How to be Cured by Faith
Sunday, July 1, 1888
Nellie Bly Has Some Experience With A “Mind Healer.”
No Woman Is Really Ill, She Only Thinks She Is—Even Beauty Can Be Had for the Thinking—As for a Stomach, the Faith Curers Will Take That Away Entirely—A Queer Eye-Closing Séance.
aith and a dollar bill. That is all that is necessary to procure the “influence” of a mental healer for any of the maladies which beset the human race. Of course the faith must be unlimited. So must the dollar bills. With the proper amount of both the ailment will either grow better or worse, as the century passes away. What do mind healers doctor? Everything—from lovesickness to a broken leg—and all by faith and influence. The pull on nature held by doctors and druggists is over, say the healers, and in the near future the former will be day laborers and the latter’s income will be derived entirely from the fizzing soda-fount.
My first experience was with Miss Bell, of Broadway, who calls herself a “mental healer.” Her flat is shady and cool. The reception-room, with a lounge, some easy chairs and bric-à-brac, has an air of comfort and of cleanly keeping. A green palm, standing in a fancy vase near the window, moved the tips of its long, graceful foliage sleepily in the lazy wind. The girl who admitted me said Miss Bell was at home, yet I waited quite a time for her appearance. It caused me to wonder if mental healers, like ordinary women, had to devote some time to their gowns before they greeted their early callers. However, I played pleasing airs on the keyboard of my patience and endeavored to find comfort in my situation.
Presently the sliding doors at my back were opened. On turning around I saw a delicate-looking woman being ushered from the inner temple by one I instinctively felt was Miss Bell. She told me to sit down, pointing to a rocker near the window, through which the light fell on my face. I felt that this position was given me so that she might study her subject. She leaned against the desk, shrewdly “taking me in” while she asked me questions about my assumed complaint.
From Miss Bell’s appearance I would say that she could easily sway the will of weak and sickly women. The extremely heavy brows which overshadowed her dark eyes lent a severity to her strong and not unkind face. Her black hair showed in the slight streaks of gray that age was coming on. She was closed in a thin, loose wrapper, appropriate for the warm morning.
“Is anything wrong with you?” she asked, pleasantly.
“I am troubled with insomnia,” said I, trying to make my eyes have a dreamy, half-awake expression.
“Why, you don’t look sleepy,” she replied, smartly. That’s one for her, I thought as I mentally gave myself a brace. I then explained that, though I could not sleep at night, I did not feel drowsy until the afternoon. This appeared to satisfy her, for she began to search for a cause.
“Have you any trouble?” she asked.
“Nothing of a serious nature,” I replied, easily.
“Have you nothing on your mind now?” I might have mentioned dressmaker bills, a search for a summer resort that filled the qualifications of its advertisement and other similar things which silver the hair and implant crows’-feet in conspicuous places. But I did not. I only made her easy on the subject. She brought a book and pencil from the desk, and, giving her one of the names I have in reserve for such occasions, she wrote it down.
“Married or single?” she asked.
“Neither,” I answered thoughtlessly. Glancing up I caught her look of—I might say, apprehension—so I added, “Widow.”
“Oh,” she sighed, sympathetically: “how long since?”
“Very nearly three years, I guess,” was my careless reply. Whew! I was positively stupid. A widow! and forgotten how long since I had entered such a delightful state! Where’s the woman that could do such a thing? I concluded it would be wiser to add hastily, “‘Twas three years last February.”
“Does that weigh on your mind—prevent you from sleeping?” she asked, soothingly.
“No, madam,” I answered, emphatically. Then followed a moment’s silence in which we looked at one another.
“When did you first find it coming on?”
“The wakefulness? I could not say,” I answered, truthfully.
She then inquired how I spent my nights. I told her I read a great deal, and mentioned what books. She asked if I had been treated by a physician, and when I said I had and found no relief, she assured me that it was wasting time and money; that it was useless to take medicine, and she could cure me in a short time if I would take her treatment and have faith. My faith in unknown and untried things is not one of my strong qualities, but I would at least allow her to make a test of her powers.
A Sleeping Match.
“Make yourself perfectly easy in this chair,” she said. I did so. The chair was roomy, and yet it was one of those chairs that fit one so well that it’s bound to bring a feeling of ease. It is policy for mental healers to own comfortable chairs. “When you get a position that is perfectly easy sit still, do not move, and keep your eyes closed.”
She sat down in an easy willow chair that stood by the side of and facing mine. Her elbow rested on the arm of the chair and she covered her eyes with her hand. I closed my eyes. I had imagined all forms of treatment employed by mind curists, but this was entirely different from any of them. I had heard that they sat back to back while the influence accomplished its mission. I was rather relieved to find there would be no back-rubbing.
I wondered, lastly coming nearer my mortal self, what sort of people would come here and give a dollar to have a companion in an eye-shutting séance. I smiled when I thought what an eye-shutting business it was any way. How funny it would be, I thought, if her eyes were open and she saw that smile. Would she not think my faith was weak? I concluded to make a survey. If she had seen my amused grin I would hatch up some explanation to justify. I opened my left eye, the furthest from the healer, and peeped. I was saved! She was all right. Her eyes were as snuggly shut as a two-day-old kitten’s. I closed my eye again.
I began to get warm. The downey upholstering of the chair recalled childhood lessons about a fiery furnace, and I dimly speculated on my coming out unscorched. My new boots began to make my feet feel like muffins. At last, when I had given up all hope of living to see the fall styles, she got up. I gave a sigh, stretched my stiffened body and opened my eyes.
Feeling the Influence.
“You felt the influence?” she half asked, half asserted. I was bewildered. I did not know there was any “influence” being exerted. I began to wonder if it gave me the muffin sensation inside my boots. I was forced to answer truthfully that I felt no influence, or if I did it was so new to me that I could not recognize it.
“You won’t feel it the first time,” she said reassuringly. Why did she ask the question if she knew this? “My price is $2 for the first treatment and $1 each visit afterwards. Now, I want you to go to bed at 11 o’clock this evening. Lie down in a comfortable position and I will use my influence and take all your wakefulness from you. Yes, my influence is sometimes better away than near. Distance makes us lose some things which make us stronger. Before 11.30 you will be asleep.”
I made an appointment for another “treatment” and left her surrounded by half a dozen sickly looking women.
The next morning the girl, whose brown, sharp face and keen, dark eyes glanced from beneath a shaggy crop of short black hair, gave a twist on her run-over heels and a fling of her knee skirts, as she told me Miss Bell was out, but would return in a few moments. I had waited only a short time when a slender woman, with grayish short hair, brown eyes and a challie wrapper, came in. Miss Bell had been suddenly summoned to the bedside of her mother in Nebraska, she explained, and the patients were to be left in her charge during the former’s absence. I followed her into the room where I had sweltered the previous day during the closed-eye séance.
Miss Allen, so she informed me was her name, said she had been told what my trouble was, and she also wrote my name down, in order to better remember it, she explained. After we had discussed my pretended affliction I concluded to make an effort to get some information about the business.
No One Need Be Ill.
“I think if I understood it better I would be more quickly benefited,” I suggested feelingly.
“You could not understand,” she said evasively. “It’s like a patient asking a doctor how he knows what is wrong with him and how he ever learned what would work for a cure.”
“But you claim all doctors are wrong and medicine fatal; only healers and faith are right,” I insinuated.
“Indeed we do,” she answered firmly. “People need to never be sick. They only are responsible for all their ailments.”
“Are you never ill?” I asked boldly, for her face bore indications of illness.
“Certainly, healers can be ill in a few hours if they wish, or they can never know an unwell moment. It all depends on them.”
“How?” I demanded.
“Oh, that’s what I can’t tell you,” she replied shrewdly.
“Why?” I again demanded shortly.
“Because I would tell it subjectively and you would understand it objectively. It can’t be explained, but if you accept the treatment you will never be ill. Some healers will not say one word to their patients, for they think if they explain too much there would be no occasion to give treatment.”
That is the theory of all frauds. So long as they can contrive to keep the people in the dark as to their method of business so long will they have followers and make money.
“Then it’s the work of the mind or imagination that cures or kills?” I suggested.
“Yes and no,” she replied with a smile. “I can’t explain it to you. It’s the truth. We teach thought and truth, and with them no unhealthiness can come. Why are people sick? Just because they know no better. As Christ said on the cross, ‘They know not what they do.’ It was and has been forever, but we have only lately learned the truth.”
“Who started it?”
“Women,” she said, with pride. “We are indebted to women for this blessed truth. You know it was a woman Christ first spoke to after rising from the tomb, and he said, ‘Go tell the brethren.”
“Do you have men healers and believers?”
“Men?” She looked disdainfully. “We make no distinction between the sexes. There are no men and no women—no sexes. It’s all one family; all children of our great Father.”
How To Learn the Business.
“How did you learn all this wonderful knowledge?” I asked, with a show of admiration I was far from feeling.
“We have a class in which we received twelve lectures a year. How much does it cost? Only $100 for the course. The increase of the believers is rapid. If I were told that I had lost my nice little home and income and that I should be given $1,000,000 to live on and enjoy if I would renounce this faith, I would say, I keep the truth, I refuse the $1,000,000,” with a disdainful but majestic sweep of the arms, “but truth is life.”
Miss Allen told me that the mental healers have no special church. The eye-closing of the day previous was again indulged in. After a short time she announced that it was finished and asked if I had not “felt the influence,” as she had “put it on unusually strong.” Of course I failed to detect it.
“Go to bed to-night at 11 o’clock,” she said; “make yourself very easy, then count out ten red-letter days of your life. Let them be the happiest days you know. Live them over slowly, one after the other. I will meanwhile exert my influence and take your insomnia from you, and you will gradually slip off to sleep as peacefully as a child.”
“But I have tried such things,” said I. “Once I was told, in order to coax the God of Sleep, to imagine I saw a flock of sheep jumping, one after another, over a fence into pastures new. I pictured the scene. I saw the black woolly sheep with a bass ‘maa!’ nimbly jump the old rail fence into a nice, untouched meadow of stylish green grass dotted with no less stylish daisies and clover. I saw him followed by a white contralto. ‘Maa!’ and she was over. I saw in the rear the sportive lambkins elevating their heels and frisking around like a group of girls at a Sunday-school picnic. I noticed in the distance a brown bushy-tailed squirrel sitting on a post nibbling something in his tightly clutched forepaws. I even saw the comical shakings of their funny little tails by a group of gossiping sheep.”
“Did you go to sleep?” she asked, with interest.
“Sleep! I was told to count the sheep. I counted. They jumped; I counted. Some would clear the fence by a yard; others would graze it with their heels; still others would turn like acrobats over the elephants in a circus, and always light on their feet amid the loud approving ‘maas’ of the flock. I counted, but I did not sleep. Why? Because the more I counted jumping the fence, the more there came to jump the fence, until I concluded they were working the double racket, as in a stage street scene—walking off at one end and coming back on the other. Ah! it was a sad experience.”
“Well, you try what I tell you,” she said. “I’ll use my influence and you will sleep. When you come down to breakfast—(How could I, living in a flat?)—and they ask you how you slept, say, “Splendidly.” If you did not sleep, say it anyway. It won’t be a lie, for you will sleep, even if you don’t know it. I’ll keep your wakefulness for you. I have taken it away. You have left it here. Now, my dear sister, you will soon learn the truth and be happy.”
I paid my dollar fee, and she walked with me to the elevator.
In the same house with Miss Bell, in the flats above and below, Mrs. Day and Miss Church hold forth as healers of the same faith and secure a nice income from a large circle of believers.
During my visits afterwards I heard some things which were to me most amusing. My next complaint was dyspepsia.
“You haven’t dyspepsia. It’s only your thoughts, “said Miss Allen. “Now go home, eat everything you want and as much. You’ll be rid of all dyspepsia, for I’ll have your stomach here; you’ll leave it with me.”
“I should be most happy,” I answered, warmly, although I could not see how it was to be done. There wouldn’t be much use of healing my stomach when I had reached a shore where hunger cometh not.
“You won’t know that you have left your stomach here,” she assured me. I didn’t. I went experimenting and ate a welsh rarebit that night, and I had a faint suspicion that my stomach still occupied its old site and was with me more than ever before.
Beauty Can Be Bought, Too.
“Everything that ails us arises from some thought. But our thoughts we control our bodies,” she said on another occasion. “You deny any worry except that you want more money. Now, when you learn the truth and how to think you will get all things. You won’t have to try for it; money and everything will come else come to you.”
“Will beauty come?” I asked, waiting breathless for her answer.
“Yes!”—emphatically. I think back with a sigh of relief. “I had a girl come to me, thin and far from prepossessing. I taught her how to think, and to-day she is a beautiful girl, perfectly proportioned, a dream of grace and with an exquisite complexion and charming manner.”
“Give me that priceless recipe,” I pleaded in thrilling tones.
“Think beautiful thoughts,” she answered. “Do not envy your friend, do not quarrel; be careful to cherish no feeling of discontent or malice. Don’t use your mirror; forget what the body you knew as yourself looked like, and sit down and sketch in your mind the picture you want to represent. Think, my arm is white and soft and round, my face is bright and intelligent, my complexion is clear and my body is erect, my movements are grace, my conversation is pleasing. I love the world, I love life, I love God. And in a few weeks your friends will tell you of the improvement.”
I looked at her. I recalled my mirrored self. I wondered.
“Our mind and body are like a magic lantern,” she continued, as I silently tried to estimate the amount of faith it would require to work the transformation she suggested. “Our mind is the lantern, our thoughts the slides and our body the wall of reflection. If we slide in an ugly thought it reflects on the body; if we slide in a lovely thought it reflects, and so we make ourselves.
“To show you an example of how our minds govern our bodies, I will tell you what I did. In company with two friends, Miss Church and Mrs. Day, I took the boat last Saturday a week and went to Newburg, up the Hudson. The heat was almost unbearable. When we reached Newburg, in the parlor of the hotel was a crowd of people sweltering. They talked of nothing but the heat. At last I suggested what a sad thing it must be to be cast on an iceberg: how cold and hungry we would be. Then I talked of the blizzard, and one large, fleshy woman, who had been mopping her flushed face, said: ‘Why, dear me, I feel cool; you have made me forget the heat.’ See, I had turned her thoughts into a different channel and she was no longer sweltering. While on the boat I saw a white cloud way over the mountains. I pointed it out to her, suggesting that it looked exactly like a snow cloud and was doubtless bringing a cooling rain. She actually shivered.”
What more is to be said?