Who are Hygeia & Hypnos?
© 2006-2013 Michael Reeder, LCPC
Hygeia is the Greek goddess personification of physical and mental health. Temples were built to her and Asklepios (Greek god of medicine) for both worship and healing. I am attracted by this holistic approach – the spiritual melded with mind and body concerns for holistic health.
Hygeia is generally pictured holding a patera (medicine bowl) with a snake tamely coiling around her and about to eat from it.
Hygeia serves as an inspiration and a symbol of my counseling practice for many reasons. I think people of all spiritual and non-spiritual persuasions can draw from her example. Several insights regarding my philosophical and theoretical approaches to therapy emerge when reading about her and the parallels to my practice. Hygeia can be viewed as a spiritual framework or as a convenient classical analogy depending upon your own orientation.
Dreams & Altered States of Mind:
Hygeia’s cult in ancient Greece looked to healing dreams and dream oracles. My practice does strive to make the unknown world of the unconscious known consciously. Traumas buried deep in the past can effect current life situations (and dreams). Hypnosis, like dreams, induces a different state of consciousness that is in some situations an appropriate mechanism for healing. Meditation can lead to important life insights and greater peace in one’s life.
Her Medicine Bowl:
Hygeia holds a medicine bowl in most of her statues. If we view her as a version of mother earth, this can be taken as a commentary on the importance of living in harmony with the earth – of acknowledging where our gifts come from. I see the earth itself as a holy place and I believe that it’s possible to build a joyful, full life in the here-and-now regardless of your beliefs in an after-life.
Her gift of medicine can be taken literally too. Sometimes certain psychological conditions require medication. Medication, if carefully considered, can be the best option for some people.
Health Personified & Self-Assured Mastery:
Hygeia is health personified. The ancient Greeks worked hard at maintaining their own health. I believe in taking personal responsibility and internal control of our problems instead of being helplessly battered about by external forces.
The version of Hygeia used in my logo is very strong and self-assured. She handles the snake (and no doubt other fears and burdens) in her life with practiced ease and success. I want my clients to emulate her by experiencing greater self-mastery and confidence regarding their lives.
The idea of honoring and emulating feminine divinity suggests that all people (women, minorities, and anyone else) are equally holy and valuable. I want my clients to take back their own personal power and respect like Hygeia has done.
The reintroduction of the feminine divine represents a fresh approach in today’s world. Hygeia, in the painting my logo is derived from, arises from the fresh cleansing nurturing waters of the world. Her temples of old were frequently located upon the sites of sacred wells thought to have healing properties. I want my therapy practice to introduce fresh cleansing ideas and practices that stir the imagination and help to find new answers and perspectives.
Snakes are a scary symbol to many. But since ancient times they have been used as symbols for the soul, deep wisdom, and healing. The symbol of the snake can have many layers of meanings.
I believe that most clients know deep within themselves the secret to their own improvement. A large part of my job lies in helping them find that inner truth.
While Hygeia holds the medicine bowl in most of her statues, it is the snake who chooses whether or not to help itself by partaking. This, to me, can symbolize the client taking internal control and making the choice for wellness. To go deep within yourself is to get in touch with the unconscious older reptilian parts of your brain that hold great wisdom.
The link of snakes to wisdom and healing flows from the ancient idea that the dead went into the ground to dwell in Hades – a dreamlike land neither good nor bad. Snakes, as ground-dwelling creatures, had contact with the dead and might even carry the souls of ancestors returning to help you! So they could bring great wisdom. Diseases in ancient times were often thought caused by evil spirits. So, one way of effecting a cure would be to get a really strong good spirit to come help you. Thus snakes were also associated with healing. I believe that sometimes insight-oriented therapy can find events in the “dead” past that explain and help cure the behaviors and sorrows of today. Its possible to access strong lost abilities that can turn around problems in your life.
Kundalini is a Sanskrit word meaning “serpent power”. It refers to the rising of the lifeforce energy within you. While representative of a spiritual awakening, it’s also very physical, health-oriented, and here-and-now. Snakes are very “grounded” creatures and entirely practical in their approach to life. Hygeia (although Greek not Hindu) displays a fully active and arisen kundalini power as she embodies perfect health. Sometimes therapy needs to take a very practical, energetic, here-and-now focus to tackle today’s problems.
Hygeia for me represents the arising of health energies within the self, the mastery of self and problems, internal locus of control and self esteem necessary to face challenges, and clear communication with the dreamy, “dead” parts of self that lie in the unconscious and in the past.
Hypnos is the Greek god of sleep and hypnosis. His children are the bringers of dreams. He is the twin brother of Thanatos — god of death. This made sense to the Greeks — who believed that people could visit the realms of the dead in sleep. Hypnosis is also the way to visit the realms of the unconscious — a place where old habits, beliefs, fears, and assumptions are held that can influence everyday life. In this way clients can “visit the dead” in the sense of finding long-lost assumptions and patterns buried in themselves but still influential. In mythology, Hypnos defiled Zeus (king of the gods and weather and justice) upon a few occasions — as the unconscious and the thoughts and images of sleep have a tendency to do to the logical and conscious mind.
Sleep and hypnosis are also realms of healing. There can be found rest and insight and creativity.
I occasionally use age regression hypnosis when clients need to reach the origins of life-long tendencies and fears. I don’t currently use it for the more common uses of hypnosis like weight loss or smoking cessation. More typically I employ guided meditation and self-hypnosis techniques. I might teach an anxious client a “safe place” meditation for help with calming. I might use a visualization of a meeting room to see what parts of self show-up in trance for a client with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DiD). I might teach a client with pain (physical or emotional) the self-hypnotic technique of visualizing the pain and then decreasing its power through shrinking it, moving it, changing its color, or some other pleasing change.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has a statue of both Hygeia and Hypnos together. Hypnos is sometimes portrayed as a small cherub-like figure.