Ancient Greek Healer God Asklepios, Sleep, and Sacred Dreams

NEW YORK – Ancient Greek healer god Asklepios was featured in an article in Ancient Origins (AO) concerning sleep and incubating dreams. “In the ancient world, many cultures built elaborate temple complexes dedicated to their healer gods – Imhotep in Egypt and Asklepios in Greece, for example,” AO reported, adding that “these gods were recognized as having the power to cure supplicants from a variety of ailments within sleep and sacred dreams.”

“Those who desired healing might travel many hundreds of miles to reach such a temple, working through periods of fasting and purification, taking part in invocation rituals, drinking water from holy, mineral-rich springs and observing a variety of other devotional customs before finally lying down upon a ‘sacred skin’ (called a kline in ancient Greek – from which we derive clinic) to await a curative reverie. This process was called incubation – ‘to lie upon,’” AO reported.

“State of mind clearly has a profound influence upon the physical health of any individual,” AO reported, noting that “the proof of placebo power alone shows that belief and suggestion must sometimes unconsciously activate the body’s natural maintenance system – homeostasis,” and “these unconscious processes might be more readily available to a patient during a sleep state.”

“The placebo effect might actually become embedded during sleep, when the climate for healing and regeneration is at an optimum and certain genes are switched on that are always switched off during waking hours,” AO reported.

Sleep temples included “elaborate systems of fasting, dedication, lustration, purification, ritual drama, sensory deprivation or over-stimulation, invocation and dream interpretation,” AO reported, adding that “these institutions prevailed for thousands of years, so clearly the sleep temple methods were fruitful for many.”

“Much of the best evidence regarding the day-to-day goings-on in sleep temples comes from ancient Greece” where “Asklepios was the presiding deity,” the “handsome healer god, always represented with a snake-entwined staff, was worshipped at many great sanctuaries, known as Asklepions, throughout the ancient world, including important centers at Epidaurus, Kos, Athens, and Pergamon,” AO reported.

Asklepios was the son of the god Apollo and his mortal lover, Koronis, whom Apollo murdered for infidelity while she was pregnant with Asklepios, and either Hermes, or Apollo himself, cut the baby from Koronis’ womb as she lay on the funeral pyre and saved “the greatest healer god of the Greek pantheon,” AO reported.

“Asklepios was raised and trained in the healing arts by the centaur Chiron, but it was a supernatural encounter with a wise snake that was said to have charged Asklepios with a supernaturally advanced healing ability,” AO reported, adding that he was “sufficiently gifted to even bring a man back from the dead, although this transgression cost Asklepios his life” as “Zeus struck him dead with a thunderbolt, although later (according to Roman-era mythography) at Apollo’s behest, Zeus set Asklepios in the heavens and he became the constellation Ophiuchus – the Serpent Bearer.”

“At Epidaurus, one of the most celebrated Asklepions in the ancient Greek world, there was a large, very rare chryselephantine (made from ivory and gold) sculpture of Asklepios – unfortunately just the base remains today,” AO reported, noting that “architectural drawings show that the sculpture sat over a well, which kept the ivory moist and prevented cracking.”

“The highest healing one could receive was a visit from Asklepios himself,” AO reported, adding that “these occurrences were diligently documented and displayed throughout the sanctuary, almost as propaganda and advertising.”

Asklepios “might come to you in a dream and perform some sort of psychic surgery – often resulting in a totally spontaneous cure,” AO reported, noting that otherwise, “a dream might suggest an available remedy or require interpretation from a temple priest.”

“The activities of the patient during waking hours were carefully designed so as to connect with the unconscious mind, the soul, the psyche,” AO reported, adding that “when the time eventually came for the sacred sleep, and it was the turn of the unconscious to dominate, real healing could occur,” and “by this means, through dreams, one could truly come to ‘know thyself’ and experience the divine eternity we all have within us.”


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