Psychic Surgery
A term which is applied to two very distinct branches of psychic
healing. It sometimes denotes psychic healers who believe
that they are making ‘‘surgical’’ changes in the astral double
that upon completion of the ‘‘operation’’ are reflected in the
physical body. Such psychic surgeons believe that the spirit of
a dead doctor influences them, and observers see them enter
a trance state from which they mime an operation over the
body of the person seeking healing.
Typical of the first type is British healer George Chapman,
who claimed to be controlled by the dead surgeon ‘‘Dr. Lang.’’
Chapman diagnosed while in trance and simply laid his hands
on the patient or made movements indicative of a phantom operation.
More interesting to psychic researchers, because of their extraordinary
claims, have been the psychic surgeons in the Spiritualist
communities of the Philippines and Brazil. They appear
to perform real operations making an incision with bare hands,
removing pathological matter, and causing an instantaneous
healing of the incision. Such healers in the Philippines have
been the subject of numerous popular books, including vivid
pictures of apparent operations, and several volumes by observers
who have dismissed the phenomena as a complete
hoax. The two most famous psychic surgeons of this second
type have been Tony Agpaoa in the Philippines and José Arigó
in Brazil.
Accounts of Tony Agpaoa began to emerge in the 1960s. He
used no anesthetic or scalpel, yet appeared to make an incision
in which there was a liberal flow of blood. He appeared to insert
his hands into the body and either remove pathological tissue
with his hands or cut it away with unsterilized scissors. He then
moved his hand over the incision, which seemed to close instantaneously,
leaving no scar.
Psychic Register International Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
Operations conducted by Agpaoa and similar psychic surgeons
in the Philippines have been photographed and even filmed
and are impressive, especially to the untrained eye. However,
there is every reason to believe that these ‘‘operations’’
have been faked. There is to date no clear incident of either
Agapoa or any of the Philipine healers having ever opened the
body and closed it again without leaving any evidence of their
having operated. To the contrary, a spectrum of practicing magicians
from a skeptic such as the Amazing Randi and Milbourne
Christopher to a professional psychic such as David
Hoy have agreed that the operations are done with slight of
hand and have easily been able to duplicate every effect. It is
suggested that if a small quantity of dried blood and a piece of
animal tissue is palmed, the flesh ‘‘operated’’ on can be
pinched and made to appear as if an incision has been made.
The cure that follows would then be a matter of strong suggestion
rather than actual surgery.
The issue is not so simple among the Brazilian healers. Andrija
Puharich, himself a physician, visited Argió in Brazil and
was the subject of a psychic operation for a small lipoma on the
elbow. Arigó, who claimed to be controlled by the spirit ‘‘Dr.
Fritz,’’ made an incision with a pocket knife without anesthetic
or sterilization and removed the tumor. A small incision scar
was left (thus there was no paranormal opening or closing of
the body), and the elbow healed over the next four days (there
was no instantaneous healing). The operation was filmed, and
it was clear that the tumor had been removed by rather mundane,
if crude, means, and that the extraordinary character of
the event was the lack of infection. Arigó was killed in an automobile
accident before he could be more completely tested.
Thousands of invalids and the merely curious travelers have
visited the Philippines, especially through the 1970s and
1980s, with an interest in psychic healing. While some have
been healed, many have returned disillusioned after an expensive
and tiresome trip. There they have also encountered what
became a highly competitive business between the various healers
and those who provide transportation to the various locations
(mostly outside of Manila) where the healers operate.
Over the years, the number of reported healings is no higher
than that reported by more domestic healers be they psychic or
Australian journalist Gert Chesi investigated the Philippine
healers and warned readers about the situation they will encounter
should they choose to go to the Philippine Islands. In
his Geistheiler auf den Philippinen (English edition as Faith Healers
in the Philippines, 1981), he draws upon his prior observation
of tribal magical practices in Africa.
Chesi discovered what he believed were genuine as well as
fake healers, and concluded that the dividing line is often a
confusing one, since although the blood and the objects apparently
removed from a patient’s body may be unrelated to genuine
surgery, they may still be part of a mysterious shamanistic
healing process. He also discovered that some healers appeared
to remove objects from a diseased body which are clearly
unrelated to any genuine illness, such as coins, leaves, nails,
plastic objects, or even garbage. Chesi suggests that such objects,
as well as the blood, may be the products of the healer’s
imagination, becoming solidified as materializations or apports.
Journalist Tom Valentine found that some of the psychic
surgeons in the Philippines have ‘‘removed’’ not only tissue
from the body of their patients, but also such things as eggshells,
coffee grounds and even a crayfish. Like Chesi, Valentine
concluded that such phenomena might be related to apports
and that healers like Agpaoa materialize and
dematerialize matter. This observation offers little help as it
merely introduces one equally dubious phenomenon to explain
another. The tissue from the operations that has been tested
has been non-human in origin, instead generally that of chickens.
Some healers have argued that patients will not believe in
the healer’s power unless they see an apparent incision with
plenty of blood, and a tangible object removed from the body.
Other Philippine healers eschew such practices and regard
such bloody operations as unnecessary. They practice a more
traditional form of psychic or ‘‘magnetic healing.’’
Chesi, Gert. Faith Healers in the Philippines. Perlinger Verlag,
Christopher, Milbourne. Mediums, Mystics & the Occult. New
York Thomas Y. Crowell, 1975.
Fuller, John G. Arigó. Surgeon of the Rusty Knife. New York
Thomas Y. Crowell, 1974.
Randi, James. Flim-Flam Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other
Delusions. Buffalo, N.Y. Prometheus Books, 1987.
Sherman, Harold. Wonder Healers of the Philippines. Los Angeles
DeVorss & Co., 1967.
Valentine, Tom. Psychic Surgery. Chicago Henry Regnery,