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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 from 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.

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