A Brief History of Energy Healing

I have paid only casual attention to the other energy healers because most of their supporting evidence — as presented in books and seminars — is anecdotal, whereas my own obsession is with the underlying fundamentals of healing.

Many of these healers trace their lineage back to a single revered teacher. Reiki (Japanese for „life force“) was founded by Mikao Usui, who reportedly received his healing powers in 1922 after three weeks of fasting and meditation on Japan’s Mount Kurama. Reiki healers, possibly numbering in the millions worldwide, channel universal energy, which is said to be infinite and intelligent. They channel this energy through their palms, which are placed on or near their clients to stimulate the client’s own self-healing. Some Reiki masters say they can not only heal at a distance, but also backward and forward in time.

Therapeutic Touch (TT) is a Western-based healing system that has been taught to an estimated seventy thousand professional caregivers and is offered to patients in some North American hospitals. It evolved from experiments that Dolores Krieger, a professor of nursing at New York University, did with psychic Oskar Estebany, demonstrating that hands-on healing significantly increased hemoglobin in the blood of sick people, suggesting an immunological response. As with Reiki, TT practitioners hold or move their hands a few inches from their patients, with the intent of activating their immune system.

In the West, the most popular hands-on healing tradition is founded in the miracles of Jesus Christ, as written in the New Testament in John 14:12. After restoring sight and curing the lame, Jesus told his followers: „He that believeth in me, the works I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do.“

Among early Christian cults, healing was an ordinary part of preaching, often utilizing oil and water. European kings like England’s Edward the Confessor, who claimed to rule by divine right, exercised the royal touch to heal their subjects. Even Napoleon was said to have tried his skills, to little avail.

Today, faith healing remains a popular part of the Christian Evangelical movement. It’s also endorsed, with caution, by the Roman Catholic Church, which expects miracles from those traveling the path to sainthood. I have sometimes thought of how convenient it would be for me to reclassify myself as a faith healer, especially when I’m asked in a doubting voice, „If you can do what you say you can, why haven’t you won a Nobel Prize?“

The practice of hands-on healing as a medical rather than a religious or magical rite goes back at least as far as the ancient Greeks. Hippocrates (circa 460 BCE) was known as the father of Western medicine because of his reliance on keen observation and the principle of cause and effect. He summed up his extensive healing experience this way: „It has often appeared, while I have been soothing my patients, as if there were some strange property in my hands to pull and draw from the afflicted parts aches and diverse impurities.“

In the sixteenth century, Dr. Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim — known historically as „Paracelsus“ — spoke of a magnetic, healing, solar force that swept in waves throughout the Universe. „Munia,“ as he called it, radiated around the human body in a luminous shield, and could be transmitted at a distance. Despite the many healings attributed to him, Paracelsus was not only derided by his peers, but also negatively immortalized in the epithet „bombastic,“ based on his birth name Bombastus.

Inspired by Paracelsus, Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer (1734-1815) was also credited with many startling cures, such as ridding a Munich scientist of paralysis and a professor of blindness, simply by passing his hands over them. When his disciples discovered hypnotism through experimenting with his techniques, Mesmer’s cures were dismissed as the power of suggestion. In the spirit of scientific Enlightenment, Mesmer’s name came into derogatory usage through the word „mesmerize“ with its connotation of undue influence.

After European medicine moved into the laboratory, a universal energy, often with magnetic properties, was rediscovered many times.

In 1791, Italian anatomy professor Luigi Galvani, an early experimenter in electricity, wrote of a life force similar to electricity and magnetism, which seemed to radiate from the sun. It had an affinity for metal, water, and wood. It permeated everything, pulsated through the human body by means of the breath and streamed from the fingertips.

In the nineteenth century, German scientist and industrialist Karl von Reichenbach risked his reputation as the discoverer of creosote and several other chemicals when he declared evidence for a new universal energy, which he called „od“ after the Viking thunder god Odin. Od was in free circulation throughout the Universe, and it permeated everything. It radiated in a luminous glow from the human body and was vital to health. It was concentrated in iron, sulfur, magnets, and crystals, and conducted by metal, silk, and water. Though confirmed by researchers in Britain, France, and Calcutta, od was eventually dismissed by orthodox science as a blemish on von Reichenbach’s otherwise outstanding reputation.

In 1903, French physicist RenĂ© Blondlot claimed to have discovered a vital force, both biological and universal, which he called „N-rays.“ This finding was also confirmed experimentally by other French researchers, who noted its many similarities to od. Like his forerunners, Blondlot was ridiculed by his peers.

In 1936, Otto Rahn, a bacteriologist at Cornell University, noted a biochemical radiation from living cells that played a significant role in growth, cell division, and wound healing. As he stated, „It may be surprising that radiations have not been recognized and proven conclusively before this. The reason may be sought in their very low intensity. The best detector is still the living organism.“

Around the same time, biologist Harold Burr of Yale demonstrated that all living systems — from trees to mice to men — are molded and controlled by invisible electro-dynamic force fields that can be measured and mapped with standard voltmeters. He called them „fields of life,“ or „L-fields,“ and believed their voltage could be used to diagnose physical and mental conditions before symptoms developed. Burr validated his theory by comparing the L-fields of mice injected with cancer to control groups of healthy mice.

Burr’s colleague, Dr. L.J. Ravitz, extended these findings to demonstrate that emotion was energy in motion. He described this energy as electrical, and found a connection between low-energy states and diseases such as cancer, asthma, arthritis, and ulcers.

In the seventies, Fritz-Albert Popp, a German physicist, discovered that all living organisms constantly send out tiny currents of light, which he called „biophoton emissions.“ These were stable in their intensity unless the organism was sick. Cancer patients, for example, emitted fewer photons, as if their batteries were going dead. He also found that organisms used these light emissions as a form of communication.

After Konstantin Korotkov, a Russian physicist, developed sophisticated equipment for measuring Popp’s bioenergy fields, Russian doctors began using his tests to diagnose illnesses such as cancer. When Korotkov measured the coronas of healers while they transmitted energy, he discovered remarkable changes in the intensity of their emissions, consistent with what Ben Mayrick and I discovered while working with a crudely constructed Kirlian photography device.