Feet Worship and the Origins of Reflexology
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Feet Worship and the Origins of Reflexology

Rooted in our fundamental fascination and adoration of the human foot, reflexology is thought to have been known to ancient Egyptians of the 3rd Millennium BCE. Developed into a science during the late 19th century CE, this healing art is now commonly practiced by countless cultures around the world, and is gaining great popularity in the United States today.

A source of fascination, adoration, obsession, and intrigue, the virtues of the human foot have been extolled since humankind’s earliest expressions of thought.  In mythology, sacred writings, and at the core of many cultural beliefs, the foot stands alone in significance and stature.

The most widely-known reference to the human foot is, perhaps, that of the Greek warrior Achilles, the hero of the Trojan War first introduced in Homer’s epic tale the Iliad

As Greek mythology explains, in an effort to make Achilles immortal, his mother, Thetis, dipped him in the River Styx, holding him by one foot

In that this small area of his body was not submerged in the magical waters, his heel remained vulnerable to injury, and ultimately led to his death when it was pierced by an arrow.  Clearly, as this tale illustrates, the Greeks saw the human foot as more than just a random part of human anatomy.

The common unit of measure, the “foot,” is thought to have originated as a holy unit based on the length of a goddess’s foot.  A goddess’s foot, believed to be the mortal ideal, was said to have a second toe longer than the first; the second toe being the center of her male powers. 

Accordingly, in Greek art, virgin goddesses were always depicted with their feet covered, as the female foot was considered a very private part of the anatomy, and something to be guarded.  (Adult goddesses, however, were expected to use their bare feet to lure and control the gods.)  And in ancient Greek society, the revealing of a foot by a woman was tantamount to making an overt sexual advance.  (Bear in mind that this was a period of history when Greek women typically went about their daily business with one or both breasts exposed.)

The significance of feet in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures during Biblical times is, of course, quite evident by the numerous ritualistic references to feet in the Old and New Testaments. ‘Put thy shoes from off thy feet,’ Moses was instructed by the Hebrew god as he approached hallowed ground. 

And in numerous accounts of the life of Jesus, there are references to foot washing and foot adoration--the custom of washing the feet of strangers and house guests a ritual followed into modern times.  And many scholars believe that a special “foot” significance is apparent in the act of Jesus walking on water.

From the earliest roots of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern religions, the customs of removing ones shoes before entering a holy place, and the kissing of feet of those considered holy or saintly, speaks to how deeply rooted the socio-spiritual relationship with the human foot truly goes in Eastern culture.

For over 1000 year, a woman’s foot was considered the most sexually-alluring part of a woman’s body in Chinese society. 

From the 10th to early 20th centuries, young girls’ feet were bound to prevent them from growing, the ideal (and most erotic) foot thought to be one as tiny as a child's. 

And children of royal families of Japanese society were typically carried until they were as old as 8 or 10 years of age, their feet too pure to touch the earth.

In 15th century Europe, the feet of both men and women were held in high societal regard, a source of attraction and admiration exceeding even the common cultural attraction we typically exhibit for women’s buttocks or breasts today. 

The great artist and scientific genius Leonardo himself called the human foot 'a masterpiece of engineering and a true work of art.'  

And from Shakespeare to Tennyson, Oscar Wilde to Maya Angelou, feet have been the focus of rhyme and poetic verse. 

So, perhaps it should be of no surprise that our fascination with feet led to an area of scientific study which connected the attributes of the human foot to human health.

The oldest documented depiction of the practice of reflexology is a pictograph dated to 2500 to 2300 BCE, found in the tomb of a popular Egyptian physician known as Ankmahor. 

Records show that during his lifetime, Ankmahor enjoyed an unusually high societal status, second only to the Pharaoh (perhaps Khep-heren) himself.

The scene depicts two dark-skinned men working on the feet of two men with lighter skin. Above the scene are hieroglyphs reading: ‘Do not let it be painful’ to which one attendant replies, ‘I do as you please.’ Due to the physical positioning of the men, the color scheme, and the inscription, modern Egyptian scholars are able to interpret the pictogram as illustrating the act of using the foot to cure the patients of illness. Essentially, "reflexology."

It is hypothesized that although reflexology does not appear to have been in continual practice since ancient Egyptian times, the knowledge of curing ailments through stimulation of the feet has been used by many cultures around the world including the Aborigine of Australia, modern Aztec of Mexico, Native Americans, and several cultures of the Middle East.

In the late 1890s, the scientific basis for reflexology began, rooted in neurological studies conducted by Sir Henry Head of London, England. 

In 1889 after a series of studies, Head documented zones of the skin on the bottom of the feet which became hypersensitive to pressure when an organ connected by nerves to his area of skin was diseased.  After several more years of clinical research, Head established what is now known as “Head’s Zones,” or zones of hyperalgesia.  With these designated zones as a foundation, the modern science of reflexology was born.  And over the next century, this science has been honed to a fine art.

References:

The Art of Reflexology, Inge Dougans

http://www.reflexology-usa.net/history.htm

http://www.reflexologyguide.org/history-of-reflexology.html

Images via:

Reflexology feet image via: http://www.classiccomplementarytherapies.co.uk/phdi/p1.nsf/supppages/2543?opendocument&part=2

Achilles and Feet Worship via: Wikipedia

Related Articles:

Reflexology: The Art and Science of it

Ancient Egyptian Culture

>  Native American Ritual

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Comments (5)

Great article about the issue.

I have always been fascinated with reflexology and would like to learn more about it. Thanks for the share.

Stay tuned, Maria. There will be a follow-up!

I found this very interesting!

very interesting,nice picture

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