Ancient Asklepieia: Institutional Incubation and the Hope of Healing Kimberly Patton / Michael Kearney, Respondent

KIMBERLEY C. PATTON MICHAEL KEARNEY, RESPONDENT In light of a mounting national sleep debt and a culture of “productivity” that eschews the daily healing potential of rest, sleep, and thus of dreaming itself, we may well investigate the incubation centers of Asklepios throughout the ancient Mediterranean of the Hellenistic and Imperial period. Havens of hope for those who had exhausted the range of standard medical treatments, the Asklepieia offered such chronic sufferers direct consultation with the “gentle physician,” the god Asklepios. Healing took place through dreams, dreamt in consecrated spaces and superintended by ritual experts. The god himself healed the afflicted organ during the dream, or prescribed therapeutic regimens to be undertaken in the confines of the sanctuary. Mystery continues to surround the these centers: rather than revealing the healing dream as a sublimated entity whose efficacy was purely psychological, eight centuries of evidence from antiquity instead repeatedly attests to literal cures of dire physical illnesses. The Asklepieia are thus linked to other incubation sites and traditions throughout the world, including those used up to the present time in very similar ways. Honest confrontation with this heritage raises questions, among them that of the extent to which physical illness can be culturally triaged and religiously ameliorated through psychosomatic approaches. Indeed, if the Asklepieia really “worked,” the potential of human dreaming must acquire new and deeper dimensions; is this potential, though, only historical and unrecoverable, since now unanchored from its original context? Photo: Stepahnie Mitchell KIMBERLEY CHRISTINE PATTON, PH.D., is Professor of the Comparative and Historical Study of Religion at Harvard Divinity School. Her training is in ancient Greek religion and archaeology. She also teaches in the history of world religions, offering courses on comparative themes such as sacrifice, religious dream interpretation, iconography and iconoclasm, animals in myth and ritual, and weeping. She is the author of the forthcoming Religion of the Gods: Ritual, Reflexivity, and Paradox and The Sea Can Wash Away All Evils: Modern Marine Pollution and the Ancient Cathartic Ocean. She is also the co-editor of, and contributing author to, A Magic Still Dwells: Comparative Religion in a Postmodern Age, Holy Tears: Weeping in the Religious Imagination, and A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics. MICHAEL KEARNEY, M.D., FRCPI, has over 25 years of working as a physician in end of life care. He trained and worked at St Christopher’s Hospice with Dame Cicely Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, and subsequently worked for many years as Medical Director of Our Lady’s Hospice in Dublin. He is Medical Director of the Palliative Care Service at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and Associate Medical Director at Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care. He also acts as medical director to the Anam Cara Project for Compassionate Companionship in Life and Death in Bend, Oregon. Dr. Kearney is the author of Mortally Wounded: Stories of Soul Pain, Death and Healing; Spiritual Care of the Dying Patient, a Handbook of Psychiatry in Palliative Medicine; and A Place of Healing: Working with Suffering in Living and Dying. Close Window © Pacifica Graduate Institute - All rights reserved