(Investigator 61, 1998 July)
Surgery without the use of anaesthetics and specialized medical instruments is undoubtedly one of the most amazing and spectacular aspects of psychic healing. It is practiced in Brazil and the Philippines, where psychic surgeons are apparently able to make incisions in a person's body without the use of a scalpel, remove diseased or infected tissues, and close the wound without leaving a scar.
The practitioners claim that they are simply instruments of God who works through them. Usually no fee is charged for their services but a donation is expected so that the psychic surgeon can afford to continue his work.
In 1976, I visited the Philippines and was witness to one of these operations. The patient, was told to remove his shirt and lay on the operating table, and that he would feel no pain or discomfort while his ulcer was removed. I stood opposite the surgeon and alongside the patient, and had a bird's eye view of the proceedings. After passing his hands over the man's forehead and making the sign of the cross, he executed what can best be described as a karate chop across the man's stomach but without actually touching the flesh. As he did so, a line of blood about ten or twelve centimetres long appeared. He then kneaded the flesh in that area vigorously, and as he did so, his fingers appeared to gradually disappear into the patient's body, then emerged slowly holding a piece of bloody tissue which he discarded into a container under the table. His assistant handed him some cottonwool, the blood was wiped off, and no sign of an incision was to be seen.
The reputation of Filipino psychic surgeons is such, that many terminally ill patients, disenchanted with the failure of orthodox medicine to cure them, flock to the Philippines from all over the world seeking a cure.
One of the most publicized miracle surgeons was a Brazilian, Jose Pedro de Feitas, otherwise known as Arigo. His fame spread world-wide in a book by John Fuller (1975). According to Fuller, in his book, Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife, Arigo claimed that he had been "taken over" by the spirit of a German surgeon called "Dr Fritz" who had been killed during the first World War. Dr Fritz told Arigo that he intended using him as a vehicle to cure the sick. From then on, using crude implements kept in an old rusty tin can, and no antiseptics or anaesthesia, Arigo performed hundreds of operations, among them the removal of tumors, cysts, lipomas, cataracts, carcinomas and pterygiums, before specialists from all over the world.
As Arigo's fame spread he was subjected to intensive study by eminent members of the Brazilian medical profession who watched as Arigo performed his operations. One such operation witnessed by Dr Marques was described in a statement as follows:"The patient lay on an old door, and scissors, scalpel, a kitchen knife and tweezers stood near by in an old tin can. Without the help of a speculum (an instrument for dilating the cavities of the human body for inspection) he introduced three scissors and two scalpels into the vagina. He was holding one handle of the scissors when all of us saw the other handle start moving along, opening and closing the scissors. Although we could not see whether this was also the case with the other instruments, we could all clearly hear the noise of metals rattling and the characteristic sound of tissue being cut. After a few minutes ‘Dr Fritz' removed the scissors and at the sight of blood said: ‘Let there be no blood, Lord' and there was no further haemorrhage at all." Dr Marques went on to say that Arigo removed a piece of tissue about thirty-one inches long and fifteen inches wide, which was shown to all present. The operation which lasted for only a few minutes was completely successful, and the woman was relaxed and conscious throughout the proceedings."Hundreds of other testimonies have been given by both doctors and patients of Arigo's astounding powers, but before a scientific study could be made, Arigo was arrested and charged under the Brazilian Penal Code, which states that spiritual healing is a crime. He was sentenced in 1964, to eighteen months imprisonment as a witch doctor, and died in a car accident in 1971.
The illusion of psychic surgery is well known to skeptics, it consists merely of sleight of hand, a false thumb or a tiny balloon containing pig's blood, a piece of animal tissue, and a little manual dexterity whereby the fingers are gradually folded under and into the palms as the "surgeon" kneads the flesh, giving the impression that they have entered the body. The false thumb or balloon is squeezed at the appropriate time producing blood. The tissue, usually chicken's innards, are also concealed in the palm of the hand or handed to the operator in a piece of cotton wool to be used later to swab off the "wound".
Psychic surgery became big business in the 60s and 70s, when tours were promoted in America taking mainly terminal ill patients to the Philippines for treatment. The promotion of such tours was banned by the American Federal Trade Commission in 1975, which found that psychic surgery had been misrepresented as an actual surgical operation by which diseased tissue is removed from the body using only bare hands.
The report of the case of Travel King et al 86 F.T.C. 715-776, describes the deception in detail as well as relating the detailed confessions of two psychic surgeons, Donald and Carol Wright. The case also showed how harm can be done to individuals who are unaware that psychic surgery is pure fakery, and how the frustrations and hopes of the seriously ill and their families were exploited. The representations had the tendency and the capacity to induce the seriously ill to forego medical treatment, worsening their condition and in some cases resulting in death.
Jose Pedro de Feitas (Arigo), was no less a fake than the Filipinos, his exploits have been over exaggerated and embellished out of all proportion to the actual event, and many reports are based purely on the anecdotal evidence of ignorant and credulous witnesses and proponents of the paranormal. He had simply picked up the rudiments of elementary surgery and dentistry, and with psychological manipulation was able to use the placebo effect to good advantage. When films of psychic surgeons performing operations are examined frame by frame by objective examiners, the sleight of hand and false claims are exposed for all to see.
[From: Skeptoon an illustrated look at some New Age Beliefs, 1994, Harry Edwards. Published by Harry Edwards Publications.]
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