a book on the subject called God’s Hotel.  More recently, Dr. Sweet published a related book, Slow Medicine, also featuring viriditas as a central theme.

Within our Control and Within Reach

Hildegard believed viriditas was to not just be witnessed, but sought out. Hildegard spoke of this pursuit of viriditas through her metaphors of moistness, fruitfulness, and vigor of the soul. These attributes were how she saw life, signs of being alive, and of engaging in this living force of the creator.

Similar to her use of the humoral in her medicine, she saw viriditas as the living part of the duality with ariditas, the “dryness”, “drought”, “aridity”, and “infection” that can arise when the flow of viriditas is blocked.

viriditas within reach

She saw the tension between the life affirming and balance seeking attributes of viriditas and the barrenness and dryness of ariditas as motivation for constant inquiry into how to encourage the flow of greening power. Physical disease and spiritual decay were evidence of this lacking flow, a flow of greenness that penetrated every aspect of all life, and was a reflection of the Divine on Earth.

Oneness of the Universe

Living well required vigilance against this dryness overtaking our viriditas. The pursuit of greening power instructed much of Hildegard’s work on herbal healing and nutrition and was foundational in how she constructed her beliefs of the interconnectedness of the natural world, humanity, and the divine.  A group of herbalists in Canada, lead by John Redden has thoughtfully adopted the name Viriditas to describe the healing herbs they produce, consistent with Hidlegard’s work.

Regardless of how viriditas is translated, the word is full of life. It is entwined with Hildegard’s teachings and beliefs, in her music, art, writing, and her study of the natural world. Whether you are tilling your Hildegard healing medieval garden, or taking a walk in the woods, or just learning ways to invite health and wellness into your life, viriditas is a powerful reminder of the importance of our connectivity with nature and of acknowledging the life and beauty all around us.

See Nancy Fierro’s Viriditas prayer.



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