Healing by Touch
In England, Scotland, and also in France, the idea that a
touch of the royal hand was a sure remedy for scrofula was long
prevalent, and consequently this complaint acquired the now
familiar name ‘‘king’s evil.’’ In France, so far as can be ascertained,
this interesting practice dates from the reign of Louis
IX, and in England from that of Edward III, who is recorded
to have performed a considerable number of cures. He initially
would wash the affected part of the sufferer, but gradually the
actual bathing was discontinued, and most subsequent kings
merely touched while offering prayers on behalf of the patient.
Eventually the religious ceremony used on such occasions
grew more elaborate, and during the reign of Henry VII a special
‘‘king’s evil’’ petition was drawn up. It is found in some editions
of the Service Book printed as late as the beginning of the
eighteenth century.
The belief that kings ruled by divine right was strong in
Scotland, and so it is natural to assume that the early inhabitants
of that land regarded their sovereigns as capable of miracles.
There is little or no evidence, nevertheless, that the Stuarts,
prior to the union of the Crowns, practiced touching for
king’s evil. Scarcely was Charles I on the British throne, however,
before he began to demonstrate his powers, and scrofulous
persons flocked from far and near accordingly. They came in
such numbers that early in the fifth year of his reign Charles
found it essential to specify certain times for their reception at
court; the proclamation that he issued on the subject is found
in the Historical Collections of John Rushworth, sometime secretary
to Oliver Cromwell.
In the proclamation the king spoke at length of the many
cures wrought by his ‘‘royal predecessors.’’ This may allude
purely to the Plantagenets or Tudors, but it is equally possible
that these references indicate touching for scrofula on the part
of the early Stuarts.
John Evelyn, in his Diary, writes repeatedly of Charles II’s
activities in this relation, while Samuel Pepys refers to the same
thing, and in one passage states that the sight failed to interest
him in the least, for he had seen it often before. The practice
of healing by the royal touch did not end with the ousting of
the Stuarts in 1689. The lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson
was taken by his father when a boy to London from Litchfield
to be touched ‘‘for the evil’’ by Queen Anne, in 1712. The Chevalier
de St. George attempted healing by touch on several occasions,
and his son Prince Charles, when in Scotland in 1745,
made at least one attempt.
At a late period, coins that had been touched by the king
were believed to ward off evil or scrofula. These were known as
‘‘royal touch-pieces’’ and specimens of several are preserved in
the British Museum, London.
Healing by Touch in Ancient Times
The natural process of healing was thought by early peoples
to be effected by a mysterious power possessed only by God and
his servants—emperors, kings, priests, and saints. The common
man believed he must have faith in order to be healed,
and great ceremony often accompanied healing ‘‘miracles.’’
Healers used the laying on of hands and special words and
prayers, as well as objects like talismans, amulets, rings, and
images of saints.
The healing of the sick by touch and the laying on of hands
was found among the people of India and Egypt, and especially
among the Jews. Egyptian sculptures depict healers placing
one hand on the patient’s stomach and the other on his back.
The Chinese, according to the accounts of early missionaries
such as Athanasius Kircher, in China . . . Illustrata (1667), healed
sickness by the laying on of hands. In the Hebrew Bible (the
Christian Old Testament) are numerous examples of healing
by touch.
One instance is the healing of a seemingly dead child by Elisha,
who stretched himself three times upon the child and
prayed. The manner in which Elisha raised the dead son of a
Shunamite woman was even more remarkable. He told Gehazi
to go before him and lay his staff upon the face of the child.
When that failed, Elisha laid himself upon the child, placing his
hands upon the child’s hands so that the child’s body became
warm again and he opened his eyes.
Elisha’s healing powers survived his death
‘‘And Elisha died, and they buried him, and the bands of the
Moabites invaded the land in the coming of the year. And it
came to pass, as they were burying a man that, behold, they
spied a band of men; and they cast the man into the sepulchre
of Elisha, and when the man was let down, and touched the
bones of Elisha, he revived and stood upon his feet’’ (2 Kings
1320, 21).
Naaman the leper, when he stood before Elisha’s house with
his horses and chariots, having been told to wash seven times
in the Jordan said, ‘‘Behold I thought, he will surely come out
to me, and stand, and call upon the name of the Lord his God,
and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper’’ (2
Kings 511).
The Christian New Testament is particularly rich in examples
of the efficacy of the laying on of hands, healing by this
method being a major theme in the early Christian church.
‘‘Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by
prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery’’ (1
Tim. 414) was the principal maxim of the apostles, for the
practical use of their powers for the good of their brethren in
St. Paul was remarkable for his powers ‘‘And it came to pass
that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux;
to whom Paul entered in, and prayed and laid his hands on him
and healed him’’ (Acts 288). And again
‘‘And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house, and
putting his hands on him, said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even
Jesus that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath
sent me that thou mayest receive thy sight and be filled with the
Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had
been scales, and he received sight’’ (Acts 917–8).
Among the many stories of Jesus’ healings are several from
the Gospel of Mark
‘‘And they brought young children to him, that he might
touch them, and his disciples rebuked those who brought them.
But Jesus said, ‘Suffer the little children to come unto me, for
of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And he took them up in his
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Healing by Touch
arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them’’ (Mark
‘‘. . . they brought unto him one that was deaf and had an
impediment in his speech, and they besought him to put his
hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude,
and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit and touched his
tongue and, looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said unto
him, ‘Ephphatha’—that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears
were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he
spake plain’’ (Mark 732–35).
Other passages on healing are scattered throughout the
four gospels. In the histories of the saints, innumerable examples
are recorded. They took their lead from Jesus’ words ‘‘In
my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new
tongues; they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any
deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay their hands
on the sick and they shall recover’’ (Mark 1617–18).
The saints are said to have accomplished everything
through absolute faith in Christ, and were therefore able to
perform miracles. St. Patrick, the Irish apostle, healed the
blind by laying on his hands. St. Bernard is said to have restored
11 blind persons to sight and 18 lame persons to the use
of their limbs in one day at Constance. At Cologne he healed
12 lame individuals, caused 3 dumb persons to speak, and
made 10 who were deaf to hear; when he himself was ill, St.
Lawrence and St. Benedict appeared to him and cured him by
touching the affected part. Even his plates and dishes were said
to have cured sickness after his death.
The miracles of Saints Margaret, Katherine, Elizabeth, and
Hildegarde, and especially the miraculous cures of the two holy
martyrs Cosmas and Damianus, belong to this class. They were
said to have freed the emperor Justinian from an incurable
sickness. St. Odilia embraced a leper who was shunned by all,
warmed him, and restored him to health.
Remarkable above all others are those cases where persons
who were at the point of death have recovered by holy baptism
or extreme religious fervor. The emperor Constantine is one
of the best examples. Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, was reputed to
have the power of assuaging colic and afflictions of the spleen
by laying the patients on their backs and passing his big toe
over them (Plutarch, Vita Pyrrhi). The emperor Vespasian cured
nervous conditions, lameness, and blindness solely by the laying
on of his hands (Suelin, Vita Vespas). According to Coelius
Spartianus, Hadrian cured those afflicted with dropsy by touching
them with the points of his fingers, and recovered himself
from a violent fever by similar treatment. King Olaf healed
Egill on the spot by merely laying his hands upon him and singing
proverbs, according to the Edda.
The kings of England and France cured diseases of the
throat by touch. It is said that the pious Edward the Confessor
of England and Philip I of France were the first who possessed
this power. The French formula used on such occasions was
‘‘the King touches you, go and be healed,’’ and the phrase was
spoken with the act of touching. In France this power was retained
until the time of the Revolution, and it is said that at the
coronation the exact manner of touching and the formula ‘‘the
King touches you, God heals you’’ were imparted to the new
Among German princes this curative power was ascribed to
the counts of Hapsburg, and it was also believed that they were
able to cure stammering by a kiss. According to Pliny, ‘‘There
are men whose whole bodies possess medicinal properties, as
the Marsi, the Psyli, and others, who cure the bite of serpents
merely by the touch.’’ He claimed this was especially true of the
island of Cyprus, and later travelers confirmed these cures. In
later times the Salmadores and Ensalmadores of Spain became
famous for healing almost all diseases by prayer, laying on of
hands, and by breathing upon the sick.
In Ireland, Valentine Greatrakes cured king’s evil and
other diseases by touch. One Richter, a nineteenth-century innkeeper
at Royen, in Silicia, cured many thousands of sick persons
in the open fields by touching them with his hands. Under
the popes, laying on of hands was called chirothesy. Franz Anton
Mesmer and his assistants also employed touch for healing
Greatrakes, Valentine. A Brief Account of Mr. Valentine
Greatrake’s, and Divers of the Strange Cures by Him Lately Performed.
London, 1666.
Hocart, A. M. Kingship. London Humphrey Milford, 1927.
Rose, Louis. Faith Healing. London Victor Gollancz, 1968.
Thompson, C. J. S. Magic and Healing. London Rider, 1947.
Reprint, Detroit Gale Research, 1973.

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