Faith Cures

The series of phenomena that may be grouped under the term "faith

cures" represent the oldest, the most frequent, universal, and

constantly recurring examples of the influence of the mind over the

body for the healing of ills. Whenever men have believed deeply and

with conviction that some other being was able to help them, many

of their ills, or at least the conditions from which they suffered

severely, have dropped
rom them and their complaints, real or

imaginary have disappeared. This was true whether it was the touch of

another human being supposed to have some wonderful power that was the

agent, or some persuasion of the interference of the supernatural that

appealed to them. Religions of all kinds have always had their cures,

and one of the main reasons why men have accepted the various

religions has nearly always been because of the weight of these

healing phenomena. Apparently it does not matter how debased the form

of religion may be, whether it is exercised by the medicine man of a

savage tribe with methods that appeal only to barbarous instincts, or

by a highly cultured priest of a form of religion appealing to the

loftiest feeling and the profoundest intellectuality, cures take place

whenever devotees have complete and absolute faith in the possibility

of divine or supernatural interference in their behalf. The very

earliest history that we have tells us of such cures, and the daily

papers bring us reports of them from all quarters among the high and

the low, the educated and the uneducated.

The phenomenon is universal and we come logically to the belief that

the Supreme Being intended that confidence in Him, and above all

recognition of the fact that somehow the world with all its ills has a

meaning for good, should be rewarded. The argument that religion is a

natural revelation should then apparently be extended to include also

the thought of a healing power in connection with it. Many of the

founders of religions that have meant much for uplift to mankind, have

made healing a principal portion of their message to man--the proof of

their missions. Indeed, there actually seems to be an extension of

power, above what is natural, to those who in profound confidence in

Divinity, turn to this source of strength for relief from the ills

that flesh is heir to. In any of these cases, definite inquiry as to

the significance of the particular incident is needed, and not any

general principle of either acceptance or rejection. Faith healing is

a fact, its meaning is of the greatest importance for psychotherapy

and its phenomena deserve that specific study which alone can give any

certainty in the matter.

Accessories of Faith Cures.--From the earliest dawn of history we have

definite records of faith cures. It is true that they were usually

associated with certain physical factors besides the mere act of the

mind. In ancient Egypt the physicians were also priests, and while

they administered various remedies, these had the added advantage of

being supposed to be the result of divine inspiration, or suggestion,

or to be in some way connected with religion. Among these men there

were many strong personalities, contact with whom brought healing.

Dreams and premonitions and hallucinations all had a definite place in

their therapeutics because of their supposed connection with religion,

or at least with the beings of another world. Spiritualism, itself a

form of religion, is very old, and communications from spirits, real

or supposed, were easily thought to have therapeutic significance.

Miracles.--In most cases of faith healing, faith acts through the

definite conviction that there is to be a direct interference with the

ordinary course of nature in the patient's behalf. Some of the

evidence for such direct interference on the part of Providence is so

strong as to carry conviction even to serious and judicious and

judicial minds. When the circumstances are such that an exception

to the laws of nature would not involve an absurdity, there is no good

reason why its occurrence should be absolutely put out of the

question. It may well be urged that we know so little about the laws

of nature that we cannot determine absolutely what are and what are

not exceptions to those laws. There is in itself, however, no

absurdity in what is called a miracle, and unless one is ready to

reject Christianity entirely, or to declare it absolutely impossible

that the God who made the universe should have any personal care for

it, or above all any interest in particular individuals in it, their

possibility must be admitted. The attitude of utter negation and

incredulity often assumed at the present day is only a reflection of a

certain ignorance of philosophy, and too great dependence on a

superficial knowledge of physical science, so characteristic of

narrowly trained minds. After a visit to Lourdes and careful study of

"La clinique de Lourdes," I am convinced that miracles happen there.

There is more than natural power manifest.

In a great many cases it is easy to see that the agents involved in

the faith cures, and the circumstances surrounding them, are quite

unworthy of any supposition that the Deity should have interfered.

Where there is anything irrational, or sordid, or eminently selfish

about the faith-healing, then any appeal to a supposed interference

from on high is absurd. Horace said in another matter, but it will

bear application here: "Nec deus intersit nisi dignus vindice nodus."

Do not let a god intervene unless there is a set of circumstances

worthy of him. In many of the faith-healing phenomena claimed to be

connected with religion there are a number of absurdities. It may be

suggested that any one person must not set himself up as the judge of

such absurdity. When it is evident, however, that the ailing are being

exploited for the benefit of one or of a few persons, or when there

are certain manifestly irrational conditions in the circumstances of

healing, then it is fair to conclude that what we have to do with are

only examples of healing by means of strong mental influence. But it

would be quite wrong on account of these abuses to dismiss the whole

subject of miracle healing as all imposture or merely mental


The Royal Touch.--Probably the most interesting chapter in the history

of faith cures is that of the touch of the King of England for

scrofula, or, as it was known, the King's Evil. His touch was also

supposed to be efficacious in epilepsy. English historians usually

trace the origin of the custom to Edward the Confessor. Aubrey remarks

that "the curing of the King's Evil by the touch of the King does much

puzzle our philosophers, for whether our Kings were of the house of

York or Lancaster, it did the cure for the most part."

Even the change of religion in the time of Henry VIII and Elizabeth

made no difference. Some people who hesitated about submitting to

Elizabeth as queen lost their hesitancy when they heard that the

queen's touch was successful in curing. James I wanted to drop it, but

was warned not to, as it was a prerogative of the crown with which he

had no right to interfere. Charles I was particularly successful.

Charles II, whose licentious life apparently would quite unfit him for

the exercise of any such power, was perhaps the English king who

devoted most time to healing. While he was in exile in the

Netherlands, many people crossed over to the Low Countries in order to

be touched by him, and they returned cured of many different diseases.

This effectively prepared the minds of many for his return. Under

scrofula were included most of the wasting diseases, and under

epilepsy many neurotic conditions as well as many organic

disturbances. It is easy to understand how great was the room for the

successful employment here of mental influence.

Queen Anne continued the practice, and many cures were reported in her

time as late as the eighteenth century. William of Orange, when he

ascended the throne with Mary, refused to believe that there was any

special power for good in his touch. On one occasion he touched a

person who came to him, saying as he did so: "God give you better

health and more sense." In spite of this skeptical attitude his touch

is said to have healed that particular person. In the next reign,

however. Queen Anne resumed the practice, and Dr. Samuel Johnson, as a

boy of five, was touched by her with some hundreds of others in 1712.

No cure was effected in his case, but as the gruff old doctor lived to

a round age in rather sturdy health, doubtless some would raise the

question as to whether, if he had early scrofula, it was not greatly

modified for the better.

The circumstances connected with the royal touch were all calculated

to be curative of the affections for which this practice had a

therapeutic reputation. There were certain times in the year,

particularly in the spring after Easter, when the king touched people

for their ills. Ordinarily preparations would be made for some time

before, and the patients would have all the benefit of expectancy.

Then there came the journey to London to the king's presence, and as

it was usually known that these ailing folks were on their way to the

king, they received particular care from the people of the towns

through which they passed. Then came the day of the touch itself, and

the presentation of a coin, the so-called coin of the king's touch,

which the patient was supposed to preserve. On the way home they were

once more subjects of solicitude, and they had the royal coin to

assure them every now and then that they had been touched by the

king's hand, and that they ought to get well--for had not many others

been thus cured? All this favorable suggestion, with the outing and

the better food, was eminently calculated to cure the so-called

scrofular conditions, under which term was grouped many vague forms of

malnutrition and the milder epilepsies and pseudo epilepsies, for the

cure of which the touch was famous.

Cramp Rings.--Scarcely less famous than the king's touch for

nutritional and neurotic conditions were the "cramp rings," which were

blessed by the Queens of England and were supposed to cure all sorts

of cramps. The power attached to them for this form of ailment was

similar to that which the king's touch had for scrofula or the king's

evil. Cramps seemed to be the "queen's evil." Whenever a queen died

there was a great demand for these rings, because no more could be

obtained until a new queen was crowned. The efficiency of these and

the cures which they performed can be readily understood. Many of the

hysterical conditions within the abdomen are cramplike in character.

Hysteria will imitate nearly every form of cramp, including even those

due to gallstone and kidney calculus. Any strong mental influence will

do more for hysterical pain than our strongest medicines. On the other

hand, many of the cramplike conditions within the abdomen may be

relieved by concentration of mind on some distracting thought, and

feelings of discomfort in the intestines may thus be relieved.

Mental Healers.--When the king was absent from England during

Cromwell's time, the touching for the king's evil was sadly missed. If

Cromwell himself had announced that he would touch for the diseases

that used to come to the king, a number of cures would undoubtedly

have been reported. As it was, Greatrakes, the Irish soldier

adventurer, dreamt that he was commissioned from on high to touch for

the same diseases as formerly had gone to the king, and, having begun

it, cures followed until probably many more came to him every year

than usually went to the sovereign in the olden times. He worked at

least as great a proportion of cures. Greatrakes had many imitators,

some of them doubtless quite sincere, but they were people of more or

less deranged intellect, the kind who easily get the idea that they

are commissioned for some purpose that sets them above the common

people. Indeed, the story of the mental healers is probably, more than

anything else, a chapter in the history of insanity, and the power of

those with delusions to lead others to share their delusions. This is

not a slur upon human nature, and especially upon some of the

inspirations and aspirations that lift it up to do great things, but a

literal statement of the view of these phenomena that seems forced

upon us by modern advances in the knowledge of the psychology of

mental influence and of psychic contagion.

Most of the influence that was acquired by men who in the course of

history claimed to have a heavenly mission has been due, as with

healers heretofore referred to, to reputed cures made by them. Trace

the story of this among the Eastern nations in the old time. The

pseudo-Messiahs of the Jews always advanced as one evidence their

healing power, but so did the founders of religions among all the

other nations of antiquity. It must be borne in mind, however, that

many of the queer religions of after times were founded by men who

claimed to have a Messiahship, and put forth, as the evidence of a

divine commission, their power to cure the afflicted. Sometimes the

men who made these claims were good men. In many cases they were

apparently self-deceived. Very often, however, they had no claim to

goodness in the commonly accepted meaning of that term, for they

counseled the violation of moral precepts, made exceptions, for their

own benefit, to general laws, and exploited their followers for

selfish reasons. Provided their followers had confidence in them,

however, they continued to work cures, so that even reasonable people

were likely to be led to the thought that there must be something

supernatural about their activities. In every century there have been

two or three men who have thus secured a following, and apparently

healed many diseases.

The phenomena of faith-healing as the result of belief in the heavenly

mission of special men, are as common now as at any time. Dr. Cutten

in his "Three Thousand Years of Mental Healing" (Scribners, 1911)

has a chapter on "Healers of the Nineteenth Century," which shows how

many phenomena of faith-healing can be studied in recent generations.

Some of the men and the women who are mentioned secured wide

reputations throughout our own country.

These faith-healing movements have particularly affected the New

England portion of our population, and many of our most prominent

healers have been born in the New England States. Wherever the new

cults flourished, it is usually found that some of the most prominent

members are descendants of the old New Englanders. It has been

suggested that this is due to the gradual loss of belief in great

religious truths by New Englanders, and a definite tendency toward

reaction against this loss of the religious sense, which, as is usual

with reactions, easily becomes exaggerated. From lack of belief they

jump to excess of belief. Men without trust in Providence find the

trials of life hard to bear, and they dread the development of

physical ill so much that they exaggerate their feelings, or even

create symptoms. Men are happier with the feeling that the

supernatural powers surrounding them are interested in them directly

and personally, and that somehow things, even in an incomprehensible

world, are arranged, if not for the best, at least for such good as

makes ills stepping-stones to new benefits. Whenever they are led far

away from that thought, there is likely to be an exaggerated reaction

back to it. The stronger minded apparently can get on without

religion, but to the great mass of men a strong religious sense is

needed to enable them to overcome the lack of self-confidence that is

the root of dreads, doubts, difficulties of many kinds, and which is

also the source of many symptoms as well as the cause of the

exaggeration of many ailments.

As a rule, modern healers have been founders of new religions, or at

least they have broken away from old-established sects, and have

formed congregations for themselves. They have sprung up in every part

of the country. East, North, South, West, and among all the differing

nationalities of our population. We cannot console ourselves with the

idea that they affect especially the foreigners, for the native-born

people have proved to be quite as susceptible to them. These healers

have, as a rule, abused the medical profession and the use of drugs,

and have taught that disease, if it really existed at all, was from

the devil: that what one needed, in order to secure relief from pains

and ills, was faith in God--but always through them. Many of these

men and women have probably been serious and earnest and have deceived

themselves first. Most of them have undoubtedly been more or less

disequilibrated, though they have practically all exhibited the power

to accumulate large amounts of money from their followers. The people

who have gone to them have not been the ignorant among our population,

but particularly those who read the newspapers, and who look upon

themselves as well informed. The intelligence of the disciples of

these healers, as we ordinarily estimate intelligence, has been a

little above the average, rather than below it.

Schlatter and Dowie.--Probably the most disillusioning phenomena

with regard to the complacent idea that the diffusion of information

prevents manifestations of superstition are stories of the healers

Schlatter and Dowie. At the end of the nineteenth century both of them

attracted widespread attention. Schlatter was probably not quite sane.

He wandered through the deserted portions of the Southwest, hatless,

unkempt, with clothing torn and without shoes. In July, 1895, he first

attracted attention as a public healer in New Mexico. After a reputed

forty-day fast he went to Denver, where people flocked from all parts

of the country to him. Files of people formed--sometimes five or six

thousand--to be touched, and healed, by him. His reputation was due to

the cures that were reported. Dowie was another of these healers. Just

at the beginning of the twentieth century he organized a great new

church of his own, and announced himself as Elijah, the prophet,

returned to life. Nearly 20,000 persons are claimed to have been

healed during the first ten years of his healing career. Toward the

end of his life he declared that he treated, and cured, over 50,000 a

year. An abundance of crutches, canes and every form of surgical

appliance for the ailing hung on the walls of his church at Zion City,

Chicago, left by people who, having been healed, had no further use

for them.