The Role of the Wounded Healer


An excerpt from Aura Reading for Chakra Healing, by Von Braschler

The role of the wounded healer abounds in legends and inspirational myths. We see the wounded healer as a dynamic force in ancient Greek mythology, shamanic legend, religious symbolism, and modern therapy. Overall, what makes wounded healers effective is that they have suffered and continue to suffer after coming to grip’s with the source of their pain through much soul-searching. They have risen to the challenge and managed to energize themselves as functional people who are willing to share what they have learned and help others overcome similar challenges.

The oldest recorded legend of a wounded healer might be Chiron, the Centaur child of the god Kronos (or Zeus), who mated with the water nymph Philyra. The nymph tried to evade the great god by turning herself into a mare. Kronos then transformed himself into a stallion and mounted her. Philyra was disgusted to give birth to a creature who was half man and half horse, even though immortal. So she abandoned Chiron. This was innocent Chiron’s first unfortunate wound from outside forces. But Chiron was raised by the sun god Apollo, the healing god. As a result, Chiron became a great healer himself and overcame his unfortunate psychological wound to help a great many people in his life.

As an immortal, Chiron should have lived forever as a great mentor and healer. His misfortune continued to change his life, however. He was accidentally wounded by a poisoned arrow from Herakles (Hercules). The arrow was coated with the blood of the Hydra, known to cause wounds that could never heal. So Chiron would suffer forever, since he was destined to live forever as an immortal. He could never fully heal. The god Zeus interceded at the request of Herakles and offered Chiron a chance for eternal peace with an end to his suffering. He could take the place of the chained god Prometheus, imprisoned and tortured for attempting to bring fire from Mount Olympus to mortals below. Upon his death, Chiron was honored by Zeus by placing him in the heavens with the constellation of Centaurus.

Just recently, Chiron assumed an even bigger role. This asteroid or planetoid was discovered by astronomers in 1977 orbiting between Saturn and Uranus near the outermost edge of our solar system.

Astrologers have given great significance to Chiron. They generally perceive Chiron as embodying the characteristics of both adjacent planets. Uranus is thought to produce awareness, whereas Saturn is thought to materialize awareness and bring it into material form. Saturn represents a sort of outer being. Chiron, as a place in the heavens or in one’s personal astrology chart, then, is thought to be a sort of shamanic bridge between space and time reality.

Classically speaking, the Chiron wound is an injury to one’s instinctual nature and an injury to one’s trust. This type of wound is caused by a thoughtless or careless act — most likely an accident of birth or youthful innocence. There is no one who can be blamed for intentionally wounding someone who suffers as the Centaur Chiron suffered. The greatest pain or challenge one endures from childhood, then, eventually can become the source of great wisdom and healing powers for others, if you overcome these burdens heroically like Chiron.

Astrologers maintain that the position of Chiron in one’s birth chart reflects the specific archetypical energies of the potential wounded healer within a person. Amazingly, the discovery of Chiron in 1977 has ushered a groundswell of interest in New Age healing and holistic therapy. The emphasis has been on healing the whole person from the outside in treating the psycho-spiritual aspects of our being as it impacts our physical health. The approach has been largely shamanic, which considers the spiritual wholeness of our being in terms of what ails us.

Wounded healers today
We see many examples of wounded healers who help heal and strengthen others in our society today. Some of the best psychologists are often people who have overcome psychological problems as children. Some of the best dentists are people who understand pain. Some of the best allergists are doctors who suffered from debilitating allergies themselves as children. Some of our best physical therapists are people who have overcome physical shortcomings. People without speech often make the best teachers for sign language. Reformed alcoholics and drug addicts often make the best therapists or coaches in rehabilitation programs. These are people who have suffered and overcome great hardships. They continue to suffer, but have become strong enough in coping with their wounds to help others. They become excellent coaches, mentors, advisers, therapists, and healers. They understand and empathize. Moreover, they can share their insights on what it takes to deal with these special problems.

Shamanic healers
The role of the shamanic wounded healer is ancient and appears in many cultures. In many nature-based folk religions, the shamanic healer is more than medicine man or witch doctor. The shamanic healer is the bridge between the people and the world of spirit and the bridge between their physical world and the unseen world beyond the physical. The shamanic healer in many such cultures is often a lame or injured person, most likely crippled since birth. The healer, nonetheless, walks between the two worlds and returns to his or her people with insight that will heal, teach and strengthen.

Shamans were our first doctors, priests and psychologists. They saw these functions fitting neatly together in the human body. To them, whole health included the body, mind and spirit. They saw damage to the soul as dangerous to the mind, and damage to the mind as deadly to the body. So they worked from the outside, entering the world of spirit on behalf of their people. Shamans would enter the dream world. They would commune with spirit. They would talk to the faces behind the forces of nature that impact our world. They saw a direct connection to our relationship to nature and our overall health and well-being.

Harmony between people and their natural environment was considered important by the shamanic healer. If nature was offended, the spirit world was upset. As a result, people would suffer from their alienation from the natural world of spirit. Obviously, they saw the living body as more than physical, but connected by layers of subtle spirit that could be visited as levels of reality approached through altered consciousness. To enter the spirit realm, the shamanic healer would begin with a vision and project himself to that level of being by altering consciousness. As with Chiron, the knowledge of the shaman’s difficult journey produced healing insight.

We have a rich tradition of shamanism in our modern society. If anything, shamanism is reborn in our time with healers who see the value of this approach. We see it in new psycho-spiritual therapy with an emphasis on the inner journey and connection to the spirit realm. The new interest in ecology and our environment speaks to this search for soul redemption and healing.

King Arthur’s grail quest
The grail legend about King Arthur’s deep suffering is familiar to many. At the center of this great adventure tale, however, is a story of desolation and emptiness. King Arthur’s land suddenly falls into a strange, dark time. Spirits are low. Arthur himself falls ill. He dispatches his noble Knights of the Round Table in a quest for the lost Holy Grail. If Arthur receives the grail, his health will be restored.

The knights embark on perilous journeys, going in different directions. How will they recognize the Holy Grail, if they should encounter it? The knights encounter horrible, challenging ordeals along the way. They spend years in this quest, dying on the road. It is the quest to restore the soul and wholeness to the land and its people. Arthur feels the emptiness, but doesn’t know exactly what is wrong. He knows that he lacks something.

Arthur’s champions spent their lives searching for a cure to what ailed him. In the end, however, it was a shy knight named Perceval who unraveled the mystery and saved the land. The quest, after all, was really about knowledge and insight. Perceval had to solve a riddle. He found the grail castle, but then had to ask the right question to connect to a larger world. The question showed his humble vulnerability and willingness to admit to a lack of knowledge. In short, the knight on a quest to restore wholeness to the land had to display openness. This openness left the proud knight vulnerable, indeed, and left him open as though wounded. But this is the price of admission to this uncharted region behind the veil.

Perceval approached the grail castle for the first time and failed, because he did not ask the question, due to personal shyness. He was unwilling to make himself vulnerable and open. So he left without the grail. When he resumed his mission and visited the grail castle again, he returned with humility and wisdom to admit he needed answers.

Perceval is like the wounded shaman who opens himself to the unseen world of spirit and seeks to connect his people with this world of spirit and the knowledge it holds. This is selfless service to humanity. It is the quest for wholeness. Perceval realized that the king suffered, as the land suffered. The two are connected. The king symbolized the people of the land, who also suffered. The quest is completed.

The grail represents a quest many people can make to restore their kingliness and connectedness to the land and spirit. The search for wholeness can be a lonely, difficult quest for a sick person, however, without the aid of a good knight. The wounded healer can be that knight on a mission, unraveling the mystery of what unseen forces cripple us.

Jesus and Buddha
Jesus of Nazareth might be the ideal wounded healer, considering his suffering and sacrifice as a teacher and healer. He was concerned with the soul and inner emptiness of his people, as well as their physical health and mental well-being. Apparently, he was hunted as an infant by a king who feared his presence. Later as a young man, he went on a journey of personal discovery and returned home to minister to his people. He taught and healed the sick in the open countryside. And one of the great Jesus mysteries for Christians is that his suffering and death sentence gave followers a sense of redemption and new life.

Similarly, Buddha went on a personal journey to find meaning and vitality in life. He was raised in a noble family and lived isolated in a palace. He left that behind as a young man and went on an odyssey through the countryside. Typical of the hero’s journey, his odyssey ended in self discovery.

Buddha found people suffering and confused with an inner emptiness. So he ultimately completed his journey of discovery with an inner journey of self. He determined that people suffer because they are ignorant of their true nature and disconnected.

What wounded healers can do
Since the age of reason changed the way people view the world, many souls have felt an inner emptiness and disconnectedness. This change in philosophical orientation has alienated humanity from nature and the spirit world. We have turned meadows into shopping centers and parks into parking lots. We have dumped our waste into the rivers and oceans. We have ravaged the forests and scalped patches out of mountain sides. This fragmentation and isolation has damaged our psyche, if not our soul. The proof is the sense of desolation and alienation that many modern people in our society suffer. These are open wounds that leave us feeling empty. How do we return to wholeness and feeling good again?

Wounded healers understand how to make their lives whole again by restoring spirit, despite the open wound that will never fully heal. They have learned to meet the challenge of pain and cope with it, rejuvenating themselves with vitality and life. They have returned to wholeness, despite the gaping wound. And they have innate understanding of how they did that.

The wounded healer instinctively knows what the rest of us grope in darkness to discover outside mundane reality and instinctively shares this gift of spirit. The wounded healer knows that there is more to us than our physical body and that non-physical wounds can make us totally sick.

So wounded healers can communicate non-verbally and without physical contact as empathic healers who connect spirit-to-spirit with their ailing friends. They understand the pain and where it is found, as they have been to this place and returned from the arduous journey, alive and wiser.

Aura Reading for Chakra Healing, by Von Braschler
Chiron, by Barbara Hand Clow
Shamanism: The Wounded Healer, by Joan Halifax
Chiron: Healing Body & Soul, by Martin Lass
Healing the Wounded King: Soul Work and the Quest for the Grail. by John Mathews
The Wounded Healer, by Henri Nouwen
Chiron and the Healing Journey, by Melanie Reinhart

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  1. A bit of confusion here…While it’s true that Chiron was the son of Kronos/Cronos, you mistakenly wrote that Kronos and Zeus were the same god. Which they are not. Kronos was a Titan and the (Greek) Zeus was the same god as (Roman) Jupiter.

  2. Zeus and Kronos are not normally considered to be the same god, of course. There are a couple of prevalent myths that describe the parentage of Chiron. One lists his father as Zeus; while another describes his father as Kronos. My article was not intended to imply that Zeus and Kronos are the same, except perhaps as archetypes. In some stories, the paternal father of Chiron is listed as Zeus; while in others his father is described as Kronos. Does that clarify things a bit?


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