The influence of conflicting medieval church and social discourses on individual consciousness : dissociation in the visions of Hadewijch of Brabant
Christa Krüger (Department of Psychiatry, University of Pretoria, Weskoppies Hospital, Pretoria, South Africa)
Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae: October 2009, 35(2), 239-266
This article examines the influence of the conflicting dis- courses in the medieval church and its social context on the subconscious experiences of Hadewijch of Brabant, a 13th century Flemish visionary, mystical author, vernacular theologian and Beguine leader. Her 14 visions of becoming one with God are analysed for evidence of dissociative states. Her dissociative experiences are interpreted in the light of a contextual model of dissociation, according to which dissociation is an information-processing tool that fosters a sense of self-in- society in the face of conflicting discourses. Hadewijch’s visions and dissociation, which she used to teach her fellow Beguines, reveal her growth towards an integrated God-consciousness and her inner psychological integration of consciousness and the unconscious. The contextual model of dis- sociation provides a useful conceptual framework and herme- neutical tool for evaluating the consciousness of a person in a remote historical-cultural epoch.
Hadewijch of Brabant occupies a unique place in medieval church history. A Flemish visionary, mystical author, vernacular theologian and Beguine leader of the 13th century, she is one of the three most significant original Beguine mystics whose written works have survived until the present, the other two being Mechthild of Magdeburg (c.1217–1282) and Marguerite Porete (c.1250–1310) (McGinn 1998:199–265; Larrington 1995). Hadewijch’s exceptional contribution lies in the way in which she managed to live with and integrate different types of conflicting discourse: Latin intellectualised theology versus sensual mysticism; church life versus profane love poetry; traditional medieval gender roles versus new roles for religious women; male God-language versus female representations of the divine; and God’s transcendence versus becoming one with God. Hadewijch developed a unique integration of these discourses while writing prolifically on the subject and teaching her fellow Beguines, and through it all managing to escape being burned at the stake.