(Investigator Magazine 187, 2019 July)
The pseudo-medical practice of Psychic Surgery sprang to prominence in
the 1960s and 1970s when it was revealed that hundreds of terminally
ill people were flying to the Philippines to undergo psychic surgery.
Prior to that in the 1950s, a Brazilian by the name of Arigo also
became famous as a psychic surgeon, and received worldwide publicity
through a book titled Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife. In the late
1940s, George Chapman of Liverpool, England, was using a technique he
called "etheric surgery" in which he used "invisible" instruments to
perform surgical operations.
The psychic "surgeons" claim to be able to remove diseased tissue and
tumours, and repair damage and correct malfunctions — all without
anaesthetic and surgical instruments.
The procedure is probably best described by recounting an "operation" I
personally witnessed in the Philippines in 1976. The patient, a Russian
from a visiting cruise ship, was suffering from a stomach ulcer which
had failed to respond to conventional medical treatment.
He was told by the psychic surgeon to remove his shirt and lie on the
"operating table", and that he would feel no pain or discomfort while
the ulcer was removed.
I stood opposite the "surgeon" and alongside the patient and had a
bird's eye view of the proceedings. What followed was extraordinary.
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 this, a line of blood about ten or twelve centimetres long
appeared. The psychic surgeon then vigorously kneaded the flesh in that
area and as he did so, his fingers appeared to gradually disappear into
the patient's body, then slowly emerge holding a piece of bloody tissue
which he discarded into a container under the table. His assistant
handed him some cotton wool, the blood was wiped off, and no sign of an
incision was to be seen.
Like most people witnessing psychic surgery for the first time, I was
taken in and can well understand why the credulous are so easily fooled
and why they need to be alerted to what is simply a fraudulent
practice. The scam has been exposed many times by sceptics around the
world and it consists merely of sleight-of-hand, a false thumb or a
tiny balloon containing pig's blood or a red juice, and pieces of
The "operation" simply involves 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, is 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".
There have been several prosecutions for fraud because of the potential
harm that can be done to individuals who are unaware that psychic
surgery is pure fakery. It raises the frustrations and hopes of the
seriously ill, and their families become vulnerable to exploitation.
The claims have the tendency and the capacity to induce the seriously
ill to forego medical treatment, worsening their condition and in some
cases resulting in death.
Folz, J. 1981. The Psychic Healers of the Philippines. Logos Int.
Fuller, J.G. 1975. Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife. Hart-Davis, MacGibbon. London.
Gardner, M. 1981. Science. Good, Bad and Bogus. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY.
Nolan, W. A. 1974. Doctor in Search of a Miracle. Random House. NY.
Plummer, Mark 1981. Skeptics Test Psychic Surgeon. the Skeptic. 1(1):1 Australian Skeptics Inc.
_____________ 1985. Psychic Surgery in Australia. the Skeptic. 5(1):1-6.
Randi, J. 1986. Flim Flam. Prometheus Books Buffalo. NY.
Raso, Jack. (Ed. Stephen Barrett) 1994. Alternative Healthcare: A Comprehensive Guide. Prometheus Books.
Shealy, C. N. 1978. Occult Medicine Can Save Your Life. Skeptical Inquirer, 2(1):104-110.
Smiles, M. 1980. Psychic Surgery Cuts a New Figure. Skeptical Inquirer, 4(3):5-7.
H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary,
Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.]