June 10, 2013

Healing With Seventh Sons in Modern Vermont

Earl Fuller of Rochester, Vermont had asthma for much of his life. He tried various medical treatments but nothing ever really worked.

Then one day one of his co-workers suggested he go see Henry Pare. He said that Pare was the seventh son of a seventh son, and had been given the gift of healing after praying to St. Theresa.

Folklorist Jane C. Beck interviewed Earl Fuller in 1980 about his experience with Henry Pare:

He took my shoe off - didn't take my stocking, I had a silk stocking on with my best shoes. He felt the bottom of my foot, pulled my toes, wiggled them. Finally he rubbed up and down on the center of the foot, then he put his hand up on my knee and says, "all right." I asked him how much I owed him and he says a dollar. "Well," I says, "I'll give you five." And he says "no, I won't take but a dollar. That would ruin my strength." So he took just one dollar. I was breathing just as easy as could be and you know, I went home.

Earl's asthma vanished for seven years, but after a minor surgery it came back. He returned to Pare, who without asking any questions said he couldn't help. "You had an operation and they've cut the nerve off that I work on. They've disconnected the the nerve I work on."

Henry Pare died in 1967 at the age of 76, but according to Jane Beck another seventh son carries on a similar tradition. Roger Beliveau of Troy, Vermont also heals people, and has built a large statue to thank the Virgin Mary for his gift. Unlike Pare he charges more than a dollar, and suggests people pay what they can.

The cultural continuity between the 20th century seventh sons and 18th century healer Isaac Calcott is striking. All three are seventh sons of seventh sons, and heal in ways that are outside the boundaries of accepted medical practice. Of course, there are differences. Calcott healed using his saliva, while Pare manipulated his patients' feet. Pare and Beliveau were both practicing Catholics and claimed their powers came from  God or the saints. Calcott didn't derive his powers from God -  it was just enough to be a seventh son.

Personally, I'm the second son of a first son, so I'm not going into the healing business. People are having smaller families these days. I wonder if seventh sons are going to be harder to find?

The information about Henry Pare and Roger Beliveau is from Jane Beck's "Traditional Folk Medicine in Vermont," which appears in Medicine and Healing. Volume 15 of the Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife.

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