Why People Confuse Mentalists With Psychics – Part 1

People often see a mentalist on a TV show or performing for an audience as a guest entertainer and think, "Wow! That mentalist is just like a psychic. And, after all, aren’t psychics just like mentalists defrauding people about psychic powers?". Would it surprise you to find out that, historically, mentalists owe their existence to psychics, more specifically, Spiritualists. In fact, the whole field of ‘mentalists’ is based on pretending to be a psychic by imitating psychic abilities. It makes you wonder who really is being a fraud. I have nothing against either mentalists or psychics. I think both have a place in this world. However, I feel it is important to know the truth about how the term ‘mentalist’ began and how mentalism began as a form of entertainment. I think it is important that people know there is vast difference between psychics and mentalists. And that, the truth be told, the original mentalists where just guys trying to imitate what psychics could do in order to entertain people.

First, we need to clear away a lot of misconceptions about the word ‘mentalist’. The word ‘mentalist‘ began showing up commercially in the late 1800’s and early 1900’on posters and in newspaper ads such as "see an Egyptian Mentalist. The most astounding exhibition of mental telepathy ever witnessed". I trust the people who research words for a living and write dictionaries to be reliable about where a word comes from. In the early 1900’s this ‘new word’ was created to describe people with "astounding … mental telepathy". There was a struggle going on for the hearts, minds and money of the English speaking world between the Spiritualist psychics and the magicians who were becoming re-branded as ‘mentalists’. At the core of this struggle was the question, ‘Are there people with psychic abilities? Are psychic and paranormal events real?’ You will find a lot of people saying how ‘mentalists’ have this ancient history and that somehow they have been around forever. That is nothing but an effort to re-categorize people and events in the past to fit the word. You go back past the late 1800s, early 1920s, and ask anyone "are you a mentalist?" and all you would get is a blank stare. No, the term mentalist was created to categorize a particular type of entertainer or magician who was trying to mimic or recreate what a psychic could do or fake some other paranormal event.

To understand the struggle between the spiritualists, psychics and the mentalists magicians you first need to understand the Spiritualist movement and how popular it was when it first began. Spiritualism was born in the U.S. around 1848 and, by the 1920s had amassed around 8 million followers. Spiritualist would be heavily involved in abolishing slavery and the women’s suffrage movement. Loosely, spiritualist were largely Christians who believed there was an afterlife and that spirits could send messages to the living through psychic mediums. But, spiritualist were not the first to hold such beliefs.
Rise of the Mentalist Psychics
There have always been psychics, clairvoyants, clairaudients and others who held spiritual beliefs about spirits, the afterlife, hauntings and so forth. The spiritualist were just the first to begin missionary work to bring that message to others. The appeal of spiritualism, spirits, ghosts and so forth became so potent that it was not uncommon for newspapers to carry stories of ghost sightings and haunting. Spiritualists, who organized seances and gave personal readings as well as holding public gatherings to demonstrate psychic mediumship became common in the U.S. and Europe. A great deal of money was being raised from these events … and it was that huge public appeal and money being generated that caught the eye of the promoters and especially magicians.

Soon, vaudeville acts and traveling shows were featuring magicians who could read minds and perform magic similar to what people would see or experience at a spiritualist gathering. The line between a gathering for a spiritual event and entertainment became blurred. Given that the spiritualist movement had no formal organization, no formalized dogma or authoritative structure, a great deal of fraud began taking place. After all, there was a lot of money to be made from seances and readings for wealthy individuals and the middle class often flocked to gathering where a well known medium would appear. Some psychics at the time even stated (after being debunked) that felt enormous pressure to ‘perform’ and so created fake paranormal events to please the public. And yet, these same debunked psychics would still insisted there was such a thing as true spirit contact and an afterlife. By the 1920s, the struggle between the mentalist magicians and the spiritualist turned into a fist fight with public opinion about spiritualism in the balance.

Two of the greatest magician mentalists of the era literally declared war on spiritualists. Harry Houdini and Joseph Dunninger. Houdini seemed motivated by anger over being defrauded by a psychic reader or readers in personal readings trying to contact his mother who passed on. What is interesting is that to his dieting day he still had doubts about whether there was really an afterlife and spirit contact was possible. Why else would he leave a coded message with his wife and tell her that if there was an afterlife he would contact her and use the code he provided? (The Houdini code would famously or infamously) known as the ‘Houdini Code‘ which would of itself reignite the whole public debate about psychics and spiritualist in 1929 when psychic Arthur Ford would appear to bring a message from Houdini revealing Houdini’s code. Houdini’s ‘witch hunt’ against spiritualism would eventually lead to a falling out between himself and his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who was an avid spiritualist. However, Houdini would gain a new friend in Joseph Dunninger who also began a very public spectacle of debunking spiritualists and psychics.

Joseph Dunninger would go on to define what a mentalist was. Debunking psychics and recreating paranormal events made him both famous and wealthy. Dunninger’s central argument was that if psychic and paranormal events could be staged and recreated then all psychic events, hauntings, ghosts and spirit contact was also staged. Furher, by visiting and debunking psychics at their home and/or place of business, Dunninger was proving that all spiritualist, psychics and paranormal events were fake. Literally, Dunninger made a lucrative career out of being a fake psychic himself, which seems rather ironic. Dunninger is said to have claimed that he coined the term ‘mentalist’ and referred to a book called Kybalion (Hermetic Philosophy), published in 1908 which put forth the philosophy that ‘all is mind’. Interestingly, Kybalion is more a book on spirituality than magic. The ‘mentalist’ category was solidified by Dunninger and a new sub-category of magician was created. Following in his footprints would be Uri Geller, The Amazing Randi, The Amazing Kreskin with many other top notch magicians such as David Copperfield often utilizing mentalists show techniques.

So, while the spiritualist, psychics and psychics were under relentless attack by the mentalists, magicians and the media, what was happening in the spiritualist movement. In part 2 of this article, we will examine the evolution of spiritualism and the spirituality of psychics and what separates mentalists and psychics
Continue to Why People Confuse Mentalists With Psychics – Part 1.

If you are interested in a psychic reading from a psychic with a strong background in clairvoyance you would likely enjoy talking with Psychic Misty or give her a call at
1-866-407-7164. Another great place to find good psychics is Ask A Psychic. One of my perennial favorites is Psychic Betty who can also be reached as the same number above.