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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

native healer In every culture, a shaman or witch doctor figure emerges who is charged with the healing duties. He or she adopts or develops an acceptable plot to explain illnesses and malfunctions of the body and performs whatever cures or alleviations of symptoms are possible.
      Patients usually expect to see something actually removed from their bodies as symbolic of the removal of the cause of their problem. With the extraction of teeth, that requirement is obviously easily met, and in cases where bullets or other missiles, slivers, or thorns are extracted, both the practical and the symbolic needs are also satisfied. In some situations, the healer may secretly introduce a small stone or twig onto the site of the operation, and since this would satisfy the need for an actual object, it can bring about more contentment from the patient, since something is produced that is identifiable as a cause of the discomfort. This is a bit of “show business” in a serious effort to bring relief to patients.
      This process is known in certain African societies as “pulling the thorn.” Here, it involves a surreptitious introduction on the site of the operation of a bit of thorn or sharp object, usually via the healer's mouth, since African procedures involve sucking the wound to remove the infection. This act, though obviously potentially dangerous to both healer and patient from the infection point of view, might actually be very effective. The object is then spat out and identified as the source of the evil. The satisfaction thus evoked enhances the reputation of the healer, who is usually performing minor medicine of a very useful sort for people who have little if any other resource.
      See also psychic surgery and shaman.

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Copyright (C) 1995-2007 James Randi.

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