Asklepios is a master healer so skilled he can raise the dead. He is a shamanic healer who cures via dreams and herbs. His temples are credited as the prototypes of modern hospitals. Veneration of Asklepios is believed to have originated in Thessaly but became extremely widespread, ranging as far afield as England.
There are different versions of his myth. He is usually described as a divine child, marked at birth because he is as radiant as lightning. The crow spirit Coronis may be his mother with no word of his father, or he may be the son of Coronis and Apollo. One myth says that Apollo killed Coronis during her pregnancy but saved baby Asklepios (and inherited her sacred bird, too). Somehow the divine child ended up in the cave of the wise centaur, Chiron. Apollo may have brought him or he may have been abandoned in the forest at birth, nursed by a goat and discovered by a shepherd who brought him to Chiron to rear. (It’s unclear whether Apollo was always involved in Asklepios’ myth or whether, as Asklepios evolved into a significant, widely venerated independent deity, these myths evolved in order to incorporate him into the official pantheon.)
Chiron taught the boy botany and the healing arts. He traveled and became renowned as a miracle healer, learning the secret of reviving the dead by observing snakes. Hades complained to Zeus, who decided that Asklepios was too powerful to live and zapped him with a lightning bolt. Asklepios now heals spirits and humans as a divine physician.
His shrines (Asklepions) were pilgrimage sites. People slept in the Asklepion hoping to receive a dream, which would be interpreted by Asklepios’ priests and provide a cure. These sanctuaries usually included a small temple, a number of porches under which the ailing could rest, sleep, and dream, and a spring or tank of fresh water. Asklepios is a chthonic spirit: some of his rituals were conducted beneath ground level. Nonvenomous snakes slithered freely through the shrine.
The Asklepions required sources of fresh water and so were often built beside springs or near caves, often on sites already sacred to Nymphs. Earlier deities associated with his shrines were not eradicated or removed; instead Asklepios was venerated with them.
Socrates’ last words were to remind friends to sacrifice a rooster to Asklepios on his behalf.
Asklepios treats all illnesses. He provides miracle cures but not hospice care. He does not treat the pregnant, which he does not consider a medical condition, even if it is a difficult pregnancy. (His friends the Nymphs and Coronis, his mother, may be petitioned instead.)
Also known as:
Healers of all kinds and those who need healing; those involved with sleep therapy, hydrotherapy, and dream healing and divination
A mature man or snake
Asklepios is rarely without a dog or snake.
v His primary attribute is a staff entwined by one single snake (not the caduceus, which belongs to Hermes and Mercury); alsoopium pods with which to facilitate dreams and pain relief.
His primary shrine was in Epidaurus. There was also a major shrine in Corinth and elsewhere throughout the Hellenistic world. Post-Christianity, some of his sanctuaries were rededicated to Saint Martin of Tours. The Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem beside the Bethesda Pool may be built over an Asklepion.
Dogs and snakes
Asklepios is venerated alongside Nymphs and Achelous. He was usually not venerated alone but in the company of his family, especially his daughter, Hygeia, and his mother, Coronis.
Charms in the forms of body parts made of clay, gold, iron, silver, and stone, similar to modern milagros, have been found in his shrines. The poor offered him images formed of dough. Life-sized images have also been found, possibly in repayment for healing. Asklepios was also offered miniature surgical tools, pillows, bottles, slippers, fans, and mirrors.
- Chthonic Spirits
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.