The History of Harp and its Use in Healing

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The use of music for the purpose of healing is very old. The Ebers Paprus, dated about 1500 BC, documents the use of incantations by Egyptian physicians to help heal the sick. In the Mystery Schools of Delphi and Crontona in ancient Greece, music was a science taught and studied by the famed musician and mathematician, Pythagoras of Samos (580-511 BC). He was initiated and then taught his students the knowledge of using specific notes, chords, modes, and melodies of music to directly affect changes in behavior and restore health to one's physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual being. He believed and is said to have demonstrated that music could change behavior patterns and accelerate the healing process.

The harp was believed to aid the soul through the transition from the physical life into the afterlife. Harps were depicted on ancient tomb walls as far back as 5,000 years ago. Egyptian hieroglyphs reveal many bow harps painted on the tomb of Pharaoh Ramses III (1198-1166 BC)

In effect, the harp was invented shortly after the invention of the hunter’s bow, when someone plucked the string under tension and found the sound musically pleasing. The most primitive kinds of harp are in fact musical bows. It is acknowledged that the more complex forms of harp developed from this idea (one sees this lineage in particular in many ancient Egyptian harps).

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The lyre, an instrument related to the harp, is said to be invented by Hermes (the divine messenger) and given to Apollo -- the god of healing and music. Apollo would play "medicine songs" to treat illnesses and promote balance.
In the Old Testament book of Samuel, there are forty-six references to King David’s use of the harp as a healing instrument. As far as the harp of David is concerned, many people associate David’s harp with medieval paintings showing people playing the gothic-shaped lap harp.

During the early Middle Ages, particularly in France, music was also utilized as a healing art as a significant part of the monastic life which flourished during this time. According to Dr. Marie-France Hilgar, a French native, and a specialist in French History, Cluny Monastery was a major sphere of influence in France as well as Europe
after its foundation by William of Aquitaine in 910. Cluny became a model for the establishment of monasteries throughout France and Italy. There was no greater artistic endeavor than that which celebrated one’s Spiritual connection and faith in God in this majestic building with it's beautiful stained glass art.

Similarly, music, like visual art, was another powerful means to worship God, according to the Cluniac tradition. “But there is no question that music was central to life, and death, at Cluny. Abbot Odo (927-42) left the text and music to some hymns he wrote as well as a statement of the importance of music at Cluny, which makes clear that it was, in the words of Manuel Pedro Ferreira, “a kind of sanctifi cation, a projection of divine spirituality capable of touching, and moving, the souls of those who were present.” 5
(Ferreira 2002:45) - Dr. Frederick S. Paxton

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Not only was music central to the monastic life; it was used to comfort the sick and dying who frequented the monastery cloister during this time. Cluny was at the crossroads of the major pilgrimages and it, like all monasteries founded upon the Cluniac tradition, became a hostel for the poor, the tired, the stranger, the suffering and the dying.

The Italian philosopher and humanist Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499) may be considered to be one of the original therapeutic harpists whose ideas on the connection of the planetary archetypes to the individual formed a basis for modern-day archetypal psychology. A medical doctor, priest, astrologer and philosopher, Ficino would play music for his patients using his own prescribed songs played on the lyre, comprising an early form of music as therapy. He influenced the Renaissance thought though his translation and explication of the works of Plato.

In ancient times, music was always regarded as a healing art, so that, in fact, music therapy is not a modern invention. People of ancient times believed that the harp was a gateway between heaven and earth. There exists numerous tales and myths about harpers and the legendary music of the harp.

In the Celtic world, for example, harpers were believed to have brought messages from Tir na nOg, which meant ‘The Land of the Young’ in Irish Gaelic and symbolized the afterlife. Due to the harp’s mystical characteristics, it has the ability to transport the listener to an elevated level of consciousness and to powerfully influence the emotions.
Also, a harper or bard was never purposely killed in battle. Historically, in Ireland, the harper was second in rank only to the King! In the Bardic source book, Inspirational Legacy and Teachings of the Ancient Celts, author John Matthews reports that the harp was thought to have magical properties and was used for healing in ancient Celtic societies.

Employing The Three Noble Strains, the harper (know as The Dagda, high priest-king of the Tautha De Dannan) was able to perform magical powers.

1. First he played the Noble Strain called Goltrai, the strain of sorrow, bringing tears to those who heard the music.
2. Then secondly he played, the Noble Strain called Geantrai - the strain of merriment to bring joy and laughter
3. Thirdly, the Noble Strain of Suantrai, the Noble Strain of Relaxation and Slumber, filling the air filled sweet, relaxing, and peaceful sounds.

The Celtic Circle of Music
Today, graduates of the International Harp Therapy Program are trained in the skill of playing the Three Noble Strains of Celtic music in service to their patients. The Celtic Circle is a specifically formulated pattern of music using the Three Noble Strains in a cyclical manner master minded by Christina Tourin. Through the Celtic Circle, the patient has the opportunity to partake in a transformational journey through these three primary emotional states in a safe, loving, and nurturing environment in order to promote optimal healing, catharsis, and wholeness.
In modern times, there has been a revival of harp music, from classical pedal harps to new electric harps to small Celtic harps--and even the use of harps for therapy! In keeping with the ancient traditions and the folklore of old, Certified Therapeutic Harp Practitioners use the harp to comfort the dying, balance the emotions, and relax the mind.

Music…sound…vibration – you have a relationship with it that’s all your own. We all do. It’s that simple. The timeless influences of sound and music are acknowledged, revered, studied, and put to good use as they have been for ages.

What is Therapeutic Harp Study?

The International Harp Therapy Program (IHTP), since 1990,  works with sound and/or music and believes in its power. Founded in 1990 by Christina Tourin, both a music therapist and graduate of the Resonant Kinesiology program by Susan Borg; the training program brings together medical professionals, harpists, musicians, compassionate caregivers and lay-people who value music/sound. In addition to a lovely community, the IHTP offers its members education, credibility and advocacy. The program attracts a broad-based international population of instructors, as well as a diverse following of graduates and students.

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The International Harp Therapy Program

Developing a training program begins with a vision. In this case, it was the vision that was inspired while Christina was at Glastonbury Tor in England. It flowed from that fluidity of thought and inner vision to an entity that became a legalized institution. The entity, began as a glowing vision, solidified with necessary policies and protocols and with financial responsibilities. This process has been one of joy, devotion, rarely painful, and always divinely guided. She is also the author of the definitive textbook on all aspects of therapeutic harp music titled A Cradle of Sound - Harp Therapy Manual.

Each step along the way has been carefully implemented with thorough thought and meditative guidance. The following comments from graduates describe their viewpoints on their training. Without the support of the students and teachers, a program cannot profess the success that the International Harp Therapy program holds. Sincere gratitude goes to the students for following this program. The IHTP has endeavored to offer the crème de la crème of the best programs and teachers.


1. The International Harp Therapy Program trains its practitioners in the following areas:
a. to learn an “enabling language” to help bring out the best in all
people (through studies in Psychology and Counseling)
b. to understand the scientific and concrete aspects of sound
c. to develop intuition and be open to asking “What is willing to
meet me” from a patient.
d. to develop a collection of musical tools in which to draw upon for appropriate
e. to hold the spiritual realm of every being

2. The International Harp Therapy Program endorses a balance between music, medicine and spirituality.

3. Certified Practitioners offer both bedside music (repertoire from many genres) and interactive work with patients.

4. At the core of the program, the practitioner recognizes that each individual has their own Resonant tone, style of musical preference, and their own rhythm. Combining these elements, the practitioner offers the client or patient their own personal musical journey or “their own cradle of sound” to help them in emotional, mental, physical and spiritual healing.

5. Students can study the entire program at home receiving a Level 1 Certification. By attending the Level 2 Experiential Program, they receive a designation to be qualified for doing hospice work. All students study a 10-video teaching program for the music development portion of the program. 

What others tell about therapeutic harp:

Harp Day was a good opportunity to get my fingers in gear and get over the final bits of reticence I had about playing in front of others. When I arrived home, I realized that all that “stuff” about judging my playing was gone. Now, I can play for anyone in any situation and simply appreciate what comes out and where I am in my development. This sort of growth happens because a teacher allows it to happen; expects it to happen; wants it to happen. For me, this week-long session was one of the richest learning opportunities I have had as an adult, and I have had some good ones. But – here’s the difference: I am grateful to have worked with people who walk their talk about personal development. This was simply some of the finest teaching I have ever
experienced. I thank you." —Liz Gilpatrick, CTHP-2002

"I stand in such awe, respect and gratitude for Christina Tourin's vision and her willingness to carry through and anchor this pathway right in to our present time. I feel more passionate about this work than anything I have ever encountered. I feel it to be
essential for the well-being of the planet that we all remember our pathway back to Source. If we sang our way into form then surely, accessing these tones structured in our consciousness will re-establish harmony, organized sound, in this dimension."
—Alianna Boone, CTHP-2002



Over time Mahatma Gandhi has affected the lives of some eight billion people. One of his phrases is ‘You must be the change you wish to see in this world.” People engage in therapeutic harp study to gain thorough knowledge of the practice, applications, philosophies and science of therapeutic music-making. They work to develop a deeper sense of their own gifts and how to use them. They develop confidence, expertise and the ability to work with other healthcare professionals in clinical environments. They learn the business skills that will help them obtain employment. They acquire musical skills and build an appropriate therapeutic repertoire. To be effective practitioners of harp therapy, they need to have discipline, awareness, humility, compassion and ego-less intention.





Joy: A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. We may not be able to give much, but we can always give the joy that springs from a heart filled with love.

Kindness: Be kind to each other. It is better to commit faults with gentleness than to work miracles with unkindness.

Silence: In the silence of the heart God speaks. In silence He listens to us. He speaks to our souls.

Generosity: Never be afraid of giving. There is a deep joy in giving, since what we receive is much more than what we give.

Faith: If you pray you will have faith, and if you have faith you will want to serve. Faith in
action is service.

Poverty: There are thousands of people dying for a piece of bread. There are thousands upon thousands dying for a bit of love.

Love: Give of your hands to serve, and your hearts to love.”


"Music is the universal language of all cultures—so is Love".

The two go hand in hand. Music is God’s Light and Love made audible to our souls. When we hear beautiful sounds, we are bathed with euphoric feelings, as we are in the first stages of falling in love. Elation and a sense of heightened awareness fill every inch of our being. The chemistry seems to click. We feel full—bursting with love. The depth of the beloved’s eyes, the sweetness of the beloved’s lips, the wind rustling through the beloved’s hair—throughout history and across cultures, songs have combined melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo and lyrics with the magical intention of expressing our love for another.
The Relationship with the person you are serving is the most important aspect of the work. It is more important than playing the harp for someone." - Christina Tourin


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