Using a comparative analysis of Navajo healing ceremonials, acupuncture and biomedical treatment, this essay examines placebo studies and ritual theory as mutually interpenetrating disciplines. Healing rituals create a receptive person susceptible to the influences of authoritative culturally sanctioned 'powers'. The healer provides the sufferer with imaginative, emotional, sensory, moral and aesthetic input derived from the palpable symbols and procedures of the ritual process-in the process fusing the sufferer's idiosyncratic narrative unto a universal cultural mythos. Healing rituals involve a drama of evocation, enactment, embodiment and evaluation in a charged atmosphere of hope and uncertainty. Experimental research into placebo effects demonstrates that routine biomedical pharmacological and procedural interventions contain significant ritual dimensions. This research also suggests that ritual healing not only represents changes in affect, self-awareness and self-appraisal of behavioural capacities, but involves modulations of symptoms through neurobiological mechanisms. Recent scientific investigations into placebo acupuncture suggest several ways that observations from ritual studies can be verified experimentally. Placebo effects are often described as 'non-specific'; the analysis presented here suggests that placebo effects are the 'specific' effects of healing rituals.