This section is from the book "The Hygienic System: Fasting And Sun Bathing", by Herbert M. Shelton. Also available from Amazon: The Hygienic System Vol III Fasting and Sun Bathing.
"Life is a sun-child," says Dr. Oswald; "nearly all species of plants and animals attain the highest form of their development in the neighborhood of the equator. Palm trees are tropical grasses. The python-boa is a fully developed black snake; the tiger an undiminished wild cat. With every degree of a higher latitude, Nature issues the representatives of her arch-types in reduced editions--reduced in beauty and longevity, as well as in size and strength."--Nature's Household Remedies, p. 79.
This statement was made in 1885 and, although Hygienists had been employing the sun-bath in this country for over thirty-five years at the time Dr. Oswald's statement was made, the practice was still frowned upon by the medical professions and all who employed sun-baths were denounced as charlatans, quacks and ignorami. People who took sun-baths were called faddists, extremists, fanatics and other pleasing names. Indeed, these names were still being applied to sun-bathers in 1911, when the present writer began taking sun-baths.
Sunbathing antedates recorded human history. Savages, "primitive" peoples, little boys and animals instinctively seek to avail themselves of the benefits of sunshine. There has never been a time when mankind has not enjoyed its influence and only a false ascetic pattern of life and the monastic ideals ever, even for a time, deprived part of the race of at least occasional use of the sun.
During recent years the wearing of very scanty clothing, shorts, abbreviated bathing suits, etc., by both sexes, young and old, has served to give the youth of today the advantages of sunshine. The rise of nudism has also contributed to this effect. Today on our school grounds we see boys and girls at play with large parts of their bodies exposed, while smaller children run around in their sun-suits.
Due recognition for these radical changes in our ways of life and our attitudes toward the body is not being given to those men and women who fought and suffered for a hundred years to bring just this thing about. Today children are reaping the benefits of the struggles of the Hygienists and are being lied to about to whom credit belongs.
Before present practices could come into vogue, people had not only, to be told of the value of sun-bathing but they had to be educated out of their prudish notions about the body and its various parts. Much work remains to be done, but we must not overlook the great work done by those who have gone ahead.
Before discussing the modern phase of sun-bathing I deem it in order to give a brief account of the practice in ancient times. Evidence of the use of the sun as a health restorative and preservative measure, may be found in every period of history, in all peoples, savage or civilized. Positive evidence of the hygienic use of the sun is found in the history of the Egyptians and other peoples. The Babylonians, Egyptians and Assyrians had their sun gardens; the Greeks their helioses; the Romans their solaria.
Akhenaton, of Egypt; Zoroaster, of Persia; Hippocrates, of Greece; each and all elevated the sun to the dignity of a god and a force. The great sanitarium of Hippocrates, on the Island of Cos, was equipped with a large solarium for the use of the sun. The Roman thermæ were all equipped with solaria for those taking sun-baths. Pliny says that in these hot-houses the sun is very helpful. Hippocrates extols the exsiccative (drying) action of sun-light. Herodotus gives extensive instructions for the use of the sun-bath, emphasizing its effect in strengthening the muscles and nerves. Antyllos describes at some length the effects of sunlight, his description comparing well with those of modern users. Philostratus tells us that the Olympian athletes were required to take sun-baths.
Celsus, Pliny the younger, Galen, and Cicero, are among the Roman writers who describe the use of the sun-bath. "Sol est remediorum maximum"--the sun is the best remedy--declared Pliny. The flat roofs of the southern houses were esteemed as solaria by the Romans. In Rome, Pliny the younger, tells us of Vestricus Spurina, that as soon as the hour of the bath had come, he went to walk completely naked in the sun if the air was calm, then played with a ball a long time.
The old German epic poem, the Edda, tells us that Germans used to carry their sick, in the springtime to the sunny mountain slopes, in order to expose them to the sunshine. Certain Germanic tribes placed their feverish children in the sunlight on the tops of their houses. On the shores of the Bay of Gascony, sunlight is still employed in rheumatism. The Incas of Peru treated "syphilis" with sun baths. In Haiti similar procedures are still employed.
Man was originally a nude animal. He first learned of the kindness of the sun, when, migrating into the temperate zones, or following earth's change of climate, he felt the sting of cold and the bite of cloudy, inclement weather. He learned the warming and cheering power of the sun and came in time to worship the sun as a god. Sun worship antedates recorded history. At one time or another, the whole human race has worshipped the sun. At the time of the discovery of America, the more advanced Indian tribes of both continents were sun worshippers.
It is asserted that the first Egyptian temple was erected to the sun god and that the Egyptians employed the sun bath over five thousand years ago. This temple was erected in a city called On, which was east of the Nile. Later, the name of the city was changed to Heliopolis--City of the Sun.
Religion and philosophy alike taught that the sun is the source and creator of life, and there are yet many who hold this view. In the third century, A.D., Mithraism, or sun worship, came very near becoming the universal religion. It was so like Christianity in every essential respect that it became its chief opponent. The final triumph of Christianity and its extreme reaction against everything "Pagan," practically ended the sun-bath, so widely employed by well and sick alike in ancient times, just as it destroyed the Roman thermæ.
The Ancients, as disclosed by Herodotus and Antyllos, knew that "the sun feeds the muscles," and the Romans made use of its effects in strengthening and enlarging the muscles in training their gladiators, to whom they gave sun-baths. Ancient physicians declared the sun to be "the best food and medicine in the world."
Between the Ancient world and the Modern, there was interposed the Middle Ages, or Dark Ages. There was a thousand years reign of anti-natural madness that practically destroyed all that was of value in ancient civilization and preserved for us chiefly its worst or least desirable features. During this millenium of madness, the only physicians who employed the sun-bath were among the Jews and Arabians.
The modern phase of sun-bathing had a dual origin--one of these in Europe, the other in the United States. I shall discuss the European phase first.