- Psychic Surgeon and
Known mainly from the Philippines and
Brazil, psychic surgery is a supposedly paranormal medical practice where
tissue is removed from the patient's body by a 'psychic doctor' in a
painless operation, performed without the use of anaesthetics or
antiseptics. The procedure is often undertaken with bare hands or
extremely basic medical instruments and leaves little if any trace of the
skin having been broken. Most of the medical profession today considers
psychic surgery a complete fraud, an irresponsible practice giving false
hope to those suffering from fatal diseases.
In Brazil in the late 1950s many
'spiritual doctors' were associated with the
philosophical doctrine of 'spiritism', founded in in the mid 19th Century by French school
teacher Leon Rivail, using the pseudonym Allan Kardec. One of the first
and most famous of these Brazilian psychic surgeons was an ex-miner known
Arigo. Jose Pedro de Freitas
(he took the name Arigo when he became famous as a healer in 1950) was
born in October 1921, on a farm 6km outside
the mining town of Congonhas do Campo, east-central
Minas Gerais, in the Brazilian Highlands. Arigo came from a poor family,
he left school at 14 to begin work in the local mines.
When he was 30 years old
suffering from depression, and experienced fierce headaches, nightmares,
sleep-walking and hallucinations. Unable to get any relief from
the town doctors the distraught young man went to a local spiritist named
Olivera, who prayed for him and told him that the cause of the problem was
a spirit attempting to work through him. One dramatic event was to
convince Arigo of the truth of this statement.
According to the
story, in 1950, state senator
Bittencourt apparently invited Arigo along with some other miners to attend a rally in
the city of Belo Horizonte. Arigo was
staying at the same hotel as the senator, who had
recently learned that he was suffering from a cancerous tumour which
required immediate treatment. The senator was intending to travel to the US to
undergo surgery after the rally. That night Arigo entered Bittencourt's room apparently in
a state of trance, carrying a razor.
The senator passed out only to awake
the next morning to find his pyjama top slashed, blood on his chest and a
neat incision in his ribcage. In a state of profound shock the senator
went to find Arigo who remembered nothing of the incident but helped the
dazed man to a taxi which took him to his physician. After taking several
x-rays senator Bittencourt 's doctor informed him that the tumour had inexplicably
Overwhelmed by his
cure Bittencourt started talking about it to his friends and
associates and even included it in his political speeches, thus leading to
instant fame for Arigo.
Another spectacular case occurred some time in 1956.
Apparently, Arigo and his family
were gathered round the bed of a female relative
dying from cancer of the uterus. With the priest about to
administer the last rites Arigo suddenly ran out of the room into the
kitchen, grabbed a knife came back and thrust it swiftly into the woman's
vagina. Twisting the knife around for a few seconds he rapidly extracted
the bloody tumour which he threw, together with the kitchen knife, into the
sink. He then collapsed, and subsequently stated that he could remember nothing of
the operation. The understandably stunned relatives immediately called a
doctor, who confirmed that Arigo had indeed removed a tumour from the
woman, without apparent pain or haemorrhaging. The relative soon recovered
completely from the disease. The account of this miraculous cure is, like
the majority in the case of
Arigo, anecdotal, so it is
impossible now to verify the truth of most of the stories.
The Spirit of
Arigo claimed that he
performed his operations whilst in a trance state possessed by (or channelling)
the spirit of a German doctor called 'Dr
Adolphus Fritz', who had apparently died in 1918, during World War I. This was the spirit
that Olivera had
said was trying to work through him, and after Arigo began his work as
a psychic surgeon his severe headaches stopped and only returned when he
later decided to temporarily discontinue his surgery.
perform his surgeries Arigo opened a small clinic in his home town of Congonhas do
Campo, where he would carry out his swift operations free of charge. He
possessed no medical knowledge whatsoever, worked in unsanitary
conditions, and used only his hands, a rusty knife or occasionally a pair
of scissors; his only concession to cleanliness was to wipe his knife on
his shirt before and after surgery. Despite these apparently dangerous
conditions he performed perhaps a million successful operations over a
twenty-year period, regularly treating hundreds of people a day in his
surgery. During the operations there would be little bleeding and the
patients would feel no pain. There was no need for stitches and wounds
would heal remarkably fast; there is also no record of a patient ever
having become infected, despite the unsterile conditions.
Carlos Paranhos da Costa Cruz, a
dentist who worked in Belo Horizonte, reported how his sister-in-law Sonja
had been diagnosed by several physicians, including her own father, with
cancer of the liver. The condition being inoperable, in desperation she, her
father and Cruz travelled to see Arigo at his primitive surgery. They
line with everybody else and when Sonja's turn came, before she could say anything,
Arigo informed her she had cancer of the liver and that he would perform a
quick operation. He lay her down on the newspaper
covered floor and made a quick incision, apparently into the girl's liver,
with his penknife. Stunned, Cruz and the girl's father waited for the expected hemorrhaging,
only to see a mere trickle of blood coming out of the wound.
Cruz, things then got even stranger, as Arigo inserted a pair of scissors
into the wound and immediately took away his hand. The scissors appeared to
move of their own accord. After a few seconds Arigo pulled out the scissors,
reached into the wound and removed the tumorous growth, slapping it into
Cruz's hand when he was finished. He wiped the incision with a piece of
cotton, quickly placed a crucifix against it, and without stitches it
closed up. Sonja was dazed but not in any pain, and was able to get up and
walk around. She was cured. A biopsy of the growth which Arigo had removed confirmed
that the growth was indeed cancer. Neither Cruz nor the girl's
father had any explanation for what they had witnessed.
Other eminent individuals
taken to Arigo to be treated were Brazilian President Kubitschek's daughter,
his pilot and the head of his security police, all of whom reportedly came
back cured from the great healer. Arigo always operated in bright light, and
allowed anyone who was interested to come and watch his surgery, including
doctors. One of the many physicians who witnessed Arigo's psychic surgery
was Dr. Ladeira Margues of Rio. During an operation on a Mrs. Maria
Silveiro, Margues saw Arigo remove a piece of tissue 78.7 cm (31 inches)
long and 38 cm (15 inches) wide from her ovaries. During the brief operation
Margues also claimed he saw the scissors moving alone, as if being taken by
another hand, and described hearing 'the sound of metals and tissues being
cut.' When Arigo saw that the wound had begun
to bleed, he immediately stopped what he was doing and said 'Lord, let there
be no more blood.' From that moment on there was no further hemorrhaging
during the operation.
the publicity and fame which Arigo's abilities attracted brought him the unwanted attention of the Brazilian
in the spring of 1957, arrested him for practicing medicine without a
license, despite pleas from thousands of his patients. Perhaps due to
friends in high places Arigo was subsequently pardoned and released without serving his
sentence. However, in 1964 he was arrested again, this time on charges connected with
witchcraft, and given 16
months in jail, despite the fact that the authorities were unable to find
anyone to testify against him amongst the hundreds of thousands he had
treated by that time. He was to serve seven months of a 16-month
prison sentence, though he was allowed to continue treating people while
held in jail.
One example of Arigo's
skill performed whilst in prison was witnessed by a Roman Catholic Judge called Filippe Immesi,
who went to investigate the legendary psychic surgeon for himself. He
described an eye operation as follows -
'I saw him pick up
... a pair of nail scissors. He wiped them on his shirt
and used no disinfectant. I saw him then cut straight into the cornea of the
patient's eye. She did not flinch, although perfectly conscious. The cataract
was out in seconds ... Arigo said a prayer and a few drops of liquid appeared on
the cotton in his hand. He wiped the women's eye with it and she was
In 1963 American
psychical researcher Henry (Andrija) Puharich, M.D, and businessman Henry Belk
visited Brazil to begin a detailed 5-year-long investigation into Arigo's alleged healing powers. Puharich claimed to have witnessed thousands
of Arigo's operations during the investigations and himself had a benign
tumour removed from his arm in a few seconds, completely without pain. This
example of psychic surgery was filmed, along with many of Arigo's operations
at this time, and showed Ario slitting Puharich's arm with an unsterilised
penknife, removing the growth and slapping it in Puharich's hand. The whole
operation had taken five seconds, there was little bleeding and no infection
afterwards. Puharich's research into the Arigo revealed that such
operations as he had undergone himself were commonplace.
studies included tests on the blood from tissue Arigo
had removed from patients, in order to ascertain that it did indeed belong to the person who had been operated on.
He also taped interviews with numerous patients and observers, made audio tapes and
films of Arigo's surgeries and diagnoses, and took numerous photographs, some of
which can be found in J.G. Fullers book about the case (see sources).
Puharich found that apart from his psychic surgery, Arigo was also able to
diagnose illnesses, advise appropriate treatment at a glance, and write
out complex prescriptions, often for dangerously high doses of drugs, or for
medicines that were obsolete or even illegal. Investigations showed that Arigo's prescriptions worked, even on terminal cases, although, as with his
surgery, there was no known medical reason why they should do so.
time in early January 1971 Arigo began telling his friends and associates,
including former President of Brazil Kubitschek, that they would not
see him again, as he would soon die a violent death. A few days later on 11
January he was killed in a car crash. Arigo's hometown of
Congonhas do Campo reportedly came to a standstill at the tragic news,
flags flew at half mast and the mayor declared two days of mourning for the
Apparently the death of Arigo
did not mean the end of the shadowy Dr. Fritz, the Brazilian's
supposed spirit guide. Other Brazilian psychic surgeons claimed to be
channelling the spirit of the German doctor, including Oscar and Edivaldo Wilde,
and a gynaecologist from Recife called Edson Queiroz. The Wilde
brothers both died violently in car crashes, while Queiroz was stabbed to
death in 1991. Currently, Rubens Farias Jr, a former Sao Paulo engineer and
computer programmer, claims to be the channel for the spirit of Dr. Fritz, who has chillingly
predicted a violent death for Farias.
considering the startling nature of the subject, there are those who believe
that Arigo's psychic operations were a complete fraud, and that the wily
Brazilian accomplished his 'miracles' by relatively basic conjuring tricks,
combined with the willingness of his patients to believe he was blessed with
some kind of divine healing power. Psychic surgery is admittedly fairly easy
to duplicate, at any rate for a trained stage magician like James Randi (who on his
website mistakenly attributes J.G. Fuller's book Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife
to Puharich), so the theory goes that it must also have been easy to
fake for the uneducated Arigo. Debunkers have suggested that Arigo never pierced the
patient's skin at all, but probably pinched or rolled it back over the area
to be operated on, placed his hand under the roll of skin and 'removed' a
piece of bloody animal tissue he had concealed in his clenched fist, or
perhaps under the operating table.
this is undoubtedly true of a host of fake psychic surgeons, it is difficult
to believe that Arigo was able to fool a million or so patients,
not to mention the numerous doctors and other qualified observers who
witnessed and verified his operations over a twenty year period. It must be
borne in mind that in all this time Arigo was never detected in fraud; he
was accused of it, but never by anybody who
actually saw him at work. How, for example could Arigo have faked
eye surgery mentioned above, especially
in front of other medical practitioners?
The evidence, in the form of thousands
of testimonies by patients and doctors, photographs and movie films, is
certainly impressive in the case of Arigo. But sceptics remain unconvinced
that an uneducated working man with
no knowledge of medicine could perform complex surgery, often on people
given up as hopeless by physicians, whilst in some sort of trance state,
which resulted in the restoration to health of the patients. More incredible
perhaps is that Arigo apparently did these
operations usually in less than a minute, more often a few seconds, without
using sterilised instruments or antiseptics. According to published
accounts, there was little bleeding, no
infection and the wound never required stitches. It also must be borne in
Arigo never at any time accepted payment for his services, he had to
maintain his day job in order to provide for his family. While this does
not seem to be the behaviour of a hoaxer, sceptics remain unconvinced.
Arigo accomplished his surgical feats is a disputed point. If his healing abilities were faked, which is a distinct possibility, he was still able in some
way to remove all sense of fear and pain from his patients, to affect their
minds in an extremely powerful way. Beyond this, all is conjecture. On
one occasion, when Arigo was shown a film of himself operating, he fainted.
When asked for his own explanation of this incredible ability his reply was
disarmingly straight forward - 'I simply listen to a voice in my right ear and
repeat whatever it says. It is always right.'
bewildering, but perhaps predictable, that no professional medical body ever
thought it worthwhile to undertake a detailed study of this unique
man, even to disprove his alleged abilities.
and Further Reading
Fuller, J.G. Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife.
A. The Supernatural. Blandford. 1998. pp124-6.
G. The Infinite Boundary. Souvenir Press.1976. pp42-43.
Copyright 2004 by Brian
Haughton. All Rights Reserved.
on Mysterious People