Faith Healed by the Voice of a Bond Girl
“I can help you. Come to mine for faith healing on Saturday,” urged Nikki van der Zyl as she clasped my hand. I was interviewing her about life as the voice of Ursula Andress (and six other Bond girls) at the time and was unsure how we had gotten so off topic. Yet, even at 77, Nikki still sounds like Honey Ryder – rendering the request impossible to refuse, despite my having been a full-time wheelchair user since before I can remember.
Upon arrival at the flat Nikki shares with her husband of 40 years, I felt hugely sceptical. In order to get on with life, I have hard-wired my brain to reject any notion of a cure for cerebral palsy. Considering science’s best answer lies in as yet underdeveloped stem cell research, I found it hard to believe a pair of warm hands could work.
A recent study by British Religion in Numbers found that belief in God bottomed out at 35% during the last decade, the lowest figure since records began 50 years ago. Meanwhile, support for faith healing has remained consistently at that very same level since the turn of the millennium.
Irrespective of the probability of success, I was greeted at the door with an endearing “Hello darling”. Nikki ushered me into a living room warmed by a crackling fire and perfumed with cinnamon incense. Her paintings hung on the wall. Copies of a soon-to-be launched book about her involvement in the Bond franchise lay on the table. Nikki seemed to be in a calmer, more transcendent state than during our interview a few days before.
She was professionally trained on a two-year course run by the National Healing Trust society (yes, it does exist). She explained that my permission, both verbal and subconscious, was needed for the healing to be effective. Followers believe healing energy is pulled from a higher being, accessible only to those with healing powers who channel it through the recipient’s body – provided they are willing to accept it. The main “in” points for this energy are the body’s seven chakras, beginning at the head (known in healing circles as the crown) and finishing at the toes.
Before closing my eyes, I had to ask: what results should I expect? As someone who has undergone countless operations, including eight-hour hip reconstructions, and spent much of my childhood getting up at 6am for physio before school, some clarification would have been reassuring. Not that I expected any. Indeed, Nikki replied: “Who knows? But it can’t make you worse.”
Urging myself to remain open-minded, I took the suggested deep breaths. Then, suddenly, it happened. I went from trying not to laugh, to feeling strange. My head started to rock gently. My mouth began to twitch. In a bid to regain control, I clamped my jaw down, but it made no difference. As soon as Nikki moved on from my head, the feeling stopped. It remains a moment I cannot explain, and eerily occurred over the part of my brain that haemorrhaged during birth.
For the rest of the session, I simply waited, slyly opening my eyes from time to time to see what Nikki was doing. I saw a kind woman, fervently believing she was making a difference by hovering her hands above my legs, but achieving little. I noticed that rather than asking me to move forward, she would place her healing hand behind my chair. I am yet to discover if the NHS backrest feels better for the experience.
Once the session was over, I felt calmer. Nikki explained this was common, but that I required much more healing because I was “quite broken”. This hardly came as a surprise – physically I am far from Usain Bolt.
As soon as I mentioned the feeling above my head, her eyes lit up. And for me, that was the most affirming moment – I was making a woman, who believed she had a gift, very happy.
Unfortunately, there is a darker side to the faith healing industry. Mary Walsh is a convert to ThetaHealing, a practice that argues there are no limits to their powers of healing. It was founded by Vianna Stibal, who claims she cured herself of cancer by unblocking her subconscious. There are currently 200,000 Theta practitioners across the world. They believe any ailment is curable, so long as it is not the individual’s final calling and the patient is willing to open their mind. This directly contradicts scientific and medical opinion. As the American Cancer Society puts it: “available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments”.
Still, faith healing, much like religion, is not founded on fact or rationality, but belief – an unshakeable feeling that can be hugely positive or equally destructive. For this reason, I needed to give ThetaHealing a chance.
I first heard about Mary through her own story. Diagnosed with a terminal illness that turned her word upside-down, Mary firmly cited ThetaHealing as the miracle cure for bringing her back to full health – in part because she found wellness in spirit.
And on speaking to her personally, it seems my inner spiritual conflicts are the barrier holding me back. She explained that either I “chose my disability as an obligation to gain a different life perspective in a bid to redress karma from a past life,” or perhaps my parents chose to have a disabled child to “learn something different about themselves”. Not in this life you understand, but in the limbo state between their past and present selves, where spirits discuss our next paths with the higher powers. A little like an intergalactic, lifelong annual review.
The conversation seemed like it could have been pulled straight out of Glenn Hoddle’s spiritual memoirs. I couldn’t help remembering how, aged seven, I’d burst into tears after hearing his comments about disabled people paying for past sins. All I had wanted at the time was for England to win the World Cup. Now, at 22, I did not want to hear any more. Nor, it seems, do some of Vianna’s own converts. Idaho Court Records show she was recently sued by one of her clients, forcing her to pay damages.
Although I was still curious about the sensation I’d felt above my head, I was not going to pay hundreds of pounds – £120 for the first session, £89 thereafter – to potentially find out more. Nikki, for the record, refuses to accept payment. There’s healing in that.
*Some names have been changed to protect identities
Photograph by Creative Commons