Skip to Main Content

Soul Medicine

Healing through Dream Incubation, Visions, Oracles, and Pilgrimage

Foreword by Mark Nepo
Published by Healing Arts Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

An in-depth look at ancient Greek practices for profound, lasting healing

• Explores hidden soul-healing practices including dream incubation and interpretation as well as sacred pilgrimage

• Examines how dreams, visions, and other non-normative events reveal the conditions needed to restore the soul and facilitate healing

• Includes successful healing techniques, practices, and case studies to reveal how healings are achieved with these methods

The modern practice of medicine and psychology grew out of the ancient Greek healing tradition, said to be founded by Asklepios, god of healing and dreams. For two thousand years the system spread all over the Mediterranean world and planted the roots of Western medicine and psychology by offering ritual and holistic practices that recognized that healing begins at the soul level. Yet, since that time, the spiritually based practices were cast aside, leaving behind only the scientific medical techniques that dominate health care today.

Resurrecting and restoring the sacred, mythological, and cultural origins of medicine and psychotherapy, Edward Tick, Ph.D., explores the soul-healing practices missing in our contemporary health systems. He looks at the dream incubation tradition of Asklepios, sacred theater of Dionysos, oracle gifting of Apollo, special practices of warriors, and their roots in Neolithic shamanism and indigenous traditions. Demonstrating the ritual use of dreams, visions, oracles, synchronicities, and pilgrimage for healing and connecting to the transpersonal and divine, he explains how dream incubation is a technique in which you plant a seed for a specific healing or growth goal.

Using both ancient wisdom and modern depth psychology alongside stories of healings from his more than 25 years of guiding Vietnam veterans on Greek pilgrimages, Tick explores how we all can use ancient healing philosophies and practices to achieve holistic healing today. He examines the interaction between mind and body (psyche and soma) and between physical illness and the soul to heal PTSD and trauma. He explains the art of making accurate and holistic interpretations of signs, symbols, and symptoms to determine what they reveal about the soul. Showing how dreams and other transpersonal experiences are essential components of soul medicine, the author reveals how restoration of the soul facilitates true healing.


From CHAPTER 2: Akin to the Ancients

Most schools of modern psychotherapy seek to ease our suffering and struggles by reducing our troubling symptoms to restore us to conventional functioning. Our psychological system is based on the scientific medical model that diagnoses and treats nonnormative functioning as pathological, seeks to relieve discomfort and suffering, and restores us to everyday lives and activities. Our practitioners eradicate nightmares and anxieties so their afflicted patient can get some rest and go to work in the morning. We do not tend the dream or interpret the symptoms to find their import and messages. Communities certainly do not, as in some traditional cultures, share dreams upon first awakening and ask what messages for the day they offer.

In contrast to mainstream approaches, Jungian, archetypal, and transpersonal schools pass beyond the personal to reconnect us to invisible, psycho-spiritual, and collective realms—not intellectually, but through living experience. Carl Jung declared that his psychotherapeutic approach was fundamentally experiential; its purpose was not to cure neurosis, but to lead the patient to an experience of the numinous. He wrote, “Everything about this psychology is, in the deepest sense, experience; the entire theory . . . is the direct outcome of something experienced.” He stressed that we must “experience a dream and its interpretation,” not receive a tepid rehash. “Analysis should release an experience that grips us or falls on us from above, an experience that has substance and body such as those things which occurred to the ancients.” Joseph Campbell and James Hillman also affirmed this goal. Campbell taught that we must dredge up what has been “forgotten not only by ourselves but by our entire civilization . . . through the direct experience and assimilation” of the archetypes.” Hillman declared that we must “submerge . . . again into nature for this is what [w]e have lost—the archaic, instinctual response. And this response of nature appears as the archetypal image . . . ”

This is not new. It is an updating in modern psychological terms of what the ancients knew from direct experience. Of countless testimonies from the classical world, Euripides declared: “If you had been there yourself and seen all this, you would have fallen to your knees and mumbled every prayer you know to the very god you now despise.”

The rupture between Freud and Jung can be understood in this fundamental difference. Freud denied the collective or transpersonal dimensions and thought the unconscious was solely the repository of infantile, repressed, and instinctual material. In fact, Freud confessed that he never experienced that energy, influx, broadening we refer to as the nonrational, or bonding to the universe. Though others claim such experience as mystical and the source of religion, he attributed the feeling to remnants of early infantile bonding to the mother and testified, “I cannot discover this ‘oceanic’ feeling in myself.” Standing in a rationality that cannot perceive or understand mysteries and declaring they do not exist because we have not experienced or measured them is denial of the irrational, the personal and collective unconscious, and the transpersonal as it visits human beings. “We do not know what we do not know.” We need experience.

“An experience . . . such as those things which occurred to the ancients.” What can this mean? How to access it today? Is years-long analytic psychotherapy the only way?

In contrast to Freud, Jung affirmed the collective and transpersonal as our deeper structure and foundation. He and his followers strove to engender through the long, slow practice of depth psychotherapy transformational experiences that the ancient world evoked in great numbers in a great many people for millennia. We are fascinated by the mythological world. We devour its stories and seek to squeeze its lessons and wisdom. But is it possible to so immerse in the stories, peoples, places, poems, plays, teachings, and practices of the ancient world that we indeed achieve experiences akin to the ancients?

Plato taught that reason is our best human tool for discerning truth; the only thing better is divine inspiration. Buddhism teaches the same lesson—carefully examine and evaluate our spiritual insights with reason. Revelation supported and examined by reason is not the same as revelation inhibited, disqualified, or erased by rationality. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The ancients were wont to express themselves, not with intellect alone, but with intellect inebriated by nectar,” the quaff of the gods. We work toward restoring the balance between the rational and nonrational rather than suppressing either sphere through domination by the other.

In our modern world dreams seem to be almost the only remaining natural vehicle for contacting invisible dimensions. The Greek, Hebraic, and other ancient traditions affirmed the revelatory dimensions of dreams. In addition, they taught that we learn and know ourselves, our destinies, and our connection to the divine through visions, oracles, and mysterious, synchronistic events. Divination was “the peacemaker between men and gods.” Oracles led us to our destinies or downfalls; nobles and common folk from all over the known world traveled great distances and endured hardships to receive them. Poetry and the arts were divinely inspired; poets were “makers” channeling songs and stories from the Muses. Each art form was overseen by a demigoddess. Dreams and visions were had through numerous mystery practices under the divine beings Dionysos, Asklepios, Orpheus, and others. Every river, flower, tree, mountain had its deity that might bless, guide, seduce, trick, or foil humans who encountered them. In short, the natural and invisible worlds were utterly alive, coexistent, and infused with spirits. In the Greek world, reason, objective and analytic thought and logic, and self-awareness of the individual and our souls were new to consciousness and greatly exciting.

Ancient Greece thus existed on a unique cusp when humanity stood poised between the invisible world of cosmic and natural powers, deities, or archetypes—everything we mean by the irrational, inscrutable, transpersonal, invisible—and the awakening human consciousness that would eventually reduce them to products of imagination and objects of analysis, dissection, and manipulation. “There was yet no division between the scientific and the imaginative mind.” For a brief time many were “pregnant in soul,” to use Plato’s words, and asked “what is proper for the soul to conceive and bear?” Revelatory experience of divinity was available as direct experience shaping the lives of individuals and societies. Myths, stories, images, and oracles of this tradition were not merely prescientific explanations for things we did not understand, as modern thought likes to claim. They were disguised, symbolized, or mythologized records of living experiences that informed, energized, guided, healed, blessed, and cursed people for millennia. They were a cosmic psychology implicit in exciting and engaging divine stories.

Ancient Greece in its fullness stood poised between the spiritual or cosmic core, the soul the human core, and the material and corporeal their emanations. Sokrates warned us to not mistake the body for the person. Demokritos called the body the soul’s ragged tent. Epictetus said we are each a soul dragging a corpse. The Greeks affirmed, in the same breath, the same songs, what is eternal and what gone in a moment.

For this epoch in pre-classical and classic times, almost unique in human history, civilization rose like the Colossus of Rhodes. Astride the ocean of the unconscious, humanity stood with one foot rooted in the irrational and invisible and the other in the rational and corporeal. The Greeks loved both and separated neither. Together they create mythistorema, the mythic history that is our lives. Lacking either, we are incomplete.

Today we are indeed incomplete. We have lost the one leg of the invisible and immaterial and we have overdeveloped the other. “The soul that animated matter was discarded . . .” We hunger for restoration of the imaginal realms. And we hunger for the experience of meaning, belonging, and being part of a larger story that it provides. We cannot stand forever on one leg. Restore the missing to stand in balance—or collapse.

* * *


Plato observed that “sciences spring up and decay, so in respect of them we are never the same.” Though we wish the sciences to be objective and express eternal truths, and though they strive for this, they are also shaped by the minds and times in which they develop. The worldview of the times and the unfolding of its ways of knowing and doing shape and reflect, inspire, and limit each other.

In ancient times and indigenous cultures worldwide, the divine was the source of healing, and the soul was the reservoir of wellness or disorder. When ill, it was believed, we human beings had fallen out of connection and alignment with the divine and nature and needed to be set right. Indigenous and ancient healing techniques through the time of the Greek enlightenment sought to realign the disturbed inner order of our souls with the greater order of the Cosmos, what was known in Greece as the logos.

In the classical era during the time of Plato, Aristotle, and Hippocrates, healing was taken out of the divine domain, reduced, secularized through scientific study and intellectual analysis, and transferred to the human domain. Hippocrates, heir to a long lineage of Asklepian priest-physicians, was the first to scientize medicine. He liberated it not only from myth and superstition, as he argued, but also from philosophy, the pursuit of truth and wisdom, whose branch it had been. Doctors, not the archetypal physician they served and represented, became the focal point of the healing enterprise. Manipulation of the physical environment and naturopathic practices, rather than visitations from the unconscious or transpersonal realms, became dominant.

More recently, half a millennium ago, “the God-image fell out of heaven and into the human psyche.” The awakening that resulted in the Reformation, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the sciences occurred during the era in which our greatest characteristics were attributed not to a universal mystery but to personal individualistic traits. Reason dominated intuition and other forms of knowing. Ego dominated collectivity. Empiricism, counting and measuring worldly objects became the path to understanding truth. Positivism and empiricism, only what we can see and touch, count and measure, became the arbiters of reality. Truth itself became something ephemeral and temporal, only what we know at this moment and can never be sure of.

Human creativity exploded during this era when god-powers were attributed to the human mind; unquestionably and in countless ways we are all beneficiaries and have gained greatly. We have stopped plagues, healed terrible diseases, and created a medicine of trauma and organ repair and replacement that seems miraculous. We have significantly increased the life span. But we must also ask: what was lost? At the same time as this explosion occurred, great hubris, overweening pride, invaded the psyche and declared humans as the paragons of creation with control and manipulation over nature and delay or defeat of death as our way of life. We were separated from nature and each other and locked into an ever-increasing isolation of extreme individuality, rationalism, hyper-analysis, manipulation, profiteering, and dependency on technology and pharmaceuticals. With the world deteriorating around us, here we are.

The impact on our healing enterprises of this long cultural development is that today most medical and psychological practitioners do not touch, or hide and deny, the invisible deep unconscious or transpersonal dimensions. Throughout history, “those who profess individual contact with the transpersonal have always been marginalized and usually anathematized as heretics or dangerous occultists by the orthodox authorities.” In our era the authorities have become our medical and psychological experts and marginalization occurs through diagnoses and prescribed treatments of illnesses. We have inherited a long-standing “bias in Western medicine against psychedelic or psychospiritual experiences” and limit our health concerns to the physical, visible, material, corporeal, and “evidence based.” Among those in the healing world who do speak of the invisible, we now, at best, talk about the higher self rather than God, archetypes, and energies rather than daimons and spirits, depression rather than despair, trauma rather than suffering. We secularize and pathologize.

The words heal and health both come from the root meaning whole; medicine means that which maintains and restores health. Health is maintained, healing restored, when we are whole. We cannot be whole by ignoring or denying our invisible and mysterious dimensions. Xenophon advised that we “not despise things that are unseen, but appreciate their power from their effects, and honor the divine.”

Most holistic healing dimensions today are considered “complementary,” tangential, often excluded from conventional medical and healing practices. Especially missing in the ways we address physical and psychological healing are the dimensions of heart, soul, community, transcendent meaning, and the initiation and identity transformations that occur because of passages through illness, disorder, and ordeal. Traditional cultures considered serious illnesses to be death-rebirth processes and the emerging patient a newly reborn person. Today many practitioners claim to be holistic or practice body, mind, spirit integration. However, most have a particular specialty such as yoga, meditation, guided imagery, or energy work that itself is meant to provide the spiritual component. The practitioners do not often approach their charges from an integrated perspective, and though there is talk of “spirit,” there is little done in a practical way to evoke, induce, or restore spirit. In contrast, striving for an inclusive definition of holism, I have proposed this: “Holism includes body, mind, heart, soul and spirit in community guided by transcendent meaning.”
Our healing enterprises can, and indeed must, include all these dimensions in meaningful and potent ways to facilitate genuine holistic healing. Ordeal without inner change and wisdom gained or right relations restored is empty suffering. But with them we may experience psycho-spiritual growth and awakening as well as achieve healing.

About The Author

Edward Tick, Ph.D., is a transformational psychotherapist, international pilgrimage guide, educator, author, and poet. A specialist in archetypal psychotherapy and the healing of violent trauma, he is the author of four nonfiction books, including The Practice of Dream Healing and War and the Soul. He lives in central Massachusetts.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Healing Arts Press (January 17, 2023)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644110904

Browse Related Books

Raves and Reviews

Soul Medicine is a love letter to the Greek wisdom traditions in healing and philosophy, literature, ritual, and the dramatic arts. In direct, passionate prose, the book is a plea to address the many wounds of twenty-first century Western culture by returning to its 3,000-year-old roots.”

– Elizabeth Nelson, Ph.D., author of Psyche’s Knife and coauthor of The Art of Inquiry

“A bold, towering tree of a book: deep-rooted in a lifetime of personal learning and experience, richly nourished by ancient wisdom, and provides a compassionate canopy of hope and healing to the wounded and broken. This is a prophetic and eloquent book. Soul Medicine is a gift.”

– Robert Emmet Meagher, emeritus professor of humanities at Hampshire College

“Edward Tick sees connections, correspondences, and accords where we might only see a discrete series of persons, places, and presences. With Tick’s guidance the reader will find a polyphonic voice that combines the wisdom traditions of ancient Greek myths, the elaborate history that supports them, and current healing passages that will aid fragmented souls, who have misplaced their lives of coherence, toward a more whole order of being.”

– Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D., distinguished professor emeritus in mythological studies at Pacifica

“This timely book focuses on a revival of the practice of incubation and a reverence for ritual, ceremony, prayer, theater, immersion in myth, and dreamwork. Together, these themes invite the reader to gain access to the author’s thrilling vision that all manner of suffering can be endured if treated as a numinous story.”

– Phil Cousineau, author of The Art of Pilgrimage and The Lost Notebooks of Sisyphus

“Edward Tick has devoted his entire career to the work of healing others. Soul Medicine is no exception. Beyond the most advanced “holistic” conceptions of mind and medicine, in the tradition of Socrates, Plato, Keats, Emerson, and Jung, Soul Medicine connects mythical stories with life’s suffering and struggle (‘mythology is where humans and divinity meet,’ says Tick). Soul Medicine is full of stunning insights and delightful surprises for both professional and general readers alike.”

– Steven B. Katz, Ph.D., Pearce Professor Emeritus of Professional Communication and professor emeritu

“In his articulate, moving, and meticulously researched book, Edward Tick invites us to return to, engage with, and value the capacity of the soul to heal the psyche when we are traumatized, wounded, lost, or hopeless.”

– Martha Blake, MBA, NCPsyA, psychologist and senior Jungian analyst

“A wise elder, Edward Tick guides us on an extraordinary expedition to rediscover our sacred heritage. Here we find that soul medicine is available to all of us; it is our divine birthright.”

– Kathleen Webster O’Malley, author of The Healing Wisdom of Dreams

“A beautiful exploration of how dreams lay at the foundation of our Western medicine tradition. The wise wisdom of dreams has been relegated to the margins in our culture, and Tick shows us how we can access the healing power in dreams. He especially takes us on a fascinating pilgrimage through the old Greek healing tradition of Asclepius. A very worthwhile read!”

– Machiel Klerk, author of Dream Guidance, therapist, and founder of Jung Platform

“The wisdom, purification, return to shared humanity, and healing that Greek warriors, playwrights, and actors brought to the communities of their time is what Edward Tick generously brings to us from across the ages in this very important and timely book. He guides us through the history so many have neglected to study and from which we seem not to have learned. He provides a gentle yet passionate reminder of what we know deep inside and need to call forth to live as true human beings, especially in dark times.”

– Gail Soffer, founder and executive director of Mindful Veteran Project

Soul Medicine blends ancient and contemporary thought for both civilians and veterans as we seek to understand the forces shaping our past and present. From reconciliation with the enemy inside Vietnam to the temple at Delphi, we travel together with Ed the road we all must one day take if we are to become whole.”

– Brenton MacKinnon, Infantry, USMC, VN, 1967/68 and coauthor of Agent Orange Roundup

“Edward Tick brings us a revival of ancient soul medicine. His book educates, inspires, and offers hope. Rich with wisdom and profound experiences, Soul Medicine is just what we need during these challenging times.”

– Joanne Halverson, Psy.D., LMHC, psychotherapist, professor, author, artist, and spiritual guide

“My dear friend and mentor Edward Tick puts his heart and soul into his work. What a blessing and a gift for us and future generations that he has written this book. Ed has led pilgrimages to Greece and Vietnam for more than 20 years, bringing healing to the hearts and souls of combat war veterans with PTSD and to their families. I am one of those people, and I am forever grateful to have learned from such a gifted, loving, and wise human being.”

– Melanie Ryan, LCSW, founder and author of The Golden Shadow Method

“This text is a gift to modern society. Edward Tick so poignantly brings to life decades of dedicated study and practice in ancient mysteries and healing and in doing so offers a spiritual alchemy that reconnects us to what is whole, collective, and deeply human. I extend my most sincere gratitude for sharing this lifetime of soul work and realized dreams.”

– Courtney Rice, Psy.D., clinical psychologist and spiritual healer

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images