In traditional South African healing


Some home remedies have a direct effect on the body. Others seem to work only because people believe in them. The healing power of belief can be very strong.

For example, I once saw a man who suffered from a very bad headache. To cure him, a woman gave him a small piece of yam or sweet potato. She told him it was a strong painkiller. He believed her—and the pain went away quickly.

It was his faith in her treatment, and not the yam itself, that made him feel better.

Many home remedies work in this way. They help largely because people have faith in them. For this reason, they are especially useful to cure illnesses that are partly in people’s minds or those caused in part by a person’s beliefs, worry, or fears.

Included in this group of sicknesses are bewitchment or hexing, unreasonable or hysterical fear, uncertain ‘aches and pains’ (especially in persons going through stressful times, such as teenage girls or older women), and anxiety or nervous worry. Also included are some cases of asthma, hiccups, indigestion, stomach ulcers, migraine headaches, and even warts.

For all of these problems, the manner or ‘touch’ of the healer can be very important. What it often comes down to is showing you care, helping the sick person believe he will get well, or simply helping him relax.

Sometimes a person’s belief in a remedy can help with problems that have completely physical causes. For example, Mexican villagers have the following home cures for poisonous snakebite:

  1. To use ‘guaco’ leaves

  2. To bite the snake

  3. To apply tobacco

  4. To apply the skin of a poisonous lizard

  5. To smear the snake’s bile on the bite

In other lands, people have their own snakebite remedies—often many different ones. As far as we know, none of these home remedies has any direct effect against snake poison. The person who says that a home remedy kept a snake’s poison from harming him at all was probably bitten by a non-poisonous snake!

Yet many of these home remedies may do some good if a person believes in it.  If it makes him less afraid, his pulse will slow down, he will move and tremble less, and as a result, the poison will spread through his body more slowly. So there is less danger!

But the benefit of these home remedies for snakebite is limited. In spite of their common use, many people still become very ill or die. As far as we know: No home cure for poisonous bites (whether from snakes, scorpions, spiders, or other poisonous animals) has much effect beyond that of the healing power of belief.

For snakebite, it is usually better to use modern treatment. Be prepared: obtain ‘anti-venoms’ or ‘serums’ for poisonous bites before you need them.  Do not wait until it is too late.


The power of belief can help heal people. But it can also harm them. If a person believes strongly enough that something will hurt him, his own fear can make him sick. For example:

Once I was called to see a woman who had just had a miscarriage and was still bleeding a little. There was an orange tree near her house. So I suggested she drink a glass of orange juice. (Oranges have vitamin C which helps strengthen blood vessels.) She drank it—even though she was afraid it would harm her.

Her fear was so great that soon she became very ill. I examined her but could find nothing physically wrong. I tried to comfort her, telling her she was not in danger. But she said she was going to die. At last, I gave her an injection of distilled (completely pure) water. Distilled water has no medical effect. But since she had great faith in injections, she quickly got better.

Actually, the juice did not harm her. What harmed her was her belief that it would make her sick. And what made her well was her faith in injections!

In this same way, many persons go on believing false ideas about witchcraft, injections, diet, and many other things. Much needless suffering is the result.

Perhaps, in a way, I had helped this woman. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had also wronged her; I had led her to believe things that were not true.

I wanted to set this right. So a few days later, when she was completely well, I went to her home and apologized for what I had done. I tried to help her understand that not the orange juice, but her fear had made her so sick. And that not the injection of water, but her freedom from fear had helped her get well.

By understanding the truth about the orange, the injection, and the tricks of her own mind, perhaps this woman and her family will become freer from fear and better able to care for their health in the future. For health is closely related to understanding and freedom from fear.

Many things do harm only because people believe they are harmful.

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