In ancient and modern times, in both East and West, visualization has with few exceptions enjoyed an illustrious history. It has been a cornerstone of many healing methods.
The earliest visualization techniques ever recorded are from Babylonia and Sumaria. Histories of all peoples, from ancient Egypt and Babylonia through the middle ages and right up to modern times, include accounts of healing, and these all incorporate visualization in one form or another. The modern exception, which until very recently influenced our conceptions of healing, occurred in the early part of this century when behaviorist John Watson called imagery "bunk" and relegated it to "psychology's dead past." Now imagery and visualization are becoming important and influential once again. In 1964 Robert Holt offered a strong argument in favor of imagery research in his article, "The Return of the Ostracized." Now many psychologists are recognizing imagery and visualization as among the most powerful tools in cognitive psychology.
From the famous healing temples of ancient Greece to present-day pilgrims traveling to Mecca and Lourdes, from the Hermetic rites to help a person visualize himself in perfect health to modern day Christian Science, visualization has been employed as a powerful tool for inner change.
Early uses of visualization in healing were based on a religious or mystical tradition, permeating the thought of the mystery schools including the Hermetic, the Essenes, the Platonic philosophers, and later the Rosicrucians, the Kabbalists, and Gnostic Christians. All had in common a belief in the primacy of spirit over matter, of mind over body. They believed that matter was a manifestation of mind. Many modern thinkers express the same belief. Swami Rama, in explaining his ability to control his heart rate, blood flow, and other physical processes stated, "All of the body is in the mind, but not all of the mind is in the body." Ayurvedic medicine, the Swami's tradition, had, from ancient to modern times, as its real purpose, the development of consciousness rather than simply the healing of disease.
The modern Indian philosopher, Sri Aurobindo, has stated that you can think of spirit as the subtlest form of matter, or you can think of matter as the densest form of spirit. Physical bodies, emotions, thoughts, and spirit are all interpenetrating energy structures in Sri Aurobindo's system. This is also the basic position put forth in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, dating back to the second century before Christ.
On this continent, initiates of the Midewiwin, or Grand Medicine Society of the Ojibwas, were instructed in healing and in directing the forces moving through the vital centers of the human body through visualizations. In modern times, American Indian medicine men such as Rolling Thunder, reported on by Doug Boyd in his book of that title, evoke the powers of the mind in healing the body through visualizations.
Among the forty-two books of Hermes, considered to be the earliest-known founder of the art of healing, there are six which are medical, classified as the Pastophorus or "image-bearers." In the middle ages, Paracelsus (1493-1541) devoted his entire life to the study of Hermetic healing. Many remarkable cures are ascribed to him. Although the medical fraternity of the times maligned him, he was adored by the masses and extolled on his tombstone: "Here lies buried Philip Theophastus the famous Doctor of Medicine who cured Wounds, Leprosy, Gout, Dropsy and other Incurable Maladies of the Body, with wonderful Knowledge and gave his goods to be divided and distributed to the Poor."