My cousin has discovered a time machine. This startling fact emerged when she rang me a couple of weeks ago to tell me that her horse Paddy was eight years younger than he had previously been. It was a bit of a surprise, since I have never seen Paddy. In fact, I had never met my cousin either, although she had phoned me a couple of years ago urging me that, if I knew anyone who was seriously ill, I should put them in touch with a man called Philippe Sauvage, a druid healer with the ability to cure cancer, Aids and first-degree burns.
Now he was working his magic on animals, including Paddy. Once aged 20 and crippled with arthritis, my cousin's horse had reverted to the age of 12. She had a video on-line which showed how full of beans he was. If I knew anyone with a sick animal, she said, I should pass on the good news. Remembering from the last call that these miracles did not come cheap, I asked how much Paddy's "subliminal healing" had cost her. She said that she had used the low-cost animal rate of £1,500. It seemed rather a lot, I said. "How can you put a price on the impossible?" my cousin asked.
She rang a few more times. Had I seen the on-line footage? Had I passed on the good word? I had done neither, but, concerned for her, I had done some light internet research. There was a report into Sauvage by the BBC South West investigative programme Inside Out, broadcast in March this year. They had found a woman in her eighties, with a bad back, who had been had been told that, if she paid £30,000, she would be introduced to the miracle-healer himself. The BBC discovered that Sauvage had been convicted in France for fraud, and sentenced to five years in gaol. He had fled the country, claimed asylum unsuccessfully in the US and was now living in Switzerland. His followers are working in south-west England - with considerable financial success, it seems.
Sauvage's own website is simultaneously hilarious and sinister. In prose which reads like a bad translation of a third-rate science-fiction novel, there are portentous references to geonetics, noiatics and bio-channelling. Sauvage himself is apparently a mutant being of the Divine Lighted Realm who once walked with Merlin.
Elsewhere on the website, there are claims of miraculous cures, backed up by doctors in America, vague references to good works such as saving "the Biblical Oznia eagle" from extinction, and none-too-subtle demands for contributions to Philippe's "work and research".
I worried for my cousin and those like her, whose longing for something in which to believe has taken them in such a peculiar and expensive direction. Sauvage, his sidekick Dr Jane Dillon, and their organisation Catharsis are mentioned on several websites dealing with religious cults. When I sent e-mails to the doctors who had endorsed Sauvage's work, their response was curiously evasive. One said he had had no contact with Sauvage for 10 years. Another wanted to know who I was and then went quiet. A neuropsychologist from a clinic was not known there - indeed there was no department of neuropsychology. The endangered Oznia Eagle does not exist.
This sceptical snooping irritated my cousin. Why did I not look at the video of Paddy? she wanted to know. When I suggested that it was odd that no newspaper had contained news of how the ageing process could be reversed, she explained that there was a media conspiracy which suppressed the truth about Philippe. Talking to her, I began to realise that, if someone believes something enough, there is no reasoning on earth that will shake that faith. It has become part of their personality.
Assuming that this column manages to break through the media conspiracy, I would advise readers who hear of Sauvage, Savage, Dillon or Catharsis, particularly down in the West Country, not to become involved - or, better still, to laugh in their faces. Druids hate that.
Miles Kington is awayReuse content