Defined as marks on a person’s hands, feet, head, and torso, stigmata resemble the wounds that Christians say Jesus received during his crucifixion. In addition to the marks that correspond to wounds from nails hammered through Jesus’ hands and feet, stigmata include marks on one’s side—corresponding to the wound inflicted by a Roman soldier’s spear—and marks on the forehead that symbolize the wounds from a crown of thorns placed on Jesus’ head.
Cases of stigmata appearing have been known for centuries. One modern example is the case of Heather Woods, a forty-three-year-old British woman. In May 1992 Woods developed blisters on her hands and feet that began oozing blood and a red crescent-shaped mark on her right side. On two occasions, a red mark in the shape of a cross appeared on her forehead.
What remains a matter of some debate is the cause of stigmata. Most physicians view stigmata as a psychological phenomenon, pointing out that there is ample proof that the mind can cause physical changes in the body, not only internally but externally as well. For example, emotional upset can cause blushing, and stress can cause the body to develop rashes and hives. Indeed, suggestions made under hypnosis have been shown to result in stigmata. In one case, a psychologist told a woman under hypnosis that she was wearing a crown of thorns, and within an hour she had spontaneously developed scratches along her brow. Some believers in extrasensory perception, however, say that the mind is causing these changes through psychokinesis, the ability to psychically affect the physical world. If this theory is correct, the person with stigmata need not be the one creating the phenomenon; instead, someone close to the experient could be causing the wounds.
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning