Healing, Psychic
A popular early theory of psychic healing was that it was effected
by a sudden and profound nervous change. The conception
of the therapeutic power of such a change we owe to Franz
Anton Mesmer (1733–1815). He brought it about by a combination
of passes, unconscious suggestion, and supposed metallotherapy
in an aparatus called the baquet. The baquet involved
an oak tub filled with water, iron filings, and flasks of
‘‘magnetized water.’’ Patients were connected to this baquet by
holding rods or cords, which supposedly conveyed the ‘‘magnetism.’’
The atmosphere was enhanced by music. Mesmer contended
that a nervous effluence was passing into the patients.
There are many sensitives even now who claim curative
power by such a fluid. But the discovery of magnetic action was
put forward long before Mesmer as the basis of the sympathetic
system of medicine.
The magnet itself was an illustration of the interaction of living
bodies. Every substance was supposed to radiate a force.
This force was guided by the in-dwelling spirit of the body from
which it proceeded. A dissevered portion of a body retained
something of the virtue of the body. This led to the deduction
that instead of the wound, the weapon that caused it should be
anointed, as the wound cannot heal while a portion of the vital
spirit remains in disastrous union with the weapon and exerts
an antipathetic influence upon its fellow spirit in the body (see
powder of sympathy).
The sway of mesmerism was long and powerful. It yielded
place to hypnotism after James Braid proved that somnambulism
can be induced without passes by mere suggestion, or
moreover that the patients can bring it about by themselves by
staring at bright objects.
This discovery threw the nervous effluence theory overboard,
although its possibility as a coordinating factor was by
no means ruled out. Indeed animal magnetism has often, in
one form or another, been rediscovered. A. A. Liébeault
(1823–1901), for example, from his work treating children
under four and curing some under three, claimed that magnetic
healing was not due to suggestion. Similar successes were
registered later by psychologist Julien Ochorowicz
(1850–1917) on children under two. Liébeault even came to the
conclusion that a living being can, merely by his presence, exercise
a salutary influence on another living being quite independently
of suggestion.
However that may be, the mysterious power that after Braid
was ascribed to suggestion did not bring us any closer to understanding
the curative process. It is more than likely that the ordinary
hypnotizer has no curative power at all, and that his
command simply starts a train of self-suggestion from the conscious
mind, which otherwise would not have penetrated sufficiently
deeply to bring about a nervous change.
It is even legitimate to suppose that the same power may be
at work in charms, amulets, and incantations. E. W. Cox may
have hit upon the truth when he wrote ‘‘The use of the passes
is to direct the attention of the patient to the part of the body
then being operated upon. The effect of directing the attention
of the mind to any part of the frame is to increase the flow of
nerve force [or vital force] to that part.’’
The healer himself may have no knowledge of the process.
The supposition that when he lays his hand on the diseased
part of the body a magnetic current passes through may not be
correct at all, even if the patients often experience a feeling of
warmth, as of an electric shock. The healer’s influence appears
to be rather a directive one for the patient’s own powers, which
the healer turns into a more efficient channel. If the hypnotizer
is more successful than the average psychic healer, an explanation
may be found in the trance state into which the patient is
thrown, giving him direct access to the subconscious self to
which, to use the words of F. W. H. Myers, ‘‘a successful appeal
is being made through suggestion.’’ In the Proceedings of the
Society for Psychical Research, he suggests,
‘‘Beneath the threshold of waking consciousness there lies,
not merely an unconscious complex of organic processes but an
intelligent vital control. To incorporate that profound control
with our waking will is the great evolutionary end which hypnotism,
by its group of empirical artifices, is beginning to help us
to attain.’’
This vital control he believed to be the result of some influx
from the unseen world; the efficacy of suggestion was dependent
on the quantity of new energy that could be imbibed from
the spiritual world by directing subliminal attention to a corporeal
The problem of psychic healing, however, is much more
complex than it appears. It bristles with interesting and stubborn
facts that refuse to be fitted into convenient pigeonholes.
Suggestion appears to be ruled out when healers cure animals.
The process of healing seems interwoven with psychical manifestations,
the success of healing often serving as evidence of
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Healing, Psychic
the paranormal. Medical clairvoyance, psychometry, and direct
and indirect action by spirits are concepts that demand
The somnambules of the early magnetizers diagnosed their
own diseases. This was known later as autoscopy. It is now a
rare phenomenon. As an intermediate instance between autoscopy
and clairvoyant diagnosis, the curious case in Baron Carl
du Prel’s Experimental-Psychologie (1890) is worth mention. To
a hypnotic subject it was suggested that, in his dream, he would
find a certain cure for his ailments. The dream was very vivid,
a voice giving medical advice was heard, and when these instructions
were followed the patient’s health considerably improved.
To the eyes of medical clairvoyants, the human body appears
to be transparent. They see and describe in lay terms the
seat and appearance of the disease. Some have a more restricted
power and diagnose from the changes in the aura of the patient,
the color being allegedly affected by illness.
Psychometrists do not require the presence of the patient at
all. A lock of hair may be sufficient to put the medium on the
right track. Sometimes an index, i.e., the mere mention of the
name, will suffice. The medium, however, sometimes suffers
sympathetically. Temporarily he or she often assumes the bodily
conditions of the afflicted man and vividly experiences his
The therapeutic services of psychical research are now often
acknowledged by psychoanalysts and physicians. Crystal gazing
and automatic writing help to explore the subconscious
mind. Long forgotten memories may be recalled and events of
importance may be traced to their source and enable the psychoanalyst
to form conclusions without hypnotic experiments.
The divining rod (the diviner holding bacterial cultures in his
hand) has also been discovered as a means of successful diagnosis,
and the use of the pendulum in place of the rod has developed
into the art of radiesthesia.
Spirit Healing
Often diagnosis and cure take place through alleged spirit
influence, advice, or direct action. A physician, Josiah A. Gridley
of Southampton, Massachusetts, confessed in his Astounding
Facts from the Spirit World (1854) to have often known a patient’s
disease and the treatment to be followed before he ever went
to see that patient. He attributed the remarkable success of his
practice to his communion with the spirit world.
In England, the first spiritual healer, a lecturer on mesmerism
named Hardinge, became convinced through spirit communications
that epilepsy was due to demonic possession and
undertook to cure such cases by spirit instruction. J. D. Dixon,
a homeopathic doctor, was the next English healer who, after
being converted to Spiritualism in 1857, treated his patients
with prescriptions obtained by raps. Daniel Offord, a nineyear-old
English boy, wrote prescriptions in Latin, a language
which he did not know. He predicted the 1853 cholera epidemic
two months in advance and prescribed a daily dose of half
a teaspoonful of carbon as an antidote.
The spirits who assist mediums mostly claim to have been
physicians on earth who have attained to a higher knowledge
in the beyond. A. H. Jacob (‘‘Jacob the Zouave’’) actually saw
the spirits ministering to his patients. Mrs. J. H. Conant attributed
Jacob’s curative powers to the knowledge of ‘‘Dr. John
Dix Fisher’’ in spirit; similarly ‘‘Dr. Lascelles’’ who worked
through C. A. Simpson in the Seekers group in London; and
‘‘Dr. Beale,’’ a spirit entity who claimed to have followed the
medical profession on Earth and who worked through one Miss
Rose, a medium. The strange cure of Mme X. (as recorded in
the Proceedings of the SPR, vol. 9) was effected by a spirit doctor;
the healing controls were Native Americans who were said to
have been medicine men in their tribes.
The methods of Native American controls were quite interesting.
As the medium Gladys Osborne Leonard describes in
My Life in Two Worlds (1931),
‘‘Mrs. Massey’s chair was a wooden rocking one. Suddenly
her chair began to rock backwards and forwards gently at first,
then gathering speed, till it rocked at a tremendous rate. Then,
to our horror, the chair turned a complete somersault. So did
Mrs. Massey. She fell right on her head, and lay where she fell.
I rushed to her, and before I realised what was happening
North Star had taken control of me. A lump, the size of an egg,
had come up on Mrs. Massey’s head. North Star placed my
hands upon it; in a few moments it had gone. North Star then
left her head alone and proceeded to make passes over her
body, particularly over the heart. He gave loud grunts of satisfaction,
and seemed extremely well pleased with something.
After about half an hour’s hard work he stopped controlling
me, and Mrs. Massey then disclosed the fact that she had felt
very ill for some days past, and she felt better now than she had
for months.’’
Further on, Leonard states,
‘‘When North Star controlled me for healing, he always appeared
to appeal to someone far higher than himself before
commencing his treatment. He never spoke, but he used to
hold his hands upward and outward as if he expected something
to be put, or poured into them. His attitude was so obviously
one of prayer, or supplication, though he was usually in
a standing position.’’
The most well-known psychic healer was Edgar Cayce
(1877–1945) who diagnosed and prescribed for thousands of
ailments in a state of self-induced trance.
Healing at a Distance
Cases of healing at a distance are also on record. When the
healer’s magnetism is said to be transferred into water, paper,
or cloth one may argue for suggestion as an explanation; there
are, however, more difficult instances. According to a letter
from E. W. Capron, quoted in Leah Underhill’s The Missing
Link in Modern Spiritualism (1885) on the occasion of Capron’s
first visit to the Fox sisters in Rochester, he mentioned casually
that his wife was affected with a severe and troublesome cough.
Leah Fox in trance suddenly declared ‘‘I am going to cure Rebecca
of the cough.’’ She then gave an accurate description of
Rebecca and pronounced her cured. Returning home, Capron
found her extremely well and the trouble never returned. Absent
healing, through prayer groups, is now a regular activity
of healing centers.
Cases are recorded in which an apparition at the bedside of
a sick person effects a cure by the laying on of hands or by giving
instructions. Materialized spirit hands made passes over
the head, throat, chest, and back of Stainton Moses to relieve
his bronchitis. While it may have been Stainton Moses’s faith in
the powers of his guides that effected the cure, this does not,
however, explain how the healing took place.
Neurologist J. M. Charcot (1825–1893) notes,
‘‘The faith which was healing power seems to me to be the
greatest of medicines, for it may succeed where all other remedies
have failed. But why should faith, which works on the soul,
be considered more miraculous than a drug, which acts on the
body Has anyone yet understood how a drug can cure’’
St. Bernard, the Abbot of Clairvaux (1090–1153), Valentine
Greatrakes (1662), Jacob The Zouave (1828–1913), J. R. Newton
(1810–1883), the Earl of Sandwich (1839–1916), author of
My Experiences in Spiritual Healing (London, 1915), and such
modern healers as the late Harry Edwards (1893–1976) to
mention a few names only, put many astonishing cures on record
that seem to be authentic.
The Nature of Healing
The mind-cures of Christian Science must also be considered.
These are wrought by the perception of God as the sole
reality and the belief that neither matter nor evil exist. Reports
of spectacular healings come from the records of the Church
of Christ Scientist, just as they come from Roman Catholicism,
evangelical Christianity, and various Spiritualist, occult, and
Healing, Psychic Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
metaphysical groups. There appears to be little objective difference
between spiritual healing, divine healing, mind-cure, and
faith-cure (the removal of pain by faith in God’s power and by
prayer). In this respect, one may go back to the ancient days
when sleeping in the temple, after having invoked the help of
God, often brought about healing at the shrines of Aesculapius,
Isis, and Seraphis.
Astonishing instances of healing are recorded in Carré de
Montgeron’s book La Verité des Miracles opérés par l’intercession
de M. de Paris (Cologne, 1745–47), dedicated to the king of
France. Miracles took place at the tomb of the Abbé Paris, the
Jansenist, in 1731 and the three or four years following. The
cure of Mlle. Coirin was without precedent. Cancer had completely
destroyed her left breast, and the case seemed utterly
hopeless. A visit to the tomb not only cured her, but restored
the breast and nipple without any trace of a scar. She was examined
in Paris by the royal physician, M. Gaulard, who declared
the restoration of the nipple an actual creation. Other physicians
deposed before notaries that the cure was perfect. Other
amazing cures followed.
The cemetery of St. Médard became so famous for this occurrence
that the ire of the Jesuits was aroused and soon afterward,
according to Voltaire, it was inscribed on the churchyard
De par le Roi—défense à Dieu
De faire miracle en ce lieu.
Voltaire said that God obeyed and the miracles stopped.
This, however, is contradicted by the cures, which kept on occurring
for a space of 25 years. And miraculous cures were effected
at Treves in Germany by touching a relic known as the
Holy Coat of Treves in 1891. Holywell in Wales was called the
Welsh Lourdes for similar occurrences. Lourdes itself has become
an established site for miracles in healing.
Recent Developments
The most sensational modern development of psychic healing
is psychic surgery, which takes two forms. The first, in
which the medium mimes operations, is allegedly guided by
the spirit of a dead doctor; in the second, in which psychic healers
appear to perform real operations, either with their bare
hands or with primitive instruments, wounds heal instantaneously.
The latter type of psychic surgery, practiced widely in
the Philippines and Brazil, remains highly controversial, with
conflicting evidence of authenticity and fraud.
Since the rise of parapsychology, psychic healing has been
considered under the general heading of psychokinesis. During
the 1960s, some interesting healing research was carried
out, as various people who claimed healing powers were put to
the test in laboratories in attempts to effect living objects. The
most spectacular of these experiments used Oscar Estabany, a
Hungarian immigrant, who worked with cancer researcher
Bernard Grad of McGill University, Montreal. Through the
1960s, Grad involved Estabany in a set of ever more complicated
experiments that had as their object the stimulation of the
growth of plants and the increase of the rate of healing in
wounds on mice. Biochemist Justa Smith also found that Estabany
could stimulate the growth of enzymes. The choice of targets
in these carefully controlled experiments was made in each
case to take the factor of suggestion away.
In one of the most interesting of experiments, Estabany was
not allowed near the plants, but merely held the water used to
water the plants in his hands. As with other experiments, the
plants watered with Estabany’s water grew taller.
The Estabany experiments stand as among the most impressive
in psychokinesis and are a demonstration of the healing
power inherent in at least some human beings. The understanding
of a healing power in some persons underlies the popular
practice of therapuetic touch developed by Dolores
Krieger, a nursing instructor, during the mid-1970s.
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