July 11, 2009

Banishing Our Demons

The history of massage includes some interesting twists and fascinating ironies. For example, The History of Massage by Robert Noah Calvert notes that ancient cultures primarily used massage to heal those afflicted by demons or demonic influences. And because pain and disease were believed to be caused by the inhabitation of demons or demonic forces, the direction of massage was downward, toward to the distal parts of the limbs, to force the demons out.

Later, when massage reached the great Greek physicians, massage became much less about spirit, much more about body. So we see the beginnings of what we know as modern massage, with strokes going upward, what the Greeks called anatripsis, toward the heart. And yet when the Greeks fell to the Romans, and then the Roman Empire itself declined, massage almost died away in Western civilization due to the fact that the medieval church considered massage a pagan practice: the same practice that had originally been used for the same type of exorcism that the church upheld. Fascinating, isn’t it?

But of course, the art and science of touch—or massage—did not die away everywhere or for very long even in the Western world, despite any pagan associations. However, like many healing modalities that the Western world “rediscovered,” massage as a healing profession struggled to attain a serious and respectable image as scientific theory and modern medicine were born, grew, and threatened to overshadow anything that did not fit whatever current paradigm they had established.

In my opinion, the whole reason massage did not die, in spite of everything, goes back to its very beginnings. Because we—modern though we are—still have demons, whether they are spirits, or whether they our knots in our emotions and bodily tissues. We call them problems, call them issues, call them needs, call them painful falls in the bathtub, but they are our demons. And we will always have them. And thus the history of massage continues, ironically, much as it first began. Only now, the strokes go both ways.

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