At home after our May 10 Grey Havens meeting, I pondered our discussion about “The Houses of Healing.” Claywise wondered if there might be a historical inspiration for the way Tolkien linked Aragorn’s royal lineage and his ability to heal the sick. A glance at the internet indeed hinted at such traditions in France and England. Some kings were said to have had a “healing touch” related to a disease called scrofula.
I also mulled over Jason’s mention of traditional healing practices worldwide. Did traditional medicine inform Tolkien’s storytelling? As a scholar of ancient Northern European culture, is that scholarship reflected in “The Houses of Healing”?
Treading the paths of logic that brought Tolkien to the ideas that shaped “The Houses of Healing,” it seems appropriate to touch on a long-standing cultural debate. In a world that increasingly relies on scientific inquiry as the basis for validating medical practices, what aspects of traditional medicine deserve to be valued? Must we choose one process over the other? Modern medicine versus traditional healing?
I presume that science-based medicine can find something to respect in the public ceremonial aspect of traditional healing practices worldwide. Even the most scientifically grounded worldview can acknowledge the potential for positive psychological feedback when a community gathers to focus on human suffering. Through ritual we transform private pain into a shared public narrative. There surely must be psychological value in getting everyone jointly invested in a narrative about well-being.
Over the years I have learned that when social narratives conflict, it is typical for those involved to believe that “the truth” can bring “closure.” But when the relevant truths diverge greatly, we get locked into a contentious struggle to promote one truth at the expense of the other. This divisive process can never bring healing to everyone.
From the very beginning of Grey Havens, something rather curious has unfolded in the course of our talk. We have inadvertently cultivated a very special shared communal narrative. In this story, we tell one another that at Grey Havens healing is for everyone. We should be generous with it. We ought to encourage one another to say what matters. And we will speak words of encouragement.
It is logical to believe that if we embrace this unexpected narrative together, the psychological component of healing can wield a secret magic among us. Perhaps this can help us each with at least some of our unspoken needs as individuals. Opening our hearts, an oblique healing process enters our storytelling. Perhaps the tales that we whisper by ourselves in the darkness of selfhood become transformative when spoken in public before trusted friends. I guess this is what some folk would call magic. I think of it as uncommon sense.
Whatever ancient beliefs attended the lineages of royalty, and whatever informed Tolkien when he wrote “The Houses of Healing,” the healing touch and the wish for well-being ought to be for everyone. When we respect this wish, we infuse our stories with a spirit of hope. This is the secret that dwells at the heart of the Grey Havens Invocation:
Now a star is shining.
It is the hour of our meeting.
All are welcome at Grey Havens.
We come together with respect
and with friendship.
Here we will share our journeys.
We will speak, and we will listen.
Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo.
A star shines on the hour of our meeting.