The faculty of clear-sightedness, the supposed paranormal
ability to see persons and events that are distant in time or
place. Clairvoyance may be roughly divided into three classes
retrocognition and premonition; perceiving past and future
events; and perception of contemporary events happening at
a distance, or outside the range of normal vision. Clairvoyance
may include psychometry, second sight, and crystal gazing.
Prophecy is a form of clairvoyance extending back into antiquity,
and second sight is also an ancient form. It is notable
that Spiritualism in Great Britain was directly heralded, about
the third decade of the nineteenth century, by an outbreak of
clairvoyance. Among clairvoyants of that period was Alexis Didier,
whose phenomena suggested that telepathy at least entered
into his feats, which included reading letters enclosed in
sealed packets, playing écarté with bandaged eyes, and others
of a like nature. Clairvoyance remains a prominent feature of
the Spiritualistic séance.
Although there exists a quantity of evidence, collected by
members of the Society for Psychical Research and other scientific
investigators, that would seem to support the theory of
supernormal vision, it must be acknowledged that many cases
of clairvoyance lend themselves to a more mundane explanation.
For instance, it has been shown that it is almost impossible
to bandage the eyes of a medium so that the person cannot
make some use of his or her normal vision. The possibility of
hyperesthesia during trance should also be taken into account,
as should telepathy, which may conceivably play a part in clairvoyant
A private detective agency could also be a possible source of
some of the knowledge displayed by the professional clairvoyant.
The crystal is, as has been indicated, a favorite mode of
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Clairvoyance
exercising the clairvoyant faculty, presumably because the hypnotic
state is favorable to development of supernormal vision;
however, it could also be that the condition thus induced favors
the rising into the upper consciousness of knowledge previously
stored in the subconscious.
The term clairvoyance is also used to describe the power to
see discarnate spirits, and is applied to mediumship generally.
For a discussion of the early history of clairvoyance, see divination.
Types of Clairvoyance
Charles Richet used the term cryptesthesia in a wide sense to
cover a whole range of such related phenomena as clairvoyance,
premonitions, monitions, psychometry, dowsing, and telepathy.
F. W. H. Myers used the term telesthesia in a narrower
context. As substitutes for clairvoyance Henry Holt
suggested the word telopsis and Dr. Heysinger the word
telecognosis but these terms would not include deathbed visions
and other apparitions.
The clairvoyant experience may be spontaneous or induced
by suggestion (as in hypnotism) or autosuggestion (as in crystal
gazing and other methods of divination). There are four important
subdivisions X-ray clairvoyance, medical clairvoyance,
traveling clairvoyance, and platform clairvoyance. The first is
the faculty to see into closed space, such as boxes, envelopes,
rooms, and books; the second is the ability to see the inner
mechanism of the human body and diagnose disease; the third
involves a change of the center of perceptiona mental journey
to a distant scene and giving a description thereof; and the
fourth is seeing spirits.
The so-called X-ray clairvoyance is a frequently observed
manifestation of the power. There are many cases on record in
which sealed letters were read when the contents were totally
unknown to the experimenter or were couched in a language
of which the seer was ignorant. The clairvoyant often has to
handle the envelope but not necessarily. In pellet reading the
pellets may or may not be touched at all; they may even be
burnt and the contents revealed thereafter. Conscious effort
and anxiety at demonstration, however, have most often resuited
mostly results in failure. Moreover, pellet reading has been
notorious as a fraudulent phenomenon.
Examples of Clairvoyance
The following statement appeared in the Report of the Experiments
on Animal Magnetism, made by the Committee of the Medical
Section of the French Royal Academy of Sciences, 1831
We have seen two somnambulists who distinguished, with
their eyes closed, the objects which were placed before them;
they mentioned the color and the value of cards, without touching
them; they read words traced with the hand, as also some
lines of books opened at random. This phenomenon took place
even when the eyelids were kept exactly closed with the fingers.
In 1837 the French Academy offered a prize of 3,000 francs
for a demonstration of true clairvoyance. One of the claimants
of the prize was the 12-year-old daughter of one Dr. Pigaire,
a physician, whose clairvoyant faculty was admitted by the scientist
Arago. At the decisive séance the jury rescued itself from
the awarding the prize by stating that, according to the doctors,
normal vision could not be excluded even if the girls eyes were
plastered up and covered with cotton wool and a silk mask.
In a remarkable case of clairvoyance, Thomas A. Edison, experimenting
with the clairvoyant Bert Reese, wrote in a distant
room on a piece of paper, Is there anything better than hydroxide
of nickel for an alkaline electric battery When he rejoined
Reese, the latter at once said, No, there is nothing better
than hydroxide of nickel for an alkaline battery. In another
case involving Reese, Baron Schrenck-Notzing wrote on five
pieces of paper the questions, What is my mothers name
When will you go to Germany Will my book be a success What
is the name of my eldest son and an intimate question. He
mixed the papers and presented them without knowing which
contained which question. Reese, barely touching them, answered
all the questions.
Experimenting with Stephan Ossowiecki in Warsaw,
Charles Richet wrote this phrase The sea never appears so
great as when it is calm. Its fury lessens it. He folded the paper
and put it in an envelope. Ossowiecki kneaded it feverishly and
said after 10 minutes, I see much water, much water. You want
to attach some idea to the sea. The sea is so great that beside
its motion. . . . I can see no more. Gustav Geley wrote on a
visiting card, under the table, Nothing is more moving than
the call to prayer by the muezzins. Ossowiecki, feeling the envelope,
said, There is a feeling of prayer, a call, from men who
are being killed or wounded. . . . No, it is not that. . . . Nothing
gives rise to more emotion than the call to prayer, it is like a
call to prayer, to whom A certain caste of men, Mazzi,
madz. . . . A card. I can see no more.
Sleepwalkers furnish evidence of a clairvoyant faculty of vision.
The existence of such a faculty may explain strange experiences
in dreams, such as the oft-quoted story of Rev. Henry
Bushnell (Sunday at Home, vol. 1875) about Capt. Youatt, a
wealthy man who in a dream saw a company of emigrants perishing
in the mountain snow. He distinguished the faces of the
sufferers and gave special attention to the scenery; a perpendicular
white rock cliff struck him particularly. He fell asleep
again and the dream was repeated. He described the scenery
to a comrade, who recognized its features as belonging to the
Carson Valley Pass, 150 miles away. A company was collected
with blankets, provisions, and mules. On arriving they found
the company exactly as portrayed in the dream.
That clairvoyant vision may be independent of normal eyesight
and exercised by the mind without the assistance of the
senses is shown by a note by Stainton Moses, dated March 1,
In the midst of the séance, when perfectly clear of influence,
I saw Theophilus and the Prophet. They were as clear and
palpable to the eye as human beings would be in a strong light.
Placing my hand over my eyes made no difference, but turning
away I could see them no longer. This experiment I repeated
Darkness presents no obstruction. Elizabeth dEsperance
could sketch in the dark, the paper before her appearing just
as well illuminated as the spirit face that she sketched.
The nature of clarivoyant perception is difficult to define. It
is not seeing, it is being truly impressed. In the clairvoyant
state, wrote Alfred Vout Peters (Light, October 11, 1913), all
bodily sensations seem to be merged into one big sense, so that
one is able to see, hear, taste, smell, and above all, know. Yet
the images stand out clear and strong. In Horace Leafs experience
sometimes the images are considerably smaller than lifesize,
in some cases a few inches in height, although normally
proportioned. He occasionally saw abnormally large forms,
sometimes the face alone covering the entire field of vision. A
clairvoyant may give a perfect character delineation of a man
seen for the first time in his life. Heinrich Zschokke possessed
It has happened to me sometimes on my first meeting with
strangers, as I listened silently to their discourse, that their former
life with many trifling circumstances therewith connected,
or frequently some particular scene in that life, has passed quite
involuntarily, and as it were dream-like, yet perfectly distinct,
An early allusion to medical clairvoyance, the ability to see
inside the body and diagnose disease, is found in Hippocrates
The affections suffered by the body the soul sees with shut
eyes. In the age of animal magnetism, medical clairvoyance
was widely demonstrated. The investigation committee of the
French Academy of Medicine admitted the phenomena of
medical clairvoyance in 1831.
Clairvoyance Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
With the coming of Spiritualism the magnetizer disappeared
and both medical and ordinary clairvoyance found an
outlet in spontaneous trance, or was exercised in the waking
state. In the astounding psychic development of Andrew Jackson
Davis, medical clairvoyance represented the initial stage.
Both in the United States and in England, the first wellattested
records of medical clairvoyance involve servant girls.
Mary Jane, the servant of Dr. Larkin, of Wrentham, Massachusetts,
diagnosed her own state and the diseases of the doctors
patients with remarkable precision in 1844 in a trance. Emma,
the maid of Dr. Joseph Haddock showed similar powers. She
distinguished between arterial and venous blood in the heart,
calling one the light side and the other the dark side. Dr.
Haddocks experiences were corroborated by Dr. William
Gregory in Letters on Animal Magnetism (1851), in the accounts
of Sir Walter Trevelyan and Dr. Elliotson, and in Dr. Herbert
Mayos Letters on the Truths contained in Popular Superstitions
With the unfolding of Spiritualism, it was thought less and
less preposterous to employ mediums professionally for medical
purposes. Bessie Williams was a doctors assistant for some
years, and psychic diagnosis was further developed by Walter
Kilnerss discovery of the human aura and its color changes according
to the state of health. The psychic healer Edgar Cayce
diagnosed thousands of cases and is credited with many cures.
There is abundant evidence of traveling clairvoyance, the
ability to mentally journey to a distant scene and observe
events, in old and present-day records. Such ability was freely
exercised by the shamans and medicine men of primitive peoples.
Sir William Barretts conclusion in Psychical Research
(1911) that the reputed evidence on behalf of traveling clairvoyance
is more widespread and ancient than that for telepathy
may be justified.
A well-authenticated and frequently quoted instance of traveling
clairvoyance is Emanuel Swedenborgs vision in 1756 at
Gothenburg of a devastating fire in Stockholm. Kant wrote it
down in 1758, having obtained the details from the witnesses
themselves. This is a case of spontaneous traveling clairvoyance,
not purposive, representing rather a psychic invasion by
the medium. It resembles the experience of Apollonius of
Tyana, who, during a lecture at Ephesus, suddenly broke off,
saying that the tyrant Domitian had been killed at Rome.
The first known instance of something resembling real traveling
in magnetic sleep was recorded in a letter written from
Nantes to the Marquis de Puysegur in March 1785. A young
girl followed the movements of her magnetizer when he went
into town and described everything that was taking place
In Germany some early records are to be found in Dr. Van
Gherts Archiv für den tierischen Magnetismus. The first carefully
investigated traveling clairvoyants were the French Alexis and
Adolph Didier and Adèle Maginot. President Seguier, without
giving his name, called upon Alexis Didier for a sitting. Didier
made an imaginary journey to Seguiers room and saw a tiny
bell on a table. Seguier denied this. On returning home, Sequier
found that in his absence a bell had been placed on the
The Didier brothers were widely experimented with in England.
An account of 14 séances held at Brighton with Alexis
Didier is to be found in Dr. Edwin Lees Animal Magnetism
(1866). Adolphe Didier was investigated mainly by H. G. Atkinson.
Adèle Maginots striking adventures in traveling clairvoyance
were recorded by Louis-Alphonse Cahagnet. She not only
found for his sitters distant relatives who had vanished years
ago, but also claimed to have actually conversed with them.
In one instance, Maginot, traveling by clairvoyance to a
tropical country, asked to be awakened because she was afraid
of wild beasts. It is within the bounds of possibility that an encounter
with a wild beast on the scene would severely affect a
clairvoyants nervous system.
In another instance, actual harm was suffered by the medium.
A M. Lucas de Rembouillet was very anxious about the fate
of his brother-in-law. With the mother of the vanished man he
visited Adèle Maginot.
That which astonished this good woman, not a little, as well
as Mr. Lucas, and the other persons present at the séance, was
to see Adèle putting her hands before the left side of her face
to shelter her from the burning rays of sunshine of that climate,
seeming at the same time to be overcome with heat; but what
was more marvelous still was the fact that she had a violent sunstroke,
which made all the side of her face, from her brow to
her shoulder, a bluish red, whilst the other side remained
white. This deep color only began to disappear twenty-four
hours later. The heat was so violent at this time that you could
not keep your hand on her.
Five thousand miles from Melbourne at sea William Howitt
had a vision in which he clearly saw his brothers house, premises,
and the landscape around. When he landed, he was so sure
of his bearings that he went cross-country. All was as the vision
Another case from an early record has some curious features.
Dr. F. magnetized Jane and warned William Eglinton
that he would send Jane to see what he was doing between eight
and ten that evening. Jane said, I see a very fat man with a
wooden leg, he has no brain. He is called Eglinton. He is sitting
before a table where there is brandy, but he is not drinking.
The fact was Eglinton had made a fat dummy and dressed it in
his own clothes.
In Thirty Years of Psychic Research (1923), Charles Richet describes
a dramatic instance of traveling clairvoyance concerning
himself. Pierre Janet sent Leonie B., in trance, after Richet,
who had left for Paris. The clairvoyant suddenly declared that
Richets laboratory was burning. It was later determined that
the laboratory was indeed burning at the time of the vision.
To exercise the faculty of traveling clairvoyance, sometimes
an object belonging to a distant friend or locality is necessary,
but often an index, say, the name of a friend or a place, is sufficient.
The process of locating the desired person or object escapes
explanation. As F. W. H. Myers writes in Human Personality
and Its Survival of Bodily Death, 1903
The clairvoyant will frequently miss her way, and describe
houses and scenes adjacent to those desired. Then if she almost
literally gets on the scentif she finds some place which the
man whom she is sent to seek has some time traversedshe follows
up his track with greater ease, apparently recognizing past
events in his life as well as present circumstances. The process
often reminds one of the dog who, if let loose far from home
will find his way homewards vaguely at first, and using we do
not quite know what instinct; then if he once gets on the scent
will hold it easily across much of confusion and obstacle.
E. W. Cox in What Am I (1874) observes,
The description is rarely or never that which should be
given of an object then clearly present to the sight. It is more
or less wanting in definite outline, like objects seen in a fog,
suggesting that the perspective faculty, whatever it may be, is
exercised through more or less obstacle. The objects do not
preserve their relative proportion of size or colour in the impression
they make upon the mind of the patient. Whatever the
perspective faculty may be it is certainly not so powerful, nor
so clear as the sense of sight. Small and unimportant things are
often perceived when more prominent objects are unnoticed.
Moreover, the faculty seems to be subject to continuous variation
during the few minutes of its exercise, as if interrupted frequently
by passing clouds.
Cox also asks whether traveling clairvoyance might not be
a survival of the mysterious power of orientation so well developed
in animals but nearly extinguished in men.
Vincent Turvey writes in The Beginnings of Seership,
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Clairvoyance
In the mental body-travelling the I (the spirit) appears to
leave the me (the body) and to fly through space at a velocity
that renders the view of the country passed over very indistinct
and blurred. The I appears to be about two miles above the
earth, and can only barely distinguish water from land, or forest
from city; and only then, if the tracts perceived be fairly
large in area. Small rivers or villages would not be distinguishable.
Traveling clairvoyance may take the seer into the future.
Robert James Lees claimed visions of the crimes that Jack the
Ripper was going to commit the following day, with an exact
description of the locality.
Perhaps traveling clairvoyance could also be exploited for
historical research in guiding the medium into the past. Many
sensitives claim to be able to go back into past ages in trance,
some as far back as the mythical Atlantis or the still older Lemuria.
Accomplishments of this sort, however, are more psychometric
than clairvoyant and defy verification.
Many trance communications are classed under traveling
clairvoyance if the control is considered the subconscious self
of the medium. A strange mixture of traveling clairvoyance,
clairaudience or control by the subconscious of the living is described
in the following letter from Rosina Thompson to J. G.
Piddington of the Society for Psychical Research, May 24,
On Monday, March 7, 1900, about 730 in the evening, I
happened to be sitting quite alone in the dining-room and
thinking of the possibility of my subliminal communicating
with that of another personno one in particular. I was not for
one moment unconscious. All at once I felt someone was standing
near and quietly opened my eyes, and was very surprised
to seeclairvoyantly, of courseMr. J. G. Piddington. I was
very keen to try the experiment, so at once spoke to him aloud.
He looked so material and lifelike I did not feel in the least
alarmed. I commenced Please tell me of something I may afterwards
verify to prove that I am really speaking to you.
J. G. P. replied, I have had a beastly row with [name witheld].
Then Thompson asked, What about but there was no answer.
J. G. P. answered, He says he did not intend to annoy me,
but I said he had been very successful in doing so whether he
intended or not. And after these words he disappeared.
According to Piddington, all the details were correct. The
quarrel was in correspondence. The final remark was addressed
to Mrs. Piddington at breakfast. It is not possible that
Thompson heard of the remark.
A curious form of clairvoyance is what Turvey (The Beginnings
of Seership) describes as phone-voyance, a sort of psychic
television in which the telephone wire apparently plays some
part but which is nevertheless replete with elements of mystery
not encountered in psychic television.
Psychical research has offered no convincing explanation
for the phenomena of clairvoyance. In Letters on the Truths contained
in Popular Superstitions, published in 1849, Herbert Mayo,
professor of physiology in Kings College and the Royal College
of Surgeons, London, suggested an exo-neural action of
I hold that the mind of a living person in its most normal
state is always, to a certain extent, acting exo-neurally or beyond
the limits of the bodily person, and in the lucid state this
exo-neural apprehension seems to extend to every object and
person around. This hypothesis differs only in degree from
another, much bolder speculation put forward by which Sir William
Barrett It may be that the intelligence operating at a séance
is a thought-projection of ourselvesthat each one of us
has his simulacrum in the unseen. That with the growth of our
life and character here, a ghostly image of ourselves is growing
up in the invisible world; nor is this inconceivable.
There are opinions in essential agreement with part of the
spiritist view, according to which the sense organs of the etheric
body come into play or the information is impressed on the
seers mind by the spirits. It is also suggested that in traveling
clairvoyance the double travels to the scene. The objection to
this suggestion is that the double is temporarily separated the
body is usually left behind unconscious and the memory of the
journey is seldom brought back, whereas in traveling clairvoyance
the subject describes with living voice what transpires at
a distant place. The Theosophists have speculated on an astral
tube that the clairvoyants construct for themselves from astral
matter to see through.
Vincent Turvey appeared to see through some such agency.
In plain, long distance clairvoyance, I appear to see
through a tunnel which is cut through all intervening physical
objects, such as towns, forests and mountains. This tunnel
seems to terminate just inside Mr. Browns study, for instance,
but I can only see what is actually there, and am not able to walk
about the house, nor to use any other faculty but that of sight.
In fact, it is almost like extended physical sight on a flat earth
void of obstacles. (This tunnel also applies to time as well as to
space.) In mental body-travelling the I (the spirit) is actually
on the spot and sees and hears and smells and uses all the sense
of the me (the body) which remains at home; although, if
physical force be needed this is as a rule borrowed from a third
Theosophists have also suggested that the clairvoyant may
see thought-pictures. Mediums themselves are at variance as to
how they do it. Bessie Williams (Mrs. Russel-Davies) claimed
that clairvoyance is vision by ones spirit. W. H. Bach, in Mediumship
and its Development, contends that both clairvoyance and
clairaudience are impressional. The gift is often noticed in children,
and it may disappear later. DEsperance, when a child,
continually saw shadow people in the house where she lived;
Bessie Williams played with spirit children in the garden; and
most other gifted mediums had similar experiences. Alfred
Vout Peters experienced a feeling of irritability or excitement
before becoming clairvoyant.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle suggested that the special atmosphere
of clairvoyants might be the result of ectoplasm emanating
from the sensitives body and enabling the spirit to impress
it. The cold chill and subsequent fainting in seeing ghosts
may be due not only to terror but also to the drain on the body.
In The Coming of the Fairies (1922) Doyle proposed a vibrational
If we could conceive a race of beings which were constructed
in material which threw out shorter or longer vibrations
(than ours), they would be invisible unless we could tune ourselves
up or tone them down. It is exactly that power of tuning
up and adapting itself to other vibrations which constitutes a
clairvoyant and there is nothing scientifically impossible, so far
as I can see, in some people seeing that which is invisible to others.
If the objects are indeed there, and if the inventive power
of the human brain is turned upon the problem, it is likely that
some sort of psychic spectacles, inconceivable to us at the moment,
will be invested and that we shall all be able to adapt ourselves
to the new conditions. If high-tension electricity can be
converted by a mechanical contrivance into a lower tension,
keyed to other uses, then it is hard to see why something analogous
might not occur with the vibrations of ether or other waves
Dr. Daniel Frost Comstock, who was a professor at the Massachusetts
Technical Institute, claimed to have known a clairvoyant
woman with whom he made the discovery that her range
of vision extended far past the point in the violet end of the
spectrum where most of us cease to get any further retina stimuli.
She therefore had an actual ultraviolet vision to a degree
greatly beyond anything Comstock had ever heard of.
In the experiments of Dutch researchers G. Heymans,
Henry Brugmans, and Weinberg with the clairvoyant D. Vandam,
it was found that when certain substances, including alcohol
and bromide, were ingested, clairvoyance became more inClairvoyance
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed.
tense. The reason, according to Brugmans, was that alcohol
lessened the power of inhibition, of reasoning, and of attention,
thereby increasing the power of the subconscious.
Charles W. Donville-Fife describes in his book Among Wild
Tribes of the Amazons (1924) how clairvoyance could be induced
by a drug named yage or peyotl (peyote). He was convinced by
actual experiments of the strange workings of the drug. Since
then, Louis Levins Phantastica (1931) and Aldous Huxleys The
Doors of Perception (1954) have familiarized a whole generation
with psychedelic drugs.
Dr. Norman Jeans, in experiments with himself under various
anesthetics, found that under the influence of laughing gas
(nitrous oxide) he became clairvoyant and was able to see
events happening at various distant places.
A more complicated form of clairvoyance is shown in the
case of the medium Knudsen, who, blindfolded, steered a
steamlaunch around the harbor of Copenhagen. For him to do
it, however, somebody in the boat had to place his hand on his
head. A similar feat was demonstrated by Gaston Overien in
August 1928. With his face and eyes completely covered by a
thick mask, he rode twice round the dirt track at White City,
London, on a motorcycle and avoided numerous obstacles that
had been placed in the way after he had been blindfolded.
Many clairvoyants (e.g., Gerard Croiset) have been consulted
by the police of several countries to help trace criminals. Although
startling claims of success have been made, there is
some ambiguity in many instances.
Because much claimed clairvoyant faculty is of a spontaneous
nature, it presents difficulties for parapsychological experimentation
and testing. The personal associations and emotional
stimuli of mediumship are difficult to embody in the
atmosphere of laboratory testing. However, a more rigorous
approach to spontaneous phenomena, involving fuller documentation
(e.g., prompt recording, independent firsthand corroboration,
background information on medium and sitter),
can assist in tentative evaluation. Laboratory experiments have
involved card guessing, target guessing, and Ganzfeld setting,
but decades of experimentation have not yet established any
consistent rationale for clairvoyant faculty, although there is
some presumptive evidence for its occurrence under control
conditions. Further experimentation with talented subjects is
needed to determine the relationship between clairvoyance
and other forms of ESP, such as telepathy and psychometry.
(See also Eyeless sight)
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