Healing Then and Now

A neurosis is suffering that has not yet found its meaning.

A neurosis is an offended god.

These are both statements that Jung made at different times, and they both mean the same thing. It all depends on your point of view. I hope to show today that there are many ways to heal, all of which work, but none works unfailingly. Whether they work or not, I suspect it again depends on your point of view That people struggle so hard to show that their methods are superior to others, past and present, tells us more about the people than it does about their methods. However, I shall not bore you with statistics. Although statistics never lie, statisticians often do. We tend to use statistics as drunks use lampposts, more for support than illumination. In determining if a certain method works better than another, we must depend on experience; indeed, we cannot know anything without experience, nor can we even be certain of the validity of what we deduce from our experiences, let alone what others have deduced from theirs. Therefore I have deduced from this that nothing is certain; but what guards me from a lifetime of pessimism is the other side of the coin. Experience is not limited to what can be experienced in ordinary states of consciousness at least as defined by Reason. So I have concluded that everything is possible, even though nothing is certain. As Plato said, all knowledge is remembering, so forgotten knowledge can be dredged out of the sea of the collective unconscious through relating what is known to various experiences, even such irrational phenomena as dreams and visions. Non-rational methods have throughout the ages been successfully used in healing.

The problem many of us have is that if non-rational methods work, why don’t they always work? But this is also true with scientific methods. Here again, it may result from the point of view of the healer and also the patient. My problem was at least partially explained by a story of a man who was a firm believer in God, had always led a good life, and so he believed that God would save his life when a massive flood enveloped his home. He had to flee to the roof when his house became flooded and clung to the chimney as a rescue craft came to carry him to safety. He refused to accept the offer on the basis of his certainty that God would preserve him as a reward for his faith and good works. Soon the water was up to his neck when a second boat came by. Still he refused. At the point when it was up to his chin a helicopter came his way offering to carry him to safety. Still he refused and so he drowned. Upon his arrival at the Pearly Gates, he was shown to the Divine Presence and immediately began complaining to God that he certainly did not deserve to be abandoned after a lifetime of faith and service. God was sympathetic and said that He also was surprised to see the man there since He had sent him two boats and a helicopter. This at least partially solved my problem. We cannot depend on one solution only. Healing methods are not opposite but supplementary. Despite the rivalry among various types of medicine; spiritual and material, holistic and allopathic, this opposition is, like all opposites, illusory. Indeed, healing can occur only when the opposition between matter and spirit is transcended. This sounds terribly New Age, but I hope to show you that this has been the accepted method in practicing medicine throughout the world at all times until the gradual growth and domination of allopathic medicine in the West. We shall look at a few of these earlier methods, which have survived, and some recently revived, into the present.

Shamanism is one of the earliest forms of medicine we know of, and it is experiencing a rebirth in the West. The shaman uses a state of consciousness called ecstasy which means “standing outside oneself.” He specializes in a trance during which the soul is believed to leave the body and ascend to the sky or descend to the underworld. He enters a state of non-ordinary reality, maintaining conscious control over the direction of his travels but not knowing what he will discover. He then brings back his discoveries to build his own knowledge and to help others. The trance is assisted by drumming, rattling,singing, and dancing. In this altered state, the shaman travels with a guardian spirit, or daimon, which helps him, and uses this spirit to help others to recover from illness or injury. Shamans are especially healers, although they also engage in divination and clairvoyance. A shaman may be of either sex depending more on cultural differences than biological ones.In some cultures they use mind-altering substances but in others they do not. In rare instances,both healer and patient partake. These healers work both toward curing the disease and giving the patient the lesson from the disease, a common concept in all traditional medicine. This latter is often cultivated even at the expense of the former. A witch doctor may be either a shaman or a medicine mean or woman. Unlike the shaman, the medicine man or woman does not travel to other realms, but tries to bring the spirits to his/her aid where needed. Mircea Eliade expresses the importance of the shaman in a primitive society.

“It is hard for us to imagine what shamanism can represent for an archaic society. In the first place, it is the assurance that human beings are not alone in a foreign world, surrounded by demons and the ‘forces of evil’. In addition to the gods and supernatural beings to whom prayers and sacrifices are addressed, there are ‘specialists in the sacred’, men able to ‘see’ the spirits, to go up in the sky and meet the gods, to descend to the underworld and fight the demons, sickness and death. The shaman’s essential role in the defense of the psychic integrity of the community depends above all on this: men are sure that one of them is able to help them in the critical circumstances produced by the inhabitants of the invisible world.”

Shamans in tropical areas rely most heavily on plants. When asked the sources of their knowledge they often reply; the plants tell us. The shaman sometimes partakes of hallucinogenic plants, which are believed to guide him in identifying which plants will heal what illnesses. A renowned medicine man in Columbia insisted that his knowledge of the medicinal value of plant was taught to him by the plants themselves through the hallucinations he had experienced. So you see that in ancient cultures as in modern, drug use and physicians go hand in hand.

The circular mirror on this Siberian shaman’s right shoulder assists him in seeing the worlds beyond and in capturing the souls of the dead, reminiscent of the mirror Perseus used in killing the Gorgon Medusa. The pendants and ribbons sewn on the costumes are called ‘tails’ and ‘wings’ indicating the shaman’s ability to fly. These symbols reflect a world view which runs through all cultures to a greater or lesser extent, referred to as the ‘doctrine of correspondences.’ That is that matter is a reflection of spirit and vice versa. They are reflections, indeed manifestations of each other. The mirror and the wheel are symbols of this – the mirror symbolizes this viewpoint relative to 3-dimensional space, and the wheel symbolizes it relative to time and its cycles — linear time is a relatively recent concept. Notice that the mirror here is round like a wheel. This view that physis is a reflection of the unseen is now accepted in the scientific world in the conception that matter and energy are two aspects of the same thing.

Here we see a Navajo sand painting depicting Father Sky, Mother Earth, and Rainbow. Sky and Earth stand side by side joined by a line of yellow pollen, the essence of the sacred maize as a symbol of peace, happiness, and prosperity. They are so depicted in order to bring their role in creation and their powers into the ritual healing ceremony. In this way, events that took place in mythical time become contemporaneous with ritual time. The creative powers of the First Time are made once more accessible to heal injury and restore harmony here and now. This particular ceremony is directed against infection from lightning, snakes, and arrows. It is also used to counteract colds, fevers, rheumatism, paralysis and abdominal pain. NonWestern and ancient peoples in general took a holistic approach, believing that plants were inextricably connected to the world as a whole. It was a plant’s ‘effective energy’ or ‘energetics’ — its ability to connect the patient with the larger whole — that was deemed the cause of the cure, not some inherent physical substance within the plant. This ‘wholism’ also extended to the human body, where there was no anatomy as we know in theWest, but more a ‘systems physiology.’ After various rites were performed over a period of several days, the sand painting is destroyed and with it, the negative power which it now contains.

The image here presents the natural world as a unified system depending on the light, rain, and air of the heavens in conjunction with the soil of the earth for the word of vegetation and animal life as we know it. This unity is symbolized in the marriage of heaven and earth. The rainbow represents this union, providing a bridge between the two realms. Most Westerners believe that the universe is indifferent to human need and we often cite the laws of physics to prove our point. But when Newton formulated the laws of motion, he was offering conceptual schemes that described the universe only as it appears to us in ordinary states of consciousness, not when we are in direct contact with the higher energies that circulate within us and in the cosmos. And it is true that ordinary sense perception presents us with a world that can be described by forces acting laterally or horizontally. From the ancient perspective, however, the concept of forces acting laterally is an abstraction, a narrow perception of the whole. For the ancients, the passage of energies vertically, from heaven to earth and back, is as inexorable and impersonal as the laws of physics, as we can see in astrology. It is not that the cosmos is indifferent to human desire, but that human desire has become indifferent to the cosmos! Thus the ancient Chinese system of medicine understands the human being as a ‘little universe’ containing and harmonizing the entire reach of the two processes, vertical and horizontal, yin and yang, growth and decline, etc. We must bring into harmony all the energies at our disposal. Thus disease is the inevitable result of our unwillingness or inability to attend to all the energies within us. To teach this process to the members of the community was the function of the physician, which explains why, in ancient China, instead of hiring a physician when someone got sick, it was just at this point that they fired him! The successful physician was one who cold discriminate among qualities of energy in the human organism.What we label as ‘magic’ was, among early peoples, a means of relating to certain energies which we today no longer perceive, let alone master, because we no longer look for them — indeed, do not believe that they exist. We are today comfortable only when dealing with those forces which destroy disease organisms, because we must kill anything that threatens. Note the origin of the term ‘antibiotic’. Negotiation is indeed unknown in modern medicine.

Traditional peoples believed that the power of the herbs and mixtures used by the medicine men derived not from their own qualities but from the spirits inherent in them. They did not distinguish in their thinking between the biological action of food and drugs and the spiritual realm of healing. The medicine kept a person alive by pleasing the spirit of the person or displeasing the demon inhabiting him/her. If the spirit does not wish to accept it, the person will not heal, no matter how efficacious the substance is for others. The Western view that the chemical essence or agent in medicinal plants affects the healing is actually not so far from the traditional concept of the spirit within the plant.

The making and ritual use of the sand paintings, even the act of sitting inside them, connects the Navajo to forces that have obvious physical effects. The continuous chanting is based on the same understanding of sound vibration that one finds in every spiritual discipline that we know of, even referred to in the Bible. Indeed, such seemingly endless monotonous chanting should be enough to drive any self-respecting demon into the outer darkness! And then there is the dancing. Perhaps we put the label ‘magic’ on phenomena which we simply do not understand, just as a child or a primitive might regard the results of our own technology. Or as anyone might regard the fact that many times placebos work even better than the drug against which they are tested. Is Dr. Larry Dossey, former physician of internal medicine and Chief of Staff of City of Dallas Hospital, talking about magic when he says that one of the most effective ways to lower the cholesterol count is sitting down 15 minutes a day and doing nothing? This is as potent as any drug yet invented, but is unlikely to be mentioned in circulars sent out by the pharmaceutical industry. He said also that biofeedback became so respectable in his hospital that he was able to get his biofeedback therapist onto the staff of the hospital to do consultations with patients. This therapy is less costly, less invasive, and often more effective than more conventional methods. He said that some doctors used it themselves when faced with high blood pressure and hypertension headaches.

It has now been reported that more people in the US resort to alternative therapies than to the traditional forms of medicine. Traditional allopathic medicine has become so complex that many people feel that they are no longer in control of their own bodies. With specialization increasing so rapidly, the physicians themselves frequently do not understand the situations they are faced with and must resort to the suggestions of the pharmaceutical companies which seem more concerned with profit than with the needs of the patient. Attempts to provide medical care to all only complicates the situation and makes it more difficult than ever for a person not only to spend adequate time with a physician but even to see one. Alternative physicians, on the other hand, generally spend more time with a patient than physicians in a clinic are even allowed. Larry LeShan, a scientist-therapist, states that if an alternative physician gives the same treatment to two patients, he does not know very much about one or both of them. If he gives three the same treatment, it means he has severe tunnel vision or else he is treating them for his own problems and not theirs. This would be standard wisdom for any system of medicine outside of our allopathic system which has been standard only since it overtook homeopathy as the dominant system in the US about a century ago. In classical homeopathy, no two doses of medicine are the same, since no two people, indeed no one person at different times, are the same. LaShan also stated that when a patient is in the last stages of disease, his/her body will not mobilize its resources to protect the patient against pain or feelings of helplessness in order to permit the patient to fulfill the desires or expectations of family members or others, but it will frequently exercise its self-healing and recuperative abilities in order for the patient to fulfill his/her needs for self-expression and, as he put it, “to sing the unique song of his/her own personality.” He said that he does not understand why this is so.

The ancients did not differentiate very clearly between the body and the mind, looking upon the two somewhat as we do today in psychosomatic medicine. The mind was an adjunct of the heart and remains so today in many cultures. Our strict division stems largely from the attempt of scientific medicine to analyze each organ separately as in anatomy rather than using a physiolog-ical approach. However, holistic medicine refuses to separate them. This refusal to be scientific has opened this new-old form to a charge of quackery. But we know that it is effective, but not all the time. Allopathic medicine suffers from the same problem, but rarely do we hear it admitted by its practitioners, even though it is generally known that no drug has yet been discovered which is effective against viruses. Homeopathy is, however, but the pharmaceutical companies do not want that fact to be generally known. Indeed, in 1919 during the world-wide Spanish flu epidemic, in which 20 million people died, including several thousand in the US, it became clear that in the West, almost the only people who died were those who did not resort to homeopaths. This caused the American Medical Assn. to attempt to discredit homeopathy out of fear that this would cause a general abandonment of allopathic medicine. What resulted was that most states declared homeopathic practice illegal and the necessity of bringing to an end the Hahnemann Institute in Philadelphia, the largest center in the US for training of homeopaths. Although it was named after the founder of homeopathy, it was forced to switch over to solely allopathic medical training, although it has recently restored a few homeopathic courses. Homeopathy is still common in Europe. The British royal family still resorts to homeopathy and chiropractic, even for the royal stables, as I found out by being treated by a chiropractor who treated people after noon, and the royal horses in the morning.

I would like to make a point which may explain at least a part of the problem we have been dealing with. Unlike modern scientific medicine, all other forms of medicine do not look upon life, or anything that is normally present in life, as an enemy to life. Disease speaks through the body, or the mind, and thus is not separate from our totality.

  1. Cancer cells can reproduce very fast, without any regard for the organs around them.
  2. Cancer cells fulfill their own needs at the expense of the organism as a whole.
  3. Cancer cells are a part of the body yet behave as if they are completely separate.
  4. Cancer cells often end up destroying the very system on which their existence depends.

All of the above is also true of mankind in relation to its environment. Indeed, we and the disease are one. It follows from this that when we destroy the immune system of the planet we can hardly expect our own to be left undamaged. Cancer may very well be a concretization of lovelessness or emptiness in one’s life, just as heart disease maybe connected to chronic anger. Perhaps all forms of medicine are actually psychokinesis guided by a therapeutic mythology. All life seems to be a metaphor. As Joseph Campbell said, “The latest incarnation of Oedipus, the continual romance of Beauty and the Beast, stand this afternoon on the corner of 42nd St. and 5th Ave. waiting for the traffic light to change.” I think that light may be changing.

In the development of modern psychology, Freud and Jung and their followers for a time neglected the body for the mind simply because the mind had been overlooked completely in earlier scientific medicine. They wanted to subject the mind to scientific procedures in order to examine it more closely. In this process it became apparent that the human body is an outrageously ingenious demonstration of the power of consciousness to turn energy into matter and matter into energy. However, it soon became apparent that purely scientific methods would not work on anything as abstract as the mind, and now we see many physicians and healers dealing directly with the body in an attempt to influence the mind which is then expected to aid in the healing of the body. It is becoming obvious that the two are really one. What I intend to do here is to show you that there is no essential difference, that the duality that seems to exist is, like all dualities, illusory, just as the ancients believed. This means going back to the myth of Creation in the Gospel of St. John. “In the beginning was the Word.” To use Jungian terminology, the Self speaks to the ego using a language which it used in creating us, so why can it not be useful in re-creating us, that is to say, in healing us? This sounds far out, but it is not. We shall look at four ‘languages’ used by our body-minds in order to communicate to us. I like to use the term ‘daimon’ because that is the only term which for me can describe the various experiences I have had and still keep my sanity. Let us look at these four, starting with the simplest.


These are simple intuitions which we frequently use to find out why we are suffering a headache or other mild symptom. We need not go into explanations about them, but they are indeed a language of the body-mind.


A symptom may strike suddenly or not, but symptoms are not necessarily pathological in the sense that they are not to be simply suppressed as you would a child who is making too much noise. They are potentially meaningful and purposeful conditions. Since pain is frequently involved, most people take something to suppress the symptom, thus blocking the ability of the symptom to act as messenger of the body. People use drugs in many forms, from painkillers to alcohol to dull the body’s ability to communicate with us and to substitute pleasure for pain. We would much prefer pleasure as a method for the body to communicate. but rarely do we learn anything from pleasure. We have homework to do, and going outside to play is not going to get it done. If we cure disease with antibiotics and other medicines, we are in danger of creating greater problems in the future, for disease, like other symptoms, is actually a messenger telling us of some imbalance which should be corrected, and is a language of the body-mind which we must learn to interpret.


Freud and Jung revived the ancient idea that dreams are a language of the body-mind. The ancients held the view that interpretation of dreams was a major method of therapy for diseases of the body and of the mind between which, as I pointed out earlier, they did not distinguish. There were 320 Asklepions, like the one you see here at Ephesus, identified by archeologists in the ancient world; some of which were in use for close to 5000 years. They were dream centers which are known to have been successful in caring for all sorts of diseases ofd the mind and body. Symptoms are often mirrored in dreams and the reverse is also true. Dreams in some way talk about body conditions. Through proper attention to and interpretation of dreams, one can occasionally relieve and even prevent symptoms from recurring so long as the dreamer follows the suggestions of the dream. Dreams are now regaining their status as the royal road to the unconscious and are actually a Fax from the body-mind.


Visions have many similarities to dreams although they tend to deal with concerns of the unconscious Self and are more trance-like. They are similar to ‘great’ or archetypal dreams and are frequently initiatory. They are sometimes invoked by active imagination. Visions some-times occur when one is awake and, even when of a religious nature, can be called hallucinations. These can be auditory, visual, or combine various senses. In any case, they bring messages from the unconscious. However, in pathological cases, can be very disruptive to an already damaged ego. If, furthermore, the ego had been suppressed by hallucinogens, an external guide is necessary to prevent serious damage to the person’s psyche.

All of these are part of the language of the unconscious intended to inform us as to what is going on in our body-mind. They are attempts to communicate which we frequently do not understand. We should make it a two-way communication, but the problem arises from the unwillingness or inability to interpret the language properly, frequently by allowing the ego to insert blame into the issue, which never does any good at all. We do know that prayer sometimes works — it is, after all, a holistic method. Experiments have been conducted by praying over plants and finding that the plants that have been prayed over do better than the others. This all goes back again to the Gospel of St. John. Words. Words have always been considered capable of affecting or actualizing matter, since they convey meaning in both the spiritual and material worlds. They can thus transcend either and affect both. In ancient languages word, or logos, was considered creative and the words for breath and spirit were often the same. It is helpful that our unconscious knows our language, but it does not know our circumstances unless we tell it with words. This is what prayer is all about. We can ask for something in prayer and sometimes receive it, but not at all in the form in which we expected, or in the time when we most needed it. Sometimes it actually turns out to be a disaster! It is not God playing tricks, but God, or as I prefer to call it, the daimon, is actually far from being omniscient, and here the teaching of the Church concerning the omniscience of God has served to make prayer of questionable value. The language of dream explains this. What we see in dreams is our circumstances as seen by our unconscious Self. Our unconscious knows our world in space and time about as well as we know its world outside of space-time. If we want to be healed, we must know what our unconscious is telling us in dreams and symptoms so that we can know what it wants us to know. We must then explain to it our circumstances so it can make more clear to us what the problem is as it sees it. This requires recognition. Every living creature requires recognition, and that includes the part of our body which is creating symptoms. This may even be the reason the symptoms are appearing. Many people do not recognize the needs of their own body. Indeed, it has been said that we would never dare to treat another person the way we treat our own body. The ancient Egyptians actually believed that each body part had its own neter or spirit, an idea I at first thought ridiculous. But my own experiences have taught me that this is not such a foolish idea after all. It seems that meditating on a particular part of the body which is in pain can actually reduce or eliminate pain. Welcome the pain as a communication which has succeeded, and it may actually satisfy the need. Symptoms are not a punishment, or an enemy, but a form of communication from the unconscious Self and if we hide the symptom with medicine without discovering the cause, the body will only have to find another symptom, likely a more painful one, to get its message across.

Indeed, it can be aid that every detail of the material world is a kind of projection of a non-physical reality that has chosen to reveal itself in a particular way. Distortion from the original non-physical pattern results from the fact that it is impossible for anything in our world to be a complete replica of anon-physical reality. Also distortion results from our own actions and perceptions, willed or not, which permit us to change the framework somewhat, and thereby participate in the Creation. Thus we, like God, create the world in our own image. And we must remember that one can create new colors only by mixing the colors one already has.

This is an image of Horus the Child, an aspect of Horus as healer. There is a magical inscription on the right. The reptiles and animals held by Horus represent the forces of darkness and of the earth used as talismans by the Egyptians who placed them in houses, gardens, or in the ground to protect them from beings visible and invisible. Although this may appear as pure magic there was in their medical system a considerable amount of empirical knowledge and sound intuition. They sought to heal physical and psychic ills by natural means. These consisted in placing the sick person in a favorable milieu, then in providing natural products to be applied or absorbed.This could be a plant picked at the moment of its optimum vital activity, or it could be an animal product. The recipes found from ancient Egypt recommending the use of goat excrement may seem strange to us, but we must realize that each animal nourishes itself in a manner peculiar to its species. What does it retain for its vital purposes and what does it reject? What it rejects has been concentrated and gone through a process of fermentation within the animal. Only omnivorous creatures like us take nourishment from any edible plant or animal, hence our waste lacks any specific character. In the Coptic monasteries of Egypt, the remains of consecrated bread are still collected and left to mold to “heal the brethren when they are sick.” Penicillin and like substances and ferments have been a part of the medicine of Africa since the beginning. As the Egyptians believed, “All that ferments has the gift of fixing the spirit of its functional principle.” Functional principle was their word for neter (god). This is magic, but magic based on centuries of trial and error. They believed that it was taught them by the gods. On the “Treatise of the Heart” which dates back to the 1st Dynasty (ca. 3500 BC) we read:

“Beginning of the ‘Book of Healing’ to expel the pains which are in all the limbs of a man, such as it was found among the writings of ancient times under the feet of Anubis.”

Why under the feet of Anubis? Anubis was the jackal. As you may know, the jackal was the digester par excellence who keeps his prey until it decomposes before using it as nourishment. This decomposition is a fermentation. It is therefore Anubis the jackal who has been chosen to preside over all that concerns death and resurrection through mummification. So we can see why the Treatise of theHeart was discovered between the feet of Anubis. The physician was also the priest of Sekhmet, the blood-thirsty lioness; he was also a magician. Thoth reconstituted the Eye of Horus which Seth had shattered into 64 fragments, thus Thoth was the protector of oculists as well as scribes. (The number 64 may also remind you of the I Ching.) Each member of the body had its own neter (spirit) as I mentioned earlier whom one could call upon when help for that member was needed. Arnold Mindell, in his book “Working with the Dreaming Body” 3000 years later, reports that he has made discoveries, as I did, that seem directly related to the Egyptian view.

“Just as the mind has its individuation process insofar as one learns about the different parts of oneself, so the body, too, wants to individualize and discover all of its potentials. The body has many centers and points of awareness (which the Egyptians called ‘neters’). Your body uses projections and psychological problems to stimulate discovery o its different parts. Stomach problems raise consciousness of the stomach area, neck difficulties bring your relationship between the head and the body into awareness, and heart problems can frequently make you more aware of your feelings. When it signals to you in the body, we call it a symptom. When it signals to you through a dream, we call it a symbol.”

So you see that even today it is possible for one to view Egyptian myth, magic, and metaphor as valid in many respects. The Egyptians also practiced modern medicine in the form of trepanning, which was opening the skull to release excess fluid which when it builds up in the skull causes hydrocephaly. This was a genetic condition suffered by some of the pharoahs, notably Akhnaton, said to be passed down because of a recessive gene is his family. The Egyptians, of course, were releasing a spiritual substance, an alchemical water, but the result was the same. It is merely looking at the world through a different lens.

A variety of techniques through which magic was applied can be found in ancient Egyptian texts. Central to all magical techniques was the invocation of the First Time, which we found earlier in the Indian sand painting. By this was meant the nontemporal realm in which archetypal events enacted by the gods took place, as when the gods taught mankind skills, rituals, and created the Thousand Things. This is the realm of myth, and hence of spiritual realities more powerful than anything merely physical. One could identify a given terrestrial event with an archetypal First Time event by an act of invocation in which the archetypal reality was brought into the world, suffusing the latter with spiritual power. One could also call this a projection of the mundane world into the archetypal, causing a fusion of the temporal event with a spiritual reality, a linking together of heavenly ad earthly realities. In this process the Word, or Logos, was of the greatest importance. This was frequently used as a medical technique. in myth, Horus is badly wounded by Seth but is restored by his mother Isis. This archetypal pattern could be applied to a patient in a similarly dangerous condition to that of Horus. As the patient’s bandages were removed, the patient inwardly identified with Horus. In the text that follows, the patient invokes the First Time. “Unbound he was, unbound he was by Isis, unbound was Horus by Isis, from all the evil done to him by his brother Seth, when Seth killed his father Osiris.” Then the patient prays to Isis: “Oh Isis, great magician, unbind me; deliver me from evil, harmful and red things; from god’s illness and from a goddess’ illness; from a male death an d from a female death; from male enemies ands female enemies who will come against me.” The prayer is utter as if the patient were Horus addressing his mother. In this way, the aid of the goddess is enlisted. A second example also involves an incident in the life of the god Horus. As an infant, the young god is in serious danger when fire breaks out. His mother, Isis, finding no water to hand, extinguishes the flame with milk from her own breasts. It was thus that the milk of a woman who had given birth to a boy was an essential ingredient in a mixture of substances used for the treatment of burns.

Identification with a god or neter was necessary if one wished to attune oneself wholly to the energy of a particular neter or divine principle. ‘Divine principle’ is a better translation of the Egyptian neter than our term ‘god’, although the idea of identification with such continued down to Roman times in divine worship (I am thou and thou art I). The ancient Egyptians regarded words as the medium of divine powers, whose essential vitality would come to expression in the sounds and images of the hieroglyphs. Hence by assuming the name of a neter or god, or magically endowing another person with that name, it was possible for a person to resonate with the energy of that god. It is as if, by a combination of visualizing a neter or an animal sacred to it, and sinking oneself into the metaphysical and mythical content of a sacred text, one has the possibility of becoming attuned to the specific energy of the neter with whom one wishes to merge. One may detect similarities to this in shamanic healing and native American healing ceremonies to this day. Depending on the circumstances, one might seek to identify now with one neter, now with another; in practice what this means is that the psyche becomes imbued with or possessed by a spiritual force, and thus undergoes a momentary, or perhaps even a lasting, transformation. Today we are only beginning to emerge from a kind of collective amnesia concerning these spiritual forces with which the ancients were so familiar, and which we seem to fear. The modern belief that the contents of consciousness are subjective in the sense of belonging to the subject who experiences them is the outcome of a historical process that has taken place since ancient times. One result of this process is that the idea of freedom can now be applied to the inner life. The notion that we are free to choose how we act and must therefore take responsibility for our actions is an idea first formulated in the 4th c. BC by Aristotle. It is for this reason that Egyptian magic can not be simply appreciated by us today. On the other hand, because our modern consciousness is unfamiliar with the spiritual world of which the Egyptians were so aware, it is important that we guard against the modern tendency to dismiss it as merely idle superstition or fantasy. Rather, the task is to develop the faculties that would enable us, grounded by our modern self-possessed consciousness, to approach the gods once more. If we fail to do this, as Jas. Hillman said, the gods will re-appear as pathologies. As I mentioned earlier, in addition to identifying wholly with an individual god or goddess to accomplish healing, it was also a common practice to identify oneself part by part with a number of different deities. In the Book of the Dead we find the following spell that systematically works down the body identifying each part with a neter, thus imbuing it with the energy of that deity.

“My hair is Nun; my face is Ra; my eyes are Hathor; my ears are Upuat; my lips are Anubis; my molars are Selkit; my incisors are Isis the goddess; my arms are the ram, lord of Mendes; my breast is Neith, lady of Sais; my back is Seth; my phallus is Osiris; my muscles are the lords of Kharaba; my chest is He Who is Greatly Majestic; my belly and my spine are Sekhmet; my buttocks are the Eye of Horus; my thighs and my calves are Nut; my feet are Ptah; my toes are living falcons; there is no member of mine devoid of a neter and Thoth is the protection of all my flesh.”

It is not hard to imagine how in sickness or in health this invocatory sequence of identifications would have an empowering effect on the individual concerned. The ancients would not have understood the peculiarly modern attitude toward illness that views it simply as a result of negative physical causes such as viruses. For them, everything physical was the effect or outward expression of a spiritual agency. If a person became ill, it was a sign that a spiritual event had taken place. Indeed, the illness itself was often regarded as a hostile spirit or the manifestation of a demon had entered into the person. In this case, the only viable treatment was to confront the demon directly and drive it out. The effectiveness of a physician therefore lay less in his remedies than in his ability to tackle demons. Remedies were necessary for the healing of body and soul, which were scarcely differentiated. But crucial to their efficacy was the spiritual power that they carried. The medicines owed much of their virtue to the spells repeated during both their preparation and their administration. The sickness ended only with the departure of the demon who had caused it. The principal action of the physician took place on the spiritual level. He first had to identify the demon that was causing the illness, he then concocted a suitable remedy, instilling it with magical potency through reciting certain incantations. This was to make the body of the patient a most unpleasant habitation for the demon, while building up the strength of the patient. As we saw earlier, they were often of a homeopathic nature. Before administering the remedy, it was necessary for the physician first to engage the demon. If the patient has a serious cold, the physician talks to the cold, quietly at first, He tells it that it has no place in the patient’s body, that it feels ill at ease there. It would far rather be somewhere else. He tells it that it has no power over the patient, it is weak, it is feeble, it has no power at all. He lulls the cold demon into a state of inertia, leading it into a condition if impotence and defenselessness. Suddenly, when the demon is least prepared for it, he shouts out:

“Begone Cold, son of Cold! Who breaks bones, who shatters the skull, who digs into the brain, so that sickness overtakes the seven openings of the head which are the servant of Ra, and the praise-singers of Thoth; see, I have brought the remedy against you!”

The physician then repeat the whole process several times before administering the remedy, first quietly draining away the demon’s self-confidence, then haranguing it aggressively. One might imagine that this relentless bombardment would be enough to make the fiercest demon feel decidedly uncomfortable. It is then that the physician gives the remedy to the patient who is required to say such words of welcome to the remedy as these: “Welcome, remedy, welcome, who destroys the trouble in my heart and in these my limbs. This magic of Horus is victorious in the remedy.” Note that the prayer ends with an expectation of success as modern praying frequently does. In and through the remedy, Horus engages in battle with the demon. Thus the sickness was, in effect, projected as an aspect of Seth into the First Time where its defeat was inevitable. So we can see that these rituals were not merely symbolical; they were part and parcel of the cosmic events; they are mankind’s share in these events. Egyptian life was religion, and the Egyptian religion was magical. Magic implies a consciousness that is participatory, hence withdrawal of human participation in cosmic and natural cycles can be seen as catastrophic for both nature and the gods. This was foreseen by the Egyptian priests who described the closing of this cycle of participation of mankind with nature and the gods to Herodotus in the 5th c. BC. But long before then, the peoples of the western Mediterranean outside of Egypt were borrowing much of the Egyptian methodology and adapting it to their own cultural outlook. Indeed, much of what you will now see has its roots in prehistory just as the Egyptian does.

Here we see one of the most important classical methods of healing which existed side by side, even complementary to what we would call the standard medical system of Hippocrates, Galen, and others. We see the patient in a dream state with the god Asclepius behind whom stands his daughter Hygeia, personifying health (hygiene). For several thousand years until its destruction by Christianity in 400 AD, one of the most important uses of dreaming was a ritual form of healing called incubation by which people suffering from physical, psychological. or spiritual ailments could travel to a healing center, or asklepion, where priest-physicians practicing a combination of physical and spiritual medicine could help them prepare for a healing dream. In earlier times, it might be in a cave. This picture shows what the Asklepion of Ephesus looked like. There were by Roman times 320 of them throughout the empire. Many of those which were not destroyed were later turned into hospitals. On arrival, the patient was first ritually purified and prepared for entry into the abaton. This was a cave or cubicle where the healing would take place. Later, Christians translated it as Hell, because that was where one came into contact with a devil, as only the Christian god could heal. Therefore they had to destroy these places. The seeker was put into a narrow, womblike chamber and waited, for hours or days, for a healing dream or vision in which Asclepius in any of his guises — god, bearded man, boy, snake, or dog — appeared and touched or treated the afflicted part or provided instruction or advice. It was the epiphany, the visit of the god through a dream, that brought about the healing.

The snake is the representative of Mother Earth and of transformation. In all traditions except the Judeo-Christian, the snake has been the carrier of beneficent powers. Asclepius was an advanced practitioner of snake healing, particularly the homeopathic transformation of poisons and identity transformations symbolized by shedding one’s old skin. Asclepius is represented as carrying a staff around which a single great snake winds. The caduceus carried by Hermes, guide of souls, contains two snakes. Some ancient sources say that the bite of one is poisonous, the other healing. Similarly, Asclepius carries blood from the snake-haired gorgon Medusa which he received from Athene, both from the gorgon’s left side and from her right. With the former he slays and from the latter he cures and brings back to life. This points to the ambiguous nature of both the unconscious and the healing process. One can never know whether healing a pathological condition will interfere with the individuation process. It may be that any god or daimon who transmitted it to us might have done so to help us utilize it in bringing us to a higher level of consciousness, and that the traumatic event which brought the condition about might even be considered a sacred event. In my experience, this is not mere speculation. I shall demonstrate:

Spiritually, the two snakes teach a healing lesson. As homeopathic and other therapeutic practit-ioners know, the administration of a small amount of the poison which caused the problem can bring healing. In ancient snake healing practices, snake priests and priestesses allowed themselves to be bitten by their poisonous charges. This practice propelled them into altered states of consciousness while over time allowing them to build up immunity to the poison. Then they were able to utilize the snakes and their poison in healing rituals and treatment. This may also have been the case in Asklepian practices. The healing principle is this: What poisons us can also heal us; what heals us can poison us. The ancient oracle of Apollo declared this same wisdom: “He who wounds also heals.” Hermes has made that clear to me. A ritual participation can bring about a healing or worsening of any condition or dilemma from which we suffer.

Asclepius also had other animal totems. The dog is the animal most loyal and compassionate to humans. They serve as messengers from and intermediaries to the animal world. They were also considered to be guides to the spirit world because of their ability to smell out a path which we can not sense. They were sometimes sacrificed at the death of their owner so they could companion the soul on its journey and be its guide.

Asclepius’ third animal, the cock, was the preferred animal of sacrifice to this particular god and in fact was sacrificed to no other god but him. The cock, and occasionally other animals, was given in thanksgiving for healing, as were reproductions seen here of the body part that had been healed. This tradition is still part of Greek Orthodox practice today. The cock is the animal that straddles yin and yang, dark and light, day and night. It calls calls us to consciousness, crying at the break of dawn to awaken us from dreams. By sounding the clarion call, it brings both the affliction and the encounter with divinity out of the darkness and unconsciousness and into the bright light of awareness. Remember Socrates’ very last words: “Krito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Don’t forget.”

Entering the dream chambers of classical times was both a descent into the unconscious — the dark underground — and into the womb — at once nature’s cocoon, the birth mother’s womb, and Mother Earth’s womb and tomb. To heal our intractable wounds, we must return to the womb of our wound. Asclepius was born out of the womb of his slain mother Koronis. His supplicants had to return to the womb to be reborn out of the place of the original wound, a reference to the First Time. Asclepius had to be raised by his nature teacher, Chiron, the philanthropic centaur. For a full healing, we must descend into nature, the Great Mother’s body, for the energies that can truly bring rebirth. Asclepian healing demonstrates the great challenge and process of transformational healing. The literal Greek meaning of psychotherapist is ‘attendant of the soul’. Through the guidance and intervention of spirit, and with the guidance and attendance of the soul. the supplicant descends into the womb of the wound, the place where the primal wound occurred and has festered. There the supplicant needs to experience awareness, touching, catharsis, and the purification of the original wound, as we saw in the myth of Parzifal where the Grail King required just such treatment. The supplicant also needs a guided descent into the great Mother Earth’s womb where through her incubation, nurturing and touch, often by way of dreams and animal helpers, the supplicant can experience a return of the primal life-giving energies of nature and spirit.

It is possible to view a disease as an expression of the patient’s unconscious, which is actually putting into modern psychological terms what the ancients called the god or more accurately the daimon. There is really no other way to explain what has been discovered in modern psychiatry — that some people who exhibit symptoms of multiple personality may while possessed by one of their personalities have full-blown diabetes but exhibit no signs whatever of the disease at other times. This would seem to indicate that the disease is actually a process of the unconscious self which is related to certain aspects of the person’s psychology, and is part of what is meant when we say that we create our own world. The daimon is the personification of a creative energy which operates not according to natural laws, but by a process of which we are only partly aware. The same can be said concerning the known fact that a stutterer is free from stuttering when he/she sings. We must remind ourselves that the idea of incontrovertible laws of nature did not exist before the scientific revolution. The concept of natural law — that there are certain rules that nature must obey — is a modern idea, and it is symptomatic of our modern relationship to nature. We can talk about laws of nature only because we experience nature as wholly externalized from us and also from itself. The nature that exists for the modern scientific consciousness has no soul. All that occurs in nature must be explained in terms of blind obedience to laws, originally conceived in the 17th c. as commands imposed by God upon the natural world. The spiritual is no longer beheld within the world of sense experience but is felt to occupy a separate sphere. There-fore the connection between the divine and natural realms can only be conceived in terms of the most remote and impersonal kind of relationship.

In the ancient world, the experience of the relationship between nature and deity was otherwise. The sun did not go around the earth in obedience to law, but as an expression of the life of the sun deity; the deity’s process, as it were. The sun was the countenance of the divine. It transmitted into the natural sphere an interior spiritual life, much as people’s life processes transmit some-thing of what goes on in their souls. As for the sun, so for all of nature as the ancients experienced it: nothing in nature was simply an “it” — all was animated and alive. In such a nature there can be no question of ‘laws,’ because human experience of spiritual entities is active within the physical domain. The relationship of sun god to sun could not be that of a lawgiver any more than could that of human soul to bodily processes; the one manifests through the other. The spiritual does not impose laws on the physical, but expresses itself in and through the physical.

This gets to the heart of the matter. If a certain type of phenomenon, such as the diabetic personality mentioned earlier, is inexplicable within a certain set of presuppositions, but explicable within another, then perhaps we should question the adequacy of those presuppositions that fail to provide the groundwork for understanding the phenomenon itself. Theodore Roszak once pointed to an example of the difficulty modern man has in dealing with these phenomena. At a shamanic seance attended by the anthropologist attached to the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913-1918, every member of the Copper Eskimo Tribe saw the shaman Higilak turn into a polar bear as part of the rite. Under the anthropologist’s questioning, each of them insisted on this as an incontestable fact. The anthropologist saw no such thing, and interpreted the event as a ‘collective hallucination.’ Roszak comments wryly,

“Since the empirical consensus was wholly against him (the anthropologist) — and since the Eskimos are surely better authorities on what is and what is not a polar bear — I gather we must conclude that his interpretation is wrong.”

What we experience is dependent upon our mode of consciousness. It must be believed to be seen. Our modern judgment of what is ‘real’ and what is ‘not real’ is conditioned by our consciousness. Call it what we may — the scientific consciousness, objective consciousness, the observer consciousness — it is characterized by a clear awareness of, and need to distinguish between, what is ‘within’ us and what is ‘outside us.’ The modern psyche defines itself by an act of differentiating what is inner from what is outer, what is subjective from what is objective. In this way we feel we know where we begin and end; we have a definite sense of ‘I’ as opposed to ‘not I.’ In ancient times this mode of consciousness did not exist except in a few philosophers starting in the classical period. This means that for most, the experience of what was ‘real’ and what was ‘not real’ was different from our experience. The outer and inner world were not so strictly partitioned and, as a result, the experience of the physical was much richer, being infused with inner, spiritual qualities that today we prefer to regard as subjective projections. At the same time, the experience of the spiritual was much more concrete, more objective, that is, ‘shared.’ For us, spiritual events are very private; in ancient times they were more collective enabling such experiences to occur quite objectively. Some aspects of the ancient view may still be observed in children.

The anthropologist was unable to experience the shaman turning into a polar bear, and no doubt we would be in a similar position had we been present at that event. Could it be that had we been present at the parting of the Red Sea, we might not have experienced anything at all? For the structures of reality are inseparable from the consciousness that experiences them. This does not mean, of course, that if we wish to bring healing about that we must reject all the advances made by the western ego in recent millenia. But it does, I believe, call for a re-examination by all of us of what we have lost in this process. This may have been what Mark Twain meant when he told the story of the old lady who as at death’s door and asked her doctor if he could do anything for her. He told her that first she would have to give up drinking, smoking, and swearing. She replied that she had never done any of those things. He responded:

“Well then, there you have it; you’re a sinking ship with no ballast to throw overboard, so I’m afraid there is nothing further I can do for you.”

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3 Comments on “Healing Then and Now”

  1. VK Says:

    I love your sense of humor in your thinking and your writing. I also like that disease is not an enemy. And I did not know that jackals wait for their food to ferment before eating it. Good on ya, Jack.

  2. christine irving Says:

    Lovely explication of a fascinating subject. I loved the flow-it moved effortlessly from one topic to the next while covering this vast subject with great sensitivity and respect. Like the very subject you portray, you managed to demonstrate the relationship between these various ideas. Your presentation harmonized with the subject matter giving it that ring of “truth” with which wisdom so often announces its presence to mind/body/spirit. Thank you.

  3. I do trust all the ideas you have presented for your post.

    They are very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts
    are too short for novices. May just you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time?

    Thanks for the post.

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