Advances and New Directions

By Silvano Arieti; H. Keith H. Brodie | Go to book overview
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Karen D. Goodman

Historical Use of Music
in Healing

FROM ancient times music has played an essential role in the humane treatment of individuals with mental, physical, and emotional illnesses. The design of this treatment is fascinating because it not only parallels the evolution of civilization but also the evolving integration of "magical" and scientific healing.

The primordial imitation of, and subsequent identification with, certain sounds in the environment (wind, rain, waves, trees, animals) gave primitive man access to non‐ verbal communication with his "invisible world"—a "supernatural, magical" world which, he was convinced, controlled his well being. Healing rites, consisting of music, rhythms, songs, and dances, were led by a "magician" who was conversant with the formulas for communicating with the "spirits."

Eventually, ancient man moved from magical healing via music to religious healing via music—still utilizing music as a communicative language with the supposed sources of disease rather than recognizing the specific ability of music to affect man's psyche and soma. As it was written in the Bible: "Seek out a man who is a cunning player on a harp [David]: and it shall come to pass, when the evil spirit of God is upon thee, that he shall play with his hand and thou shalt be well." (Samuel I, Chapter 16, verse 16).

Practices found in the medical tradition of ancient Greece represented a similar divergence of attitudes. The Greeks used music and musical instruments, believed to be gifts from the gods, to propitiate deities they had created in their own image. Incantations, songs, and music were a standard part of Greek and, later, of Christian ritual. Also available were environmental healing treatments involving supplications for help from the gods. At some 420 temples of Aesclepius the basic treatment consisted of ritual purification, special diet, and sleep-inducing drugs, with a musical background as an integral component of the dreaming/sleeping period.

At the same time, rational and scientific ideas about music and medicine were being developed by philosophers. Cassiodorus, Plato, and Aristotle attributed certain emo

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