Interview with Dr. Victoria Sweet

Chasing-down the ideas and prescriptions of a 900 year-old German nun and transforming them into relatable and actionable content is no easy task. So the discovery of Dr. Victoria Sweet was serendipitous on many levels.

“Hildegard lets us tap into what we know is true; good and evil, virtue and vices.”

– Dr. Victoria Sweet

We jumped at the chance to connect with such a learned scholar and active practitioner of Hildegard’s work. We reached out to her immediately. Her book, Gods Hotel, was still en route, somewhere in the Amazon supply chain.  (Since this original interview, we’ve also connected with Dr. Sweet on her latest work, see our post on Slow Medicine.)

God's Hotel

God’s Hotel by Dr. Sweet

Even more surprising than our discovery of an actual Hildegard scholar was that she kindly responded to our introduction. So began an evolving string of communication, culminating in a lovely and lively hour-long conversation about her story and her work in Hildegard of Bingen medicine.

By that time, we had read God’s Hotel and had more questions than time to ask them. But with the same engaging, gracious consideration that permeates her writing, Dr. Sweet indulged our Hildegard Q&A session.

“I’m kind of a nut.”

– Dr. Victoria Sweet

What she really meant is that to the outside observer her desire to answer her own questions by unearthing and reviving an ancient concept of monastic medicine, which she refers to as pre-modern medicine, would require more than any sane person would give to this effort.

We could relate (sort of.)

Our own efforts here at Healthy Hildegard are often interrupted by the pulls of a day job, or family, or a kind of lethargy that accumulates in the long troughs between new discoveries – those infrequent but invigorating moments of Hidlegard Satori.

Dr. Victoria Sweet was one such moment.

“I felt like a whole aspect of medicine was missing, a whole other way of looking at the body.”

– Dr. Victoria Sweet

Dr. Sweet embarked on her journey into Hildegard of Bingen and pre-modern medicine out of a sense that something was missing; there was something ‘off’ about modern medicine. In our own ways, we too had set out toward something to guide us through our own feelings of incongruence, to find those hidden truths that would hopefully quell some of the dissonance of modern living.

What inspires, or really, what tends to bind us to others are those shared questions, the innate and eternal conditions of being human that rise up in our hearts and minds, demanding attention. We believe it is no coincidence that Hildegard of Bingen writings contain so much on he themes of connectivity and interconnectivity.  And, that centuries later, we discover these meaningful connections through her work.

Our own kind of search for something different, some new way to engage in our daily lives and to awaken our own ways to connect, create, and thrive, came together through Hildegard’s work.

Victoria Sweet

When Dr. Sweet entered our burgeoning encampment of all things Hildegard, we were not just inspired by her work, but also to continue our own journeys.

“At the deepest level we never got out of the Middle Ages. They say it ended, but it never really did. Our very language, English, is a blend of Middle Age languages. The Middle Ages is reflected in many ways in our modern world…our homes…our government…”

– Dr. Victoria Sweet

Dr. Sweet has spent many years of her life in pursuit of ancient truths about Hildegard and healing. For her, history is not a thing, an artifact to be collected and shelved, but rather like a river that flows through our vain attempts to place arbitrary boundaries of time and place.

It is her ability to see through those boundaries, roll up her pant legs, and wade up that river that makes her uniquely qualified to promote progress by embracing the ways of the past, to create something (seemingly) new from something old.

Dr. Sweet deeply understands how Hildegard and her work are not mere artifacts of some distant time and place. She knows this, not just from diligent and relentless research, but also through living the Hildegard legacy herself.

“Medicine doesn’t develop first with a theory. We fly a kite in the sky and get shocked by it. Electricity! What is that?”

– Dr. Victoria Sweet

From her early work, Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky, she would begin to leverage Hildegard’s ancient medical texts into a new thesis on modern medicine. To this day, Dr. Sweet continues to challenge modern conventions, refusing to accept modernity for its own sake.

Victoria Sweet

Through her experience at Laguna Honda Hospital and pursuing her PhD in History of Medicine, she wrote God’s Hotel  to share her experience with a wider audience. Armed with concepts she honed through practice and deep contemplation, she has taken to the hilltop to fly her kite.

The Efficiency of Inefficiency and Slow Medicine

A groundswell of energy and support are elevating her ideas on slow medicine, the ecomedicine project, and how modern medicine might actually save money by spending more time with patients.  (Since this post, Dr. Sweet has completed her work, Slow Medicine, which fundamentally incorporates Hildegard’s philosophies around healing.)

Since completing God’s Hotel she has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to continue her work and her writing. While she is not currently practicing medicine, because she “can’t find a place that I am not sitting at a computer”, she is working on her next book, tentatively entitled “Slow Medicine, Fast Medicine: Healing in the Age of Technology”.

“When you read Hildegard’s writing you are reading one person’s understanding of a much bigger system.”

– Dr. Victoria Sweet

One thing that is unique about Hildegard is that the tendrils of her legacy extend into so many seemingly disparate areas of the human experience, but together they become a bridge through the ether toward something greater, something unifying.

She is a touchstone for so many possibilities. She guides us toward what was lost, forgotten, or left behind in our rush to embrace progress. But as we’ve learned here, she can also connect us in the present. She can drop serendipity on our laps, where a few spirits, kindred through our common questions, can share the wisdom of our experience and the warmth of our connectivity.

Perhaps someday – not too far off, modern medicine will look a bit more like the past, a harmony of care and cure echoing the wards of Eibingen Abbey.  If so, we can be sure that Dr. Sweet would have had a hand in that.

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