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The Symbol for Healing

A snake coiled around a staff is a widely recognized symbol of healing.

A snake coiled around a staff is a widely recognized symbol of healing.  The staff belongs to Asklepios, the mythical Greek god of medicine.  In ancient Greece the sick would go to be healed at shrines called “asklepieia” where priests often used sacred serpents in their ceremonies.  Whether the snakes just scared people into feeling better, or were actually used in treatment, is not clear, but Italian researchers have now examined the healing potential of the "four-lined snake" commonly found in the area.  The research was prompted by an ancient relief showing contact between a boy’s wound and the mouth of a large snake.  It turns out that snake saliva contains epidermal growth factors which really may help heal wounds.  Perhaps the snakes are blessed with this chemical because their mouths are prone to damage during the ingestion of prey.Sacred dogs were also kept in the "asklepieia."  Were they perhaps used to lick wounds?  There actually is some evidence that dog saliva, like that of snakes, also contains contains epidermal growth factors.  These substances induce healing by causing the proliferation of certain skin cells.  Maybe that’s why dogs are always licking themselves!  And what happened to Asklepios in Greek mythology?  The God of medicine was slain by Zeus, because the chief of the Gods feared that he might make all men immortal!  In truth, he was probably slain by Hippocrates, who introduced the revolutionary idea that diseases were not caused by gods and could not be cured by them.  Hippocrates (460-377 BC) began the process of careful observation and experimentation.  He separated myth and magic from rational therapy.  "Every natural event has a natural cause," he maintained.  Hippocrates investigated symptoms and was able to predict the course of disease.  Asklepios’ reliance on snakes for healing may yet turn out to have some merit.  Proteins isolated from certain snake venoms have powerful anti-clotting effects on the blood and may one day be used in the treatment of thrombosis. 

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