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What is Mentalism?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 17, 2024
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Mentalism is a collective term for a wide range of performing arts that all center around the employment of mental acuity to stage what appears to be a sixth sense or the harnessing of the power of the mind in extraordinary ways. There are a number of purported mental talents that are included in the family of mentalism, including ESP, mind reading, and clairvoyance. Hypnosis is also often included as an example of mentalism.

Many of the disciplines associated with mentalism have a history that goes back several centuries. Ancient cultures often have legends regarding people who were able to harness light or dark forces in order to bend the laws of nature to their whims. This would include the ability to mentally coerce people into making certain choices, such as falling in love with someone in particular. Many spiritual and religious traditions involve some elements of mentalism, ascribing supernatural powers to people who are given special missions by a Supreme Deity or a host of deities in order to bring about their purposes among humankind.

The practice of mentalism is usually associated with entertainment. Mentalists may function as magicians who perform seemingly impossible tasks in front of an audience, or a medium who claims to be able to give a hot or cold reading to foretell future events in the life of an individual or reveal hidden traits associated with that person. Hypnotists who exercise mind control over subjects are also said to use mental acuity and harness mysterious powers in order to compel their subjects to say or do things they normally would not do. In general, both the performer and the audience know the tricks performed on the stage are not real, but are carefully crafted presentations designed to amuse everyone attending the show.

However, there are also mentalists who claim to have supernatural powers and can use the power of their minds to benefit others. In this form, mentalism is seen as the harnessing of the hidden reserves of the mind that most people are never able to tap into and use actively. This ability to more fully use the resources of the mind allow mentalists to pick up on thought patterns over many miles, perceive future events before they occur, and also reconstruct events after they have happened.

While there are many people who do not believe that mentalism is anything more than parlor tricks, there has been an upswing in the acceptance of the possibility of people possessing extraordinary powers of the mind. Along with precognition and the ability to tap into hidden energies to reconstruct events associated with a particular person or location, mentalism may also take the form of psychokinesis. This particular expression of mental acuity involves the ability to move inanimate objects from location to another. Currently, mentalists are the subject matter of many web sites, stage shows and a wide range of television projects.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including WiseGeek, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
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Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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