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healing

healing The expectation of a cure for all ills among people in the developed world increases enormously with the growth of medical technology and with scientific exploration of the human body. In America, they say, death is optional, and indeed plastic surgery, organ transplants, heroic chemical therapies, and any number of diets and exercises almost make a joke seem reality, for the very rich at least. In countries with high living standards and universal health insurance, life expectancy is increasing among all social classes, and infant mortality is dropping to record lows. Hope for physical well-being has never been higher among the fortunate, and among the unfortunate, the conquest of disease seems only a matter of time and money. And yet, everyone has died of something sooner or later, so far, and it would seem that just as one disease is conquered, another pops up, more dangerous and mysterious than the last. Equally as worrying for the wary consumer of health news are the conflicting reports of what one should do to stay well. Some fats are good but others will kill you; alcohol is bad except red wine; vitamins can prevent cancer, or maybe not. The choices are staggering and the stakes are high. What we all need, whether to avoid illness or to be restored to health is a reliable source of learned advice. But where can such a source be found?

Philosophers (and politicians) advise self-reliance, but whether the vagaries of science or the caprices of the gods, the ways of healing are just too complex for most people to manage without help. The ill and the worried turn to books, television, physicians, quacks, relatives, priests, and neighbours, all in search for deliverance. Ultimately they fail, of course, but the quest is revealing of the many ways in which humans have regarded illness, and of the ways in which they have sought relief.

Spiritual or religious healing is found in most cultures. Even now some television ministers claim to cure sufferers if they touch the screen. We tend to sneer at such antics as the province of the ignorant lower classes, but in fact not until recently has any method of healing united every level of society. The Greek god of healing was Apollo, who counted among his patients the Olympian gods themselves. His son, Asculepius, a demigod, became so proficient at the art of medicine that the poets report he angered Hades, the god of the underworld, who accused him of depopulating Hell. Zeus killed the doctor with a thunderbolt and he became a god himself, with a cult of priest–physicians at his service in temples scattered throughout ancient Greece. Temples to Asculepius, called Asclepia, were located in cities like Cos and Cnidus, later to become famous for the presence of Hippocratic philosophical physicians. The most famous of the Asclepia was at Epidaurus, a fashionable mineral spa, which was celebrated by some of the most famous gentleman writers of antiquity.

At the temple, the sufferers would be greeted by authoritative physician–priests, who assured them of the greatness of their god and of his many cures. Ritual purification followed, which consisted of soothing baths in the mineral springs, which were often themselves associated with divinities. Massages and animal sacrifice accompanied these rites, followed by the famous ‘temple sleep’, during which the afflicted had a dream or vision of the nature of the problem which suggested treatments. If they were very lucky, a sacred dog or even a snake would appear to them and lick the affected part. After relief was achieved, the gods were thanked, sometimes with the story of the cure inscribed on a tablet for the temple collection. Many such temples throughout the ancient world also are littered with images of body parts offered by the thankful, sometimes of arresting anatomical correctness, and often moulded in terra cotta.

The Old Testament of the Christian Bible recounted how the Children of Israel were cautioned to observe complex purification rituals after intercourse, childbirth, or menstruation, and were cautioned to eat only certain foods and avoid others, as a sign of their covenant with God. In the Gospel, Jesus commanded his followers to heal the sick. In one of the most impressive miracles recorded in the ancient world, Jesus caused devils tormenting two madmen living among the tombs to inhabit a herd of swine, who subsequently rushed into a lake and drowned (Matthew 8: 28–32). Elsewhere he healed lepers, caused the blind to see, and even raised the dead, usually by a simple word or touch. Anxious to demonstrate that these miracles were meant to teach and were not magic, Jesus often repeated that it was not he himself, but the faith of the sufferers or those surrounding them that accomplished the healing.

During the Christian Middle Ages the tradition of healing miracles was taken over into the cult of saints. Monarchs, merchants, and peasants all sought out miraculous healing at the shrines of holy women and men. Certain saints specialized in healing certain ills. Mothers, lepers, even people with bones caught in their throats, all had patron saints. The body parts of saints were preserved in ornate boxes called reliquaries, often made of gold and studded with jewels. So widespread was the rage for collecting saints' relics that church legislation had to be enacted to prevent the faithful from boiling down the bodies of the saintly dead for their bones until a decent interval had elapsed. Raging disputes erupted over whether a holy person really were dead, which often lasted for days before putrefaction settled what theology could not.

The boundary between life and death in the medieval period was much more hazy than it is now. An interval of a year or more was not an unusual time to elapse before friends and relatives were satisfied the soul had left the body. Even learned university physicians visited the bodies of friends thought to have healing powers, confident that the personality of the dead person remained and might exert a helpful or comforting influence. Conversely, the recovery of people from what we would call comas or deep sleep could be interpreted as an example of miraculous resurrection, perhaps accounting in part for the enduring popularity of saintly healing.

The popularity of religious healing endures even today, especially when scientific medicine is not available, or when the sought-after cure lies outside the boundaries of scientific medical practice. Once the person in need of healing has accepted the authority of the god or gods to perform the healing, further advice is often not necessary. Usually communication between sufferers or their advocates and the divine is direct, or with few intermediaries. This is not often the case with the use of more familiar methods of healing like pharmacy and surgery, which are nearly the sole instruments of scientific medicine today.

Diet and pharmacy were almost indistinguishable in early medicine — foods could act as drugs and drugs could be nourishing. Dietetic medicine, which was developed by the ancient Greeks, emphasized the preservation of health and avoidance of disease much more than its cure. In order to accomplish this, the person was compelled to seek the advice of a philosopher–physician, who understood the client's place in the larger world, and could tailor that particular regimen of health to the particular individual. Every aspect of the client's ‘lifestyle’ — occupation, time of birth, habits, ancestry, gender, and class — all were important in dietetic medicine to preserve health and prolong life. Astrology was a useful tool to the dietetic physician, as was a knowledge of the broader world of nature and of how each person fit into it. When something went wrong, this was attributed to a falling out of harmony with nature. This imbalance could be corrected gently, over time, with mild remedies intended to purge offending substances from the body and restore its well-being. Such a system implied an excess of leisure, and certainly a great amount of faith in the practitioner, for a regimen of health is much more difficult and expensive to maintain than is taking a pill or two when something goes wrong.

An important break with the dietetic tradition in medicine came with the medical and religious reformer Paracelsus (1493?–1541). Paracelsus was one of the first exponents of chemical therapy. He believed that illness was not caused by disturbances in the entire complexion or constitution of the body that were peculiar to individuals. Instead, he argued that diseases ‘attacked’ the body from outside and were poisons, excited into action by chemical disturbances taking place among the stars. Healing was accomplished not by gradual readjusting of the humoral balance, but by using chemicals against the poisonous attacker which would act on the disease at its particular site. What is more, these chemical remedies worked the same for everybody, worked quickly, and did not need the complicated (and expensive) advice of the learned physician. It is little wonder that Paracelsus has been called by some the Martin Luther (1483–1546) of medicine. Like Luther, Paracelsus wanted to ‘eliminate the middleman’ and make healing simple, quick, and mystical rather than logical.

Paracelsus and his followers ushered in what historians have called an age of radical medical interventionism. Chemical therapies like mercury for syphilis, surgical procedures like cutting for the bladder stone (without anaesthesia), and letting buckets and buckets of blood for fever, or nearly anything else, became the mainstays of medical therapy. Patients demanded these tortures, and submitted to them, because they thought they worked and because there seemed no alternative. By the nineteenth century, the discovery of anaesthesia allowed surgeons to take their time, and, more important for patients, allowed them to sever the experience of bodily suffering in hopes of a cure.

The development of bacteriology by Louis Pasteur (1822–95) and Robert Koch (1843–1910) revolutionized medical understanding of disease, and the invention of various antibiotics, beginning early in the twentieth century, revolutionized their cures.

Medical technology has enabled scientific medicine to vanquish its rivals in the medical marketplace in the quest for patient patronage and health insurance funds. A health care machine, centred in the hospital and university, is where we are born and where most of us will die. But as healing grows more complex, the knowledge required to make healing choices becomes more and more difficult to accumulate. Issues of trust and authority continue to challenge the suffering and the fearful.

Faye Getz

Bibliography

Cook, H. J (1993). Physical methods. In Companion encyclopedia of the history of medicine, (ed. W. F. Bynum and R. Porter, Routledge, London and New York.
Finucane, R. C. (1977). Miracles and pilgrims: popular beliefs in medieval England. Rowman and Littlefield, Totowa, NJ.
Pouchelle, M. C. (1990). The body and surgery in the Middle Ages, (trans. R. Morris ) Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick.
Temkin, O. (1991). Hippocrates in a world of Pagans and Christians. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.


See also drug; health; medicine; relics; saints; surgery; witch doctor.

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Healing

Healing. In the religious perspective, disease and dis-ease are never far removed from each other. Since an aim of religions is to offer the means through which health in body, mind, and spirit may be attained (unless countervailing causes supervene, such as karma, the will of God, invasion by demons, etc.). Thus Augustine observed succinctly that ‘all diseases of Christians are to be ascribed to demons’; and the contest with demons is familiar in the descriptions of the healing of particular disorders in the ministry of Jesus, which was to him (and others) a demonstration that the dunamis (power or dynamic) of God is active in the world.

The contest against disease was continued in Islam, through which Greek medical knowledge was preserved and extended. al-Ṭibb (‘medicine’) became a major part of the Muslim commitment to ʿilm (knowledge)—e.g. al-Rāzī (Rhazes).

Indian medical science is known as Ayur veda (‘the knowledge of longevity’), and is based on a theory of five elements (bhūta) and three humours (dośa), wind, bile, and phlegm. Health consisted in maintaining all in balance and equilibrium, correcting imbalance by an array of herbal and other remedies. Thus health matters are not isolated from the general condition of life. Carakasamhita is a classic text on medicine (compiled in the 1st cent. BCE; Suśruta Samhita is a slightly later text on surgery): it combines health and medical matters with general instructions for the achieving of a good and satisfactory life.

The same catholicity of attitude is evident in China, where the quest for immortality in religious Taoism (Tao-chiao/Daojiao) is not restricted to an endeavour to emancipate a self from society or a soul from a body. Taoists seek to relate the microcosm—which is present in the body in the three life-principles of breath (ch'i/qi), vitality especially in semen (ching/jing), and spirit (shen)—to the macrocosm, so that the whole of life, internal and external, becomes an unresistant (wu-wei) expression of that which alone truly is, namely, the Tao. It would thus be impossible to isolate some part of disease or disorder from its context.

Healing, therefore, in all religions takes place in a much larger context of life and its purposes, and remains closely related to modern insights into the psychosomatic unity of the human entity.

For the Buddhist ‘Master of Healing’, see BHAIṢAJYAGURU.

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Healing

319. Healing (See also Medicine.)

  1. Achilles spear had power to heal whatever wound it made. [Gk. Lit.: Iliad ]
  2. Agamede Augeas daughter; noted for skill in using herbs for healing. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 11]
  3. Ahmed, Prince possessed apple of Samarkand; cure for all diseases. [Arab. Lit.: Arabian Nights ]
  4. Amahl cripple cured by accompanying Magi to the Christ child. [Am. Opera: Amahl and the Night Visitors, Benét, 28]
  5. Ananias Lords disciple restores Sauls vision. [N.T.: Acts 9:17 19]
  6. balm in Gilead metaphorical cure for sins of the Israelites. [O.T.: Jeremiah 8:22]
  7. Bethesda Jerusalem pool, believed to have curative powers. [N.T.: John 5:24]
  8. copper Indian talisman to prevent cholera. [Ind. Myth.: Jobes, 369]
  9. coral cures madness; stanches blood from wound. [Gem Symbolism: Kunz, 68]
  10. emerald relieves diseases of the eye. [Gem Symbolism: Kunz, 370]
  11. Jesuss five cures he makes blind beggars see. [N.T.: Matthew 9:2731, 20:3134; Mark 10:4652; Luke 18:3543; John 9:134]
  12. sweet fennel said to remedy blindness and cataracts. [Herb Symbolism; Flora Symbolica, 164]

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Healing

Healing

See Spirituality and Faith Healing; Spirituality and Health

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healing

healing (heel-ing) n. see intention.

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