(Image Credit: Anomalies)
Many people don’t realize that psychic surgery was an incredibly popular form of spiritual medicine in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. Spiritual, or faith-based medicine has been around for centuries and the validity of it has been debated over for just as long. Psychic surgery, or bloodless surgery, is exactly what it sounds like: incision-less, painless, and mysterious. Patients would seek help from a spiritual doctor who claimed to have the ability to enter the human body with their bare hands, remove anomalies, and exit the body without making an incision or leaving a scar. It has been proven that faith and a positive mindset can, in fact, help people recover faster, but is psychic surgery a legitimate replacement to professional surgical intervention? Let’s dive further into the practice’s origins.
Psychic surgery is most popular in the Philippines and by the 1960s, U.S. magazines were releasing articles about individuals who claimed to have been healed by psychic surgeons (“Psychic Surgery: A Second Look”). The 1970s brought with it a new wave of spiritualism and natural medicine, and many American citizens found themselves travelling to foreign countries for medical treatment. Images of psychic surgery show the surgeons drawing blood and specimens seemingly out of thin air. Many claim that the surgeries are nothing more than elaborate illusions that utilize smartly-prepared materials and a quick slight of hand (Singer). Criss Angel, the famous American illusionist was able to recreate a psychic surgery using plastic baggies filled with fake blood and chicken livers (“Criss Angel Psychic Surgery). At the height of the practice, it is estimated that between seven and nine thousand Americans traveled to the Philippines each month to visit psychic healers (“Psychic Surgery: A Second Look”).
Part of the reason behind the expanding popularity was the fact that the procedure was absolutely painless. Another reason was that it offered hope to the hopeless. What I mean is that many people who were told by medical professionals that their conditions were fatal used psychic surgery as a unique method of intervention. There were even instances where people were travelling across oceans to visit psychic healers before even being officially diagnosed by licensed professionals (“Psychic Surgery: A Second Look”).
Regardless of the skepticism from the medical community, many individuals claimed that they were cured after receiving treatment from a spiritual healer. Without an official follow-up from medical professionals, there is no real way to prove whether or not their bodies were cured or just influenced by a placebo effect, but I’ll place my money on the latter. Many people believe that psychic surgery is the result of frauds manipulating people in sensitive emotional states and degrades the idea of faith (Ichimua).
Oakland University decided to run an experiment in 1986 to test the validity of psychic surgeons (Singer). Philip Singer invited Reverend Philip S. Malicdan, a popular psychic surgeon, to the University (Singer 444). The surgeon was inspected before the operations began and experts such as a pathologist and an illusionist observed the events that took place (Singer 445). The pathologist collected all of the materials that were “removed” from the patients and it was found that there was no relationship between the parts removed and the patient’s bodies (Singer 447). Despite this finding, some of those treated believed that they actually experienced real medical intervention, and Malicdan claimed that a voice told him to go out and heal people with his hands (Singer 444). Some of the experts present believe that Malicdan was using blood clots wrapped in tissue paper that reacted when placed into a bowl of water (Singer 447). Some healers claim that the “false materials” simply act as an agent that inspires real change to occur in the body. Regardless, the abnormalities that are seemingly pulled from the inner cavities of patients are pre-prepared and used to increase the impact of the illusion.
Psychic surgery can be incredibly harmful because it prevents individuals from receiving actual necessary surgical intervention. Take, for instance, Andy Kaufman, an American actor that traveled out of the country in 1984 to visit a psychic healer for his lung cancer (Ichimua). He underwent a psychic surgery, which he claimed was successful, and died two months later from cancer (Ichimua). It is a fine line to walk to discuss the validity of spiritual medicine, but it should always be met with a healthy dose of skepticism and a thirst for proof. The interest in psychic surgery among Americans dwindled significantly in the 1980s and this mysterious bloodless surgery has all but fallen out of the U.S. public’s consciousness. Despite this, psychic surgery is still practiced in other countries around the world.
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- Anri, Ichimua. “The Weird History of Psychic Surgery in the Philippines.” Esquire. 17 September, 2019. Accessed 8 June, 2020. https://www.esquiremag.ph/life/health-and-fitness/the-weird-history-of-psychic-surgery-in-the-philippines-a1926-20190917-lfrm.
- “Criss Angel Psychic Surgery.” 777Skeptic: YouTube.com. Posted 15 August, 2007. Accessed 13 June, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hodW55Fo_uc.
- “Psychic Surgery: A Second Look.” Anomalies. Accessed 12 June, 2020. http://anomalyinfo.com/Topics/psychic-surgery-second-look.
- Singer, Philip. “Psychic Surgery: Close Observation of a Popular Healing Practice.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Vol. 4 No. 4. December, 1990, pages 443-451. Accessed 9 June, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/649226?seq=1.
2 thoughts on “The Mystery of Psychic Surgery”
Another well-researched and well-written post. Thanks
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Didn’t know such a thing ever existed. Interesting article!
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