Super Subcultures

The Secret Order of Swiss Medical Saviors

In a country known for being modern and precise, an ancient healing practice passed down from the heavens has surprising staying power.

The Secret Order of Swiss Medical Saviors

Georges Delaloye was hiking up Mont de l’Arpille in Martigny, Switzerland, when he received a gift from heaven.

“I settled at the foot of a tree and began to write,” Delaloye recalls of this most memorable moment in June of 2005. “Once this writing was completed, when I read it again, I discovered, a little stunned, that I had received the Secret.”

Delaloye is a Reciter of the Secret. In the French-speaking part of Switzerland, many people call on these Faiseurs de Secret when they have an injury, sickness or other health concern. In an extremely old practice — dating back to the Middle Ages — people visit the Reciters (or more often these days, call or even text) to ask for a prayer that will relieve them of their ailment.

While Delaloye is Catholic, the practice of the Secret itself is not attributed to a specific religion. The gift of becoming a Reciter of the Secret is passed down through families, Delaloye explains, with a departed family member choosing a living one to pass the gift to. He comes from a long line of Reciters and believes he received the gift that day in 2005 when it was transmitted to him from the beyond by his deceased brother, Paul-Marc, who died in 1979.

There are over a hundred Reciters of the Secret, tracked in a document that Delaloye curates, listing their name, canton (Switzerland’s equivalent of a U.S. state), phone number and specialties. Reciters of the Secret treat different conditions, from mouth ulcers to hemorrhages to stress. Many have one or two conditions that they treat, but some have five or more. Delaloye himself treats a long list of conditions, including pain, cysts, and side effects from chemotherapy.

The Secret is not one prayer but an array of blessings for different conditions, and sometimes more than one prayer for a single condition. For example, Delaloye says he received three different formules de prière (prayer formulas) to treat burns. When he wanted to see which one would work best, he burned his own hand with a baking tray. “I recited the first formula against burns, it did not work,” Delaloye said. “So, I passed to the next one that is much shorter, and it worked.”

Aside from that try-and-fail method, Delaloye cites his Catholic faith in guiding him as he performs the Secret. At the instruction of his deceased brother, he says, he looks to the three archangels — Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael — for guidance when reciting prayers. But other Reciters have different guides, and Delaloye says, “one can ask for care through the Secret regardless of our beliefs.”

While Delaloye’s list includes seven Reciters of the Secret who live in France and a handful in the other parts of Switzerland, they are predominately based in the French-speaking regions of Switzerland. But “the Secret can be requested from anywhere on Earth,” Delaloye says. “There is no distance limit in this healing.”

The process of receiving a prayer from a Reciter is quite simple. Delaloye says that in order to give a prayer, he needs the last name, first name, age and the condition or conditions that led the person to contact him.

“I often say, ‘What can I do for you?’” Delaloye elaborates. “After listening to the request, I say the appropriate prayer to soothe, relieve, reduce the pain, stop the bleeding, the burns, etc.”

Delaloye does most of his work over the phone, receiving on average between 150 to 200 requests per day. He spends several hours reading and responding to his requests, but he’s recently changed his methods in order to be able to help everyone who contacts him. “I am now grouping requests by genre — burns, side effects of chemotherapy, stress before exams,” Delaloye says, “and say[ing] a collective prayer.”

The practice of contacting a person who gives prayers to those who are sick is of course not unique to Switzerland. More surprising is how closely intertwined the Reciters are with the medical system here. Hospitals and firehouses maintain lists of “fire cutters” — those who use the Secret to relieve burns — and doctors often advise patients to contact Delaloye, who clarifies that he is not in any way a replacement for receiving medical services.

“I never use the term ‘heal’ but ‘relieve’ because it is our primary role — we are complementary [to doctors],” Delaloye continues. “You must never stop a treatment prescribed by a medical doctor — those who tell you to do so are charlatans.”

Martine Huber, who lives in Nyon, Switzerland, contacted a Reciter after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She pursued treatment as advised by a medical doctor, but before each radiotherapy appointment, she called a Reciter in the hopes that their Secret would lessen the side effects.

Huber attributes her mostly painless sessions to receiving the Secret. “The one time I had pain was when the radiotherapy session was moved,” she says, “and I did not think about calling the reciter.”

Besides the precondition of having to be from a Reciter family, a person must have certain other qualities as well. “One has to be as humble as possible, have empathy for one’s neighbor, and it is important to be fair, honest and to have time to answer the many requests from people who suffer,” says Delaloye, who explains that he has had a “disposition toward” relieving people of their ailments since he was very young, but he did not fully embrace it until that fateful day in 2005.

Reciters are not supposed to charge for their services, and most hold day jobs. Delaloye himself has held quite a few. “I was a baker, a detention officer, a paramedic, a firefighter, a funeral director, and a specialist in a chemical plant for 27 years, until I was laid off in 2012,” he says. Since 2014, he has run a health care practice where he treats people with magnet therapy.

When he was a paramedic, Delaloye learned of the lists of Reciters of the Secret that were kept in hospitals, but upon doing some research, he realized that quite a few people on the list were deceased or no longer practiced the Secret. Delaloye then started to call Reciters, asking if they currently practiced and if they would accept being on his list. Delaloye now decides who is going to be on the list by having them answer a series of questions, like what they treat and whether they charge for their services, as the Secret is supposed to be free.

Technology has impacted how Reciters of the Secret work — for better and for worse. To help facilitate the demand for quicker service, Delaloye created an app that is available through the App Store and Google Play. Cell phones and the app have increased the number of requests he receives each day, and the abundance of requests can overwhelm Reciters. “Some give up [on the app] after a few weeks because they received too many requests,” Delaloye says.

Patients aren’t always the most considerate about when they contact the Reciters. “People sometimes like calling us at 3 a.m. to say that they have insomnia,” Delaloye states. This has resulted in some Reciters listing preferred hours to be contacted on their personal websites or Facebook pages. Claude-Alain Bitschnau, a reciter who, like Delaloye, treats a variety of conditions, put a request on his website asking that people only call his mobile phone between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

It is also not unheard of for Reciters to take a break from or stop performing their role altogether. Despite their importance in Swiss French society, the position is unpaid, and the work can be overwhelming. Unlike learning a new specialty in medical school, one cannot simply learn the gift through some sort of training and replace a retired reciter.

Many Reciters form bonds with each other, creating their own community. “Some have become friends, and if I have health problems, I use them,” Delaloye says.

Delaloye feels the weight of wanting to help those in need. He recalls one particularly stressful request. “A pregnant young woman, who had to undergo chemotherapy for a rare cancer, asked me to protect her baby from the side effects of the chemotherapy throughout her pregnancy,” Delaloye said. “The child was born in perfect health, and his mother is well now.”

While the Secret has helped many people who have requested it, Reciters cautions that it is not always successful. “It is important to know that there is no promise made to the caller,” Delaloye said. “Sometimes the treatment works, and sometimes it does not. I do not know why.”