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Dream Incubation

By Bob Trubshaw

On the green and abundant Greek island of Cos, the home of the priest-healer Hippocrates, there are the remains of a number of special Classical temples known as Aesculapia, that is, dedicated to the healing god Aeslepius. Considered to be places offering natural healing, they were usually associated with mineral springs – and with large snakes kept in pits. Whether the snakes had a functional part in the healing processes or were symbolic we no longer know. Remember that the magical caduceus of the Greek healing gods features two inter-twined snakes.

What we do know is that, after ritual purification and the offerring of sacrifices to the local deities, the sick person spent a night in a special part of the temple, the incubation. If the gods willed it (and they seem usually to have done so) the patient received a dream. These were interpreted by a therapute (yes, the origin of our word therapist) who made a diagnosis. While this sounds similar to modern-day psychoanalysis, we should remember that the key difference in Classical times was the sincere belief that such dreams emanated specifically from the deities.

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