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Can You Kill People With Your Thoughts?

witch-doctorIn a case study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, an article appeared by Dr. Richard Kirkpatrick, MD. entitled Witchcraft and Lupus Erythematosus (JAMA. 1981;245 (19).

A Filipino woman living in the U.S. was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). SLE is a very serious and progressive autoimmune disease. As with almost all chronic illnesses, there is no cure. Drugs are prescribed to control the symptoms so that SLE patients can maintain a somewhat normal life. When the standard of care medications failed to help, her rheumatologist ordered a kidney biopsy and some different medications. At this point, she refused all treatment including the kidney biopsy. She immediately returned to the village in the Philippines where she was born. She was then treated by the local witch doctor, who informed her that her old boyfriend had put a curse on her. The witch doctor then performed a special ceremony wherein he removed the curse.

She returned to the U.S. a few weeks later and was reexamined by her doctors. They reported that she no longer had any trace of the disease. They were not only shocked at her recovery from the disease, but also, they were surprised that she had recovered from the serious side effects of the drugs they had administered. Two and a half years later, she again returned to that same physician with a different, minor, unrelated problem. She agreed to submit to tests, which again revealed no trace of SLE. Again, SLE is not a curable disease, even by the best doctors.

Questions to Ponder:

  • questioningDid the witch doctor really know about the curse?
  • Did the curse really cause her illness?
  • Was the witch doctor really able to remove the curse?
  • Was removal of the curse what actually cured her?

My Explanation:

  • This woman believed deeply in the power of voodoo to make her sick.
  • She had deep faith in the power of the witch doctor to make her well.
  • There are thousands of similar case studies from around the world.
  • Placebo research dating back to the time of the ancient Greek metaphysicians and continuing to this day supports that the power of belief is quite sufficient to make us sick as well as make us well.

Bottom Line:

In Haiti and other countries where voodoo is practiced, many people have been killed and others have been healed through the use of voodoo. However, voodoo curses cannot harm people from cultures where voodoo is not respected. Voodoo is very powerful, but if you are very clear that you truly do not believe in it, then it cannot affect you, and this applies both to harm as well as healing. However, almost everyone is susceptible to the influence of cultural messages. Therefore, it is not possible to know with certainty that you are immune from all those messages.


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Dr. Larry Berkelhammer

Dr. Berkelhammer is a retired mind-body medicine psychologist. He writes about mindfulness-based practices with a unique emphasis on optimization of wellbeing and health. Dr. Berkelhammer also lectures at San Francisco State University and UC San Francisco, and is currently teaching a class in Marin County through College of Marin. He is the author of the book "In Your Own Hands; New Hope for People with Chronic Medical Conditions".

See his extensive website:

In Your Own Hands: Mindfulness-Based Practices to Optimize Wellbeing - College of Marin Community Education

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APA Reference
Berkelhammer, D. (2015). Can You Kill People With Your Thoughts?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 6 May 2015
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