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Sources: Primitive Psycho-therapy And Quackery

VALENTINE GREATRAKES was born at Affane, County of Waterford, Ireland,

on Saint Valentine's Day, February 14, 1628. He was educated a

Protestant at the free school of Lismore near his home, and at Trinity

College, Dublin.

At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1641, his mother fled with him to

England and took refuge in Devonshire, where he devoted himself to the

study of the classics and divinity. Afterward
Greatrakes served for

seven years in Cromwell's army, holding a commission as lieutenant of

cavalry under Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery. In 1656 he left the army and

returned to Affane, where he was appointed a magistrate and served as

such with credit.

Soon after the Restoration, in obedience to a divine impulse, he began

practice as a healer of various diseases by the method known as

laying-on of hands, stroking, or touching, which had been employed by

the sovereigns of England, from the time of Edward the Confessor.

Greatrakes's success was immediate and phenomenal. People flocked to him

so rapidly, we are told, from all quarters, that "his barns and

out-houses were crammed with innumerable specimens of suffering

humanity." In 1665 he returned to England, where he performed many

seemingly marvellous cures; and came to be regarded as a greater

miracle-worker than King Charles II himself. But after an investigation

and adverse report by members of the Royal Society, his practice fell

into disrepute, and he retired to his native land, where he sojourned in

obscurity until his death, which is supposed to have occurred after the

year 1682. One David Lloyd, a biographer, issued a tract entitled

"Wonders no Miracles, or Mr. Valentine Greatrakes' Gift of Healing

Examined," wherein he endeavored to show that the famous "Irish

stroaker" was little better than an impostor. In reply to this,

Greatrakes published a pamphlet, vindicating his methods, with

testimonials from persons of quality and distinction.

Greatrakes has been described as a man of unimpeachable integrity, a

highly respectable member of society, and incapable of attempting to

deceive by fraud. Notoriety was distasteful to him, and in this respect

he was above the plane of an ordinary charlatan. An enthusiast, he

believed himself to be invested with divine healing powers. His success

was surely due to forcible therapeutic suggestions communicated by him

to the minds of highly imaginative and credulous people, who reposed

confidence in his methods. It mattered not that they believed the cures

of their nervous disorders to be wrought solely through the physical

agency of laying-on of hands, whereby some mysterious healing force,

magnetic or otherwise, was communicated to them.

In attempting an explanation of the cures wrought by Greatrakes, Henry

Stubbe, a contemporary writer, affirmed that "God had bestowed upon Mr.

Greatarick a peculiar temperament, or composed his body of some

particular ferments, and the effluvia thereof, sometimes by a light,

sometimes by a violent friction, restore the temperament of the

debilitated parts, reinvigorate the blood, and dissipate all

heterogeneous ferments out of the bodies of the diseased, by the eyes,

nose, hands and feet." There is nothing recorded in regard to

Greatrakes's methods (says Professor Joseph Jastrow, in "Fact and Fable

in Psychology"), which definitely suggests the production of the

hypnotic state; but direct suggestion, reinforced by manipulation,

obviously had much to do with the cures.

In 1666 the Chamberlain of the Worcester Corporation expended ten

pounds, fourteen shillings in an entertainment for "Mr. Greatrix, an

Irishman famous for helping and curing many lame and diseased people,

only by stroking of their maladies with his hand and therefore sent for

to this and many other places."

From a letter written by Greatrakes to the Archbishop of Dublin, it

appears that he believed himself to be inspired of God, for the purpose

of curing disease. He received lavish hospitality in many homes, when at

the height of his popularity, and was regarded as a phenomenal adept in

the art of healing by touch.

If there exists such a thing as the "gift of healing," Greatrakes

appears to have possessed it. Dr. A. T. Schofield believes that in

certain rare cases individuals are endowed with the faculty of curing by

touch, to which the terms magnetic, psychic, occult, hypnotic, and

mesmeric have been applied. This power is resident in the operator, and

has nothing to do with suggestion; whereas in so-called faith-healing,

the power is resident in the patient, who, by the exercise of faith,

puts it into action.

Greatrakes has been described as having an agreeable personality,

pleasant manners, a fine figure, gallant bearing, a handsome face,

musical voice, and a good stock of animal spirits. Thus equipped, we may

not wonder that he was ever welcome in merry company. He had an impulse

or strange persuasion of his own mind (says J. Cordy Jeaffreson, in "A

Book about Doctors") that he had the gift of curing the King's Evil. A

second impulse gave him the power of healing ague, and a third

"inspiration of celestial aura imparted to him command, under certain

conditions, over all human diseases." Greatrakes adapted his

manipulations to the requirements of individual cases. Oftentimes gentle

stroking sufficed, but when the evil spirits were especially malignant,

he employed energetic massage. Occasionally the demon fled, "like a

well-bred dog," at the word of command, but more frequently the victory

was not won until the healer had rubbed himself into a red face, and a

copious perspiration.

It is narrated that when Greatrakes was practising in London, a

rheumatic and gouty patient came to him. "Ah," said the healer,

colloquially, "I have seen a good many spirits of this kind in Ireland.

They are watery spirits, who bring on cold shivering and excite an

overflow of aqueous humor in our poor bodies." Then, addressing the

demon, he continued: "Evil spirit, who has quitted thy dwelling in the

waters, to come and afflict this miserable body, I command thee to quit

thy new abode, and to return to thine ancient habitation."

From among a large number of testimonials of cures performed by

Greatrakes, a single example may suffice.



Whereas you are pleased to enquire after the Cure, by God's

means done upon me, by the stroking of my head by Mr.

Greatrakes; These are thoroughly to inform you that being

violently troubled with an excessive pain of the head, that I

had hardly slept six hours in six days and nights, and taken

but very little of sustenance in that time; and being but

touch'd by him, I immediately found ease, and (thanks be to

God) do continue very well; and do further satisfie you, that

the rigour of the pain had put me into a high Fever, which

immediately ceas'd with my head-ache: and do likewise further

inform you that a Servant being touch'd for the same pain,

that had continu'd upon him for twelve years last past, he

touch'd him in the forehead, and the pain went backward; and

that but by his stroking upon the outside of his cloaths, the

pain came down to and out of his foot: the party continues

still well. These Cures were wrought about 3 weeks before


And thus much I assure you to be true from him that is

Your Friend and Servant


COVENT-GARDEN, April 20, 1666.

At my Lady Verney's, the place of my residence.

While Greatrakes acquired great celebrity on account of the numerous

cures which he performed, he was unable to explain the nature of his

healing powers. In a letter to the Hon. Robert Boyle, he expressed the

belief that many of the pains which afflict men, are of the nature of

evil spirits. "Such pains," wrote he, "cannot endure my hand, nay, not

my glove, but flye immediately, though six or eight coats and cloaks be

put between the parties' body and my hand, as at York House, the Lady

Ranalough's and divers other places, since I came to London."