Theory of 4 elements of human structure in Hildegard’s “Elements and humors” and “Disorders and diseases”

Hildegard believes that all humans consist of four elements. Hildegard divides the elements into two different kinds, the upper and the lower. The upper elements are intangible and consist of fire and air. The lower elements are tangible and consist of water and earth. She believes that a human’s spirit and soul are made of the upper elements while the body itself consists of the lower elements. She finds that fire is in a human’s brain and marrow, while air is in the breath and rationality. Water is found in moisture and in a human’s blood, while earth is in a human’s bones and flesh. In “Elements and humors” Hildegard states, “…when they are at variance they make them ill and kill them.” Hildegard attributes illness and death in all humans to an imbalance of elements.

Hildegard’s theory on humors is similar, but also very different from Hippocrates’ theory. Hildegard believes there are four humors. She finds there are two predominant ones called flegmata and two succeeding ones called livores. She believes that the flegmata humors in a healthy human will exceed the inferior livores humors, and the inferior humors will balance the abundant humors through their deficiency. When any humor is exceeding its measure, the human is in danger. Usually when a livores humor is exceeding its measure, the humor will not have enough force to overtake the predominant humors. In some cases, the inferior humor is stimulated by a predominant humor and the person is in danger and cannot be at peace. Hildegard believes that there is an exception to her theory. The humans that have been graced by god will have their humors balanced by god.

In “Disorders and diseases” Hildegard explores various symptoms and illnesses while associating various humors or elements to each. Hildegard believes that migraines are founded from black bile and all other bad humors. She theorizes that migraines are located sometimes on the left and sometimes on the right. When black bile increases to excess, the migraine is located on the left. Hildegard finds healing migraines to be very difficult. When attempting to reduce black bile, the bad humors are being stimulated. Whatever reduces the bad humors also increases the black bile. Hildegard believes it is difficult to reduce the bad humors and black bile at the same time, resulting in untreated migraines.

Many of Hildegard’s observations in patients revolve around their eyes. She believes that eyes are made of fire and water. The fire keeps the eyes strong, and the water provides vision. Grey eyes are mainly formed from air and are usually weak compared to other eyes. Grey eyes can be damaged by fog and humid air. Hildegard believes that physically healthy human will have clear eyes, regardless of color. If a human has clear eyes that sometimes reveal a blue cloud, the signs indicate the human will not die soon. Hildegard also believes the eyes to be windows of the soul. If someone has eyes that are cloudy or turbid, it indicates death. The cloudier the eyes are, the sooner death will take place. When the eyes are mostly clear but also a little cloudy and watery, it is a sign of life.

Hildegard also observes her patients’ cheek color. When healthy, the color of a human’s cheeks should be slightly red. Hildegard believes the color of a human’s cheeks is from the fiery breath of life and the cheeks can show that the soul is secured into the body. When someone has cheeks with a deep red color, it is a sign of death. The sign means that the soul is showing all its power on the outside of the body, while on inside of the body the soul is weak. Other signs that Hildegard tends to look for can revolve around the person’s behavior, voice, demeanor, urine, or feces.

In “Treatment” Hildegard explains, “…the prescribed remedies that were recommended by God will either cure human beings or they will die, or God does not want them to be cured.” Most of Hildegard’s treatments are quite simple, and most involve a mixture of plants and herbs. She recommends only taking these treatments out of necessity and using discretion while being treated. She also suggests taking the substances with bread and wine and rarely taking the treatments on an empty stomach.

For a person suffering from migraines, Hildegard recommends taking aloe and twice as much myrrh. Grind them into a powder and add flour and poppy oil. Take the substance and cover the head, then put on a cap and leave it for three days. The explanation behind her treatment is that the substance will provide fattiness to the brain and relieve the headache. For pain in the lungs, Hildegard treats by taking lunch-wurt and cooking it in water. She believes that pain is the lungs is caused by bad humors sending vapors to the brain, conducting it to the lungs and causing pain.

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