I believe that any discussion about mystical and paranormal happenings in the Philippines will not be complete without mentioning the most sensational and controversial form of faith healing, which can only be found in the Philippines—namely, bare-handed psychic surgery.
The many reports and books written, especially by foreign visitors and investigators, centered mainly on the sensational aspect of the phenomenon, and not on the mystical and spiritual culture that gave birth to and nurtured it.
The only other country in the world where a similar form of surgery can be found is Brazil. But Brazilian psychic surgeons or spiritual healers use knives, scissors and even a saw to operate on the bodies of patients, whereas Filipino psychic surgeons use only their bare hands to do it.
And this is one reason why many observers and paranormal investigators from the west tend to conclude that Philippine psychic surgery must be completely fraudulent, because they cannot logically explain how our local healers can make an incision on a patient’s body with their bare hands, take out diseased tissues, and then close the incision with hardly a trace of it at all. It just doesn’t make sense from a purely scientific and rational point of view.
But the phenomenon of psychic surgery has been practiced in the Philippines even before the Americans colonized these islands, in 1898, according to the oldest known psychic surgeon discovered by western writers, namely, Eleuterio Terte of San Fabian, Pangasinan.
Before he died at age 79, Terte told me even his grandmother was a psychic surgeon. Terte came to Western attention in the mid-’50s, when two American writers and adventurers included him in a book they wrote, “Into the Strange Unknown.” One of the writers who had a cyst on the elbow had himself treated and cured by Terte.
Undoubtedly, the most well-known, sensational and controversial Filipino healer to emerge in the 1960s to the early ’80s was Antonio “Tony” Agpaoa of Baguio City (but who was originally from Rosales, Pangasinan). He had a flair for the dramatic and the sensational. Only Tony had an organization composed of doctors, nurses and even a lawyer.
Groups of foreigners from the west flocked to his healing centers on Mirador Hill by the busload. He amassed great wealth in the process, and was featured in several international publications, films and magazines. He died in 1982 of a massive stroke and was buried in Baguio City.
What has been lost in almost all discussions on this topic is the fact that psychic surgery is an integral part of the spiritual practices of the Christian spiritists who perform healing completely without charge.
Those who accepted money from patients, especially from foreigners, either left the national spiritual organization or were expelled from it. Each of them established their own independent spiritual group.
Almost all spiritual healers in the country who practice psychic surgery had their training in the Christian spiritist church. Healing, automatic writing, speaking in tongues, going into a trance and other forms of mediumship were all part of the training of a faith healer.
But one does not become a psychic surgeon by choice. According to them, this is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and only the Holy Spirit chooses to whom the gift would be given. And it takes from five to 10 years of attending the spiritist services before anyone receives the gift of psychic surgery, if at all.
The same is true of the Brazilian type of psychic surgery training. They all come from the Christian spiritist groups. But there are some differences between the Philippine and Brazilian types of Spiritism. I would characterize Philippine Spiritism as essentially “Yin” or feminine energy, whereas the Brazilian type is more “Yang” or masculine.
Brazilian spiritists induce trance states by dancing energetically to the sound of drums and percussion instruments, while Filipino spiritists induce the trance state through prayers, soft chanting and reading special passages in the Bible. Brazilian spiritists, including women, also smoke cigars when in a trance. Filipino spiritists do not do this.
It must be emphasized therefore that faith healing, especially in the Philippines, is essentially a spiritual and mystical practice, and not really the way it has been portrayed by most western writers and investigators. Its meaning and significance can only be understood in the context of the spiritual traditions of the Filipino people, perhaps long before the Spaniards came to our shores. For a more detailed discussion about faith healing in the Philippines, please read my book “Magicians of God,” published by Anvil Publishing Inc.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
May 8th, 2012
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