Psychic Surgeon and Healer

Psychics & Mediums

Jose Arigo - Psychic Surgeon and Healer

Psychic Surgeon Arigo in actionKnown 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 as 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 Arigo began 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.

Arigo's early Psychic Surgery

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 disappeared.

Overwhelmed by his seemingly miraculous 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 Dr. Fritz

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. 

To 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 waited in 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. 

According to 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. 

Unfortunately, the publicity and fame which Arigo's abilities attracted brought him the unwanted attention of the Brazilian government, who, 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 cured.'

Puharich's Investigations

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.

Puharich's 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.

Some 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 great healer. 

Other Psychic Surgeons

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.

The Sceptics

Understandably, 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.

Whilst 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 the 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 mind that 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.

How 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.' 

It is 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.

Sources and Further Reading

Fuller, J.G. Arigo: Surgeon of the Rusty Knife. Crowell, 1974.

North, A. The Supernatural. Blandford. 1998. pp124-6.

Playfair, G. The Infinite Boundary. Souvenir Press.1976. pp42-43.

  Copyright 2004 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.

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