Although we look back at some of the practices of the ancients and label them as superstitious, in the last 100 years some of the drugs that were used have been rediscovered and have proved to be of great value.
Today, we still use the snake symbol of Aesculapius. In those ancient times as well as today, the doctor faces the problem of how to stimulate the recuperative powers of the patient into action.
In the temples of old, disciplines consisted of purification, temple-sleep, and various rest states. Through reading the old inscriptions we learn that “bodily processes were aroused and focused through intensities of suggestion, through touching the patient, along with lifting the faith of one who was ill.”
Although we are talking about techniques used several thousand years ago, looking deeper we find that focusing on the ancient healing gods was meant to stimulate the body-mind relationship. Hippocrates believed that the body and mind are a unity, and to affect one is to affect the other. Today’s allopathic medicine takes more of the viewpoint of isolating the ‘one cause’ and prescribing the special remedy that will bring the solution.
Several Egyptian medical papyri coming from the twelfth dynasty, about 2,000 BC states that it was the duty of the pharaoh to maintain the health of their subjects. “The ancient writer Maanetho wrote that King Athotis, of the First Dynasty of the Thinites, practiced healing and wrote anatomical works.”
Eventually all of the great medical centers were located at the chief capitals along the Nile, “These shrines were depositories of medical lore, and the success of these ancient traditions are confirmed by the lists of diseases and their cures.”
Clement wrote that there were forty-two Hermetic books at the temple at Hermopolis, of which six were medical texts giving formulas and remedies. “On the walls of sanctuaries wee inscriptions and tablets in commemoration of miraculous cures with statues and steles erected by former patients in grateful recognition of cures effected by the divinity.”
Now in those ancient times healing methods consisted of religious rites, ceremonies and special formulas which brought forth the mysterious, miraculous powers of deities and other supernatural beings. The concept in those times was centered on the idea of expelling the unseen, malicious actions which caused disease.
The priest/doctor would make an examination and give the ceremonial form of diagnosis. “The patient would them make a formal statement regarding the problem. I (patient’s name) am a sufferer with (naming the disease or problem).”
Treatments would then consist of” incantations, prayers and possibly giving of some remedy in conjunction with commands, spells, coaxing and threatening. All of these had symbolic meaning which were meant to impress the mind of the patient.”
According to ancient writings, on some occasions the priest would put on a disguise and would appear to a patient as a god of the body part that was dis-eased, imitating the god in voice and gesture and utilizing relics to chase the evil spirits away.
Remedies were given to assist the spoken formulas. “Time has proved the value of many of the modalities used at that time including, castor oil, aloe, mind, myrrh, copper, lead, salt, cedar, opium and other substances that are still in use today.” It is interesting that, “it would appear that remedies used without the magical words were valueless or failed their full effect.”
We therefore come to the conclusion that the aspect of mind in the healing process was a strong consideration. The Ebers Papyrus states in its opening line, “This is a book for healing all disease.” Further in the writings we find “…welcome remedy, welcome that which destoyest the trouble of this my heart and in these my limbs…the magic of Horus is victorious in the remedy.”
In the same Papyrus we read for an eye problem, “come ointment, come to the patient and take from him the water, the pus, the blood, the pain in the eye, the blindness, the flow of matter which are being worked there from the god of inflammations and of each kind of pain.”
In the ancient Greek writings we find they also believed in the power of the gods for healing. They used rituals, hymns of praise, prayers and sacrifice. The Greeks approached curing in two different manners, direct and indirect.
The direct method of healing was through the power of divine intervention through a sacred object, relic or through the medium of a priest who was acting as an intermediary for a particular healing god. Healing occurred through laying on of hands and writings from those ancient times spoke of great cures from Aesculapius coming through a priest who was channeling this god.
The indirect cures were obtained following directions received through dreams and visions. Fragments of records from shrines speak of cures due to applications of remedies given by gods through visions. Therapies included mild purgatives, roots, herbs, diets, fasts, baths and rubbing ointments.
Dream temples were well-known in ancient Greece and it is obvious that psychology played a very important part in the healing process. At Pergamon, patients were greeted by attendants who walked them through corridors, where steles and tablets mentioned great cures and healings that had taken place in the past. This was to get the patient properly prepared as they approached the god to offer prayer for their own personal healing. At times they would touch a part of the statue of the god, while requesting help, and there are records of instantaneous healing taking place.
In the healing temples of ancient times an air of sanctity pervaded the temple and patients believed they were in a sacred spot. In the dream temples the patient had no doubt that they would receive the answers to their difficulty, through their dreams that would come to them at night. In the morning the dreams and visions would be interpreted by the priests who laid out directions for the treatment that would take place. In the photo by Waterhouse we see the little girl relating her dream to the priests.
Whether it was the Egyptian, Greek or other Eastern Civilizations, they understood the importance of stimulating the patient’s own healing energies, which led to the miraculous cures which took place.
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