I have spent more than five years studying Filipino faith healing. During my first two trips to the Philippines I was conducting research for my dissertation. While working towards my Ph.D. I had been neglecting my own health needs. So, during my trip last November, my intention was to get healing for myself. I had always believed in the healing power of the Holy Spirit, and now I had met the Filipino espiritistas who believe they are simply continuing Jesus Christ’s healing ministry, utilizing the Holy Spirit to accomplish their healing goals. Following my research, I realized there were no conflicts between my belief system and Christian Spiritism. Last November I went to the Philippines expecting a healing miracle. I prayed and meditated with the group and I believe I experienced some miraculous healing experiences as the Holy Spirit worked through the hands of the Filipino espiritistas.
Over the last five years I had endured two long and very unpleasant courses of treatment for my liver condition. Because the treatment is so painful and unpleasant, many doctors do not put depressed or mental patients through the course of treatments, as there is even the risk of suicide. In addition to stage four liver disease I have type-two diabetes. I had complicated interactive symptoms from the combination of both these two conditions. I had also been diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. I had been neglecting my health for a long period of time.
This was now my third trip to the Philippines to visit healers. This time I joined a healing pilgrimage, seven other travelers I’d never met before. We traveled to Manila, Baguio City, and Pangasinan, the areas where Christian Spiritism was founded and still flourished. I was meeting famous healers that I had read about, but had never met before. The group received eight treatments from Labo in the mornings and in the afternoons we visited other healers, most of whom practiced psychic surgery.
I asked Labo if he fasted as a part of his training, and if he continued to fast. He spoke right up saying, “Yes, I am an Espiritista,” meaning a member of the Union of Espiritistas Church, a group which advocates the practice of fasting to alter states of consciousness. In the Philippines the Holy Spirit is not an abstract concept referred to in the Bible. The Holy Spirit exists as a powerful healing force whose presence is felt by the patients and healers alike.
The previous afternoon I had been feeling persecuted by my supervisor at my job back home and I was trying to develop a strategy for dealing with his negative energy. I had been identifying with the Christian belief of turning the other cheek and Christ’s ultimate acceptance of his crucifixion. After my morning healing Labo blessed us as usual. He placed one hand on my forehead and the other on my liver and I felt so light headed that I almost fell down. I went to my knees and steadied myself by holding onto a church pew.
I lied down with my arms stretched out as if I were crucified. I felt I had lost the motor control of the major muscle groups in my body. I wanted to move my arms and get up but, I could not move. I was apparently in a dissociated, altered state of consciousness. Robert, our tour guide, was preaching. I believed that if he sprinkled me with the Holy Water he would enable me to move my body. After he sprinkled me with the blessed water, I was able to slowly stand and then walk around the room.
I did not observe Labo when he performed psychic surgery on me and I prayed to facilitate others’ who received healing treatments. Labo rarely spoke while in his “healing trance,” but during my second healing, as he moved his hands over my liver he said, “hepatitis…, there is already puss.” Robert, our group leader asked him if he could relieve it and I heard the group member’s sigh. They later reported that Labo had drained fluids out of liver.
On another morning Labo blessed us after our healing session. I kneeled, and he blew the Holy Spirit into my Crown Chakra. I felt the energy of the Holy Spirit penetrate my head, and it seemed to stop just below the surface. I became aware that as a child I had hindered the flow of the Holy Spirit from actively flowing through my body due to tensing-up during periods of trauma and abuse experienced at the hands of my older brother. I thought about my experience of abuse, on and off, processing the experiences as we went about visiting other healers that afternoon. The next morning, Labo, again sent the Holy Spirit into my Crown Chakra, The Spirit moved freely down my energy meridians, right down though my feet, and out into the earth. I knew I had experienced another healing.
During the healing sessions of psychic surgery with Labo, I was not really concerned about whether or not he had actually entered my abdomen with his bare-hands. He may have materialized the tissues or teleported diseased tissues out of my body as were some of the previous speculations that were made by researchers who came to the Philippines to study the healers in the 1960s and 70s.
I felt the energy of the Holy Spirit in a very physical sense running through my body in the chapel and operating rooms. I felt closer to God than I ever had before. The Filipino espiritistas describe their form of meditation as concentrating on God. I also believed my mind had been changed as a result of the trip and I was determined to concentrate on God to continue my healing. Two months later a CAT scan showed improvement of my liver functions. I believe this was a direct result of Jun Labo’s, and others’ healings on my liver and other parts of my body. It is standard practice for the Spirit Revisited group to go to Jun Labo’s residence on the last night of the healing sessions to participate in a séance (as he calls it). It is actually a meditation session in which the Holy Spirit is invited to incorporate into any one of the willing individuals. This is a basic practice of the espiritistas mediumship training. Because we were a group with much faith, Labo invited us to an extra night at his home in hopes of invoking more mediumship experiences with us, a group of believers. (14)
Unfortunately, no one in the group experienced an incorporation of the Holy Spirit at that time. I felt the Spirit entering my sixth Chakra. I was light headed and felt like I was going to fall over in my chair. I experienced a burning sensation in my liver. I felt the Holy Spirit was continuing to healing me, but that I did not have the strength or I was not in the adequate physical condition to fully integrate the Holy Spirit as a medium at this time.
Labo spend a total of eight sessions working on my abdomen. But, had seemed the most significant to me was the emotional and spiritual healings that took place. The term psychic surgery (coined by Harold Sherman in the mid 1960s), according to my associate, Harvey Martin, when performed properly, is a bonding experience with God. This is an accurate description of my experience while visiting the espiritistas. When I received psychic surgery I was in a state of spiritual ecstasy, experiencing gratitude that the Holy Spirit was healing me of all disease. I would pray fervently for the healing of others and tried to facilitate union with the Holy Spirit for the purpose of others’ healings. During these sessions I did not observe the healings with a skeptical eye.
Perhaps due to my years of experience as a Ph.D. student of psychology, I observed psychic surgery at times while in that frame of mind. I was always amazed at what I witnessed. Nearly all of the procedures I observed were unexplainable by scientific terms. Western medicine and scientific technologies leave little room, if any, for the healing that takes place on the spiritual level.
With so many Westerners being overweight and with so many surgeries performed on the abdomen, it is feasible that some faking could occur. However, back surgeries and surgery under the rib cage make penetration with the fingers into the flesh more visible and are virtually impossible to fake by bending one’s fingers. On two separate occasions, I observed Brother Lawrence and Placidos’ fingers plunge straight into a patient’s back and chest. On these two separate occasions the phenomena occurred on the same patient who had a lot of faith in the process.
George Nava True, a skeptic and a debunker of psychic surgery, included in his article, The Facts about Faith Healing a report of Placido Palitayan being arrested in for fraud in Oregon in 1989. Placido had supposedly been exposed as a fake healer as True claimed he was caught using cow organs during fraudulent psychic surgeries. This initial negative impression had affected my sense of this man’s integrity as well as the practice of psychic surgery in general. It raised the thought that perhaps the espiritistas would resort to placebo surgeries when they experienced a loss of their healing ability. Meeting Placido was a pleasant surprise. I found him to be a very sincere, friendly, and likeable healer. Like Labo he looked younger than his stated age and appeared to be in good health. Because of the previous reporting I observed Placido’s work with a skeptical eye. I observed him work on my partner and was amazed at what I saw. He plunged his fingers directly into my partner’s back as I stood there looking down at the operating table not two feet away. It was one of the most undeniable and incredible things I have ever witnessed. George Nava True, had he observed the same event would have surely been convinced of this man’s genuine gift from God, the ability to enter the human body with his bare hands for the purpose of healing. Images of Catholicism are deeply embedded in Philippine culture and largely influence the dynamics of folk healing practices in the Islands. Some of the Christian Union of Espiritistas do not utilize imagery, due to the belief that healing comes from the Spirit of God and not from the graven Catholic images. Although their beliefs and choices are legitimate, it is apparent to me that the use of imagery plays an important role in the faith and belief in patients and thereby contributes to the healing energy. Many of the healers’ altars and shrines include images of Santo Ninio, the healing saint; Mother Mary; Christ crucified; Our Lady of Lourdes; Jesus the Nazarene; and the resurrection of Jesus. In the Philippines, these images are well-known as 95 per cent of the population is Catholic.
I went to see Alex Orbito’s Pyramid of Asia healing center but no one was practicing there due to the recent death of David Oligani. Eluterio Terte’s was the first known Filipino psychic surgeon introduced to the western world by Ormund and McGill in 1958. He had two daughters, who are practicing healers, Nina and Arsenia dela Cruz. Arsenia, a psychic surgeon was out of the country, so we received magnetic healings from Nina. I was surprised at both the heat that radiated from her hands, and how she gave special attention to certain areas of my body that where old injuries and problem areas. I had not mentioned any of them to her or anyone else on the tour.
A Reiki practitioner later explained to me that the heat radiating from her hands came from pure intention and that a “good healer” can sense the areas of the body which require attention. She also agreed that Nina was gifted with exceptional hands-on healing abilities. I presented Nina with a copy of my dissertation it included information about her father. She seemed quite happy and eagerly positioned us to take pictures in front of their large mural that was from an original Christian Union of Espiritistas Church in Pangasinan. This was a high point of the tour for me. The Spirit Revisited group also went to visit the Miraculous Lady of the Bleeding Heart Chapel. It is reported that the statue of the Virgin Mary in that Holy Place bled from the heart seven years straight. Recently it had been reported that the heart still bleeds on occasion, the last time in February, 2003. We went to the chapel to meet a healer who also brought an associate medium with her. Her associate would incorporate spirits, but did not practice the art of healing. The medium lost her Filipino accent and spoke up in perfect English and in a deeper tone as she announced herself as Mary the Mother of Jesus. She spoke of her suffering, and reminded us that we must not forget how her Son suffered and died for us on the cross. When she finished her message she fell down on the marble chapel floor of the Chapel. The medium-healer began our sessions by making crosses on our foreheads and the palms of our hands with blessed oil. Otherwise the healings we received were reminiscent of psychic readings by modern clairvoyants in the US. I left the Spirit Revisited group in Manila and went on my own to meet Lita Castellano and others. Lita had recently incorporated The Christian Church of the Living Truth, branching off of the original Union of Espiritistas. I spoke with Lita about mediumship training, the foundation of Christian Spiritism and psychic surgery. The first night I stayed Lita woke me up at 3:00 am, the quietest time of the night to do a healing and a reading of me. She believed that I could train me to be a medium, probably of the inspirational variety. Lita also reminded me of a modern clairvoyant practitioner in many ways, except for her strong reverence for and practice of her beliefs in Christianity and the Bible. Lita informed me in order to develop the necessary skills to incorporate spirits would probably take about a month. I did not have time for this during this trip. I received several magnetic healings from Lita, as she was assisted by her daughter and sister who were also in her mediumship training course. I did join the mediumship group on two evenings, engaged in prayer, and continued with some activity in the church everyday for the four days I was there. I was aware that Harvey and Lita had made a video showing how psychic surgery could be faked. However, I wasn’t aware that Lita believed all the psychic surgeons in practice today, were unethical. She told me she was concerned that I would spend a lot of money only to be deceived by the placebo surgeries. It was not of their beliefs, but the differences of practices and that inspired Lita and others to split off from the Union whose members included Arsenia and Nina. Both groups believe in the healing power of the Holy Spirit through magnetic healing. However Lita’s group did not practice psychic surgery, nor did they charge money for healings
While I was lodging behind the Christian Church of the Living Truth in Manila we went out one day to look up Jamie Licauco and to attempt to locate some of the healers in Manila. Edwin Agpaoa the nephew of the most famous psychic surgeon of all times, Tony Agpaoa wanted to know what my expectations were in paying him the visit, since he knew I had a Ph.D. and that I was a researcher. I clarified that my main interest in visiting him was in receiving treatment for my own health problems.
He indicated that he would provide treatment as guided by the Holy Spirit. Following my previous experiences in Cebu, psychic surgery was not really something I was nervous about. I usually found the experience comforting. Edwin provided some treatment for my liver. Then Edwin asked me to turn over onto my stomach and he applied a cupping treatment to the center of my back right between my shoulder blades. This impressed me particularly because this area of my back was a problem I had not mentioned to anyone on the tour.
For several years I experienced pain in my major muscle groups. The most intense pain was in the middle of my back, right between the shoulder blades, and seemed to radiate out from there. The only options my western medical team could come up with were providing me with addictive pain medications. The pain I had suffered for approximately 3 years was eventually resolved following 3 or 4 acupuncture treatments. I occasionally request a repeat treatment for this condition from my acupuncturist.
Edwin was guided by the Holy Spirit to perform a cupping treatment unlike the typical procedure with many small “shot-glasses,” but used one incision right in the middle of my back with one large glass applied. He lit a piece of cotton and created suction under the large glass. Many of the Filipino healer’s techniques are painless, but some can also be painful, depending on the procedure. This one was painful. Edwin showed me the blood in the glass. It was not only much thicker than normal blood, but it was also discolored, a darker brown color than my blood is normally. It was either full of toxins or was contaminated due to poor circulation in the middle of my back where I tend to carry much of the stress in my body. In cultures where poverty is prevalent, indigenous healing systems are available to the common people when Western biomedical care is not. According to Martin (1998) “In these cultures, healers rely solely on their ability to manipulate the mind set and expectations of their patients in order to activate the healing processes that lie dormant within the patient.” In the West, we would refer to this as placebo effect. In underdeveloped countries, mind/body medicine is the ancient but effective alternative to scientific medicine. Filipinos and many other indigenous peoples are likely to accept healing methods based on their faith and belief, and they respond to them positively in ways that are reported as nothing short of miracle healings.
Martin, H. (1998). The secret teachings of the Espiritistas. Savannah GA: Metamind Publications.
Ormund, R & McGill, O. (1959). Into the strange unknown. Hollywood CA: Esoteric Foundation.
Sherman, H. (1967). Wonder healers of the Philippines. London Psychic Press LTD.
True, G.N. (2000). The facts about faith healing. www.quackwatch.org/