The ancient Greeks had some interesting ideas about healing illnesses. One of these was the custom of using dreams to find cures. This practice was associated with the veneration of Asclepius, the semi-divine son of Apollo.
According to tradition, Asclepius was raised by his father and taught the secrets of medicine by the wise centaur Chiron. His skill was so great that he was said to be able to raise the dead. His abilities incurred the wrath and jealousy of Zeus, who was determined to maintain the distance between gods and humans. Asclepius was killed by Zeus’ thunderbolt but later was elevated to divine status.
The rod of Asclepius, a snake entwined on a staff, is still used as a symbol of the medical professions.
The dream treatment for healing diseases worked like this: The patients would visit and sleep in an Asclepeion, or temple dedicated to him. Their dreams were then interpreted by the priest/physicians and used as the basis of the treatment. Grateful patients left testimonals of healing that survive to this day.
Although the medical angle is absent, dreams also play a prominent role in both testaments of the Bible. In Genesis, Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams changes his fortune and that of his family. The prophet Daniel also was said to have this ability.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph, the husband of Mary, receives divine warnings and instructions on more than one occasion. In the Acts of the Apostles, gentiles were admitted into the early Christian community on the basis of a dream of Peter.
I’ve always been interested in dreams and tried to pay attention to them. Admittedly, they don’t always convey healing insights or divine revelations. Sometimes they’re just mental static, sometimes funny or scary, sometimes transparent wish fulfillment, a la Sigmund Freud. Sometimes they just evaporate into nothingness on awakening.
But sometimes, as Freud’s renegade disciple Carl Jung argued, they’re very deep. They can represent the insights of our unconscious mind, the oldest and biggest part of our mental apparatus.
I had a pretty good one recently that I think speaks to our current situation in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In it, I was working to repair the roof of a house high above the ground, something I’d never be able to pull off in real life. The slope of the roof was steep, and I was in danger of falling off.
It occurred to me that I needed some kind of supporting connection, like a rope tied to something secure, to keep from going over the edge. There were images of different kinds of knots — bowlines, square knots, slipknots and others I’ve long since forgotten from my volunteer firefighting and Scouting days. Obviously, the knots and connections represented relations with other people.
I think that’s a pretty good metaphor for the social connections we need during this outbreak to keep from going over the edge, even if they involve social distancing or occur over long distances. Even if they’re just remembered.
I’ll take that.