The Modern History of Clairvoyance

The word ‘clairvoyance’ can be translated as meaning ‘clear sight.’ It is used to describe people who have the gift of being able to perceive what others cannot; to be able to ‘see’ what should be beyond the perception of our five, physical senses. Often, clairvoyants are attributed with being able to snatch glimpses of future events or see and communicate with the spirits of dead people. 


In times gone by, people with these gifts were often revered and held positions of power and influence within early society. Occultism and an interest in clairvoyants reached its peak in the 19th Century, when those with ‘second sight’ were in great demand. However, eventually the pendulum swung in the other direction and clairvoyants and psychics were deemed to be fraudsters and charlatans; the positions of power and respect they once commanded were over. What has happened since then?


The End of the Victorian Era


Today, psychics and clairvoyants seem to be enjoying something of a renaissance. They are no longer reviled or viewed with the fervent suspicion that was rife in the 19th Century. The change in society’s attitude towards those with psychic gifts has as much to do with the advances in technology as it has to do with our greater willingness to embrace that which we cannot readily understand.


By the end of the Victorian era, the public’s appetite for psychic phenomena was waning. Rather than enjoying clairvoyant sessions at private parties or in theatres, people were far more entertained by the spectacle of clairvoyants being debunked or outed as fraudsters. Genuine psychics were tarred with the same brush as their unscrupulous counterparts and, to all intents and purposes, were washed up. 


However, with the 20th Century came the arrival of new technology - film and television. Television brought psychics to a whole new audience and introduced us to psychics who are still famous today; names such as Uri Geller, John Edward and Lydia Clar. In the early days of television, clairvoyants were presented to us in much the same way that the Victorian psychics were to their public; in sensationalist settings and challenged to undertake extraordinary tasks. To begin with, clairvoyants were little more than voyeuristic entertainment, treated as sideshow attractions, rather than experts in psychic phenomena.


20th Century Research


However, while the public were being introduced to the possibility of there being a world beyond our perception, credible scientific research was being conducted into phenomena, such clairvoyance. In the 1930s, Karl Zener developed his now-famous Zener Cards through which he hoped to test psychic powers. These are the five cards, depicting a circle, a cross, three waves, a square and a star that are so often shown on television today. Indeed, as TV became a social institution, there were many experiments conducted on air, using these cards to test people for signs of clairvoyance and other psychic abilities. 


By the 1970s interest in paranormal abilities was such that governments decided to invest in further research. One of the most famous projects, the Stargate Project, was conducted over a 25-year period. The aim of the project was to establish evidence for phenomena such as ESP, clairvoyance and, more specifically, remote viewing. Remote viewing is a psychic ability through which the psychic can ‘see’ events as they unfold, even though they may well be occurring in another country. Most of the governments who sponsored this sort of research seemed interested in the military capabilities of harnessing these gifts.


Celebrities and Psychics


As interest in psychic abilities gathered momentum through the 1970s and 1980s, other media jumped on the bandwagon. Although newspaper astrology had been in existence since the 1930s, they had focussed on the lives of celebrities and prominent figures. It was only in the 1970s that astrologers began to create horoscopes for the masses. Clairvoyants gained further credence in the 1980s, when it was revealed that the then American First Lady Nancy Reagan regularly consulted with a psychic called Joan Quigley, and would often amend her husband’s schedule in accordance with Quigley’s recommendations. Since that discovery, there have been many celebrities and public figures who have confessed their predilection for using clairvoyants, such as the late Diana, Princess of Wales.


Of course, whatever TV can do, film can do better and, since the 1970s, there has been a steady flow of films that to some degree explore psychic phenomena – albeit in a sensationalist way. However, this only reflects the public’s hunger to know more about the subject, even if in a cursory way.


Perhaps one of the most important developments for clairvoyants was the development of the Internet. In many ways, the Internet has made the world a much smaller place and has given rise to a number of cyberspace subcultures. There are countless online forums that discuss the existence of talents such as clairvoyance, and there has also been the opportunity for psychics to achieve a level of respect and recognition within psychic circles, away from the public eye. 


In addition, it has provided an environment through which clairvoyants can offer their services to a far wider audience. The number of Internet-based clairvoyants and those who offer telephone-based readings has steadily increased over the last few years. What is particularly interesting about this is that few online clairvoyants seem to be pursuing public recognition. It’s as though they have found their niche on the Internet and are happy to work alongside like-minded people, without seeking public approval.


Reality TV is now a huge part of society and psychics have not escaped its clutches. Shows such as ‘Most Haunted’ command huge viewing figures and have acted as springboards for the careers of a number of clairvoyants. In turn, these have allowed celebrity clairvoyants to return to the public in the style of their Victorian counterparts: touring theatres and accepting bookings for private parties. 


For the moment, clairvoyants are enjoying what the 21st Century has to offer, being able to keep themselves to themselves if they want to or throw themselves into the media spotlight. Public interest and further technological advances will determine what happens next.

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