I first heard about psychic surgery from my hairstylist, George, a chatty, gossipy reservoir of obscure information. George and his friend Robert had undergone treatment from a Filipino psychic surgeon named Angel at a small nondenominational church in North Austin in February. A few weeks had passed, and George was happy to report that the neck and lower back problems he had previously experienced were much improved.
Except for a small amount of pressure when the surgeon’s hands penetrated his body, George said, there had been no pain. There had been some blood; a small scab formed, but it washed right away. The only time George was the least bit apprehensive was on this third visit, when Angel opened his chest wall and began to massage his heart. “I didn’t actually see my own heart,” George said as he snipped at my hair, “but I saw the opening and some watery-looking blood. I actually saw his hand go through the wall of Robert’s stomach. Robert was supposed to be watching my operation too, but he couldn’t see anything. Robert is the type who went to see 120 Days of Sodom and closed his eyes at all the interesting parts.”
George had been curious about psychic surgery since reading about it in Wet, and off-the-wall humor magazine. He was skeptical at first, but the experience with Angel turned him into a believer. Since faith healing was a fundamentally religious-in this case, Christian-concept and since I had never known George to concern himself much with Christianity, I expressed surprise. “There are a lot of unexplained, miraculous cures in this world,” he said, somewhat offended by my attitude. George had no difficulty whatsoever believing that a surgeon could run his hand though a person’s body, remove diseased tissue, and leave not trace of an entry wound. “That seems perfectly logical,” he said. What was patently illogical, in his view, was space travel. He considered the moon landing to be a fraud of mind-boggling proportions and was convinced that the whole episode was filmed in a television studio.
In the days that followed, I started hearing a good deal about the Filipino faith healer, Angel Domingo, who had been working around Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Lake Whitney. At least two other Filipino psychic surgeons had worked in Texas fairly recently; this type of faith healing is indigenous to the Philippines, though a few American practitioners of holistic therapy have taken up the trade in the last few years. Austin, I learned, is a mecca of psychic activity—an “energy vortex” where healers, psychics, and other denizens of the Twilight Zone come to recharge their metaphysical batteries.
Thousands and maybe tens of thousands of Texans regularly pay for a variety of psychic therapies, the most exotic of which is psychic surgery, or “bloody operations,” as they are called. The operating room is usually in some off-the-beaten-path motel or private residence. The times and places are not advertised—advertising would be an open invitation to legal action—but word is passed along by an informal network of believers.
It didn’t take me long to tap into this network. Seek and ye shall find is one of the tenets of the psychic world. What surprised me was that the network included three of my oldest and closest friends—entrepreneur Segal Fry, Jerry Jeff Walker’s wife, Susan, and writer Bud Shrake. I learned that they all had been treated by Angel Domingo last February when the healer did a one-day stint at WillieWorld, as they call Willie Nelson’s Perdernales Country Club retreat west of Austin.
Of the three, Shrake was the only skeptic. He had asked Angel to treat a blocked colon and had seen a pool of coffee-colored liquid well up between the healer’s fingers as Angel removed what appeared to be a piece of hog tripe from Shrake’s abdomen. When Shrake returned an hour later for a second treatment, he asked Angel to work on his foot, which had been broken years ago but had never healed properly. “He pulled what looked like a chicken bone out of my left foot,” Shrake said. He experienced no pain, he told me—other than the pain of a foot that had been constantly sore for years—nor did he notice any relief. Shrake acknowledged that this was possibly attributable to his lack of faith.
Susan Walker had four sessions with Angel and said that the leg cramps and pain that had been bothering her for eight years became much less intense. Susan had watched while the Filipino worked on a friend’s liver. “I saw his hands go to her liver, saw this pulsing organ going around his fingers,” she said. Though her husband had gone to another psychic surgeon and had not been helped, Susan was convinced that the concept was valid. “I saw him take that bone out of Shrake’s foot, I frigging saw it,” she insisted.
Segal Fry was no less convinced. He also suffered from a colon blockage; there was a knot in his lower abdomen that caused constant pain. He has been to a couple of doctors and found no relief, and he had tried alternative forms of treatment, among them a fast of lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper. Angel removed something “gristly, nasty, and about the size of a thumb” from Fry’s abdomen. “I still have colon problems,” Fry told me. “He didn’t cure that. But the knot is gone, and the pain hasn’t recurred.”
Fry had been treated by Angel previously at an apartment in the West Montrose section of Houston. It was Fry who invited Angel to bring his show to WillieWorld, at the request of Willie’s daughter Lana and other members of Willie’s entourage. Angel accepted, apparently because one of this Texas contacts assured him that Willie Nelson was a famous entertainer who would probably want to take part in the healer’s miraculous work.
Three months later Angel had again set up headquarters in a rented condominium at WillieWorld. He worked only