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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

psychic surgery Every week, increasing numbers of people from all over the world arrive in Manila, capital of the Republic of the Philippines, seeking magical aid from the curanderos, who claim they can heal every sort of malady. Apparently by means of psychic——or divine——powers, these native healers can reach their hands into the bodies of clients, extracting deadly tumors and other substances, along with quantities of blood. In most cases, there is no trace of an incision on the body of the patient.
      To any experienced conjuror, the methods by which these seeming miracles are produced are very obvious. But inexperienced observers quite naturally do not see the trickery, and if they are predisposed to believe in magic, they are prepared to accept that something supernatural has taken place.
      There are two distinct classes of this performance, which is now known as “psychic surgery.” The most common form is relatively free of direct and immediate physical damage and risk to the person treated. It consists of cheating, secretly introducing the blood and other materials onto the surface of the body by means of sleight of hand. No incision takes place, and any infection which occurs does so through minor abrasions or scratches. The second form of “psychic surgery” is simply a direct invasion of the body by means of small, shallow incisions, often made unobserved, under cover of distraction——in exactly the way that a conjuror would perform.
      This Filipino practice has spread worldwide now, and in the states of California and Florida, psychic surgeons regularly visit on tour, untroubled by law enforcement agencies under the protection of the principle of Freedom of Religion. Since actual incisions are seldom made, the risk of infection is small. These practitioners, often assuming the titles “Reverend,” “Brother,” or “Doctor,” typically charge $100 per minute for their services. In other cases, they make no formal charge, but accept sizable “donations” that are carefully suggested by them, in writing, to their victims.
      One variety of “operation” performed by these people is actually a medieval procedure that involves actual invasion of the body. Known as “cupping,” it consists of first making a tiny incision with a knife, usually without any sterilization, anesthetic, or antiseptic. Then a bit of cotton wool soaked in alcohol is placed upon a coin near or upon the cut, and the cotton is ignited. A small glass is then quickly inverted over the site. At this point the area is often covered with a cloth, as if performing a conjuring trick and thus concealing from sight the process that now takes place inside the inverted glass.
      As the oxygen is consumed by the flame, a partial vacuum is created, drawing the flesh up into the glass. This causes the wound to bleed, and when the partial vacuum is thus equalized, the cloth is removed so that one can see that about one-fifth of the volume of the glass is now filled with blood. This process will, to an uninformed person, appear as if some magical force had brought the blood from the wound.

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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.

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