For just a moment, step away from the world’s calamities and rediscover wonder in the spring issue of Parabola magazine. Remember the enchanted lands you visited as a child? The sense of the miraculous, the adventure of another new day? Those feelings tends to recede with time, but this beautiful publication will spark your memory. There are essays by beloved Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Oliver, Zen Master Peter Coyote, and Wisdom teacher Cynthia Bourgeault, along with my piece about the Irish miracle worker, Valentine Greatrakes.
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” wrote Albert Einstein. “He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead.” I hope the following excerpt from my essay will remind you, despite all we have endured, that Earth is a magical home, powered by love, filled with surprises.
If you enjoy reading about Greatrakes, you will eventually be able to catch up with him again in The Last of the Magicians, my third novel, still in progress.
The Inscrutable Cures of Valentine Greatrakes
At the dawning of the Age of Reason, before Isaac Newton’s mathematical proofs poured light on a shadowy universe, Valentine Greatrakes (1628-1683) healed suffering bodies with his hands. The Irish Stroker, as he was known, cured young and old of tumors and wens, paralysis, arthritis, assorted pains, eczema, deafness, blindness, and possession by demons. Hailed by some as an apostle, condemned by others as a fraud, he was a sensation that roused the interest of natural philosophers, churchmen, physicians, and even the king.
Crossing stormy seas to arrive on the coast of Somersetshire in January of 1666, Greatrakes would challenge the cessationist doctrine that miracles had ceased after biblical times. No one argued that God lacked the power to intervene, but Jesus Christ and the Apostles had already proven the truth of the Gospel, rendering miracles superfluous. In early modern England, faith may have rested properly upon the Word alone, but the time period was imbued with supernatural phenomena and signs of God’s providence. Female prophets went without food for more than a year. Baptists and Quakers restored the sick and raised the dead. Charles II, by virtue of Divine Right, applied his thaumaturgic touch to cure victims of scrofula—a tuberculosis infection of the glands in the neck.
Among an eclectic cast of healers, religious enthusiasts, imposters, and frauds, Greatrakes distinguished himself by advancing no agenda other than to heal the sick. A member of the landed Anglo-Irish gentry, he was a wealthy man who accepted no payments for his services, unlike the common quacks. His charitable work drew particular scrutiny from members of the recently formed Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge. In Greatrakes, the virtuosi saw the opportunity to employ Francis Bacon’s new empirical method of investigation and to establish, once and for all, if phenomena truly existed.
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