When it comes to spa-retreat concepts, we can look to previous cultures for inspiration in much the same way that alternative medicine has been successfully adapting ancient practices to the modern context, as described in the following extract from an article by Dr. Mike Denney:
'... when people use alternative medicine they seek not only cure but a spiritual experience that is missing in their ordinary medical care -- a shamanic-like experience somewhat akin to the enlightenment attained in the Eleusinian mystery rites or by the patients in the abaton during an encounter with the healing god Asclepius.' ['A Cock to Asclepius', Mike Denney, IONS: Noetic Sciences Review, 52, June-Aug. 2000.]
Asclepius could be considered the god of spas. Asclepian sanctuaries incorporated water both in the environment (coastal locations and often near sacred streams or springs) and in the ritual purification required before dreaming, which was their main focus.
Pilgrims went from all over the Mediterranean during a span of around 1000 years to the principle sanctuary of Asclepius at Epidaurus established in 600 BCE (there were actually more than 320 sanctuaries in the region). Dream incubation was developed in Egypt in the name of Imhotep and later taken over by the Greeks in the name of Asclepius.
Therapeutic centers called Asclepieia were built at mineral springs throughout the Greek realm. The Romans followed the practice, translating the deity's name to Aesculapius, and establishing baths across their empire. One was at Bath, England, so named for its hot springs attended by a great temple dedicated to Sulis-Minerva. The latter has strong connections for me (see Sulis of Bath).
It is said that the healing god Asclepius would withdraw from the dreams of those who refused to carry through the changes necessary to their healing. A revival of these ancient purification and dreaming practices might have much to offer the healing of individuals, our modern culture and planet.
Contemporary therapists such as Jean Houston, Stephen Larsen, Edward Tick and Jonathan De VierVille have explored ways to integrate Asclepian methods into healing rituals.
In July 2001 I attended a workshop at Bad Sulza, Germany, entitled 'Dreams and Rituals in Healing Waters' with Professor De VierVille. It was then that I first connected Asclepius with my own path of aquatic bodywork.
Over a period of 10 days we underwent ritual cleanses using hot and cold water, steam and sauna, bathed and received bodywork in warm natural salt water, walked in beautiful countryside and recorded our dreams which were reported back in morning seminars. One night towards the end of the workshop, the group 'slept' afloat in the liquid-sound temple.
The water dreams of that night were reviewed the following day in the light of both their personal and collective values. The experience was profound for me, both personally and professionally, and further convinced me of the potential of aquatic bodywork when conducted with this kind of focus. Dreaming during an aquatic bodywork session can be as vivid with imagery and meaning as night dreams.
Perhaps the altered state many experience while being floated in warm water could be used as an alternative to the dream incubation practiced in the God's sanctuaries. I wrote about some of these aspects in an article, 'Dancing in Healing Waters' for Shamans Drum Magazine (issue 62, 2002, pp. 17-27).
This work by Sara Firman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.