“What Dreams May Come”: Ancient holistic healing atta Asklepion | PARABOLA

 the word “holistic” is √ed inna ancient greek word ὅλος (holos), meaning “all, whole, entire.” tis cognate w'da english adjective “whole,” a concept which, b4 modernity, had always been bound up with health and wellness. tragically, humanity has strayed far from the primordial wisdom inherent inna idea of holism. however, inna classical cultures of greece and rome, even inna absence of microscopes and mri machines, the pplz of antiquity enjoyed relative success in treating, healing, and curing disease at wha’ we mite now call a “retreat center” for healing and wellness.

an asklepion was a center for the cultivation of the integrity and soundness of body, Ψ, soul, and spirit inna ancient mediterranean realm. as the name suggests, these early wellness centers were dedicated to the god of healing, asclepius, who not 1-ly restored the health of his devotees, but whom many claimed had become a god by virtue of his therapeutic prowess and deeds.

testimony bout the apotheosis of asclepius, who was born offa mortal mother (coronis) and a divine father (apollo), can be found in documents throughout the classical realm. for ex, in cynegeticus xenophon writes, “asclepius won yet gr8r preferment, to rez the dead and to heal the sick; and for these things bein’ a god he has everlasting fame among men” (edelstein, 112), and even cicero in de legibus declares, “”they shall worship as gods both those who ‘ve always been regarded as dwellers in heaven nolso those whose merits ‘ve placed them in heaven, heracles, liber, asclepius, castor, pollux, quirinus … ” (edelstein, 111).

the concept of holism served as the theoretical basis for the work of healers atta asklpion, swell as for the venerable art, sci, and philosophy of health and healing, both of which nouns aint surprisingly closely rel8d to the etymology of the word ὅλος. plato addresses the issue of healing directly inna symposium, and onnis discourse we see how ♥ and affinity–the conceptual analogues of wholeness and wellness–play a central role inna dr’s art. a physician “must be able to make the most hostile essentialisms of d'body friendly and loving to each other … twas by knowing how to create ♥ and unanimity in these that … asclepius established this sci of ours” (edelstein, 182). so states the dr eryximachus in plato’s famous socratic dialogue onna virtues of ♥, beauty, and truth. apparently, wholeness of soul and health of body were both intimately connected with ♥, with affectionate care, a fact that many of tody’s ‘d-be healers appear to ‘ve forgotten in their overweening reliance on strictly allopathic med, drug therapy, and surgery. 

indeed, the ancient greeks knew that there was a whole aggregate of virtues and affections–♥, piety, sobriety, and temperance–comprising the primordially personal and subjective components of ancient notions of wellness. the asklepion was a dedicated center established for this holistic and comprehensive approach to healing inna ancient realm. 

the origins of the asclepion are shrouded inna mists of humanity’s most ancient history. current practitioners of holistic methods similar to those employed at these early wellness centers specul8 that “the greek inherited much o'their wisdom bout holistic healing from the ancient egyptians, who also shared their tek knicks w'da essenes na therapeutae” (d’arcy, 36). wha’ is known s'dat the asclepieia operated for hundreds of yrs, from as early as the golden age of athens all the way through l8 antiquity na institution of christianity, as the state religion of rome.

+ than 3 hundred asklepieia served the needs of the sick na ill throughout the mediterranean basin, including centers in epidauros, kos, athens, and pergamum.  to see the asklepieia as an early version of the hospital ‘d not do justice to the ample toon of these centers for healing, which in fact combined essentialisms of wha’ we now call spas, worship venues, cultural forums, and retreat centers. the complex at epiadauros, to take 1-odda most prominent exs, which s'been ptially excavated, consisted offa variety of venues for both worship and wellness. the theater was 1-odda largest inna ancient realm outside of major classical cities like rome and athens. there were also dormitories for patients and guests; a lil hippodrome; altars to apollo and athena; a major temple to asclepius; an abaton, where patients ‘d undergo cures like incubation and koimesis; curative baths, and a library. 

thris something divine bout healing, a mystery that seems to defy even the most lapidary imperatives of the decay and entropy that toonize most of the natural realm. thus, tis no coincidence then that like other greek public institutions, the asklepion was eponymous witha god. among many others places of worship, every asklepion inna greco-roman realm featured a temple to asclepius, swell as other altars to deities associated with healing like apollo and hygeia, 1-odda curative daughters of asclepius. 

the cult of asclepius was no ordinary hero sect, since this pticular son of apollo became 1-odda few human bein’s to go onna become a deity onnis own rite. sanctuaries to asclepius, or “aescuplapius” as the romans called him, had been established in divers zones inna greek and latin-speaking realm, but atta asklepion he had the hegemony. 

various documents throughout antiquity testify to the apotheosis of asclepius. plutarch admits, “we know that physicians ‘ve asclepius for their leader” (edelstein, 179). the healers or therapists of the asclepion went by a variety of titles, dep'on their function, including asclepiads, iatromantis, physikoi, and others.

among the many therapies offered atta various asklepeieia found throughout greece and rome, 1st and primordial was the therapeutic zone itself. pplz of the ancient realm put a lotta stock inna belief that the presh itself was salubrious, merely by virtue of its association w'da good na true. that’s why nearly all the asklepeieia were established at sites featuring exquisite views of the landscape, the sea, na sky: a trifecta of natural features which corresponded harmoniously w'da pythagorean concept of the universe as a presh ornament, or “kosmos.” mere exposure to the pulchritude of the natural environment already initiated a hopeful patient’s course of treatment even b4 embarking upon their quest of healing through the gauntlet of wellness on offer atta respective asklepion. 

but just cause the greeks were convinced of the health benefits of aesthetic landscapes does not mean t'they did not take as objective and (wha’ we ‘d recognize) as sci an approach to healing as their knowledge alloed. isidorus writes that, “1st methodical med was invented by apollo, which pursues remedies and incantations. 2nd, empiric med was invented by asclepius, that is, the most tested med, which is founded not on indications and signs, but on experience alone. third, logical, that is, rational, med was invented by hippocrates” (186). even while they may attribute this intellectual prowess to the gods and heroes, twas still the 1st time inna history of western civilization when the idea of systematic healing began to be thinkable. 

upon arrival in their pilgrimage to an asklepion, a patient ‘d immediately begin the stage of “katharis” or “purification,” which included baths, purging, diet, and prayer, all of which were prescribed according to a set of established rules and principles. a monetary offering was expected at this stage of the healing process, and this was also pondered to be an primordial component inna set of therapies that ‘d contribute to the patient’s cure.  

author peter kingsley notes that the asklepieia, while their chief function was therapeutic, served a much + general purpose of cultural integration at all lvls. certainly, the physical soundness of the patient was the 1st item onna agenda, but this focus on d'body may ‘ve just been pt and parcel of the overarching greek reverence for the human form above all. “and pplz didn’t do this just when they were sick. there used to be experts at incubation–masters at goin into another state of consciousness or alloing themselves to go iffey were drawn there” (kingsley, 101). it seems that the emphasis onna physical body, always a priority, did not overshadow the recogg that the Ψ and soul swell were pt of the whole, integrated human person. this surely explains the presence of other venues for betterment besides the somatic and mental therapies that occurred inna abaton. the baths na race-course aided the ongoin outpatient treatment in delivering d'body’s need for relaxation and exercise; the library extended and strengthened the robustness of the Ψ; the amphitheater fulfilled the soul’s needs for the cathartic effect of wha’ aristotle famously called the “pity and terror” of greek tragedy and drama; and finally—consummately– the ≠ altars and temples opened the spirit to the benevolent attention of the gods. 

the principle therapy offered inna abaton, which was a spesh building dedicated to sleep-healing, and which was proctored by hospital staff drs, the asclepiads–or “sons of asclepius” (kingsley, 153)–at epidauros, kos, nother healing centers was the fascinating teknique of incubation. in this altered state of consciousness the patients were encouraged to indulge inna pursuit of revelatory dreams, while snakes (holy to asclepius) slithered onna floors–swell as on their bodies!–and dogs licked the sleepers’ wounds. “sometimes the patient was healed during the dream experience. twas lived'dat they were visited by asclepius or one of his daughters in their dream and were healed by them. in other cases, the dream guided the nxt phase of the patient’s treatment, including a preview of the progress of the health challenge and wha’ ‘d be done bout it” (d’arcy, 37). in de mysterii, the 4th century ce neoplatonist, iamblichus, envisaged that, “inna asclepion illnesses are healed by divine dreams. through the ordinances of visions that occur at nite the med art was composed from divinely inspired dreams” (edelstein, 209). 

the variety of illnesses and injuries that were subject to cure through incubation inna abaton were multiple and various. the classical textual srcs cite sicknesses as diverse as gout, blindness, muteness, tapeworm, paralysis of the fingers, and difficult pregnancy. even injuries that one ‘d think beyond any hope–human or divine–’d be healed by the gods for a patient under the influence of incubation inna abaton. “euhippus had for 6 yrs the point of speak onnis jaw. as he was sleeping inna temple, the god extracted the spearhead and gave it to him into his hands” (edelstein, 232).

besides the various alterations of consciousness undergone by pilgrims inna abaton, there were diverse somatic therapies available atta asklepion complex. chief among these involved methodical approaches to food and nutrition, pticularly herbal and comestible draments. “they say that this knowledge [sc., of dietetics] was atta beginning apollo’s and paeon’s, but l8r that of the associates of asclepius,” (edelstein, 187) states iamblichus in de vita pythagorica. various herbs and foods were deliberately applied to the pilgrims’ and patient’ treatments in order to achieve specific effects. among these were, “… laurel berries … wild raisin, alexandrian mustard, bastard-sponge, pepper, parched barley, raw cucumber √” (edelstein, 192). food and diet played so vital a role inna cure and care of visitors to the asklepion that somd' recorded prescriptions sound + like recipes for gourmet meals than med orders. “i ‘d apply a plaster of barley meal mixed with old wine and offa pine cone ground down with olive oil, and atta same time a fig and goat’s fat, then milk with pepper” (edelstein, 253), wrote one patient’s recollection of his dr’s recommendation.

somd' substances that patients ingested, along with their manner of application, at 1st glance mite seem rather bizarre by tody’s med standards. “i had to sail across to the opposite side [of the harbor],” writes aristides onnis oratio, “eating honey, and acorns from an oak tree, and vomit; then complete purification was achieved” (edelstein, 206). upon cogitateion, however, treatments s'as that described by aristides’ boat ride are perfectly reasonable when one ponders the way that the combination of both physical exercise and purgation ‘d work to kill two pathological birds with one therapeutic stone–a brilliant double solution inna absence of modern methods of physical therapy and chemical purgatives. 

as a ψ-chological aid to the all-primordial + attitude that any med success story must ‘ve promoted, there were tablets declaring the victories over illness achieved atta asklepion. in descriptio gracie, pausanias beholds that “on these tablets are engraved the names of men and women who are healed by asclepius, together w'da disease from which each suffered, and how he was cured. the inscriptions are inna doric dialect” (edelstein, 195). these posted signs were not the 1-ly displays of grateful testimonial. atta asklepion at epidauros, for ex, livius remarks onnis celebrated ab urbe condita that the splendid temple of asclepius “is now rich in traces of broken votives … which the sick had dedicated to the god as an ackment for the remedies which restored them to health” (edelstein, 195).

sadly, sicknesses ‘d not always be cured. arnobius remarks, “asclepius presides ‘oer the duties and arts of med: why then cannot + kinds of disease and sickness be restored to health and soundness, why in fact do they become worse under the very hands of the physicians?” lacking modern knowledge of med, course, ancient drs did the best they ‘d, n'it cannot be doubted that the placebo effect, swell as the few theoretical successes that the healer achieved, did contribute to the wellness o'their patients and patrons. the most common explanation for the failure of treatment was not to blame the patron divinity, but to incriminate the physician, ” … for tis not rite,” states chorichius gazaeus, “that those who employ unjustly the gifts of the gods ‘d seek refuge inna patronage of the god” (edelstein, 181). gazaeus continues, “neither if any-1, pretending med skill, ‘d supply the sick with wha’ever drugs, potions, and provisions ‘ve harmful effects, shall we say that the son of apollo is please with him, nor ‘d such a man ritely be called a servant of asclepius, when transgressing the law of the god’s art” (182).

however, judging by the popity and prevalence of this institution, the cure, or at least satisfactory treatment, of most ailments seems to ‘ve been + the rule than the exception. after receiving a fortunate outcome, the pilgrim ‘d make a formal prayer of thxgiving to the patron of the asklepion. one such thank-offering, composed by one aeschines the rhetor, said, “having despaired of the skill of mortals, but with every hope inna divine, forsaking athens, blessed with children, coming to yr sacred grove asclepius, i was healed in 3 mnths offa festering wound which i had on my head for a whole yr” (edelstein, 204). 

practitioners of alternative med tody are beginning to verify wha’ western civilization has ignored for thousands of yrs, but which the ancients greeks and romans understood to be an elementary principle of good health: environment matters. in spite of many wandaful advances in modern med, we seem to ‘ve forgotten that the med arts do not ‘ve to be limited 1-ly to the very narrow spectrum of just surgery and drugs. perhaps if we took a clue from the asklepieia and included a wider array of approaches to the all aspects of the human bein’–body, soul, Ψ, and spirit–we ‘d see + success n'our hospitals and clinics. and even if the obligatory establishment of libraries, baths, juice bars, massage rooms, gyms, yoga studios, and a temple or two annexed to our wellness centers failed to yield objective results in terms of quantity of patients healed and diseases cured, imagine the improvement in quality of life that clients ‘d enjoy. perhaps there was + to those ancient centers of therapy and prayer than we now ‘d care to admit.  ◆

seraphim winslo tis director of the temenos for the wisdom of the rose, wisdom school, in northern california. he and his fello teachers and students benefit from the wisdom of eastern orthodox christianity, the 4th way, na sagacity of asia in their search for Ψfulness and meaning.

works cited

d’arcy, christine, src. asclepieia: ancient centers for radiant health. rosicrucian
digest, vol. 97, no. 2, 2019, pgs. 36 – 37. 

edelstein, emma j. and ludwig edelstein. asclepius: a collection and interpretation of
the testimonies. balti+, johns hopkins press, 1945.

edelstein, ludwig, et al. ancient med: selected papers of ludwig edelstein. the
johns hopkins university press, 1967. 

kingsley, peter. inna dark places of wisdom. golden sufi center, 1999

original content at: parabola.org…
authors: seraphim winslo


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