JOHN OF GOD TIMELINE
Late nineteenth century: Spiritism was introduced into Brazil.
1942 (June 24): João Teixeira de Faria was born in Cachoeira da Fumaça, Goiás.
1951: De Faria correctly predicted a storm that would destroy properties in Nova Ponte, the village neighboring his home.
1958: De Faria had a vision involving Saint Rita of Cascia during what became his first healing experience.
Late 1960s: De Faria found a job working as a tailor for the Brazilian military and later travelled extensively.
1978: De Faria began performing healings in the town of Abadiânia, where he would later found the Casa de Dom Inácio.
1981: De Faria was arrested and put on trial in Anápolis for practicing medicine without a license. An outpouring of public support led to an acquittal on the charge.
1982 (August 17): A local political group carried out an attempt on de Faria’s life in response to his acquittal at trial the previous year.
2005 (July 14): The American Broadcasting Corporation’s program “Primetime” aired a one-hour special on the Casa.
2010 (November 17): An article was published in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, written by the publication’s editor-in-chief, that chronicled her journey to the Casa de Dom Inácio.
2012 (March): Oprah Winfrey visited the Casa de Dom Inácio and interviewed John of God.
2015 (September): John of God was rushed to hospital in São Paulo to undergo surgery for gastric adenocarcinoma.
2015 (October): John of God returned to work at the Casa de Dom Inácio.
2016 (May): John of God was declared cancer-free.
2018: John of God was confronted by a wave of sexual abuse allegations.
2019 (December): John of God was sentenced to a nineteen-year prison sentence for sexual offenses.
The concept and theory of Spiritism were the creation of the French educator, Hippolyte-Léon Denizard Rivail (1804-1869), whose work appeared under nom de plume of Allan Kardec (2006). [Image at right] Drawing on the Spiritualist movement that originated in the U.S. and the U.K., Spiritist doctrine postulates that there is a primal causal agent and intelligence (God); there also are Spirits that have the capacity and goal of perfecting themselves through reincarnation over a succession of lifetimes; and Spirits can communicate with the living as well as intervene in their lives. As humans, Spiritism teaches, we are actually immortal Spirits that temporarily inhabit mortal, physical bodies in search of moral and intellectual improvement. When Spirits are not embodied, they can protect and heal humans, but they can also have deleterious effects if they are not enlightened enough, creating mental imbalance (obsession). Each Spirit has free will and a unique identity that persists across its reincarnations. In each lifetime, the Spirit accumulates positive and negative karma, as a product of the morality of its actions, that shapes its evolution. For Kardec, Spiritism offered a scientific understanding of the relationship between Spirits and humans. However, some Spiritists regard Spiritism as a philosophy while others regard it as a religion (Hess 1991, 1987).
Kardec’s first book, Le Livre des Esprits (The Spirits’ Book), was published in 1857 as a set of instructions given to him by the spirits, and it soon became well known in France. His following books — Le Livre des Médiums (The Mediums’ Book, 1861), L’Évangile Selon le Spiritisme (The Gospel According to Spiritism, 1864), Le Ciel et l’Enfer (Heaven and Hell, 1865), and La Genèse, les Miracles et les Preditions selon le Spiritisme (The Genesis, Miracles and Premonition According to Spiritism, 1868) — all enjoyed great success in France.
Spiritism was taken to Brazil by Brazilian elites who learned about it while in France toward the end of the nineteenth century. France was the metropolitan center of culture, art, and fashion for Brazilian elites at that time. Deploying a scientific discourse to affirm its tenets and instituting the practice of sessions in which followers study Kardec’s books, Spiritism has drawn followers from white, educated middle classes since its inception in the country. The latest census data show that although declared Kardecism adherents make up a small part of the population, their share is growing: in 1991 there were 1,600,000 followers (1.1% of the population), by 2000 this number increased to 2,300,000 (1.3% of the population), and in the 2010 census there were 3,800.000 Kardecist Spiritists (2% of the population). However, the census data do not reflect how widespread Spiritism is disseminated in society. For instance, currently there are over 4,000 books published on the topic, 100 specialized publishers, and a large number of Spiritist clinics and hospitals, child-care centers, technical schools, libraries, book clubs, and cultural centers, as well as several professional associations (Aubrée and Laplantine 2009:205; Rocha 2017).
João Teixeira de Faria (aka João de Deus or John of God), [Image at right] one of the best known mediums in Brazil, presents himself as a medium who is “incorporated” by spirits of deceased physicians, saints and others who were remarkable in their lives. As in the Spiritist doctrine, they work through him to effect physical, spiritual and emotional healing. His healing center, the Casa de Dom Inácio de Loyola in the town of Abadiânia in central Brazil, has been the site of millions of mediumistic surgeries since its establishment over three decades ago (Bragdon 2011:1; Moreira-Almeida, Gollner, and Krippner 2009:5; Rocha 2009a, 2009b, 2011, 2017).
João Teixeira de Faria was born on June 24, 1942 in the small rural village of Cachoeira da Fumaça, located in the central Brazilian state of Goiás; however, his family relocated to the nearby city of Itapaçi shortly thereafter, where he spent the majority of his early years. João was one of six children born to José Nunes de Faria, a lifelong tailor and owner of a laundry service, and Francisca Teixeira Damas, a housewife who would later, following the construction of paved roads in the small town, operate a small hotel to supplement the family’s income. De Faria attended primary school at the Grupo Escolar Santa Teresinha in Itapaçi; he has stated that he was “thrown out” of school for being troublesome after the second grade. He worked as a cloth cutter in his father’s tailoring business in an unsuccessful attempt to ameliorate his family’s precarious financial situation. He reportedly never learned to read or write, but he developed trade skills that would benefit him in later years.
According to the hagiographic account of de Faria’s life and spiritual career, he experienced “the first big glimpse of his gift” at the age of nine while visiting family members in the nearby village of Nova Ponte when he predicted that a storm would ravage the town (Casey 2010). His prophecy was immediately ignored as there was no visible sign of storm conditions; however, strong winds hit the village abruptly, destroying fifty homes. Following this experience, de Faria began accepting small amounts of money for predicting future events and suggesting to villagers herbal treatments that would heal various ailments. However, it was not until seven years later that he would undergo the transformative experience that defined and marked the onset of his mission of healing the sick. Due to insufficient job opportunities in Itapaçi, in the mid-1950s de Faria began wandering across Brazil in search of work. By his own account, suffering from hunger and exhaustion, the sixteen-year-old de Faria stopped at a nearby stream to bathe when he was approached by a beautiful young woman, [Image at right] whom he would later identify as Saint Rita of Cascia. The two spent the majority of the afternoon in conversation, during which she advised him simply to “‘Love and believe in a higher being’” (Cumming and Leffler 2007:5). Upon returning to the river the following morning, de Faria saw a pillar of light where the woman had been seated and heard her voice directing him to go to the nearby Spiritist Center of Christ the Redeemer. De Faria obliged but then fainted upon arrival the spiritual center in Campo Grande. Upon regaining consciousness, he was surprised to find himself in the center of a mystified crowd who told him that his body had been “incorporated” by the spirit of King Solomon and had subsequently been performing surgeries for several hours. He initially denied this account, attributing his loss of consciousness to hunger and exhaustion, whereupon the director of the center took him back to his home to feed him and offer him a room for the night. De Faria returned to the center the following afternoon, at the request of King Solomon, [Image at right] and the events of the previous day were repeated (Casey 2010; Cumming and Leffler 2007:4).
For several months following his experience at the Center, de Faria underwent what he has described as “spiritual instruction” from several Entities, who guided him in the initial stages in the fulfillment of his healing mission. Having acquired the local titles “Medium João” or “John the Healer” (Portuguese, João Curador), de Faria spend the next five years travelling throughout Brazil, travelling locally, working opportunistically, and exchanging healing services for food, clothing, shelter, and money. Throughout his travels, he was met with repeated episodes of conflict, facing opposition from the established medical and religious authorities, as well as other skeptics who questioned his ability to heal. He faced numerous physical confrontations, arrests, and imprisonments, many of which on the basis of unlicensed practice of medicine. Following the establishment of the new capital, Brasília, in 1960, like many others moving there for job opportunites, João moved there and found a job as a tailor with the military for several years. While he initially kept his military and spiritual lives separate, de Faria reported an experience in which, having been incorporated by an entity, he successfully treated the injured leg of a doctor. Following this event, de Faria began providing healing services for military personnel and their families. In exchange, he was able to travel throughout Brazil with protection against mounting persecution.
In 1978, guided by spirit entities speaking through Francisco “Chico” Cândido Xavier, [Image at right] a renowned Spiritist, as well as de Faria’s good friend and mentor, de Faria traveled to the small town of Abadiânia, not far from his birthplace of Cachoeira da Fumaça, in order to expand his healing mission. He rented a small building located on the side of the city’s main road, where he would offer healings to those who came in search of treatment for various ailments and illnesses. He began treating hundreds of people per day and opened a center dedicated to the fulfillment of his mission. Since that time, millions of ill and skeptics alike have traveled to the House of Saint Ignatius Loyola (Casa de Dom Inácio de Loyola).
Numerous hotels and tourist facilities have been established in the small agrarian town of Abadiânia to accommodate the ever-increasing influx of people from around the globe. The town’s economy has grown substantially as a result of John of God’s presence; however, it remains largely a farming community. João himself owns a thousand-acre cattle farm in close proximity to the Casa where he lives with his wife, Ana Keyla Teixeira Lorenço (Casey 2010:4). Three days a week, he travels the short distance to the Casa de Dom Inácio, his “spiritual hospital,” where he works from early morning until the last healing has been completed, performing as many as one thousand each day. The personal accounts reveal stories of individuals touched by their experiences. Some have chosen to stay on the grounds or close-by for extended periods of time; others have returned home, leaving behind symbols of recovery such as crutches and wheelchairs; and still others have departed without experiencing the healing for which they had hoped. Since the founding of the Casa over three decades ago, millions have flocked to Abadiânia. While the individual reports vary as much as the illnesses presented at the Casa, the interest which they generate, as well as that of the increasing media coverage, provide a steady rise in the number of pilgrims to what has been described as the “Lourdes of South America.”
From 2000 onward, more and more foreigners have flocked to the Casa de Dom Inácio, while John of God has also been going abroad to conduct international healing events. For instance, he goes annually to the U.S. (to the Omega center, upstate New York), as well as Europe (mostly Germany and Switzerland) to conduct four-day healing events. This has generated a transnational spiritual community comprising the ill, those who seek “spiritual growth,” healers, tour guides, and, according to followers, spirits, who not only heal within Brazil but whose powers transcend national boundaries. Because followers come to regard the Casa as their “spiritual home,” they work on ways of keeping their transnational connection to the Casa when they are away from Brazil. They may travel several times to the healing center in Brazil, or start John of God meditation circles in their own countries. Four “spiritual extensions” (as the Casa calls the overseas branches of the healing center sanctioned by John of God) have been established overseas in the past years: one in New Zealand, two in Australia, and one in the United States, which since has closed down. Therefore, it is their nostalgia for the Casa and the intensification of globalization (particularly with better and cheaper means of transport and communication) that have generated the movement’s quick global growth in the past decade (Rocha 2009a, 2011, 2017).
Spiritism, the movement from which João de Deus’ healing procedures have been derived, rests on the basic notion that there is a spirit world, in addition to the physical, observable world in which we live. Human beings are capable of accessing the spirit world with the help of mediums, through whom their energy is channeled. Spirits will “incorporate” the mediums, using their bodies to carry out various actions. This incorporation permits the surgeries performed by John of God, who claims to channel over thirty spirits. The spirits include those of King Solomon; Dr. Oswaldo Cruz, who is credited with curtailing the yellow fever and bubonic plague epidemics in Brazil; and Saint Ignatius Loyola, who is said to be the principal entity channeled through John of God (Rocha 2009a:3). The healing center was named after Saint Ignatius of Loyola, because of John of God’s devotion to the saint.
John of God asserts that he does not possess any healing abilities himself; rather, that it is purely the work of these entities working through his body. Like many other Brazilians, his religious beliefs and practices are syncretic. He asserts that he is Catholic and a devotee of Saint Rita of Cascia and Saint Ignatius of Loyola (hence the name of the healing center), [Image at right] and the Casa displays many elements of Catholicism such as paintings of saints on the walls. However, John of God and the Casa present a highly hybrid Catholicism combining the worship of saints, belief in reincarnation and spirits, and Freemasonry (an organization banned by the Catholic Church). He also follows “Spiritism,” an umbrella term for Kardecism and Umbanda practitioners. Importantly he asserts that the Casa is a “spiritual hospital,” a vague enough term that can encompass practices derived from Catholicism, Kardecism and Umbanda and include foreigner followers’ spiritual beliefs.
Indeed, the explanation of the process by which the entities inhabit João’s body rests on the convergence of several basic religious ideas. The root idea is that the soul or spirit, which can be described as “an eternal essence,” resides within the “shell” of the physical body. Further, this spirit is reincarnated many times, alternating between the occupying of a physical body in the observable world. Typically, after the death of the body, the spirit returns to the spirit world. Consistent with the basic concept of reincarnation, the future of the physical “shell” that the spirit takes is determined by the law of karma, which rests on the notion of free will. Performing good deeds in the physical world will “elevate and better the position of our souls in the hereafter,” and likewise, wrongdoings will result in a depressing of the soul’s position in the spirit world. Therefore, the spirits who occupy João’s body do so in order to accumulate karma that will benefit their souls and thus their subsequent manifestations in the physical world (Pellegrino-Estrich 1997).
Kardecism and Umbanda’s concepts of karma and reincarnation not only explain the basis upon which John of God’s body is incorporated by entities, but also rationalize the presence of illnesses which they seek to treat. They explain the existence of illness in three basic ways. Illness may be the manifestation of negative karma for adverse actions performed in a previous lifetime; it may occur due to vulnerability of the body when it has been occupied by a “lower” spirits; and it may transpire because the soul, before reentering the physical world, has chosen a life of illness in order to progress spiritually. Regardless of the specific reason behind sickness, Kardecism asserts that the healing process can manifest itself physically, emotionally or spiritually and, further, that no ailment, be it physical or psychological, is beyond cure to a person who is spiritually ready. John of God uses this notion of spiritual readiness to describe the difference between the two types of surgeries performed by the entities. They offer both “visible” surgeries, which are performed on the physical body, and “invisible,” or those requiring of no physical contact and are the product of the entities healing the body directly from within. He claims that visible surgery is without purpose but for the fact that many patients who are not spiritually ready for healing “need to see that procedure being performed on their own physical bodies to be convinced of the treatment’s reality” (Moreira-Almeida, Gollner, and Krippner 2009:19). In brief, John of God performs visible surgeries to instill faith in those who have little faith in the entities’ healing work.
John of God notes that the healing may happen instantly, but more often, may take weeks, months, or years to complete, sometimes requiring multiple visits to the Casa. One man, who claimed to have been healed of colon cancer at the Casa de Dom Inácio, has stated that while the spirit entities complete sixty percent of the healing, the remainder of the process is dependent on the individual (Casey 2010:11). There are a number of factors comprising this forty percent, which influence the healing and/or recovery rate of an individual touched by the entities. Just as some illness can be explained by karma, the healing process can be enhanced or hindered by karma as well, and may require the accumulation of positive effect in order to take shape. The majority of individuals will be required to undergo a transformation of their physical or spiritual circumstances, including a change in environment or world views and attitudes toward life and fellow human beings. Still, another explanation cites purely physical differences in biological processes upon which healing depends, including the time required “for tissues to heal and cells to regenerate” (Pellegrino-Estrich 1997:13). Due to the substantial variances in healing and recovery rates and the dependency upon the spiritual and physical states of those seeking treatments, João urges people against the cessation of any medical treatment that they may be undergoing prior to or during their visits, including the taking of prescription drugs, chemotherapy, physical therapy, and psychological attention (Moreira-Almeida, Gollner, and Krippner 2009:19).
The healing process at the Casa de Dom Inácio is highly ritualized and often incorporates specific beliefs regarding the purification and strengthening of the spirit. The process typically begins several days before arrival at the center. [Image at right] Those seeking healing are suggested to avoid excessive physical activity, over-eating, and engaging in too much social activity prior to embarking on their trips to Abadiânia. In addition, it is requested that these individuals set aside time to meditate and reflect upon the specific ailment for which they seek treatment and try to arrive in a state of tranquility. Finally, upon arrival, it is suggested that white clothing be worn, without belts or tight fabric restricting the waist or straps worn across the heart. According to John of God, this allows for a person’s aura to be seen more clearly and thus promote a more effective healing (Casey 2010:6; Official Casa Guide-Intervention n.d.).
Prior to conducting healings, John of God, who is at this point not incorporated by any entity, meditates in a small room at the outer area of the Casa before entering what is known as the “main current room.” [Image at right] Twenty to thirty mediums sit there meditating, generating a spiritual “current” that is said to aid the spirit entities in performing surgeries. Here, he stands in front of a table that holds a wooden cross, asking that “his hands be guided in the work of the day,” before reciting the Lord’s Prayer (Pellegrino-Estrich 1997:10). Upon completion of the recitation, an entity enters his body, thus incorporating him fully. João describes the incorporation of his body as a feeling of radiating heat, which induces dizziness, followed by an acute sense of peace and happiness. Thereafter, his own consciousness is suspended and his body acts as a vessel through which the entity can carry out its work. Only one entity can enter John of God’s body at a time, and the spirit will at times make its presence known in João’s speaking manner and demeanor. He has been said to move more “deliberately,” and witnesses have attested to a notable intensity in his eyes, which are said to become darker upon occupation (Casey 2010:6; Karn n.d.).
John of God, in-entity, performs two healing sessions each day. The first begins at 8:00 A.M. with two prayers (the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary), and the first line to be called is for surgery for those whom John of God has previously seen and for whom he has prescribed surgeries. They are sent to a back room and instructed to sit and close their eyes. At that point John of God comes to the room and asks if anyone of them wishes to have visible surgery. They are then taken to the room where others are sitting “in current.” Those who will receive invisible healings are told to place their hands over the body part for which they seek treatment, or if there is more than one, over their hearts. An assistant then prays allowed before João enters and declares, “‘In the name of Jesus Christ you are all cured. Let what needs to be done be done in the name of God’” (quoted by Pellegrino-Estrich 1997:10). Upon the recitation of this phrase, all invisible healings are completed and João-in-entity turns his attention to those who seek visible healings, escorting them into the main hall, a large, open room, for surgery.
João performs two visible surgical sessions each day. They are performed publicly in front of others who are there for healing or to improve their healing powers, and their family members. During the session, those waiting for visible surgeries stand side-by-side against the wall at the front of the room, typically remaining standing while João-in-entity performs quick, often theatrical procedures on their bodies. The surgeries commonly consist of making incisions on the body, sometimes requiring sutures, and corneal scrapings performed with either scalpels or ordinary kitchen knives. Another customary procedure includes the insertion of gauze-tipped forceps several inches into the patient’s nostril, upon which they are rotated briefly before being removed. Each visible surgery is typically completed within a matter of minutes. After completing a surgery, João-in-entity will quickly move to the next patient in line, usually without washing his hands or instruments between procedures. In addition to not using antiseptic, no anesthetics are administered prior to surgery. However, patients neither report pain during the procedures nor infection afterward. Immediately following surgery, the patients are taken to a recovery room, where they are monitored until they are strong enough to leave (Moreira-Almeida, Gollner, and Krippner 2009:12; Rocha 2017).
After performing the surgeries, João-in-entity returns to the main current room where he receives a line of people who come for consultation with him. Upon making contact, the entity inhabiting João purportedly makes a “split-second recognition…of each person’s ‘blueprint’,” which includes “past lives, current situation, illness and spiritual awareness” (Pellegrino-Estrich 1997:10). The medium spends about twenty seconds with each person before prescribing a treatment, such as herbal medicine, instructions to sit in another current room, immediate invisible surgery, a surgery performed by another entity not currently inhabiting João (in which case the person is to return for healing, a blessing, or group prayer typically lasting several minutes), bathing in the waterfall nearby, or a crystal bed treatment. Crystal beds are formed by a plastic stand with seven cylindrical “fingers” at the top. Each finger contain a light bulb of a different color and a crystal quartz and “is to be placed over a chakra,” or bodily energy field, [Image at right] “while the patient is lying in bed” (Rocha 2009:5). While sitting in his chair in the medium’s room, John of God will meet briefly with anywhere from a few hundred to over a thousand people until the last person has been seen. At the end of each day’s work at the Casa, João-in-entity recites a prayer; upon its completion, the entity will leave his body.
After surgeries, patients are to return to their guesthouses and rest for twenty-four hours, avoiding lifting anything heavy or socializing. They are advised against returning to the main hall of the Casa or the current rooms for the same duration of time, as the energy field is said to be open during this period and processes occurring within them may interfere with the healing. Those leaving the Casa within a week after Intervention are not to lift their bags and must avoid exercise for eight days after departure. On the seventh night following treatment, after placing a glass of water beside the bed followed by an appeal to Saint Ignatius Loyola to “remove any spiritual stitches,” it is advised to go sleep in white clothing no later than midnight. The person is to remain in undisturbed sleep until no earlier than 5:00 A.M. and, upon waking, should recite a prayer and drink the water (Official Casa Guide-Intervention n.d.). In addition, for forty days for those having undergone their first intervention and eight days for subsequent treatments, there are several prohibitions that must be followed. These include several dietary restrictions asserted by the Casa for a variety of reasons. Spicy foods inflame the digestive system and divert attention from the healing process, and fertilized eggs , because they contained life.. Further, alcohol is forbidden as it not only interferes with the biological healing process, but also may weaken the spirit, attracting the attention of lower spirits who may attach to the soul, tak[ing] advantage of the vulnerability of the person’s body and mind. Finally, sexual relations are forbidden as they may “mix the patient’s energy with that of another person” and/or disturb “the energies of the body” during its healing phase with physical energies (Pellegrino-Estrich 1997:12; Rocha 2009:5, 2017:30). The guidelines set forth by the Casa are to be followed closely regardless of the type of procedure performed or whether or not the individual seeking treatment received that procedure on site.
In 1979, while living in the nearby town of Anápolis, John of God received a message from his friend and mentor Francisco “Chico” Cândido Xavier, directing him to establish a healing center. The message, purportedly transmitted to Xavier from the spirit of Bezerra de Menezes, directed him to establish a healing center in the small town of Abadiânia. De Faria complied and purchased a small, one-room building in the town, promptly establishing close relations with the mayor of Abadiânia, Sr. Hamilton Pereira, who treated de Faria as a protected individual in the town. After contacting the Medical Association of Goiás, Sr. Hamilton was able to secure that the state would allow de Faria to practice his spiritual healings without disturbance on the condition that he establish a permanent center. In response to this agreement, Sr. Hamilton donated the land on which John of God built the Casa de Dom Inácio. [Image at right]
Modeling the Center after a vision he reported receiving from Saint Ignatius, de Faria asserts the Casa is spiritual hospital. The appearance of the building is consistent with this claim, as many liken its layout and aesthetics to that of a hospital. The main building is painted white both inside and out, with a blue band on the interior walls painted from to about three feet above the floor. The Casa itself is built around a central hall, where visible surgeries are performed, which leads to a large garden and walkway in the anterior of the grounds. There are four rooms that form a half-circle around the main hall, the first of which being the recovery room, containing twelve beds, where patients are tended to by volunteer nurses immediately following surgeries until they are physically able to leave.
Next to the recovery room is one of two “current rooms,” or meditation rooms, where twenty to thirty mediums who have been invited by the spirit entities meditate to generate healing energy that is said to diffuse throughout the room, assisting the entities in conducting healings. The room contains several rows of bench seats, separated in the middle by a walkway, leading to a second current room..
The second current room is very similar to the first. [Image at right] It contains rows of benches upon which fifty mediums meditate. A path between the rows of benches leads to a large chair at the back of the room, where João-in-entity sits as he prescribes treatments. The fourth room is the site of invisible surgeries. Surrounding the Casa are several buildings, including a kitchen where free meals are provided to travelers to the center, patients or otherwise, a cafeteria, lavatory structures, administrative offices, and a pharmacy where the herbal treatments are processed and distributed. Over 250 people, most commonly individuals previously healed at the Casa, are distributed throughout the auxiliary buildings, where they regularly volunteer their time. However, only one volunteer is assigned to the administrative records building, where he or she volunteers two days each week. The complex also includes a sizable garden and ample space for parking personal vehicles as well as large buses. The entire center is surrounded by a fence (Pellegrino-Estrich 1997:9-10).
Several guesthouses surround the Casa. One example is the Rei Davi hotel, owned and operated by Heather Cummings, a student of shamanism. [Image at right] Upon travelling to the Casa de Dom Inácio in the late 1990s “as a spiritual seeker,” Cummings reported undergoing a transformative experience that led her to relocate permanently to Abadiânia in order to guide those seeking treatment. She is now a tour guide and brings foreigners to see John of God several times a year. Rei Davi, provides them with housing and basic amenities, while she guides them through the treatment process, the various current rooms, and the recovery process. As she is fluent in English, Portuguese, Spanish, and French, she also serves as a translator to those facing a language barrier (Casey 2010: 4).
While it has been customary for those seeking healings from John of God to personally travel to Abadiânia, in recent years de Faria has begun appearing in venues outside of Brazil. Since 2000, João has begun travelling extensively across the globe and conducting services similar to those performed at the Casa. De Faria will customarily depart Abadiânia for these journeys on Friday nights following the completion of his work at the Casa, returning to the Center on Wednesday morning to resume healings at the Casa de Dom Inácio.
John of God also performs “distant healing,” that is, family members, friends, or guides may bring with them a picture of the person seeking treatment. The pictures are shown to João-in-entity, and he may draw a cross on the image, indicating that the person will at some point have to make the trip to the Casa for treatment. However, every person who sends a picture is prescribed herbs, which are sent back with whomever brought the image. More recently, pictures have been sent to the Casa via email attachment. These images are treated in the same manner as those sent with a representative. It is also becoming increasingly customary to watch DVDs of the medium performing surgeries, the notion being that a connection is established between the person and the healing center and that some of the therapeutic current is transmitted through the videos. Practitioners of this method have reported sensations similar to those experienced by persons healed at the Casa. Finally, quartz crystals as well as crystal beds have been made available for purchase by the Casa, reportedly allowing patients to take healing energies of the center home with them upon departure, perhaps allowing them to avoid subsequent trips to Abadiânia for extended treatment (Rocha 2017).
Since he began his healing mission over five decades ago, João has faced consistent scrutiny and opposition from a number of sources, including medical and religious authorities and investigative journalists. Allegations have included fraudulent medical practice, sexual abuse, and misappropriation of funds. It is the former set of charges that have been most persistent. He has denied all charges. With respect to misappropriation of funds, de Faria has pointed out that he offers surgeries free of charge and that he charges a minimal fee for the purchase of herbal medicine he supplies. He acknowledges accepting donations made to the Casa, but he asserts that he does not solicit them or make his treatment contingent upon donations. Until recently, there were no formal investigations of either sexual abuse or financial irregularities charges.
In the early years of his practice, while traveling and healing locally, John of God was arrested and imprisoned several times, most often on the charges of practicing medicine without a license. However, he was frequently acquitted after performing healings on local authorities and the prison system personnel. As his visibility grew, he began providing healing services for a number of significant political figures in various Brazilian cities and thereafter became a protected individual in some sections of the country. Nonetheless, he has been engaged in conflicts with medical authorities throughout his career as psychiatrists have held a longstanding opposition to Spiritism as a source of mental illness (Krippner 2008; Moreira-Almeida et al. 2005). Perhaps the most noteworthy case occurred in 1981 when João was charged with the unlawful practice of medicine. The trial was held in the city of Anápolis, just outside Abadiânia. João enjoyed considerable public support, and was acquitted. However, the decision engendered opposition from a group headed by an Anápolis doctor that attempted João’s assassination in a drive-by shooting on August 17, 1982 (Pellegrino-Estrich 1997:12). In 1995, João was presented with a summons by the Regional Medical Council of Espírito Santo and in 2000 faced charges in the Brasilia courts. Charges in both cases were eventually dropped as “João’s contacts with authorities whom he had healed helped clear him of any allegations” (Rocha 2009:151).
Although João has avoided convictions in the court system, his treatment methods have come under continuing scrutiny. The outcomes of these investigations have varied. For example, the American Cancer Society, which published a document in 1990 denouncing the efficacy as well as authenticity of mediumistic surgery, claiming that spiritual surgeries are often staged and of dubious value. The Society specifically asserted that there is no definitive evidence suggesting that these surgeries have been effective in treating cancer.
Some other medical groups have been somewhat less critical, suggesting that these surgeries allow patients to access healing pathways that already exist but are dormant within the brain. Therefore, while the individuals are capable of healing themselves without receiving spiritual intervention, many are unaware of this ability without guidance from a spiritual healer, such as de Faria.
The American media has reported on de Faria in a more exploratory, nuanced fashion. On July 14, 2005, the American Broadcasting Corporation’s program “Primetime” aired a one-hour documentary that tracked the progress of five individuals who sought treatment from João for various conditions, including a brain tumor (Matthew Ireland), breast cancer, a severed spinal cord (Annabel Sclippa), Lou-Gehrig’s disease (ALS) (David Ames), and chronic fatigue syndrome (Mary Hendrickson). A later follow-up of the documentary revealed notable improvements in three cases at the airing of the program: Matthew Ireland’s brain tumor had shrunk after he lived in Abadiânia for several years, Annabel Sclippa claimed that while she still could not walk, she has regained some sensation in her legs, and Mary Hendrickson reported experiencing significant amelioration of her chronic fatigue symptoms. At the time of the filming, David Ames had survived for ten years after his diagnosis, a feat exhibited by only ten percent of those affected. Ames became actively involved in the Casa. He moved to Abadiânia and founded a support group for visitors to the site, “Heaven’s Helpers.” However, in 2008, three years after the filming of the documentary, Ames died from ALS (“David Carver Ames” 2008). The final subject, Lisa Melman of Johannesburg, South Africa, reported that her breast cancer had become more debilitating but had progressed less rapidly than expected. The documentary also included commentary from Dr. Mehmet Oz, a renowned American surgeon, who offered several possible explanations for the various improvements reported the cases studied, including psychosomatic influence and a direct stimulation of the pituitary gland. Oz concluded that “Either he’s a healer who has found some talents that he has innately within him and can help people — or he’s crazy.” Oz also stated that, while he was curious, he would not refer his patients to João (“Is ‘John of God’ a Healer or a Charlatan?” 2005).
A quite favorable report on João and the Casa de Dom Inácio was published in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine in November, 2010. [Image at right] The article was written by the publication’s editor-in-chief, Susan Casey, who had travelled to Brazil seeking the help of João de Deus in overcoming persistent debilitating grief following the sudden death of her father in 2008. The articles outlined her experience at the Casa de Dom Inácio, and Casey was subsequently featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, where she provided a personal account of the healing along with footage obtained by researchers sent to accompany Casey. The researchers included psychiatrist Jeff Rediger. Casey and Rediger were later interviewed on an episode of The Cable News Network’s program AC360. Oprah Winfrey herself travelled to the center two years later, where she interviewed de Faria and several individuals who made the journey to Abadiânia in search of healings, producing a documentary which was released in March of 2013.
John of God has faced rumors of sexual abuse for a number of years. These first surfaced publicly in 2005 when the television show Primetime Live aired a segment on John of God in which he was queried about an anonymous allegation, which he vehemently denied. He was unsuccessfully prosecuted for sexual abuse three years later. The situation changed dramatically when, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, more than 300 women, most anonymously, reported sexual violations to law enforcement (Flynn 2018). In December 2018, John of God surrendered to law enforcement authorities following this wave of accusations. Since then, he has been sentenced to sixty-three years in jail as a result to three different convictions: unlawfully keeping unregistered weapons at home (three years); rape of four women (nineteen years and four months); and rape and sexual abuse of five women (forty years). However, he often left prison for the hospital due to a heart condition. In March 2020, because of the high risk of contamination and death from covid-19 in prison due to his old age (he was seventy-eight at the time), he was placed under home detention and forced to wear an ankle bracelet.
Television personality Oprah Winfrey, who had favorably interviewed and profiled John of God in 2010 and 2012 withdrew her support in the face of the abuse allegations. Her website was amended to state that “I empathize with the women now coming forward and hope justice is served (Darlington 2018).
However, many foreign followers have had a hard time believing the man whom they trusted and was holy in their eyes was actually a sexual predator. Some foreign tour guides, who used to take groups to see the healer, downplayed the scandal on social media. They blamed John of God’s conviction on the alleged corruption the Brazilian justice system. Others attributed the healer’s jail sentences to persecution from President Jair Bolsonaro, who is a Christian. There is no evidence for these beliefs. Overall, this scepticism is mostly due to the fact that foreigners don’t have knowledge of Brazilian society and are not able to follow the news on the case against John of God in Portuguese.
In 2019, the first year after his first conviction, foreign tour guides still took clients to the Casa de Dom Inácio (John of God’s spiritual hospital). That made sense since followers believed that there is a slab of crystal under the Casa which supplies the healing energy to the Casa. Therefore, they thought they would still receive healing from being physically at the healing center.
However, with the pandemic, global travel has been halted, and the Casa de Dom Inácio has been closed by authorities to stop the spread of the virus. In addition, Brazil has suffered enormously from the pandemic, with a large number of deaths per million inhabitants. Very few foreigners continue to live in the town of Abadiânia; ninety percent of the guest houses have been closed; real estate prices have dropped seventy percent. We could say that the healer’s sentencing and the pandemic have resulted in the demise of this movement.
Image #1: Hippolyte-Léon Denizard Rivail (Allan Kardec).,..
Image #2: João Teixeira de Faria (John of God).
Image #3: Saint Rita of Cascia.
Image #4: King Solomon.
Image #5: Chico Cândido Xavier.
Image #6: Saint Ignatius Loyola.
Image #7: The Healing Center at Abadiânia.
Image #8: Mediums meditating to generate a spiritual “current”
Image #9: A crystal bed treatment.
Image #10: The spiritual hospital building.
Image #11: The “current” room.
Image #12: The Rei Davi hotel in Abadiânia.
Image #13: John of God meeting with Oprah Winfrey.
“About John of God.” n.d. WordPress.com. Accessed from http://guidetojohnofgod.wordpress.com/jog/ on 5 July 2013.
Aubrée, M., and F. Laplantine. 1990. La table, le livre et les Esprits: Naissance, evolution et actualité du movement social spirite entre France et Brésil. Paris: Éditions Jean-Claude Lattès.
Bragdon, Emma. 2011. “Spiritist Psychiatric Hospitals in Brazil.” International Journal of Healing and Caring. Accessed from http://www.wholistichealingresearch.com/112bragdon.html on 20 July 2013.
“Casa de Dom Inácio Guide for English Speaking Visitors.” 2006. Friends of the Casa. Accessed from http://www.friendsofthecasa.info/CasaGuideV2.1.pdf on 5 July 2013.
Casey, Susan. 2010. “Leap of Faith: Meet John of God.” Oprah Magazine. Accessed from http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Spiritual-Healer-John-of-God-Susan-Casey on 5 July 2013.
Cumming, Heather and Karen Leffler. 2007. John of God: The Brazilian Healer Who’s Touched the Lives of Millions. New York: Atria Book.
Darlington, Shasta. 2018. “Celebrity Healer in Brazil Is Accused of Sexually Abusing Followers.” New York Times, December 11. Accessed from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/11/world/americas/brazil-healer-john-of-god.html on 18 December 2018.
“David Carver Ames.” 2008. San Francisco Chronicle, September 7. Accessed from http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sfgate/obituary.aspx?pid=117040324#fbLoggedOut on 20 July 2013.
Flynn, Meagan. 2018. “Celebrity Brazilian healer ‘John of God,’ once featured by Oprah, surrenders on sexual abuse charges.” Washington Post, December 17. Accessed from https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2018/12/17/celebrity-brazilian-healer-john-god-once-featured-by-oprah-surrenders-sexual-abuse-charges/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.0336db002e1d on 18 December 2018.
Hess, David. 1991. Spirits and Scientists: Ideology, Spiritism and Brazilian Culture. State College: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Hess, David. 1987. “The Many Rooms of Spiritism in Brazil.” Luso-Brazilian Review 24:15-34.
“Is ‘John of God’ a Healer or a Charlatan?” 2005. ABCNews.com, July 14 Accessed from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Primetime/story?id=939529&page=1#.Udxpom1NXKc on 5 July 2013.
Kardec, Allan. 2006 . The Book of the Spirits. Brasilia, Brazil: International Spiritist Council.
Karn, Eileen. n.d. “About Jon of God.” HealingQuests.com. Accessed from http://www.healingquests.com/pages/about1.htm on 5 July 2013.
Krippner, Stanley. 2008. “Learning from the Spirits: Candomble, Umbanda, and Kardecismo in Recife, Brazil.” Anthropology of Consciousness 19:1–32.
Moreira-Almeida, Silva de Almeida, and Lotufo Neto. 2005. “History of ‘Spirit Madness’ in Brazil.” History of Psychiatry 16:5–25.
Moreira-Almeida, Alexander, Tatiana Moreira de Almeida, Angela Maria Gollner, and Stanley Krippner. 2009. “ A Study of the Mediumistic Surgery of John of God.” The Journal of Shamanic Practice 2:21-31.
Pellegrino-Estrich, Robert. 2001. The Miracle Man: The Life Story of John of God. Kuranda, Australia: Triad Publishers.
Rocha, Cristina. 2017. John of God: The Globalization of Brazilian Faith Healing. NY: Oxford University Press.
Rocha, Cristina. 2011. “Establishing the John of God Movement in Australia: Healing, Hybridity and Cultural Appropriation.” Ethnologies 33:143-67.
Rocha, Cristina. 2009a. “Seeking Healing Transnationally: Australians, John of God and Brazilian Spiritism.” TAJA (The Anthropology Journal of Australia) 20:229-46.
Rocha, Cristina. 2009b. “Power Relations at Play in Fieldwork: Researching Spiritism in Brazil.” Fieldwork in Religion special issue Religion and Fieldwork in Latin America 3:145-60.
Rocha, Cristina and Kathleen McPhillips. 2019. “#MeToo catches up with spiritual healers: the case of Brazil’s John of God.” The Conversation. February 22, 2019. Accessed from https://theconversation.com/metoo-catches-up-with-spiritual-healers-the-case-of-brazils-john-of-god-112215 on March 5, 2020.
Timson, Lia. 2019. “Brazilian spiritual healer ‘John of God’ jailed for rapes.” Sydney Morning Herald, December 20. Accessed from https://www.smh.com.au/world/south-america/brazilian-spiritual-healer-john-of-god-jailed-for-rapes-20191220-p53lz3.html on 22 December 2019.
Winfrey, Oprah. 2012. “ Oprah’s Visit with John of God: You Are Exactly Where You Need to Be.” Oprah.com. Accessed from http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Oprahs-Experience-with-John-of-God-Oprah-on-Lifes-Journey on 5 July 2013.
14 September 2017
28 May 2021