ValentineGreatrakes (1629–1683) was an Irish healer called “Mr. Greatrix,” “Mr. Greatraks,” and the “stroker,” who cured maladies by a laying on of the hands. Valentine Greatrakes’s abilities compared to the magical powers of the cunning men/women, witches, and Wizards of his time.
The seventh son of an Irish gentleman in County Cork, Greatrakes reputedly suffered from “melancholy derangement” early in life. He served in Cromwell’s army and then in the government, retiring when he lost his office of county magistrate. Shortly thereafter, he had a spiritual awakening that God had given him the power to heal the “king’s evil” by touching. He tested himself by curing a Saltersbridge man of the king’s evil in his eyes, cheek, and throat. He launched a new career as a healer and attracted a huge audience of satisfied customers. He cured epilepsy, ulcers, lameness, and other sicknesses and had the ability to cause and cure fits and cast out evil spirits, which he said were the cause of various afflictions. As word of his ability spread, so many persons sought him out that he worked from six in the morning until six at night, stroking everyone who came to see him.
In 1661 Greatrakes was summoned to the trial of Florence Newton to help determine that she was a witch. In 1666 he went to England where he effected more cures, but he failed to cure the chronic headaches of Anne, Viscountess Conway. He also failed in a Demonstration to Charles II and soon returned to Ireland.
Greatrakes always invoked the name of God when he worked and accepted no fees other than reimbursement for travel. He rejected cases that appeared to be incurable. His stroking powers apparently were limited to physical ills, for he was unable to help an earl’s butler who was possessed by fairies and made to levitate off the ground.
The Puritan minister and witch hunter Increase Mather dismissed Greatrakes as a fraud, claiming he attempted to effect cures by using magic, specifically “that hobgoblin word, Abrodacara” (abracadabra).