Faith Healers

Many of the same elements we mentioned in our discussion of advertising were at work in places like Lourdes and the Saint Médard cemetery where deacon François lay buried: encouraging faith and confidence, inducing a semi-trance like state, inciting sudden violent emotions, establishing recognition by, or identification with, well-known personalities, and so on.

The art of faith healing continues to this day. In countries like France, you are more likely to encounter a country healer than a shaman dancing to the beat of drums, although the country healer may seem just as strange, repeating mystic rituals that have been handed down for centuries, accompanied by gestures, incantations, magic formulas, potions, ointments, talismans and the like.

In the Eye Of The Sorcerer, a report on sorcery in France by two journalists, P. Alfonsi and P. Pesnot, examples are given of magic formulas used by healers to cure the sick:


"Feel the presence of the Lord and the Blessed Virgin. Holy Saint John has joined them. God says to Saint John: Sit down. I cannot, replies Saint John, my eyes are too painful. Sit down, says God, and I will cure your eyes.

With this white veil I bind you. With this red veil I caress you. With this black veil I cure you. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

Hemorrhaging was stopped with the following incantation: "De latere ejus exivit sanguis et aqua."

"For sprains and broken limbs repeat: May God, our blessed Saint Anne and the holy Saints Cosmos and Damien heal these bones, nerves, and joints..."

The prayers were chanted as the healer made the sign of the cross, and touched or breathed on the injured part of the body.

When analyzed, it was found that the potions, ointments and plants prescribed by such faith healers did sometimes contain active ingredients that might have had a beneficial effect. Modern healers, however, tend to use concoctions with absolutely no medical benefits, often composed of flour, lactose, chalk, talc, distilled water and bitter tasting syrup. Nevertheless these substances can have an extraordinary effect, due no doubt to the power of suggestion, and to the faith patients place in the healer. The medical term for this is the placebo effect, which we'll be talking more about later on.

Talismans, medallions, holy images and symbols, crystals, precious stones, etc. were supposed to have more of a preventive than a curative effect, and often yielded results that were quite spectacular. The bearers of talismans would frequently be lacking confidence in their own intellectual and/or physical abilities. If their faith was strong enough, they could draw strength from the talisman, improve their condition, and attribute the change to divine intervention. It was as if the symbol removed inhibitions and released latent talents and strengths.

In the process of healing through suggestion, the power attributed to the healer already exists in a latent state in the patient. All the healer does is act as a catalyst, releasing the self healing mechanism. Suggestion is not the only means of achieving this - certain paranormal faculties can also have the same effect, as we'll see in the last part of this book.

In this century, one of the most celebrated healers in Europe discovered his talent almost by accident. Colonel Olcott was a student of the famous medium Madame Blavatsky. Olcott met a man named Cornelius Appu, suffering from paralysis in one arm, and partial paralysis in a leg. Olcott decided to try and help the man by performing a few magnetic passes, after suggesting that the technique could help. The treatment seemed to have no immediate effect, but the man returned the next day saying he felt a little better. He wanted another treatment. Colonel Olcott was surprised, but agreed to try again. In a few days his patient had regained full use of his limbs. Appu reported the incident to the local newspaper, which ran a story about the 'miracle cure,' claiming that Colonel Olcott was an extraordinary healer.

People started showing up at his door, either because they were curious or because they were seeking help. Olcott cured one person, then another and another. His reputation spread like wildfire, and he soon found himself inundated with requests for help from the four corners of the globe.

After his own initial surprise and skepticism had passed, Olcott accepted what seemed to be an undeniable fact: either because of his notoriety, or because of the confidence he inspired in people, he really was able to cure the sick. It was as if the faith people placed in him had reinforced his own talent as a healer.

In modern times, a new breed of faith healers has appeared, notably in the Philippines. Charter companies are booked solid, flying people to group healing sessions, rituals that usually include prodigious amounts of blood and organs, both of which act as visual suggestions, reinforcing the faith of subjects. Here is a report by the wife of a Latin American diplomat who went to Manila for a firsthand look at these so-called miracle workers:

"Suggestion is their main tool. They know that for patients to believe in their power, they have to spread a lot of blood around, creating the impression that they are literally tearing the disease out of a patient's body. It is the patients themselves who beg to be operated on. When a healer refuses for one reason or another, they are greatly disappointed.

If their demand for help is accepted, they are all the more apt to believe the intervention will work. Based on what I saw with my own eyes, there is no fraud involved. The whole thing is staged to stimulate patients' own psychological powers of self healing." (Olivier Jourdan, Paris Match Magazine, No. 1309).

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