"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

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Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Chiron the Wounded Healer

Pain and loneliness are forms of energy that can be transformed if we turn them outward, using them to recognize and redeem someone else’s pain or loneliness.
This is quoted from Jonathan Sacks book: To Heal a Fractured World- the Ethics of Responsibility.

Many people outside the healing professions of pastoral care and medicine have not heard of the expression The Wounded Healer. So here is a brief story from Greek mythology, where there was a Centaur called Chiron. Centaurs are normally portrayed as clumsy and brutal beasts. Chiron was different. He was kind, gentle and well educated and tutored many of the Greek gods. Famous pupils included Jason, the leader of the fifty Argonauts, who sailed aboard the Argo to bring back the golden fleece to Pelias. Another was Achilles of the vulnerable heel legend, killed by an arrow from Apollo’s bow.

Much of Greek mythology is highly intricate and complex and the myth of Chiron varies in precise details depending on its source. The story goes that he was the love child of an affair between the Greek God Cronus and the Earth Nymph Philyra. Before making love to Philyra, Cronus changed her into a horse to allay the suspicions of his wife Rhea. And so the centaur Chiron was conceived. Abandoned by his parents at birth, Chiron was adopted and brought up by Apollo, The Divine Physician, who trained him to be a great and wise teacher, physician and healer.

Centaurs were known for their over indulgences and Chiron was probably no exception. One day there was a bloody fight between Centaurs over a carafe of wine and Chiron was accidentally shot in his knee by a stray poisoned arrow from the bow of Heracles (or Hercules). The wound would not heal and it gave him much pain. Centaurs also had the gift of immortality. Such was Chiron’s suffering, from both the mental wounds of his abandonment at birth and from this painful physical wounding, that he prayed to the gods to let him surrender his own immortality and die. He then spent the rest of his life trying to find a cure for his physical wound and became an expert in the healing power of plants, particularly the herbal remedies he developed for war wounds. But the healing abilities for which he was renowned came especially from the empathy he developed for the suffering of others, acquired from his struggle to overcome his own physical and mental wounds. Chiron allowed his own wounds to be a source of healing for others. He became a Wounded Healer.

What became of Chiron? His prayer was eventually answered and after his death he was placed in the sky by the king of the Greek gods, Zeus (the Roman Jupiter and the only surviving son of Cronus and Rhea), where he can be seen in the night sky as the constellation Sagittarius (the archer), otherwise known as Centaur (the man/horse).
Greek mythology is of course a collection of fables, of the Greek gods, goddesses and heroes. But many of them encompass a deeper wisdom about human behavior even if few have any basis in fact.

One of the legacies left by the analytical psychologist Carl Jung was the idea that in our psyche we all share deep inherited and unconscious ideas and images together known as our “collective unconscious.” This collective unconscious, Jung said, is made up of different recognizable human models or archetypes. He saw in the Greek myth of Chiron a reflection of the archetypal Wounded Healer of the indigenous medicine man or shaman, first recorded in the earliest known hunting and fishing communities of Siberia and Sub Arctic North America. In fact it was probably from the language of a small group of hunters and reindeer herders from the Arctic Tungus that the name shaman comes, meaning “he who knows.”

The true shaman was both priest and healer and prophet. The essential prerequisite of the shaman was that he would have suffered a serious mental or physical illness or both, which would often be long and drawn out. As healing progressed, the shaman acquired the capacities for inspiration and healing and with recovery he came to understand the spirits and how to master them. He would also train and initiate assistants into the role of healer. Shamans can therefore be seen as people who have come through their own serious illness as a result of which they are stronger in themselves and more able to safeguard the souls of others, either into the next world or to heal them in this world. Michael Lerner has aptly called them “spiritual midwives.”

This then is the concept of the Wounded Healer. The idea is well researched, documented and understood within the traditional fields of medical and pastoral care. But I believe that the Wounded Healer holds a much wider significance for us all within the healing needs of the whole world.

So why the spring flowers photo? Simply to give some cheer on this gloomy foggy frosty winter morning, when the last remnant of our unseasonably early snow is still lying around on the grass and the roads. Oh for spring!




Copyright Eleanor Stoneham 2010

2 comments:

Mara Reid said...

Spring?
You do know it's still December, right? ;)
(This spoken by one suffering from temperatures in the single digits in Illinois. 7 & 8 degress Ferenheit.

Thanks for the back ground on Chiron. It's good to know. I need to get out my astronomy book to find and become familiar with his constellation in the night sky.

I used to read Greek Mythology in grade school, long before Harry Potter books were ever thought of. I used to love Ancient Greek culture till I learned how misogynic they were. Now I just have an uneasy respect for the influence it has had on my culture, both good and bad.

Eleanor said...

I was trying to cheer myself up - it is so cold here and still some snow lying around and more on the way!!

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