Mirin Dajo with rapier piercing his thorax from back to front
On June 23, 1947, Time Magazine reported from Switzerland on what it called the “Miracle Man” – a mysterious 35-year old Dutchman by the name of Mirin Dajo who confounded onlooking scientists, doctors and ordinary spectators when, apparently without any pain or internal injury, he was skewered straight through the chest with a 28-inch fencing foil. The skin on his torso appeared to bulge as the solid steel blade was pushed through by an assistant, but Dajo stayed stoic, unflinching. In the wake of the harsh reality of the Second World War, people were in search of miracles. Through Mirin Dajo, that is exactly what they seemed to get.
Long before the Jim Rose Circus came to fame in the 1990s, there was a single-man sideshow who put all their masochistic acts into the shade. Claiming he was invulnerable, Mirin Dajo became notorious for radical body piercings more extreme than any seen before or since. During the 40s, this living enigma was run through with sharp objects like spears and swords without suffering physical damage or even bleeding. How was he left alive? Was he, as some of the headlines of the time read, some kind of “second Messiah”? Was it just a trick, some kind of elaborate sleight of hand? Or could the truth be explained by science?
Mirin Dajo jogging with a rapier through his abdomen
If science could shed any light on the mystery of how Dajo was able perform these seemingly superhuman feats, the medical men of the time couldn’t. On May 31, 1947, the Swiss doctor, Hans Naegeli-Osjord, having heard of Dajo's talent, took tests on the man at a hospital in Zurich, assisted by several other doctors. As usual, Dajo stripped to the waist and was impaled with a rapier, yet he neither bled nor felt a thing. The foil still in place, Dajo then walked to the X-ray theatre, where results showed the foil had pierced through parts of the body where his heart, lung and kidneys were located. The blade remained inside.
The doctors in Zurich had prepared for the onset of massive internal bleeding once the steel blade was withdrawn, but when the time came only the smallest traces of damage were visible in the skin, with only a minimal amount of body fluid running from the openings. The tiny wounds were cleansed, but Dajo and his assistant knew no infection would occur anyway. More renowned for performing in public theatres, Dajo had defied the scrutiny of the medical community. What’s more, Dajo did not stop at one hole but had many, and footage shows his assistant puncturing one clean through his lower abdomen from one side to the other.
Human fountain: Dajo pierced with hollow tubes connected to a water supply
So how was he able to do this? If, as experts then and now seem to agree, this was no illusion, but a real sword going through a real body, how did Dajo’s vital organs survive without any ill effects? Dajo maintained that the areas through which the weapons went became ‘lighter’, ‘less physical’ – that there was nothing solid to injure – but a recent BBC TV programme disputes this account. According to magician and Dajo authority, Ali Bongo, Dajo travelled to India and talked to Fakirs – mystics known for piercing their cheeks and skin with knives. There he may have learned a safe way to pass a blade through his body – but how?
According to Dr Jennifer Saw, even such an extreme feat might be biologically possible aided by what are called fistulas, probably the simplest example of which is an ear ring hole: “It’s quite likely that he had perhaps a few centimetres done at a time, the hole that was created was kept open, and then they advanced it again a little bit at a time staying clear of any organs.” So Dajo had tubes made from scar tissue running through his body that allowed thin objects to be inserted through them. “If you looked at his back he had several holes on them, and I think those were failed fistulas – ones where they couldn’t advance any further,” says Saw.
Mirin Dajo with a sword through his chest while on stage
If such an explanation goes some way to penetrating the mystery of Mirin Dajo’s incredible talent, it doesn’t diminish quite how amazing it is that the man survived the making of these passageways. No known Indian Fakir has ever gone to such extremes, and the pain and possible infection of creating them would have been risks no magic could have conjured away.
Born in Rotterdam, Mirin Dajo was trained in the Beaux Arts and headed a design team during the 1920s. In his youth he reported having various allegedly paranormal experiences, such as visions and telepathy, but it wasn’t until he turned 33 that Dajo professed to realise his body was ‘invulnerable’. After quitting his job and heading to Amsterdam, he began to perform in street cafes, making money by allowing people to pierce his body with dagger-like objects or by eating glass and razor blades. He later stated that the objects he swallowed must have dissolved inside his body – a claim disputed by the circumstances of his death.
X-Ray of Dajo's abdomen on May 12, 1948 showing the needle he swallowed
There can be little doubt Dajo sought a certain amount of fame through his displays, but he also had a desire to show that there was more to reality than most accepted. A self-proclaimed prophet, he used his act as basis for preaching his message and explaining his world view – which included accepting that there was a higher force, the Source, and that man’s materialistic ways would only lead him to misery and war and should therefore be abandoned. Ironically, Dajo was granted licenses to perform but not to speak during his show, a fact that frustrated him because one was meant to lead to the other.
The other reason Dajo was bogged down in bureaucracy was because so many audience members fainted, and as a consequence he was denied a licence for public demonstrations. Dajo himself never came to any harm while on stage, but even so his abilities sent him to an early grave. At the end of May, 1938, Dajo died of an aortic rupture two week after a needle he had eaten was surgically removed. According to his loyal assistant, Jan Dirk de Groot, the man who called himself Mirin Dajo – which roughly translates as “wonderful” in Esperanto – had several “guardian angels”. They evidently failed him when it mattered most.