(Investigator Magazine 187, 2019 July)


The pseudo-medical practice of Psychic Surgery sprang to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s when it was revealed that hundreds of terminally ill people were flying to the Philippines to undergo psychic surgery. Prior to that in the 1950s, a Brazilian by the name of Arigo also became famous as a psychic surgeon, and received worldwide publicity through a book titled Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife. In the late 1940s, George Chapman of Liverpool, England, was using a technique he called "etheric surgery" in which he used "invisible" instruments to perform surgical operations.


The psychic "surgeons" claim to be able to remove diseased tissue and tumours, and repair damage and correct malfunctions — all without anaesthetic and surgical instruments.


The procedure is probably best described by recounting an "operation" I personally witnessed in the Philippines in 1976. The patient, a Russian from a visiting cruise ship, was suffering from a stomach ulcer which had failed to respond to conventional medical treatment.

He was told by the psychic surgeon to remove his shirt and lie on the "operating table", and that he would feel no pain or discomfort while the ulcer was removed.

I stood opposite the "surgeon" and alongside the patient and had a bird's eye view of the proceedings. What followed was extraordinary.

After passing his hands over the man's forehead and making the sign of the cross, he executed what can best be described as a karate chop across the man's stomach but without actually touching the flesh. As he did this, a line of blood about ten or twelve centimetres long appeared. The psychic surgeon then vigorously kneaded the flesh in that area and as he did so, his fingers appeared to gradually disappear into the patient's body, then slowly emerge holding a piece of bloody tissue which he discarded into a container under the table. His assistant handed him some cotton wool, the blood was wiped off, and no sign of an incision was to be seen.


Like most people witnessing psychic surgery for the first time, I was taken in and can well understand why the credulous are so easily fooled and why they need to be alerted to what is simply a fraudulent practice. The scam has been exposed many times by sceptics around the world and it consists merely of sleight-of-hand, a false thumb or a tiny balloon containing pig's blood or a red juice, and pieces of animal tissue.

The "operation" simply involves a little manual dexterity whereby the fingers are gradually folded under and into the palms as the "surgeon" kneads the flesh, giving the impression that they have entered the body. The false thumb or balloon is squeezed at the appropriate time producing blood. The tissue, usually chicken's innards, is also concealed in the palm of the hand or handed to the operator in a piece of cotton wool to be used later to swab off the "wound".

There have been several prosecutions for fraud because of the potential harm that can be done to individuals who are unaware that psychic surgery is pure fakery. It raises the frustrations and hopes of the seriously ill, and their families become vulnerable to exploitation. The claims have the tendency and the capacity to induce the seriously ill to forego medical treatment, worsening their condition and in some cases resulting in death.


Folz, J. 1981. The Psychic Healers of the Philippines. Logos Int.

Fuller, J.G. 1975. Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife. Hart-Davis, MacGibbon. London.
Gardner, M. 1981. Science. Good, Bad and Bogus. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY.
Nolan, W. A. 1974. Doctor in Search of a Miracle. Random House. NY.

Plummer, Mark 1981. Skeptics Test Psychic Surgeon. the Skeptic. 1(1):1 Australian Skeptics Inc.

 _____________ 1985. Psychic Surgery in Australia. the Skeptic. 5(1):1-6.

Randi, J. 1986.     Flim Flam. Prometheus Books Buffalo. NY.

Raso, Jack. (Ed. Stephen Barrett) 1994. Alternative Healthcare: A Comprehensive Guide. Prometheus Books.

Shealy, C. N. 1978. Occult Medicine Can Save Your Life. Skeptical Inquirer, 2(1):104-110.

Smiles, M. 1980. Psychic Surgery Cuts a New Figure. Skeptical Inquirer, 4(3):5-7.

[From: Edwards, H. 1999 Alternative, Complementary, Holistic & Spiritual Healing, Australian Skeptics Inc.]

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