Knowing my total skepticism towards the supernatural, my friend is always quoting me the current rumour that is circulating in an attempt to convince me magic exists. The stories usually end with “so how do you explain that!” This is his recent story which I hope to explain along the way.

A mutual friend had an abscess on his neck. After repeated treatments it was not healing. The story goes that the hospital said they could see nothing wrong with him. The patient decided he was spending too much money on medicine with no results.

As the medical profession failed him, he took the next step and went to a ‘spiritualist’. The spiritualist asked questions about the man’s recent experiences and decided the cause was a family member, jealous because he had been given the spare room in the family house. The resentful relative cast a spell to create the abscess on his neck.

The spiritualist was able to give a justification for his illness which, although fabricated, offered his patient something culturally understandable. The spiritualist proceeded to remove 12 tiny pins from the man’s abscess. So spiritualists learn sleight of hand as part of their training! The patient now had a reason for a problem and a convincer that it was spiritual.

Sleight of hand and bold statements from spiritualists, faith healers, pastors and others, are no alternative to real medical treatment.

The story reminds me of the psychic surgeons of the Philippines. Peter Sellers, who played Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther films, died because he delayed his heart bypass operation by going to these charlatans. The deaths of 25 year old Audrey Reynolds and 4 year old Natalia Barned in the UK, 1992, after a well-known pastor (who also visits Ghana) persuaded seriously ill people they were now healed, show us the dangers of replacing medical assistance with faith.

Significantly, Ghana’s medical profession rarely gives the patient information about their illness or what the prescribed medicine is for. People have been taught not to ask. The spiritualist provides the answers we all crave for; cause, effect and cure. Luckily, our man’s abscess may not have been bad enough to risk his life and hopefully the medicine he has already taken is contributing to its healing.

So no, I don’t believe this story provides us with evidence for magic. But it does suggest the medical profession needs to change if we want to stop people running to spiritual ‘healers’. It would be ironic if it was science that drove people to superstition.