I’m not talking crazy or aberrant or clownish. No, I’m talking about the paranormal, events or phenomena that are beyond the scope of normal scientific understanding.

Storytellers have always been fascinated by characters with superhuman abilities. Throughout human history, such paranormal abilities have appeared in nearly every culture in the world. They are sometimes attributed to historical figures and sometimes relegated to mythical figures (though history and myth often overlap).

Mind Over Matter

Telekinesis or psychokinesis is the (supposed, or hypothetical) psychic ability to move objects at a distance by mental power or other nonphysical means. A 2006 survey of American adults found that 28% of male and 31% of female respondents believe in the possibility of telekinesis. (WikiHow offers a 14 step guide to developing your own telekinetic abilities here!)

Rama, avatar of Vishnu, in battle against Ravana

In ancient myths, characters often had paranormal control over elements of the natural world (such as storms or animals) rather than direct control of materials. There are a few notable exceptions. The Norse god Thor and the Greek hero Perseus controlled their weapons through limited telekinesis. Thor could make his hammer Mjölnir fly around, entirely independent of gravity. Perseus was able to make his sword fly further and more accurately than he could throw it to strike Medusa. Vishnu had broader telekinetic abilities, which he used to control the movement of his enemies in battle.

Franklin Richards (Ultraman) with parents Sue Storm (Invisible Woman) and Reed Richard (Mr Fantastic)

In the comic book world (specifically, in Marvel comics), Franklin Richards, omega-level mutant and son of Reed and Sue, is probably one of the most powerful beings in the Marvel Universe let alone just the most powerful telekinetic.

Extra Sensing

By definition, clairvoyance is the ability to predict future events. If you are clairvoyant, you know about things that you did not actually see happen or hear about.  Some clairvoyants even claim to be able to speak to the dead. 

Psychics, palm readers and fortune tellers all claim to have clairvoyant power. Some use a crystal ball for information. Others read tea leaves, tarot cards, marked sticks, bird movements, animal entrails, clouds, stars, bones or dice, dreams, water, smoke, and almost anything else they encounter to tell the future.

Extrasensory perception, or ESP, means the ability to “know” or “experience” something one isn’t able to see, hear, touch, smell, or taste in the usual way.  So, such people are said to have an extra sense, a “sixth sense” to perceive the world. 

Sometimes people refer to this paranormal ability as second sight. People use their eyes to see the world around them. But those with “second sight” claim to see things that are not there (remote viewing), or to see future objects or events.

ESP in History

The Oracle
Camillo Miola (1880)

Many leaders have consulted those with paranormal abilities throughout history. The ancient Greeks communed with the gods through the oracles. Priests in the Mali Empire advised emperors and military leaders on the wishes of the ancestors. Vedic astrologers read complex charts of the stars to provide Hindu rulers with specific dates and times on which to hold major events.

Joan Quigley

But our ancient ancestors are not the only ones who consulted clairvoyant experts when making decisions.

Nancy Reagan frequently consulted with Joan Quigley throughout Ronald Reagan’s presidency. After John Hinckley Jr shot and nearly killed her husband in 1981, Nancy Reagan enlisted Quigley’s help to prevent future assassination attempts. Quigley used astrology charts to determine the best times for public appearances, traveling, and even signing the intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty with Mikhail Gorbachev.

About ten years ago, a scandal erupted in China when Liu Zhijun, the Railway Minister, confessed to consulting a feng shui master to determine the most auspicious days to break ground on new projects.

Nechung Oracle in Ladakh, 2014
Christpher Michele

Tibet has a State Oracle, the Nechung Oracle, whom the Dalai Lama consults before making major decisions. The Oracle enters a trance state to act as a medium between the natural world and the spirit world. While in this trance state, the Nechung Oracle provides guidance to observers, sharing the knowledge and wishes of kuten, the spirit world.

In the US, one of the most famous psychics in recent history is Youree Dell Harris, better known as Miss Cleo, spokeswoman for the Psychic Readers Network. On late-night infomercials for the pay-per-view paranormal service promised millions of insomniacs psychic help.

ESP in Fiction

Paranormal abilities present a world of possibilities to fiction writers as well. Stephen King’s books are full of characters with psychic talents, such as reading minds (The Shining), predicting the future (Doctor Sleep), pyrokinesis (Firestarter), psychic surgery (Green Mile), and necromancy (Pet Semetary).

Macbeth and the Witches
Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741–1825)

Clairvoyants abound in Shakespeare’s plays, warning characters about things that will come and providing foreshadowing to the audience. Three witches guide Macbeth in his quest to become king, ultimately causing his downfall. A soothsayer tries to warn Julius Caesar of his impending death.

Jean Grey as Phoenix
Alan Davis, 2019

Comic books frequently star characters with a wide variety of paranormal abilities, some more useful than others. Nearly every character in Marvel’s X-Men universe has some form of psychic or telekinetic ability. They range from the extremely powerful telepath Jean Grey (Phoenix) to Eye Scream, a mutant with the amazing ability to turn himself into any flavor of ice cream.

Types of ESP

Wikipedia breaks down Extra Sensory Perception into specific categories, though there is some overlap.

Clairvoyance — The ability to see things and events that are happening far away, and locate objects, places, people, using a sixth sense.

Divination – The ability to gain insight into a situation using occult lists.

Dowsing for metal ore, from 1556 “De re metallica libri XII” book

Dowsing – The ability to locate water or other resources underground, sometimes using a tool called a dowsing rod.

Dream telepathy – The ability to telepathically communicate with another person through dreams.

Dermo-optical perception – The ability to perceive unusual sensory stimuli through one’s own skin.

Psychometry or psychoscopy – The ability to obtain information about a person or an object by touch.

Precognition (including psychic premonitions) – The ability to perceive or gain knowledge about future events, without using induction or deduction from known facts.

Remote viewingtelesthesia or remote sensing – The ability to see a distant or unseen target using extrasensory perception.

Retrocognition or postcognition – The ability to supernaturally perceive past events.

Telepathy – The ability to transmit or receive thoughts supernaturally.

And so we come to psychics, people who have one or more of these paranormal mental powers and abilities (such as the ability to predict the future, to know what other people are thinking, or to receive messages from dead people.)

Psychic Abilities

Wikipedia presents a list of alleged psychic abilities that real-world people have claimed to possess. 

“The Separation of the Spirit Body” from The Secret of the Golden Flower, a Chinese handbook on alchemy and meditation
  • Astral projection or mental projection – The ability to voluntarily project an astral body or mental body, being associated with the out-of-body experience, in which one’s consciousness is felt to separate from the physical body temporarily.
  • Atmokinesis – The ability to control the weather such as calling rainfall or storms.
  • Automatic writing – The ability to draw or write without conscious intent.
  • Bilocation — The ability to be present in two different places at the same time, usually attributed to a saint.
  • Energy medicine – The ability to heal with one’s own empathic, etheric, astral, mental or spiritual energy.
  • Ergokinesis – The ability to influence the movement of energy, such as electricity, without direct interaction.
  • Iddhi – Psychic abilities gained through Buddhist meditation.
  • Inedia – The ability to survive without eating or drinking, multiple cases have resulted in starvation or dehydration.
An advertising poster depicting magician Harry Kellar performing the “Levitation of Princess Karnac” illusion, 1894
  • Levitation or transvection – The ability to float or fly by mystical means.
  • Materialization — The creation of objects and materials or the appearance of matter from unknown sources.
  • Mediumship or channeling – The ability to communicate with spirits.
  • Petrification — The power to turn a living being to stone by looking them in the eye.
  • Prophecy (also predictionpremonition, or prognostication) — the ability to foretell events, without using induction or deduction from known facts.
  • Psychic surgery – The ability to remove disease or disorder within or over the body tissue via an “energetic” incision that heals immediately afterwards.
  • Psychokinesis or telekinesis – The ability to influence a physical system without physical interaction, typically manifesting as being able to exert force, control objects and move matter with one’s mind.
  • Pyrokinesis – The ability to control flames, fire, or heat using one’s mind.
  • Shapeshifting or transformation — The ability to physically transform the user’s body into anything.
  • Thoughtography – The ability to impress an image by ‘burning’ it on a surface using one’s own mind only.
  • Xenoglossy — The ability of a person to suddenly learn to write and speak a foreign language without any natural means such as studying or research, but that is often rather bestowed by divine agents.
  • Witnessing – The gift of being visited by high profile spiritual beings such as Mary, Jesus or Fudosama (Acala) from Buddhist Traditions.

BOTTOM LINE: Who knew there were so many ways to be not normal? Surely one appeals to you—or maybe more than one!

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