Spiritual healer Olga Worrall was having breakfast yesterday at the Shoreham with her close friend and colleague from California, parapsychologist and Kirlian photographer Thelma Moss. Both are attending a conference, "Healing in Our Time." While they were eating, a man approached Worrall. "I just have to thank you," he said. Six months ago he had brought his reluctant and skeptical 14-year-old son with a tumor on his foot and severe scoliosis to Worrall's Baltimore clinic. There was no instant miracle -- there rarely is -- and Worrall heard nothing further. But now the father, who also is attending the conference, gave her the news: Both the tumor and the scoliosis are gone.
They are the medical rebels of the 1980s. They are called, a lot of them, "off the wall," or worse. They are healers. Some of them have MDs. Some of them have a certain something in their hands . . .
Ten, even five years ago, you probably would not have seen the likes of pioneer orthopedic surgeon Robert Becker on the same program with Olga Worrall or under the aegis of a group that is called the Sufi Healing Order. The American Holistic Health Association is co-sponsor.
"The amazing thing," says Montreal biologist Bernard Grad, "is that this medical revolution is happening in America where medical technology is so highly developed . . . it seems that people, in the fullness of their spirits, really need more than a prescription."
What is also amazing about the conference, which is currently -- and somehow incongruously -- under way now through Monday at the Shoreham, is that about 2,500 people have plunked down up to $100 plus hotel to attend. And that a sizable chunk are health professionals -- doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists, nurses, psychotherapists, even chiropractors and teachers -- from all parts of the country.
The program is a deliberately eclectic mixture of spirituality and science. The staff, also from all parts of the country, is all-volunteer. Many are members of the Sufi Order, a mystical but not sectarian group that promotes spirituality on a level somewhat higher than the '60s flower children, whose purposes, at least, were similar. The message of unconditional love for neighbor and self was underscored by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in an opening speech.
Kubler-Ross once hired a black practical nurse from the Chicago ghetto as her special assistant because she saw the woman had unique healing talents. She did this over the objections of a lot of people who felt they deserved the appointment more. When she told this story yesterday, there was applause. She asked the audience, "How many of you are applauding in hostility to the people who objected to her appointment?" There was more applause. "You," scolded Kubler-Ross, best known for her work with the dying, "are adding negativity. You can't help somebody by knocking somebody else . . . You cannot heal the world if you don't heal yourself first."
Olga Worrall is a genteel-looking, slight woman of increasing years (she'll be 75 at the end of this month). She was brought up by a hat-and-gloves mother who also happened to be a Hungarian countess. She is exceedingly fashionable. Her hats change with her outfits and perch on her head with insouciant tilt. Her shoes are sensible, but expensive-looking. When she speaks, it is sometimes with acerbity softened with wit, or perhaps amusement.
She looks like somebody's aunt, president of the church sodality, a whiz at canasta . . .
When Olga Worrall was about 3 years old, she started seeing dead people.
It was not considered chic in her family -- peasants believed stuff like that, not nobility -- and she was not encouraged. Eventually she learned to keep it quiet.
When she was in college, she met her husband-to-be. When he asked her to marry him she said, "Oh, you don't want to marry me. I see dead people."
"Never mind," he said, "So do I."
One of the first things that happened, she says, was that whenever Ambrose Worrall took a picture of her, other people would turn up in the pictures. People who had been dead for some time.
Her husband was an aeronautical engineer with the Martin Co. and the Worralls moved to Baltimore after they were married. He died in 1972.
Today, Olga Worrall is possibly the best-known, most successful and most scientifically studied spiritual healer in this country. Her Baltimore clinic in a Methodist church is filled with the ill, those in pain, the hopeless, the crippled. She is religious, but ecumenical.
Her success stories are, well, unbelievable. Also, many of them, documented.
Many of her patients are referred by doctors. In fact, she won't accept anyone who hasn't been through the medical establishment first. She never charges for her healing services. She does charge lecture fees.
She has, under laboratory conditions in England, France, Japan, Canada (McGill University), the United States (Johns Hopkins, UCLA, Kent State, Berkeley):
* Changed the surface tension of water.
Sensed an earthquake seconds before it registered on a Mount Hood seismograph.
* "Dowsed" for water by marking a map.
* Accelerated a reversion to order of chemical mixtures in a physics laboratory (and before TV cameras).
"That's what we do when we heal," said Olga Worrall. "Accelerate the healing process."
Worrall doesn't know what makes her a healer. Her husband, a healer himself, believed it was definitely electrical and called it "para-electricity."
"Something electric" is a recurrent theme at the "Healing in Our Time" conference. It seems to be a common thread in a number of disparate healing techniques.
A Japanese college professor, Hiroshi Motoyama, has studied the electrical emanations from acupuncture points and the yoga points and has constructed a machine for measuring such emanations. He will demonstrate at the conference.
A Chinese professor, Dr. Pu Zheng, now a visiting professor at Johns Hopkins University, sees in Olga Worrall a corollary to work in the field that is becoming known as bioenergetics. It has been his special interest in China.
Dr. Robert Becker has used electrical stimulation to produce regeneration in animals that, unlike salamanders, do not naturally regenerate damaged parts. His work is the basis for the increasing use of electricity to successfully treat bone fractures that fail to heal, and work that may lead to the use of electricity instead of surgery in many fields -- joint replacement, for example.
Bernard Grad is a mainline, establishment scientist who has a healthy respect for the medical profession.
But his cerulean eyes flash at what he considers blindness of many of his colleagues, scientists, doctors, whoever they may be.
Grad has performed the first and probably the most carefully controlled laboratory studies of a healer. He did this over a seven-year period starting in the late 1950s, when he was introduced to a Hungarian refugee who claimed to heal by the laying on of hands.
"I took the position," says Grad, "that this was a natural phenomenon, that it wasn't something paranormal . . . We began a series of experiments during which he healed animals who were fed on a low-iodine diet to produce goiter, and healed wounds in mice made by removing pieces of skin from an anesthetized mouse . Later on we went to work on plants.
"To my surprise this guy could really affect biological processes by a method of simply putting things between his hands."
Some of the experiments were replicated in other laboratories, says Grad, adding sadly, "The fantastic thing about all of this is the fact that the biological community didn't take it up."
His work was published in the Journal of Parapsychology and, says Grad, his eyes snapping, "That is a grab bag. This sort of thing usually falls under that heading because traditional people are afraid to touch it."
Himself a product of Montreal's Jewish quarter, Grad sees a parallel. "We're a bunch of dissidents. I call parapsychologists the Jews of science -- they're considered vermin, they call them crooked, they won't let them into associations, they're completely ostracized . . . The moment you say 'parapsychology,' whoops, you're alone. And grants? Forget it.
"It's as though there is an invisible sign that says, 'Don't go here . . .' "
There is very little drama at Olga Worrall's healing sessions.
No instant miracles, no falling over.
"Oh," says Worrall indignantly, "they wouldn't dare fall over in my church. Oh no. And I know the trick. One of those so-called healers said it would be more dramatic and bring in more business if my people fell over.
"He said, 'I'll show you how you do it.' I said, 'Well, you're a sinner. God will make you answer for that.' " It's done by pressing on an acupuncture point, she says with ill-disguised contempt, that is just between the eyes. "That stuns them and at the same time they give a push."
"That," says Worrall, "is evil."