A term denoting the supposed supernormal faculty of seeing persons and events which are distant in time or place, and of which no knowledge can reach the seer through the normal sense-channels. Clairvoyance may be roughly divided into three classes - retrocognition and premonition, or the perception of past and future events respectively, and the perception of contemporary events happening at a distance, or outside the range of the normal vision. Clairvoyance may include psychometry, second sight, and crystal-gazing, all of which see. For the early history of clairvoyance, see Divination. In prophecy, we have a form of clairvoyance extending back into antiquity, and second-sight also is 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 the clairvoyants of that period may be mentioned Alexis Didier (q.v.), whose phenomena suggested that telepathy at least entered into his feats, which included the reading of letters enclosed in sealed packets, the playing of écarté with bandaged eyes, and others of a like nature. Clairvoyance remains to the present day a prominent feature of the spiritualistic seánce. Though there exists a quantity of evidence, collected by the members of the Society for Psychical Research and other scientific investigators, which would seem to support the theory of a supernormal vision, yet at the same time 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, if not quite, impossible so to bandage the eyes of the medium that he cannot make some use of his normal vision. The possibility of hyperæsthesia during trance must also be taken into account, nor must we overlook the hypothetical factor of telepathy, which may conceivably play a part in clairvoyant performances. A private enquiry agency might also be suggested as a possible source of some of the knowledge displayed by the professional clairvoyant. The crystal is, as has been indicated, a favorite mode of exercising the clairvoyant faculty, presumably because the hypnotic state is favorable to the development of the supernormal vision, though it might also be suggested that the condition thus induced favored the rising into the upper consciousness of knowledge sub-consciously gleaned. The term clairvoyance is also used to cover the power to see discarnate spirits, and is thus applied to mediumship generally.

(See Channeling for more modern approaches).  


According to J.B. McIndoe, Clairvoyance is "a supernormal mode of perception, which results in a visual image being presented to the conscious mind. The perception may be of objects or scenes, or forms distant in space, or in time, past or future." (J. B. McIndoe). To make the definition complete: there is a coincidental truth in the visual perception; in some cases as in dreams, or principally in trance, consciousness is absent, and the forms may not only be distant in space or time, but be altogether on another plane of existence. (Seeing spirits). Professor Richet's cryptesthesia is a larger, Myers' telesthesia is a narrower ' concept than clairvoyance. The former includes clairvoyance, premonitions, monitions, psychometry, dowsing and telepathy, the latter means perception from a distance of objects or conditions through psychic rapport with the place or environment, and also independently of telepathic communication. As substitutes for clairvoyance Henry Holt in America suggested the word "telopsis" and Dr. Heysinger the word "telecognosis" but they again would not very well include death-bed visions and the seeing of spirits.

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 sub-divisions: X-ray clairvoyance, medical clairvoyance, traveling clairvoyance and platform-clairvoyance. The first is the faculty to see into closed space, boxes, envelopes, rooms, books, etc., 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 perception: mental journey to a distant scene and give description thereof, the fourth is the seeing of 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 be revealed thereafter. Conscious effort, anxiety at demonstration, however, mostly results in failure.

It is stated in the Report of the Experiments on Animal Magnetism, made by a 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-years-old daughter of Dr. Pigaire, a physician, whose clairvoyant faculty was admitted by Arago. At the decisive seance the jury rescued itself from the award of the prize by stating that, according to the doctors, normal vision could not be excluded even if the girl's eyes were plastered up and covered with cotton wool and a silk mask.

To quote two modern instances: Edison, experimenting with Reese, wrote in a distant room on a piece of paper: "Is there anything better than hydroxide of nickel for an alkaline electric battery?" Returning to Reese, Reese at once said: "No, there is nothing better than hydroxide of nickel for an alkaline battery." Baron Schrenck Notzing wrote on five pieces of paper the questions: What is my mother's 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 Ossovietzky in Warsaw, Prof. 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. Ossovietzky kneaded it feverishly and said after ten 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." Geley wrote on a visiting card, under the table: "Nothing is more moving than the call to prayer by the muezzins." Ossovietzky, 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."

Sleep walkers furnish evidence of a clairvoyant faculty of vision. The existence of such a faculty may explain strange experiences in dreams like the oft-quoted story of Rev. Henry Bushnell (Sunday at Home, Vol. 1875) of 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 especial 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 the clairvoyant vision is independent of the normal eyesight and is exercised by the mind without the assistance of the senses, is further shown by a note of Stainton Moses, dated March Ist, 1874: "In the midst of the seance, 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 several times."

Darkness presents no obstruction. Mme. d'Esperance could sketch in the dark, the paper before her appearing just as well illuminated as the spirit face which she sketched.

The nature of the perception is difficult to define. It is not seeing, it is being truly impressed. "In the clairvoyant state" - writes Alfred Vout Peters (Light, Oct. 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 Leaf's experience sometimes they are considerably smaller than life-size, in some cases a few inches in height, though normally proportioned. On the other hand he occasionally sees 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. Herinrich Zschokke possessed this gift: "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, before me."

Of medical clairvoyance we find the first allusion in Hippocrates: "The affections suffered by the body the soul sees with shut eyes." In the age of animal magnetism it was widely demonstrated. The investigation committee of the French Academy of Medicine admitted, in 1831, the phenomena of medical clairvoyance. At first the gift was exercised in magnetic sleep. With the coming of Spiritualism the magnetiser 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 America and in England the first well attested records of this power are attached to the name of servant girls. Mary Jane, the servant of Dr. Larkin of Wrentham, Mass., diagnosed her own state and the diseases of the doctor's patients with remarkable precision in 1844 in a trance. Emma, the handmaid of Dr. Joseph Haddock (for details see Somnolism and Psycheism 1849) showed similar powers. Looking at the heart she called the auricles the ears and the ventricles the meaty part. She distinguished between arterial and veinous blood in the heart, calling one the "light side" and the other the "dark side." Dr. Haddock's experiences found corroboration in the instances quoted by Dr. William Gregory in Letters on Animal Magnetism, 1851, in the accounts of Sir Walter Trevelyan, Dr. Elliotson and in Dr. Herbert Mayo's Letters on the Truths contained in Popular Superstitions. With the unfolding of Spiritualism, medical clairvoyance became one of the lesser wonders. The power to diagnose was soon surpassed by the power to heal. It was thought less and less preposterous to employ mediums professionally for medical purposes. Bessie Williams was a doctor's assistant for some years and psychic diagnosis was further developed by Dr. Kilner's discovery of the human aura and its color changes according to the state of health.

For traveling clairvoyance we find abundant proofs in old and present-day records. It was freely exercised by the shamans and medicine men of all primitive people. Indeed the conclusion of Sir William Barrett in Psychical Research may be justified that the reputed evidence on behalf of traveling clairvoyance is more widespread and ancient than that for telepathy. A well-authenticated and frequently quoted instance is Swedenborg's 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 spontaneous traveling clairvoyance, not purposive, representing rather a psychic invasion by the medium like the experience of Appollonius of Tyana who, during a lecture at Ephesus, suddenly broke off saying that the tyrant Domitian had been killed at Rome. The first instance of something resembling real traveling in magnetic sleep was recorded in a letter written to the Marquis de Puysegur in March, 1785, from Nantes. A young girl followed the movements of her magnetizer when he went into town and described everything that was taking place around him. In Germany some early records are to be found in Dr. Van Ghert's Archive fur den thierischen Magnetismus. The first carefully investigated traveling clairvoyants were the French Alexis and Adolphe Didier, and Adele Maginot. President Seguier, without giving his name, called upon Alexis Didier. He made an imaginary journey in Seguier's room and saw a tiny bell on the table. Seguier denied this. On returning home he found that in his absence the bell had been placed on the table. The Didier Brothers were widely experimented with in England. An account of 14 seances held at Brighton with Alexis Didier is to be found in Dr. Edwin Lee's Animal Magnetism. Adolphe Didier was mainly investigated by H. G. Atkinson, F.G.S. Adele Maginot's striking adventures in traveling clairvoyance were recorded by Alphonse Cahagnet. She not only found for his sitters distant relatives who vanished years ago, but claimed to have actually conversed with them. If such conversation were to be accepted as a fact it could hardly be conceived as more than a waking dream on the part of the object of the search, induced by telepathic impressions from the medium's mind. To decide whether such clairvoyant excursions may be made perceptible to people on the scene, Myers suggested hypnotic experiments, a command to the subject to make his presence felt. The evidence for the possibility of doing it is very slight. One may, however, surmise that the excursions of the traveling clairvoyant may not be entirely safe from perils.

Adele Maginot, "traveling" to a tropical country, asked to be awakened as she was afraid of wild beasts. It is within the bounds of possibility that an actual encounter with a wild beast on the scene would have severely reacted on the clairvoyant's nervous system.

In another instance actual harm was suffered by the medium. A certain M. Lucas de Rembouillet was very anxious about the fate of his brother-in-law. With the mother of the vanished man he visited Adele Maginot. To quote: "That which astonished this good woman, not a little, as well as Mr. Lucas, and the other persons present at the seance, was to see Adele 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 brother's 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 portrayed.

The following case from an early record has some curious features: Dr. F. magnetised Jane and warned 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 that Eglinton made a fat dummy and dressed it into his clothes.

Professor Richet gives in Thirty Years of Psychic Research a dramatic instance of traveling clairvoyance concerning himself. Leonie B. was sent in trance by Pierre Janet after Prof. Richet who had left for Paris. The clairvoyant suddenly declared that Prof. Richet's laboratory was burning. The laboratory indeed was burned down at the time of the vision.

To exercise the faculty, sometimes an object belonging to a distant friend or locality is necessary, but often an index, the name of a friend or a place, is sufficient. The process of locating escapes explanation.

As Myers writes "the clairvoyante will frequently miss her way, and describe houses and scenes adjacent to those desired. Then if she almost literally gets on the scent-if she finds some place which the man whom she is sent to seek has some time traversed she 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. "

"The description" - writes E. W. Cox in What Am 1? 1874- "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 color 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 asks whether the faculty may 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? "In the mental body-traveling 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' visions of the crimes which Jack the Ripper was going to commit the following day, with an exact description of the locality, belong to this order.

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 Lemurian civilisation. Accomplishments of this sort, however, are more psychometrical than clairvoyant and defy verification. Many trance communications are to be classed under the heading of traveling clairvoyance if the control is considered the subconscious self of the medium. Sir Oliver Lodge's deceased aunt Anne said that Charley had eaten the bird, the chicken and made himself sick. A subsequent letter from Charley in Manitoba elicited that he shot a prairie hen, he ate most of it and he was ill at the time.

A strange mixture of traveling clairvoyance, clairaudience or control by the subconscious of the living is described in the following letter from Mrs. Thompson to Mr. Piddington of the S.P.R., May 24, 1900: "On Monday, March 7, 1900, about 7.30 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 person-no 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 see -clairvoyantly, of course-Mr. J. G. Piddington. I was very keen to try the experiment, so at once spoke to him aloud. He looked so material and life-like 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.: "I have had a beastly row with ..." (name).

Mrs. Thompson: "What about?" (no answer).

J.G.P.: "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."

After saying that he disappeared

According to Mr. Piddington all the details were correct. The quarrel was in correspondence. The final remark was addressed to Mrs. Piddington at breakfast. It is impossible that Mrs. Thompson should have heard of the remark.

A curious form of clairvoyance is what Vincent Turvey describes as phone-voyance, a sort of psychic television in which apparently the telephone wire plays some part but which is nevertheless replete with elements of mystery not encountered with in physical television.

Psychical research can offer no explanation for the phenomena of clairvoyance. In Letters on the Truths contained in Popular Superstitions, published in 1849 Dr. Herbert Mayo, Professor of Physiology in King's College and the Royal College of Surgeons, London, suggested an exo-neural action of the mind.

"I hold-he wrote-that the mind of a living person in its most normal state is always, to a certain extent, acting exoneurally 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 only differs in degree from another, much bolder speculation which Sir William Barrett clothes into these words "It may be that the intelligence operating at a seance is a thought-projection of ourselves-that 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." This is in essential agreement with part of the spiritistic view, according to which the sense organs of the etheric body come into play or the information is impressed on the seer's mind by the spirits. It is also suggested that in traveling clairvoyance the double travels to the scene. The difficulty of this suggestion is that, in those cases in which 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 speculate on an "astral tube" which 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," he writes, "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. Brown's 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-traveling 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 party."

Theosopists also suggest. 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 our 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. Mme. d'Esperance, when a child, continually saw "shadow people" in the house where she lived. Bessie Williams played with spirit children in the garden. Most of the gifted mediums had similar experiences. Alfred Vout Peters experiences a feeling of irritability or excitement before becoming clairvoyant.

Conan Doyle suggested that the special atmosphere of clairvoyants might be the result of ectoplasm emanating from the sensitive's body and enabling the spirit to impress it. In seeing ghosts the cold chill and subsequent fainting may not only be due to terror but to the drain on the body. In The Coming of the Fairies he proposes a vibrational theory. "If we could conceive a race of beings," he writes, "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 invented 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 and other waves of light."

Dr. Daniel Frost Comstock, who was Professor at the Massachusetts Technical Institute, claims to have known a clairvoyant lady 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 ultra-violet vision to a degree greatly beyond anything Dr. Comstock had ever heard of before.

In the experiments of Heymans, Brugmans and Weinberg with the clairvoyant D. Vandam, it was found that by the ingestion of certain substances, now thirty grams of alcohol, now two grammes of bromide, clairvoyance became more intense. The reason, according to Brugmans, is that alcohol lessens the power of inhibition, of reasoning and of attention, increasing thereby the power of the subconscious.

Charles W. Donville-Fife describes in his Among Wild Tribes of the Amazons how clairvoyance can be induced by a drug named yage or peyotl. He was convinced by actual experiments of the strange workings of the drug.

Dr. Norman Jeans, in experiments with himself under various anaesthetics, has found that under the influence of laughing gas (Nitrous oxide) he became clairvoyant and was able to see events happening at various distant places.

Complication of the mechanism of clairvoyance is shown in the instance of the medium Knudsen who, blindfolded, steered a steam-launch around the harbor of Copenhagen. But to do it somebody in the boat had to place his hand on his head. A similar feat was demonstrated by Gaston Overien, a Frenchman, 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 motor cycle and avoided numerous obstacles which had been placed in the way after he had been blindfolded. Of other strange uses of the mysterious faculty the discovery of murderers may be mentioned. In Germany they often employ clairvoyants to track down criminals. Many successes are registered. In such cases there is again a blending of clairvoyance and psychometry. It is often difficult to draw the line between the two. Between telepathy and clairvoyance the difference is clear. The latter is independent of any outside mind.

An interesting question: can blind people be made to see clairvoyantly? If they were born blind the brain has no visual education. But if they lose sight later they may see while in hypnotic trance.


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