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The Paradox of the Wounded Healer

The Paradox of the Wounded Healer
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by Larry Malerba, DO, DHt – Archeologists recently discovered yet another ancient sanctuary dedicated to Asklepios thanks to a road construction project about 125 miles north of Athens in Greece. Over 300 such temples have been previously identified all across Europe and Northern Africa. While many are familiar with Hippokrates, the father of medicine, few are aware of Asklepios, the Greek god of healing.

Like Christ, Asklepios was born of a divine father, Apollo, and a mortal mother, Koronis. Believing that she had been unfaithful, Apollo slew Koronis but saved the child and placed him in the care of Chiron, the Centaur, who raised Asklepios and trained him in the mysteries of healing. We are to understand that the psychic wound carried by Asklepios from the circumstances of his birth was necessary for his eventual evolution into a healing god.

Chiron himself had suffered from a similar wound that would not heal, and which had been accidentally inflicted by Herakles. When Christianity rose to prominence, it came at the expense of the older pagan gods. Christ, who sacrificed himself in order to heal humankind, had replaced Asklepios the wounded healer who, in turn, had been taught by Chiron, also a wounded healer. Incidentally, Chiron is also the celestial symbol of the wounded healer in astrological counseling and forecasting.

This archetype of the wounded healer is a theme that runs across all cultures and throughout human history. The message implicit in these powerful mythological stories is that the source of our suffering is, at the same time, the potential key to our being healed. The capacity to heal is a function of the wound that led to our suffering in the first place.

After Moses’ people were besieged by a plague of poisonous snakes, he prayed for the counsel of Yahweh. And in Numbers 21 the Lord answered with a paradoxical solution,

Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

King Telephus of Mysia was wounded by the spear of Achilles. When the wound would not heal, the king sought the counsel of the gods through the famed Oracle at Delphi. And the Oracle’s response came in the form of a cryptic message:

He that wounded shall heal.

Now, Achilles had also studied medicine and healing under Chiron, but he refused to help the king. In the end, it was Odysseus who stepped in with a solution. He scraped some rust from the tip of Achilles’ spear and applied it to the king’s wound, whereupon Telephus was healed.

Hippokrates had advised that illness can be treated either with its opposite or its similar. Physician and alchemist, Paracelsus, went against the medical philosophy of his time when he concluded that both the physical and spiritual dimension of illness would respond more favorably to treatment by similars.

A friend recently informed me of some words of wisdom, apropos to our topic, written by the Sufi mystic, Rumi. He wrote,

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

I was once consulted by a man suffering from a facial palsy. Since it had first occurred several months earlier, I was not particularly optimistic about his prognosis. His regular doctor was recommending cosmetic surgery in order to restore some symmetry to his face. It was not until he told me of his dream that a potential solution occurred to me. In the dream, he was unsuccessfully trying to lift a swing set off the ground by one of its legs. When I asked him about the swing set he said it was very heavy because it was made of lead.

Our ensuing discussion centered around the serious nature of his work and lack of child-like fun in his life. I prescribed a minute dose of a homeopathic medicine called Plumbum, which happens to be made from lead. To my great delight, he rapidly regained most of the movement on the afflicted side of his face. Not only that, but he made some important decisions regarding his future that served to relieve a great deal of the burden that had been weighing on him.

I often explain to newcomers that homeopathy is the science of the paradoxical effect. That a homeopathic dose of poison ivy might initiate a healing response in a case of dermatitis or shingles characterized by itching and blistering tends to strike Westerners steeped in the philosophy of scientific materialism as counterintuitive. Nevertheless, I have witnessed this with my own two eyes more than a few times. Although conventional medical science would dismiss such case histories as quaint anecdotes, I prefer to trust patient feedback and my clinical experience more than the statistical abstractions resulting from sanitized research studies.

We are all familiar with that bit of folk wisdom that recommends a stiff drink in the morning in order to ameliorate the discomfort of a hangover. Similarly, some animals with digestive disturbances instinctively know to consume grass, which acts as a natural emetic, thus relieving their distress. Modern medicine unconsciously elicits a crude and ineffective paradoxical response when it prescribes central nervous system stimulants to hyperactive individuals. And all competent therapists understand that their clients will never progress until they look within to the source of their suffering. The best healers are those who have stared into the internal abyss and returned from the darkness with greater awareness and a message of hope.

The symptomatic response to wounding is the life force’s attempt to heal itself. We can either struggle to subdue it or tune in to discern what it is trying to tell us. Modern medical theory is based upon treatment by opposites. Failing to understand the intent behind symptoms of illness, it wages an unrelenting war in a delusional attempt to eradicate disease. Without knowing it, medicine tries to suppress that which could be the catalyst to greater awareness, health, and vitality. When we seek cooperation with the life force, our wounds become the true path to healing.

I leave you with the poetic words of modern mystic songwriter, Leonard Cohen, from his song, Anthem:

Ring the bells that still can ring 

Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Image Credit: Temple of Apollo, Mount Parnassus, near Delphi, Greece, 2012. The original location of the Delphic Oracle. Courtesy of Austin Malerba

References:

– Edward Tick, PhD. The Practice of Dream Healing. Quest Books, Wheaton, IL, Theosophical Publishing House, 2001.

– Larry Malerba, DO. Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA. 2010

Larry Malerba, DO, DHt is a physician and educator whose mission is to build bridges between holistic healing, conventional medicine, and spirituality. He is the author of Metaphysics & Medicine: Restoring Freedom of Thought to the Art and Science of Healing and Green Medicine: Challenging the Assumptions of Conventional Health Care. He writes for Huffington Post, Natural News, and the American Holistic Medical Association. Dr. Malerba is board certified in Homeotherapeutics, is Clinical Assistant Professor at New York Medical College, and past president of the Homeopathic Medical Society of the State of New York. He is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ireland. Website: SpiritScienceHealing.com

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Disclaimer

All content contained herein represents the opinion of Dr. Malerba and should not be construed as medical advice. This information is not intended as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. All readers are encouraged to seek appropriate care as needed.

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