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The forgotten healer, Asklepios

Giving more attention to Asklepios, the healer, with his serpent-entwined staff

I don’t typically spend a lot of time analysing how we go about interpreting the chart, because there are eight gazillion websites and blogs that already do that, and I want you to think holistically, not atomistically, about the arcane.

Whenever we pull bits and pieces out of the chart, we’re in danger of cherry-picking only the parts that we want to focus on, and my concern is that not only is this a form of intellectual reductionism, it also reifies bias and closes our minds to what the entire chart, including its history, means.

Okay; that was my caveat to what I am about to do, which is be an astrologer for a few minutes instead of an historian. I am more comfortable in the role of historian, since astrology is a very wooly discipline, and its wooliness worries me for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that I am always in danger of irking those who have fallen away from the faith and have embraced pure rationality instead.

For me, astrology is one language, amongst many, humans have devised to explain ourselves to each other. In that way, I think it aligns itself most neatly with psychological studies, although I like to analyse the symbology based on mythology in the chart. I do not think you should make major life decisions with it, but I do think you can learn a lot about yourself and others through its study. To understand astrology takes years and years, and not a little intuitive ability. To interpret it is another subject altogether.

Chiron with Achilles on his back

Anyway: astrologers and astrology students rely more and more on interpretations of Chiron (Kheiron: Χείρων) in the natal chart as an expression of the “wounded healer,” which now threatens to become a postmodern archetype personifying something I am concerned we’re becoming obsessed with: our collective “woundedness.”

In response to this, I believe Chiron should be known for two very important things: he was a teacher, and he sacrificed his life so that humankind could use fire.

I’m starting to believe that the focus on the wounded healer aspect of Chiron represents a desire to push a glass slipper onto the wrong foot, and that in fact, Chironic energy is more useful and positive when it symbolises a teacher or mentor, especially when you consider the nobility of Chiron’s self-sacrifice for the sake of humanity, an act unheard of amongst the crude Centaurs.

A great healer, astrologer, and respected oracle, Chiron was said to be the first Centaur, and was highly revered as a teacher and tutor. Among his pupils were many cultural heroes, including:

Asclepius, Aristaeus, Ajax, Aeneas, Actaeon, Caeneus, Theseus, Achilles, Jason, sometimes Heracles, Oileus, Phoenix, and in some stories, Dionysus.

According to Ptolemaeus Chennus, quoted in the Library of Photios of Constantinople, Dionysus learned chants and dances, the Bacchic rites and initiations from Chiron. His nobility is further reflected in the story of his death as Chiron sacrificed his life, allowing mankind to obtain the use of fire. Being the son of Kronos, a titan, he was immortal and so could not die. So it was left to Heracles to arrange a bargain with Zeus to exchange Chiron’s immortality for the life of Prometheus who had been chained to a rock and left to die for his transgressions. Chiron had been poisoned with an arrow belonging to Heracles that had been treated with the blood of the Hydra, or, in other versions, poison that Chiron had given to the hero when he had been under the honorable centaur’s tutelage. This had taken place during the visit of Heracles to the cave of Pholus on Mount Pelion in Thessaly when he visited his friend during his fourth labour in defeating the Erymanthian Boar.

While they were at supper, Heracles asked for some wine to accompany his meal. Pholus, who ate his food raw, was taken aback. He had been given a vessel of sacred wine by Dionysus sometime earlier, to be kept in trust for the rest of the centaurs until the right time for its opening. At Heracles’ prompting, Pholus was forced to produce the vessel of sacred wine. The hero, gasping for wine, grabbed it from him and forced it open. Thereupon the vapours of the sacred wine wafted out of the cave and intoxicated the wild centaurs, led by Nessus, who had gathered outside. They attacked the cave with stones and fir trees. Heracles was forced to shoot many arrows (poisoned, of course, with the blood of the Hydra) to drive them back. During this assault, Chiron was hit in the thigh by one of the poisoned arrows.

As you can see, Chiron was an extremely noble and unusual Centaur, unlike any of the other Centaurs in terms of his education and gentility. This nobility and self-sacrifice isn’t exactly at odds with the image of the wounded healer, but it does add depth and dimension to a mythic figure that has somehow come to connote something much darker and more negative, when in fact, Chiron was inspirational.

I am also starting to think that maybe we need to reintroduce Ophiuchus into the pantheon of constellations we consider valid within the zodiac, because this is, in fact, where so much of the projected need to heal and be healed finds a more appropriate focus.

The first question I would like to ask of you who have embraced Chiron as healer, is—why? Before you started reading about Chiron, did you go around feeling the need to be healed? Be honest. Did you ever once in your life walk around thinking, “I need healing”?

I remember back before Chiron was ‘discovered’ in the 70s that people did refer to the ‘walking wounded’. There was an uprush of interest in psychology from the 70s on. The rhetoric of psychoanalysis became a dominant trope in popular culture. Somewhere in there Chiron emerged on the astrological scene, and was almost immediately appropriated and transformed into a symbol for all within us that is wounded (even though it’s an unstable ‘centaur,’ a minor class planet/comet/asteroid with the great likelihood of skipping off into space or self-destructing at some point).

I know very well that I am, as usual, a salmon trying to spawn upstream on this subject, but honestly, I cannot see the sense in placing this much faith in the actual object itself, a comet-asteroid that’s disintegrating as we speak. So instead, let’s say we need something to represent the energy Chiron symbolises in the birth chart.

First, I want us to define what that energy is, and where the need comes from to have it expressed in the chart. I am going to accept that you are silly enough to put your faith in a vagrant, wandering rock. That’s your business. From my perspective, the rock is irrelevant to astrology; for me, astrology is found in the symbolism and mythology.

The energy has always been there, within us, but we seem to need something outside of ourselves to project it on to. As a species, we used to use the gods for this, but now we’ve got a planetoid-centaur-asteroid-comet thingy, and it is called Chiron, and he holds our projection of the need to be healed.

Chiron has become very popular amongst those who strive to walk a spiritual path. People who strive to walk a spiritual path have this need to be healed, I guess, since the healing paradigm assumes woundedness, so Chiron is a great planetoid for those of us who come from dysfunctional families or otherwise difficult backgrounds.

This is the primary reason I want you to be very careful about glomming onto it as a symbol of all of your pain. In mythology, Chiron had a wound that could never heal. Is that what you want? No, of course not. Therefore, my assertion is that if you’re looking to actually be healed, you’re better off placing all of your black chips on Ophiuchus/Asklepios, and letting that roulette wheel spin.

Asklepios is the god of medicine and healing, representing an end to pain and suffering, and yet it is almost as though we would rather mourn our wounded spirits by attaching ourselves to the eternally wounded Chiron instead of looking to Asklepios/Ophiuchus for resolution.

This makes me wonder if we’re inadvertently accepting ourselves as permanently damaged, victims of our pasts, rather than thinking about a resolved outcome where we are actually healed. Adding the psychological dimension to astrology carries with it the danger that we lose our sense of proportion about this one issue in particular.

It is extremely important to keep in mind that this “woundedness” we believe in and seek to ameliorate drags down our spirits and is ultimately a depressing, rather than uplifting, influence. To attain resolution, then, I am not convinced that Chiron is the source we should be looking to when we seek to find healing, and, as I’ve said before, I think if we reinstitute Ophiuchus into the zodiac, we might find that we are able to visualise ourselves as capable of being healed, rather than perpetually wounded, and perpetually seeking redemption.

I think the association between Asklepios and snakes is interesting; animals represent parts of our human nature, and cannot be divorced from our understanding of ourselves, especially since we like to anthropomorphise them, and often have an animal as our own personal totem:

In honor of Asclepius, snakes were often used in healing rituals and non-venomous snakes were allowed to crawl on the floor in dormitories where the sick and injured slept. From about 300 BC onwards, the cult of Asclepius grew very popular and pilgrims flocked to his healing temples (Asclepieia) to be cured of their ills. Ritual purification would be followed by offerings or sacrifices to the God (according to means), and the supplicant would then spend the night in the holiest part of the sanctuary – the abaton (or adyton). Any dreams or visions would be reported to a priest who would prescribe the appropriate therapy by a process of interpretation. Some healing temples also used sacred dogs to lick the wounds of sick petitioners.The original, ancient Hippocratic Oath begins with the invocation “I swear by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods …”

Remains of a temple dedicated to Asklepios; Museum at Epidauros

For those of you who have followed along this far, you might have a question about why I keep spelling Asklepios the way I do, when you’re used to seeing Asclepius. The reason for the Greek spellings has to do with the fact that all Greek names have been Latinised; that means that instead of using the “k” sound or letter, you will see “ch”, as in Chiron. Instead of using an “o” you’ll see “u” as in Asclepius. So whenever you see spellings with a “u” or “ch”, or when “c” replaces “k”, you are seeing the influence of the Romans, who appropriated Greek names, and you are also seeing the influence of all historians who relied on those Roman/Latinate translations from the original Greek. Whenever I can, if I am discussing the Ancient Greeks, I prefer to use their words, and a more accurate version of their spellings.

5 thoughts on “The forgotten healer, Asklepios

  1. Oh I like this one, Asklepios is right on my midheaven to the degree 2 in Scorpio with 20 minutes separation. I’m 100% Greek descent and a social worker by day, everything esoteric by night, with five planets in the eighth it comes natural…oh yes, Chiron’s in the 8th conj. Sun. Asklepios helps me in my career work, Chiron in my private life…perfect! Thanks for a good article and lovely photos.
    Marina Christina

  2. Pingback: Tweets that mention The forgotten healer, Asklepios « Beyond the stars astrology: via -- Topsy.com

  3. Excellent and well thought out. I agree that we over emphasize one PART of Chiron. That there are other dimensions to him and us. As far as ‘wounding’ goes, we all are and the WHOLE chart reflects that…but the CHART also reflects how to heal, too….and so perhaps Asclepios is a good place to start. I’ve always said there are 13 zodiac signs, not 12. The snake needs to be in there. Warmly,Eileen

  4. the constellation looks like a man holding a snake it can be interpreted anyhow not necessarily like a healing sign like a person capable of unleashing great destruction but having enormous self control to refrain from doing so because of him being a man and hence capable of divine understanding

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