Temples Of Asclepius
In about 600 B.C., the Greeks created healing temples for Asclepius, their god of medicine. Although patients could find these centres throughout the country, they often traveled to the main temple in Epidaurus. Sleep or Incubation, natural remedies, offerings to the gods and contact with snakes were said to cure numerous illnesses, even blindness.
It may be that the ancient Greek god Asclepius knew far more than we thought. Cutting-edge neuroscience verifies much of what was done at the sleep temples with sights, sounds, sleep, dreams and what we now know as hypnosis – the ancients in Egypt & Greece were also masters of inducing lucid dreaming in their patients. Lucid dreaming has long been associated with healing by shaman & healers in many cultures.
All these things can and do make subtle changes in the neurotransmitters of the brain. It is the correct interplay of all these things that aid and speed healing.
It can and does, lower stress, reverse damage and disease. It’s gratifying that cutting-edge science agrees with these things. Not only what you take in through the five senses, but the very thoughts and dreams they trigger can lead to profound changes in your mind, body, and spirit. Asclepius treated the whole being not just the body, recognising the mind/body connection which modern science is once again coming to terms with. He taught that shifts in the sights, sounds, and dreams in the heightened state of his own sleep bought about shifts and healing change.1
Treatments often included walking various labyrinths while in meditation. Contrary to popular opinion a labyrinth isn’t a maze. A labyrinth has one way in and one way out. Labyrinths are calming whereas a maze is designed to create stress & frustration.
A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. It can be walked. It is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates sacred space and takes us out of our ego to “That Which Is Within.”
Labyrinths and mazes have often been confused. When most hear of a labyrinth they think of a maze. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left-brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path in and out. A labyrinth has only one path. It is a unicursal. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the centre and out again. A labyrinth is a right brain task involving intuition, creativity, and imagery. With a maze, many choices must be made, and an active mind is needed to solve the problem of finding the centre. With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made; The choice is to enter or not. A more passive, receptive mindset is needed. At its most basic level, the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the centre of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of whom you are.
Prayer was also an important part of treatment at Asclepius sleep temples. Again, modern science has shown that prayer induces positive neurochemical changes in the brain and thus aids healing.