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Observations placeholder

Dr J C Barker - Saved from a death prayer by a special medicine



Type of Spiritual Experience


The negative effects of belief in a spiritual world

A description of the experience

Dr J C Barker  MD, MRCP, DPM – Scared to Death – An examination of fear, its cause and effects

Here's a case, where the European doctor undoubtedly saved a life by his ingenuity:

"I once had a case of bewitchment which came very closely under my personal notice. My head dresser, who was a man with a considerable sense of responsibility, discovered that one of the dressers in an outlying district was saving up to half of every dose of N.A.B., which I prescribed for the treatment of yaws and syphilis, and then when I had gone to the next station, was selling the doses at a high rate of profit to people who had, for one reason or another, been refused injections.

The average African patient has such a tremendous faith in any injection that he is prepared to pay heavily for getting one on the side. The head dresser brought this to my notice and of course I took steps to stop the practice.

A few weeks later the head dresser came to me and told me he was bewitched and would certainly die. Being somewhat inexperienced at this time I laughed at the tale and told him not to be so silly. He reiterated, however, that the matter was serious and that it would undoubtedly mean his death. I asked him how he knew he was bewitched and he said he could feel his bodily strength ebbing and that he was becoming weaker day by day; he was certain this had been done to him because he had supplied me with information about one of his fellows.

I did not feel there was much I could do at the time and then one day the head dresser came to me with a little bundle of sticks and leaves which were tied together with a piece of vegetable fibre. This he informed me was the witch-doctor's spell and he said that if it were opened there would be found in it some object that at some time had been part of his body, i.e., hair, nail clippings, or a tooth extracted years before. The little bundle had been found over the entrance of his hut. He told me that the way it operated was that every time he passed under it going in or out of his hut, the spell would exert its baneful infuence.

I said that since he had found the bundle and removed it, presumably there was no longer any need for him to be afraid, but he assured me that this did not follow, for the witch-doctor would simply replace it with a second bundle hidden in a new place.

I now decided to take action and convened a meeting of all the dressers in the district, assuring them that I was going to get to the bottom of the matter, and that when I did, someone was going to be very severely punished. Needless to say they all stoutly denied having anything to do with the bewitchment and nothing I said made the slightest impression upon them. I then went to my dispensary and prepared a most revolting concoction of drugs, which had an evil appearance and smell but was quite harmless. I then returned to the meeting and showed the mixture and said they must swear by Almighty God that they were speaking the truth and take a dose of the mixture individually, and we would know who the guilty party was, as the one lying would immediately be struck dead for his sins.

I then lined them up and went from one to the other making them all repeat the same oath and take their dose. Of course I knew which was the guilty party but unless I could manage to get him to confess I couldn't do much about it.

When I reached this man he said that he could not possibly take the mixture; it smelt foul and it would make him sick. I then passed down the line until everyone had taken their dose and repeated the oath except the culprit.

I then asked the others whether they considered that this man must be the guilty party as he had refused to comply with my conditions. They unanimously agreed that this must be so. I then told him I was going to make him take the medicine by force and that it would undoubtedly kill him. Thereupon he confessed. I gave him twenty-four hours to arrange for the witch-doctor he had employed to remove the spell.

He carried out my orders without delay.

Thereupon, the head dresser, who had manifestly grown weaker day by day, began to recover immediately, and as far as I know is still alive to this day. 

It would be difficult, indeed, to refute the evidence for voodoo death in African natives from the testimony provided by this doctor who had accumulated such extensive on-the-spot experience of these phenomena. He summarised his conclusion in a further letter to me: "I am perfectly convinced that Africans can die of their own free will, that they can die literally of fear and that in some way spells cast by witch-doctors can bring about the deaths of those who have ben bewitched.

The source of the experience

African tribal

Concepts, symbols and science items


Death prayer


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Believing in the spiritual world