Town's holistic community celebrates a history of healing

Kevin Pennell gives a reiki treatment to Robin Zinchuk at Spirit Wings on Main Street in Bethel. Kevin Pennell gives a reiki treatment to Robin Zinchuk at Spirit Wings on Main Street in Bethel. (WENDY MAEDA/GLOBE STAFF)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Marty Basch
Globe Correspondent / March 30, 2008

BETHEL - In Jim Mann's village shop there are sparkling gems, crystals, and minerals of purple amethyst, watermelon tourmaline, and dark smoky quartz mined from the area's underground veins.

"Healers always find themselves in front of this case," said Mann, owner of Mt. Mann Jewelers. "Rock hounds might talk about them as specimens, but you can place them in the hands of healers and watch them journey."

There is a small but growing holistic community in this western Maine village, which is seeing the cultural pendulum swing back to its history as a place of healing. Practitioners serve up massage, reiki, aqua-qi, hypnotherapy, sound therapy, and meditation. There is tai chi and yoga. Just beyond the village, an integration of traditional and "energy" medicine is practiced at the Bethel Animal Hospital.

The grassroots nonprofit Western Maine Holistic Health Council seeks to unite the community and educate the public. And the school district's continuing education program called the Goose-Eye Institute offers traditional crafts such as rug hooking, photography, and knitting, along with a holistic film series, an animal powers course, and a workshop on interpreting energetic information.

Since 1960, the town has celebrated Mollyockett Day in July in honor of the Native American healer who aided white settlers with herbal treatments. Accounts say she helped bring a sick baby back to health, declaring he would grow to be a great man. The infant, Hannibal Hamlin, served as Maine governor, US congressman and senator, and vice president under Abraham Lincoln.

In the 1800s, Dr. John G. Gehring, a Cleveland native who had suffered a breakdown at age 30, came to the area in pursuit of healing. Gehring resumed his practice here in 1895 and his home still stands on Broad Street. Patients of his helped build the Bethel Inn, which is a short walk from the summer headquarters of National Training Laboratories, a nonprofit behavioral science institute.

There is no plush state-of-the-art spa in Bethel, but Many Hands Massage operates out of the inn's health club. Massage therapist Cathy Lane offers treatments from scrubs to aromatherapy. The hot stones she uses in the soporific stone massage come from a Machias beach.

"People want something from the area," she said. "They are looking for low-key and personal treatments, not for fluff and buff."

Massage therapist and Bethel Bodywork owner Sharon Lyon made the move from Connecticut in 2000, drawn by the area's energy after a family visit. Now she makes house visits, setting up her portable massage table for clients in area B&Bs, condos, and second homes. With strains of classical music coming from her portable iPod in the Victoria Inn guest room, Lyon urges relaxation.

"Let your mind float," she said. "All the things that will be there, will be there when we are done."

Spirit Wings, a sort of metaphysical emporium on Main Street, is the local holistic clearinghouse. Kevin Pennell and Vickie Cummings sell herbs, tea, chimes, and Chakra stones while two treatment rooms in the back are used for workshops and sessions from massage to hypnotherapy. Cummings is a licensed massage therapist and artist while Pennell sees himself as a healing facilitator. "I'm a hollow bone allowing the energy to pass through me and flow into you," he said before a reiki session designed to balance the body's energy.

As soothing music flowed, Pennell encouraged deep breathing akin to meditation before centering himself. He then placed his hands near and on the client lying face up during the session, starting at the head and going around the body.

Gary and Anne Stuer are also part of this holistic community. He's a veterinarian and practices a blend of modern and ancient medicine, which includes acupuncture. She has a degree in biochemistry. In her Tyler Street office, reiki, sound therapy, and aqua-qi are among the offerings.

Aqua-qi (water energy) is part footbath and part massage. Quiet music filled the lightly colored treatment room as Stuer prepared the warm-water footbath with sea salts and placed it in front of a comfortable chair. In the bath was an ionic detoxifier. The spa device produced a tingly feel and also interacted with the water over the 20-minute soak, changing it to a copper color and then deep rust based on the toxins - heavy metals, mercury, lead, etc. - said to be exiting the body through the feet. The massage segment, with its rubs, lotions, and oils was soothing and a good introduction to massage.

"We walk on our feet, we stuff them into shoes and stay on them all day at work," said Stuer. "We don't treat them like we should."

Marty Basch, a freelance writer in New Hampshire, can be reached at

If You Go

Bethel Bodywork

Rates: Massage $60 per hour; chair massage $30 for 30 minutes, foot reflexology $40 (30 to 45 minutes).

Spirit Wings Bethel
14 Main St., 207-824-2204

Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Treatments include massage, reiki, hypnotherapy, readings, healing $60-$80 per session.

Fountain of Wisdom
15 Tyler St., 207-357-2828

Reiki, aqua-qi foot treatment and sound therapy are $25 per session (45-90 minutes).

Many Hands Massage
At Bethel Inn, 7 Broad St.

207-824-2175, ext. 424

Massages begin at $35 for 30 minutes to $103 for 90 minutes, depending on type.

Mt. Mann Jewelers
57 Main St., 207-824-3030

Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m.

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