Shopping Cart -

Your cart is currently empty.
Upgrade to today
for only an extra Cxx.xx

You get:

plus This issue of xxxxxxxxxxx.
plus Instant access to the latest issue of 340+ of our top selling titles.
plus Unlimited access to 30000+ back issues
plus No contract or commitment. If you decide that PocketmagsPlus is not for you, you can cancel your monthly subscription online at any time. Auto-renews at €10,99 per month, unless cancelled.
Upgrade for €1.09
Then just €10,99 / month. Cancel anytime.
Learn more
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines
   You are currently viewing the Italy version of the site.
Would you like to switch to your local site?
Leggi ovunque Read anywhere
Modalità di pagamento Pocketmags Payment Types
Trusted site
A Pocketmags si ottiene
Fatturazione sicura
Ultime offerte
Web & App Reader
Loyalty Points

Mystery of Mollie Fancher, ‘The Fasting Girl,’ and Others Who Lived without Eating

Joe Nickell, PhD, is a former mentalist and magician, detective, and author, now well into his fifth decade as an investigator of strange mysteries.

Can people live for years without food? Some have claimed to, including certain holy persons.

One nineteenth-century marvel in Brooklyn alleged not only to have lived without sustenance but to have experienced a nine-year trance state, possessed clairvoyant abilities, and recovered from paralysis and blindness. She was Mollie Fancher, a woman whose well-nourished body made her seem to some even more remarkable (see Figure 1). I came across her name years ago at a spiritualist village where some of the embroidery she produced while supposedly entranced is displayed (Figure 2). Revisits there prompted me to look further into the bizarre world of the fasting enigmas, particularly Mollie herself, and to assess the authenticity of her many claims.

The Fasting Phenomenon

Extreme fasting has been practiced since ancient times in a variety of cultural forms. Here is a brief overview of some of the main types of self-starving people.

The visionary. In Biblical times, those seeking holy visions typically went into the wilderness to fast. According to Matthew 4:1–11, Jesus “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil,” where upon he “fasted for forty days and forty nights.” Then he experienced encounters with the devil, after which “angels came and ministered to Him.”

The hermit. In the early Christian Gnostic era (the first few centuries ce), hermits—mostly male—practiced asceticism, leaving civilization and subsisting on bread and water while contemplating the world’s end.

The fasting saint. Spanning the thirteenth to seventeenth centuries, a fad of lengthy religious fasting developed, attracting women, the most notable example of whom was Caterina Benincasa, later Saint Catherine of Siena (1347–1380). She joined a Dominican order at sixteen, practiced flagellation, imagined torture by demons, and experienced visions. She exhibited the stigmata at age twenty-eight, though the marks conveniently disappeared, and she was left only with the pain of her “invisible” wounds (Nickell 1993, 225–226). In his book Holy Anorexia, Professor Rudolph M. Bell (1985) attributes Catherine’s suffering to “an eating/vomiting pattern typical of acute anorexia.” Being vainglorious, he says, she “starved herself to death.” She was subsequently canonized. (See also Anorexia Mirabilis 2017.)

Purchase options below
Find the complete article and many more in this issue of Skeptical Inquirer - Nov/Dec 17
If you own the issue, Login to read the full article now.
Single Digital Issue
Nov/Dec 17
This issue and other back issues are not included in a new Skeptical Inquirer subscription. Subscriptions include the latest regular issue and new issues released during your subscription.
Annual Digital Subscription
Only € 3,16 per issue

View Issues

About Skeptical Inquirer

Pizzagate and Beyond: Using Social Research to Understand Conspiracy Legends Becoming Fantastic Why Some People Embellish Their Already Accomplished Lives with Incredible Tales Is Eating Vegetables Truly Safe? An Examination into Contemporary Anti-Vaccination Arguments