I believe the ability to heal with athelas, the laying on of hands, and the summoning of the lost spirit "from the dark valley," comes down to Aragorn through the line of the Numenorean Kings from their original progenitor Elros Tar-Minyatar, twin brother of Elrond Half-Elven. They in turn received this ability as direct descendants of Luthien the Fair, and she received it from none other than Melian the Maia. Hence, this special ability to heal has a divine source.
Granted, not all of the Numenorean Kings were healers. Some had no interest or training, some gave themselves over to evil, but the capacity to heal was somehow sustained in the northern line until it could be revealed once again in Aragorn II, who had been fostered and trained by Middle-earth's master healer -- Elrond.
If you look through Tolkien's work, all of the characters that are especially associated with healing are from Luthien's line. Luthien herself miraculously heals Beren on several occasions -- on one occasion Huan brings her a special herb to assist her in healing Beren. "With that leaf she staunched Beren's wound, and by her arts and by her love she healed him . . . ." Is this the first use of athelas?
Elrond's healing abilities are hailed by Aragorn thusly, "Would that Elrond were here, for he is the eldest of all our race, and has the greater power." By "race" I believe Aragorn is indicating that Elrond is the eldest of the line of Luthien remaining in Middle-earth. What other "race" could he be referring to that both Aragorn and Elrond have in common and of which Elrond would be "eldest"?
Then, of course, there is Aragorn, whose healing methods and abilities are the most extensively described by the Professor. "The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known"; I believe this old saying was maintained and passed down in Gondor because the blood-line of the Numenorean Kings could ultimately be traced back to Melian the Maia. The rightful king can be recognized because he possesses a divine ability to heal.
In his hands, athelas has healing virtues that it does not express in the hands of others. Recall what the herb-master of Gondor had to say about athelas:
Also, remember Faramir's words at Aragorn's coronation:"But alas! sir, we do not keep this thing in the Houses of Healing, where only the gravely hurt or sick are tended. For it has no virtue that we know of, save perhaps to sweeten a fouled air, or to drive away some passing heaviness. Unless, of course, you give heed to rhymes of old days which women such as our good Ioreth still repeat without understanding.
When the black breath blows
and death's shadow grows
and all lights pass,
come athelas! come athelas!
Life to the dying
In the king's hand lying!"
This is not to say that there weren't other skillful healers among both men and elves -- certainly there were -- those skilled with herbs or who had abilities to heal through song or chanting. Glorfindel is the most immediate example that comes to mind. But I think the special, quasi-divine ability to heal with athelas is reserved especially to the descendants of Luthien. By extension, this would mean that the children of Elrond -- Elladan, Elrohir, and Arwen -- would also have this ability, should they choose to develop it."Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this Realm! Behold! one has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn, chieftain of the Dunedain of Arnor, Captain of the Host of the West, bearer of the Star of the North, wielder of the Sword Reforged, victorious in battle, whose hands bring healing, the Elfston, Elessar of the line of Valandil, Isildur's son, Elendil's son of Numenor. Shall he be king and enter into the City and dwell there?"
Any thoughts? Have I missed another great healer somewhere?
This is where my original post on this subject ended. Then Beren replied with the following:
There are some occasions where we can see healers at work in the books, most of them mentioned by you already... but here we go with some of my views (adapted from a post i did on board which is now far gone and forgotten, luckely i saved the drafts):
The only time we see an Elf heal someone is Glorfindel, who searched the wound [Frodo's] with his fingers, after which Frodo felt a little warmer and his vision cleared. But Glorfindel said "this is beyond my skill to heal." Elrond did much more, but we don't see what or how he did it, only that he "drew forth a splinter." Hard to say whether he used conventional surgery or magic or both, but evidently the wound had healed over by the next day when Frodo woke up. It's interesting to note that both Aragorn and Glorfindel say they don't have the skill to heal it. Probably Aragorn had noticed the broken tip of the knife before it melted, and guessed he could do little without surgery. So for sure Elrond is a very powerfull healer!
The some more about "The hands of the King"
It's hard to tell which parts of Aragorn's healing are'Here I must put forth all such power and skill as is given to me,' he said. 'Would that Elrond were here, for he is the eldest of all our race and has the greater power.'
1) Númenorean medicine
2) Elvish medicine, no doubt taught to him by Elrond
3) something innate and peculiar to the King, which is a common motif in certain "king archetypes".
However, that quote suggests Aragorn has enough skill/training to match Elrond; his power is just less. Power from where? If Elrond is the "eldest" of Aragorn's race, then it's not Elf or Mortal to whom he's referring, but to descendents of Lúthien who inherited Maiar blood from her mother. So also here we are on the same track! (like minds think alike hehe)
The we see the healing of Frodo on Weathertop: Aragorn sings strange words over the Morgul-knife, whispers something to Frodo, and then bathes the wound with athelas. Hard to say whether this is Númenorean (is he singing in Adunaic?) since he's using an herb of Númenor, or whether this is Elrond's training.
Frodo, Sam, Gimli are all healed by Aragorn during their journeys. We don't see how Aragorn healed Gimli at Helm's Deep, but for Frodo and Sam's bruises and gashes after the Moria-fight, Aragorn simply gives them first aid and again bathes the wounds with athelas. No singing here: that was evidently a response to the evil enchantment on the Morgul-knife.
Healing "The Black Breath": The rhyme implies that the king alone is able to combat it. The Númenoreans who made up the rhyme would have no idea whether Elves like Elrond could also combat it, but Aragorn's comment about Elrond implies that yes, he also could deal with this.
Later when Aragorn heals Faramir we encounter some strange behavior. Before Aragorn gets his hands on athelas, he does go into a trance:
Whatever he's doing, he's awake and lucid the instant Bergil rushes in with some leaves. Aragorn seems to have reached Faramir's mind somehow by doing this, because Faramir knows who he is immediately. That could also be because Faramir's got special blood himself. Frodo says he has "an air of wizards", and what are wizards? Maiar!Now Aragorn knelt beside Faramir, and held a hand upon his brow. And those that watched felt that some great struggle was going on. For Aragorn's face grew grey with weariness; and ever and anon he called the name of Faramir, but each time more faintly to their hearing, as if Aragorn himself was removed from them, and walked afar in some dark vale, calling for one that was lost.
The healing trance is used to pull someone back from the brink of death. I don't know whether this would work with just anyone, or whether it's because both of them have a tiny amount of Maiar blood. Again, I say Maiar, not Elven, because otherwise Aragorn wouldn't have said it was something peculiar to Elrond's bloodline.
Most interesting maybe is how Aragorn actually does heal people, we see some variations. Let us take a look at them:
Aragorn does something specific to fight the Black Breath: he lays the leaves in his hands and breathes on them. The hands of the king, and most importantly his own breath, are needed to combat this unique malady.
He doesn't even bother to bathe Faramir's wounds; he just holds the steaming bowl up to his face. The scent, the air, is what's needed to combat Black Breath. Faramir instantly wakes up.
For Éowyn he again does something specific for the person to "summon" her, kissing her on the brow before using athelas (also yakking rather a lot before doing anything, silly epic heroes). In Éowyn's case he bathes her arm and forehead. He can't reach her spiritually as he did Faramir; her bond with her brother is stronger, so Éomer much call her as Aragorn did the Steward.
We don't see what he does for Merry (or Frodo and Sam at the Fields of Cormallen), but again, it appears that the treatment varies widely depending on the spiritual/mental state of the patient, as well as the nature of the wound. If the patient's spirit is resilient, which is a special trait of hobbits, they'll bounce back easily, but if the patient has taken a bad blow, the healing won't work (Éowyn, Celebrían). And it requires both "power" and "skill". The skill is that Aragorn knows how to vary the treatment according to circumstances.
Ok, so far my views, anyone else has more on this?