By Dr. Lindy McMullin
Monotonous drumming, chanting, rattling, and rhythmic movement, have been used for centuries in healing rituals. Literature on the effect of music on health has shown that it affects heart rate and electrodermal activity (Hodges, 1980, 2009). McClary (2007) talked about the archetype of music that used sounds and silences from the environment to make music for the people. She went on to describe the benefits of music to alleviate the psychological stress of work and discussed Orpheus who expressed the depths of his sadness through his music.
The self-soothing quality in music was seen to have assisted Orpheus when he sang to Persephone and Hades in seeking entrance to the underworld (Bulfinch, 1855). The Goddess and music came together with drums, the lyre, the flute, cymbals and, during worship and spiritual healing, music and dance were powerful components of the psychological process (Cox, 1990). However, there was simplicity and calmness to music during Plato’s time, who found music an important part of education, as written in the Republic:
… more than anything else rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it, bringing with them and imparting grace…because omissions and the failure of beauty in things badly made or grown would be most quickly perceived by one who was properly educated in music… he would praise beautiful things and take delight in them and receive them into his soul to foster its growth and become himself beautiful and good. (Republic c.381BC/2016p.401d–e)
The attribute of Asclepius, the god of medicine was the symbol of a healing snake that was coiled around his staff or behind the god, at the same level as him. An essential part of the healing rite of Asclepius was ekoimoiseis, the sleeping in his sanctuary with music that produced healing dreams. Plato, in Phaedo, tells Simmias:
You could say that in the tuned lyre the tuning is something unseen and incorporeal, a thing beautiful and divine, whereas the lyre itself and its strings are material bodies, corporeal, composite, earthly and related to what is mortal. (In Symposium, c.385BC/1998, p.171)
Music was likened to the soul in the ancient world as the soul was considered to be divine. Plato also referred to the divinity of the poet Homer, pointing out the difference between the personal body and the divine soul. Based on this argument, the use of music and sacred text emerged from a field of potential that may be called in this sense transpersonal. It stirs the heart and allows the imagination to roam the hills of beauty and honor.
Photo credit: Delphi | Apollo with Lyre , Photo by Dennis Jarvis on flickr.com