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From the video archive: The Reverend Gary Magno, Psychic Surgeon

Right after I graduated from college in 1989, I took a month-long trip to the Philippines. While staying with relatives in the Manila area I picked up a couple books at National Bookstore about the local faith healing and psychic surgery phenomenon. Psychic surgery is a uniquely Filipino form of faith healing in which the healer performs surgery with his bare hands on an awake patient, removing tumors and draining pus painlessly and with the immediate spontaneous healing of the wound. A few of the healers I had read about were based in the Baguio area. Since I had planned to spend a few days in Baguio (along with my aunt and uncle, my cousin, my girlfriend, and my brother, Rick) I thought there would be a good chance we might meet one of these healers and maybe even watch them in action.

One day while lounging around my aunt’s Baguio condo, we decided to simply call the Hyatt and ask if there happened to be any psychic surgeons working there. Yes, they said, as a matter of fact, the Reverend Gary Magno was in town. We asked to speak to him directly, and they connected us to his room. We probably talked with his personal assistant or something. Suddenly, all of us were climbing into the car and driving over to chat with him in person.

Hyatt Terraces Baguio

The Hyatt Terraces Plaza used to be the premier 5-star luxury hotel in Baguio. The hotel had a spectacular lobby area, with an atrium surrounded by lush foliage which cascaded down from terraces that rose several stories high. The hotel and its adjoining casino were later totally destroyed during a massive earthquake just one year after my visit, on July 16, 1990.


We sat around a long table in the atrium cafe, waiting for Magno. I don’t remember if we ordered anything. None of us had ever heard of Magno and he didn't appear in any of the two books I had picked up from National Bookstore. We didn’t know what to expect or even what Magno looked like. When he showed up though I don't think you could have mistook him for anything other than a psychic surgeon. He was dressed completely in brilliant white: white shirt and jacket, white pants, and glossy white shoes. His hair was long and combed straight back across his balding head. He wore several gold rings, a heavy gold watch, and a gold necklace with an eagle on it. It was one of those moments characterized by the awkwardness with which one is seized when confronting celebrity, as if Elvis himself had walked into the room (the old, fat Elvis).

Magno sat at the head of the table and my brother and I sat on either side of him and just started asking questions. I don’t remember many details, but I think I asked him respectfully about his early life and how he discovered that he had the power to heal. I was making up questions based on the stories I had just read in those books I bought from National Bookstore. Magno was soft-spoken but radiated a quiet confidence. He said his power came directly from Jesus Christ. Finally, he said that he was returning to Manila the next day, and that if we really wanted to know more, we should come observe him at his clinic in Manila.


The chance to watch a psychic surgeon in action was too good to pass up, although my girlfriend complained bitterly that we were going to leave Baguio early, because the heat and humidity in Manila was brutal, and it was so much cooler at this elevation in the mountains.

The next morning we drove about 4 hours to Manila and made it to the clinic in the afternoon. Since we were foreigners with cameras they asked us to pay a little extra for the price of admission -- something like $5 US a piece, which seemed a lot at the time in a country where everything else was dirt cheap. Plus they wanted an additional $15 to bring in Rick’s video camera. It was not a camera you could just sneak in, but rather a monster that you slung over your shoulder and into which you inserted full-sized VHS cassettes.

We spent a long time just sitting in the second storey waiting room which faced a large window covered by a curtain. This window obviously looked into the “operating room”. Statues and pictures of saints and the Virgin Mary hung on the walls. It looked more like a church than a clinic. In fact, it was a church, "The Holy Spirit of God Church, Inc., Founder Rev. Monsgr Gary George R Magno, Spiritual Advisor". As a steady stream of patients and their families walked in, the un-airconditioned room grew hotter. The fans provided minimal relief in the stifling, sticky heat. A few people looked sick and deformed. I especially remember a frail, elderly woman who had a very impressive softball-sized goiter on her neck.

Before the healing session we all gathered around in a circle and held hands and prayed and sang. Then someone drew the curtain to the operating room and the show started.

A team of assistants would help each patient undress down to his or her underwear and climb onto the table, holding up sheets and towels to protect their modesty. Everyone on the other side of the window wore white. Magno would stand on the other side of the table so we could all see him through the window. He would hold up a small white sheet against the patient for a few seconds before starting. This sheet served as some kind of spiritual x-ray. By looking at it, or through it, Magno could see right into the patient, see the disease. I knew this from reading those two books I picked up at National Bookstore. Then Magno would plunge his hands into the patient’s abdomen and start pulling out all kinds of black tumors. Blood would spill from the wound. When he was done his assistants would wipe the patient off and there would be no sign of any wound. Sometimes Magno would work on someone’s chest, shoulders, neck, or groin.

Gary Magno, "Psychic Surgeon" from Baby Seal Films on Vimeo.

There were a few other foreigners there. We met a young couple. The woman was from Israel. The man said he was thinking about having Magno treat him for chronic headaches. I noticed he had a very prominent brow ridge, as if it were a outer manifestation of his inner pathology. Another man from New Zealand said that he was a regular patient of Magno. He didn’t actually have real diagnosis or anything wrong with him. He said he just saw Magno once a year to “clean out all the impurities”.

The train of patients kept moving forward, one after another. Magno worked quickly and his assistants would wipe up all the blood and turn over the operating room within a minute. Then I saw the man with the headaches I had just met lie on the table. Magno started massaging his forehead. Blood oozed out from between Magno’s fingers and he started picking away small bits of black tumor that looked just like the stuff he had been picking out of everyone else. As soon as the man with the headaches got out of the operating room, I asked him what it felt like, and he said it was fantastic! Magno radiated so much positive energy! He had never felt better!

One of Magno’s assistants beckoned me. Magno wanted me in the operating room! They guided me inside. There was a patient on the table. Magno had already begun and his fingers were inside her belly. Take a picture he said, now, with his hand inside her belly and blood running down her side! I fumbled with the manual settings on my Pentax and fired off a few shots, trembling. After a minute they ushered me outside again. Did I get the exposure right? Was my camera even in focus?


Finally it was the woman with the goiter’s turn. All this time she had been waiting patiently. There were so many other patients, I thought that Magno might not even get to her. I couldn’t help staring at her huge mass, wanting to know what would happen to it. Would it deflate like a balloon? Was it filled with that ubiquitous evil black flesh he had been pulling out of everyone else?

The magician James Randi demonstrated that psychic surgery is a simple sleight of hand magic trick, performed using pig blood and chicken livers. Defenders of psychic surgery have said that what happens is not the literal excision of physical tumors but is more like the physical manifestation of a process that takes place primarily on the spiritual plane -- "4th dimension medicine". Tumor extraction is a metaphor for removal of the impurities of the soul. So whether or not a laboratory tested the removed tissues and discovered them to be of animal origin is totally irrelevant!

Magno massaged the goiter of the woman for a minute then suddenly a stream of thick, creamy pus oozed out of her neck. Quite a bit of pus drained out, but the mass was still there. I stared at her neck again as she was helped out of the operating room and back to her seat, where she sat and prayed. Didn’t the mass look smaller? Didn't it seem a little more dried out and wrinkled? Well, maybe it was a little smaller. I couldn’t really tell.

If we had had the Internet back then I would have discovered that Gary Magno had been arrested for medical fraud in Arizona three years earlier. It was common practice for psychic surgeons to travel to the US to get paid the big bucks treating Hollywood celebrities dying of cancer and other wealthy suckers.


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