João Teixeira de Faria with Gail Thackray.
Spiritual healers are dime-a-dozen. Anyone who listens to a syndicated conspiracy theory radio show like Coast To Coast AM, or scans the bulletin boards are your neighbourhood and you're bound to hear about the latest in Qigong, Reiki, biofield energy healing, etc. But Brazilian medium João Teixeira de Faria, a.k.a. João de Deus, also a.k.a. John of God, is another story.
Based in the small town of Abadiâna in southwest Brazil, John of God performs what's called "psychic surgery" or "spiritual surgery," literally cutting people open without the sway of anesthetic (a spiritual trance does the trick) and removing cancerous tumours or other impediments from their body, then sewing them back up and sending them on their way. You can watch videos of it on YouTube, and they're just about as berserk as they sound.
John's hands-on (and hands-in) approach to spiritual healing has drawn plenty of media attention, including a spot in ABC's Primetime Live and coverage on The Oprah Winfrey Show and CNN. Now, the faithful and the skeptical alike will have a chance to experience John of God's alleged power live, with a three-day event at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, March 17-19, as part of the Brazilian's healer's North American tour.
Leading him across the continent is Gail Thackray, author of Spiritual Journeys: Visiting John Of God. Thackray also identifies as a "medium" (as well as a "spiritual educator"), and who serves as John of God's de facto English language emissary. She was nice enough to stop by the NOW Lounge during a recent visit to Toronto, where we talked to her about mediumship, her meeting John of God, and whether or not any of this is actually real or what.
You must have a pretty interesting perspective on this, because you came to mediumship later in your life.
I found out about mediumship before I met John of God, when I was about 40. One day I was completely normal, and the next day I woke up and could do all this freaky stuff: speak to spirits and all that. I thought, maybe we can all do this. If I can do this, we can all do it. I teach people, how to open up and do mediumship. I also realized how we can talk to animals. I wrote a book about how to communicate with animals.
Yes, I saw that "animal communicator" was one of the many arrows in your quiver. How did you discover all of this?
What happened to me was I did Reiki. Someone did this Reiki attunement on me. A lot of people say Reiki opens you up, spiritually. I didn't feel anything. I though, "Maybe it's just kind of wishful thinking." But a few weeks later I went to this workshop called "How To Be A Medium," and this psychic had us do these exercises where we stood up and talked to peoples' love ones. And I was talking about their names, what they did, all in great detail. Everyone was freaking out, and I was completely freaking out because I didn't know how I did it! I guess Reiki did open me up.
Was this before or after you had woken up to your abilities?
This was my waking up. A lot of us have it. We just don't know how to do it. We have a block. So I started doing this and it changed my life. Then I heard about this guy John of God and I was like, "Well, sounds interesting." But it's not like I had cancer or anything. A lot of people only see him when they've got some great illness.
Well you should feel thankful about that.
[Laughs] Yeah! I don't want one, thank you! But I ended up going anyway. And a lot of people I met had cancer five years ago and were completely healed. I thought, "Why are you back here?"
You mention in your book that it's like a check-up for a lot of people.
Yeah, like a tune-up. The cancer is a minor thing. What [meeting John of God] does is give you a whole new perspective on life. Everything flows better. And you just feel better, and more connected. Your life is better. You have a better outlook on life. So people go because it just feels amazing.
Before you came to mediumship, you were a businesswoman of some sort, and you say that your husband had some time adjusting to your new life. You also mention these German guys you met in Brazil, who looked like they were in a rock band. Are there certain ideas or stereotypes associated with spiritual healing that can be hard to think past?
I think I expected it to be mostly women who were already into spiritualism. The first group I met were these biker dudes. One guy had had a bike accident and messed up his back. He went down to see John of God and got completely healed. I have people who will come to my talks about John of God, where they'll come with a friend or they'll wander in, and something miraculous happens. They'll end up going to see John of God and it changes their lives.
Spiritual healers come out of the woodwork all the time. The significant thing about John of God is this idea of spiritual surgery. It's not just some laying of hands stuff. He allegedly comes out and performs surgery on people who are rendered unconscious without anesthetic. What was it like to see that for the first time?
That's what gets the most attention. You see it on YouTube and stuff. And it really is crazy. People think, "Oh it must be fake." But you can go down there and stand two feet away, and he invites people to take pictures and use cameras. The way he does it normally is with an invisible energy path. He sometimes won't even touch them. The energy will just flow through. You just hold an intention in your mind, like "I'd like to have my back healed," and as you pass by him the energy works on them and it happens. That's what 99% of people do.
But if John of God assigns you a spiritual surgery - and you have to go to Brazil, he's not going to do it in Toronto - you'll volunteer for a physical surgery. Someone with a cancerous lump might not believe that an invisible surgery's going to do it. So he takes, maybe one or two volunteers, and literally cut them open with a knife, no anesthetic, and you can see them standing there. They'll say the felt it, but didn't feel any pain. He cuts them open, takes out the lumps, and stitches them up.
And you've seen this?
I've seen hundreds of them. And it's not fake. Absolutely.
As a skeptic I find it a bit hard to swallow. I can maybe buy this idea that if you come to something with an open mind, and are willing to receive something, you can create those experiences. But when it crosses over into physical surgery, it seems like a whole other level of belief.
Well at first I thought, maybe these people are just really in the zone. But there's no way he can make a four-inch incision, stick his hand inside, pull out lumps, and sew them up and these people are not even flinching. I've talked to a medical doctor, who tried to sew a woman up and he said her skin was like ice! The needle wouldn't go in, it just broke right off! But John of God picked up a new needle, smiled, and just stitched her up.
You've called the spirits that inhabit, or incorporate in, John of God "benevolent light workers." What do you mean by that?
Well they're spirits but they're high-intention spirits.
What does that even mean?
Every spirit on the other side is not always of the highest intention. These are spirits that want to come and help people.
Do you come this from any particular religious background? Does John of God?
He's Catholic. But he says anyone can come, any faith. When he incorporates, he says a prayer. And there's some Jesus and Mary stuff there. But it's really any faith. If you believe in God, pray to God. If you believe in Buddha, pray to Buddha.
Well Catholics are always kind of warned about this: that people who say they're miracle workers in this sense can be false prophets. This is how the antichrist appears, some would say. Do you ever see any of these suspicions, by people who approach John of God from a stricter religious background?
Absolutely. A lot of Catholics will say, "I don't agree with that." But just two weeks ago, John of God got - I forgot what it's called - some acclamation from the Pope. I should send it to you.
From Pope Benedecit?
And right under the wire there before he retires.
Yeah! Well he proclaimed that this was the healing work of God. This really helps. Now he's been deemed to be working through Catholicism.