Why People Confuse Psychics With Mentalist – Part 2

Previously in our article Why People Confuse Psychics With Mentalist – Part 1 we looked at the origin of the term ‘mentalist’ and how the whole memtalist field was the outcome of magicians trying to imitate psychic abilities and paranormal activities. Houdini, one of the best known magicians at the time, began a crusade to debunk psychics and mediums. Some say he was angry and felt defrauded by some mediums when he tried to contact his departed mother. Soon, Houdini began creating ‘tricks’ to show how mediums created the appearence of spirits and obtained information about clients prior to psychic readings. Houdini was joined in his efforts by Joseph Dunninger, considered the founder of mentalism, in debunking psychics, mediums and spiritualists by imitating what psychics could appearently do. Dunninger would not only become world famous for this imitation of psychic abilities, but wealthy, too.

To appreciate this conflict between menatalist and spiritualism and psychic medium, one has to appreciate that the spiritualist movement burst on the America scene in 1848. There had been nothing like it before. Where all traditional religions had men as leadership, in a country where women could not vote nor hold property, here comes a form of spirituality where women were taking the lead and revealing a radical new message. The spiritualist movement began to press for the women’s right to vote and to abolish slavery. There was no central authority to spiritualism. Only a core belief that there was an afterlife and that spirits and angels could pass messages and guidance to the living. Much of the movement drew upon other, alternative, spiritual explorers such as Emanual Swedenborg and Franz Mesmer. Even as the civil war raged, the spiritualist movement continued to grow. It is said that even President Lincoln had had a seance in the White House. There were ‘trance lecturers’ appearing in nearly every city before large crowds advancing this new spirituality and psychic mediums setting up shop all over the U.S.. Even newspapers routinely were reporting ghosts sighting, hauntings and front page articles on spiritualist lecturers.

The substancial donations to spiritualists, psychic mediums, spiritualist organizations and trance lecturers for public appearences caught the attention of the entertainment industry, especially the magicians, who saw there was money to be made imitating psychics and paranormal occurances. Soon there were the Davenport Brothers were imitating paranormal events with their ‘spirit cabinet’. There were traveling vaudeville acts with mind readers and numerous acts featuring levitation and ghostly appearances. Perhaps one of the early crossovers from magician to spiritualist was the famous psychic Arthur Ford, who early in life was interested in both magic and spirituality, and who joined one of these traveling shows to begin his career as a psychic. Spiritualist Psychic Medium Sofia Soon, across the U.S. and Europe the battle for the public’s attention was in full swing: For the spiritualist were the spiritualist missionaries and trance lecturers like Cora L. V. Scott, Andrew Jackson Davis and Achsa W. Sprague as well as believers such as Sir Author Conan Doyle. On the other side were the magicians and mentalists like Harry Kellar, John Henry Anderson, Houdini and Dunninger. Consider that there was no television, no radio, movie theaters would not appear until after 1900 and the Internet was not even a distant dream. Spiritualist demonstrations, magic shows and vaudville were about it for mass public entertainment.

The line between spirituality and entertainment became very blurred. It is no wonder that fraud became rampant. The general public could no longer tell the difference between a spiritualist psychic medium giving a demonstration and a magic show, and soon many unscrupulous individals began to prey upon this confused public. As mentioned, it was Houdini and others who began a backlash against the frauds who posed as psychic mediums. The argument against spiritualist by mentalist and magicians was two fold: One, if a magician could somehow recreate a paranormal event then all similar paranormal events or psychic abilities must be fraudulent. Two: If the magicians/mentalist could show the fraud of a few supposed psychics then all psychics must be frauds. It is a piece of magic in and of itself that the public has largely accepted. Logically, just because something can be imitated doesn’t necessarily mean the imitation is the real thing. The ability to create an imitation flower doesn’t mean there are no real flowers. Secondly, just because a number of people are caught pretending to be police officers means that all police officers are frauds.

By the 1920s, under relentless attack by magicians, mentalists, skeptics and a media that had turned hostel toward them, the ‘true believer’ of the spiritualist movenment basiclly withdrew from the public eye. In many cases, the large amounts of money raised by spiritualist went towards building traditional churches where the spiritualist and mediums could practice their spirituality in private. Towns, cities and counties throughout the U.S. began enacting laws that banned psychics, mediums, tarot readers and so forth from operating. There should be little doubt that, in terms of public opinion, that the magicians and mentalist prevaled. And, the mentalist also indirectly did the psychic and spiritualist field a favor by exposing those who were defrauding the public posing as ‘psychics’ and ‘mediums’ when they were typically nothing of the sort. Unfortunately, those who had a serious interest in the spirituality of the afterlife, spirit communication and exploring spiritual senses seemed to have gotten caught in the cross fire and have had to go underground. The idea that there could be ‘real’ psychic experiences or paranormal events is just not acceptable to most mentalist and their rationalist supporters.

Another note on how closely tied the mentalist are to psychics, consider this: Mentalist only seem to ever challenge the spirituality or psychics and spiritualists. Have you ever heard of a mentalist re-creating the miricles of Saints and declaring all Saints frauds? You do not see mentalists re-creating the miricles of Jesus and declaring his paranormal acts a fraud. No mentalist has gone to the Vatigan and challenged the recent miricles that made Pope John a Saint nor gone to Utah and challenged the mircles in the Book of Mormon. There is no multi-million dollar challenge by a mentalist to Christians world wide to prove on television the existance of God. All spirituality, regardless of religion, and by classic defininition, has aspects of the paranormal. Looking at history this way seems to highlight the sibling rivalry between mentalists and psychics, and spiritualists inparticular.

There is a great big dividing line between the magicians/mentalists and the psychics/spiritualists: Spirituality. If a particular mentalist has a spiritual based religion, the miricles and mysteries of his religion always seems to be exempted, both in the past and currently. Spiritualism began as a spiritual movement. Mentalism began as a reaction to that movement, largely the fraud that evolved due to the movements lack of a recoginzed central authority. Make no mistake, a skilled mentalist has spent years perfecting his or her skills and should be respected. However, the general public should recognize that there is a vast difference between the philosophy between mentalists and spiritualists. One is totally based on psychical laws and how the mind operates, the other is based on spirituality and the metaphysical. The fact the general public can tell the difference between the two is unfortunate. However, a quick study of history reveals that mentalists and psychics are vastly different.

Over the years since spiritualism and mentalists first appeared a funny thing has happened: Paranormal events, displays of psychic ability, ghosts, hauntings, displays of clairvoyance, clairaudience and so forth never did go away. Any serious exporation of the spiritualist movement and those who feel they are honest in their clairvoyance would show that these folks are not involved in anyway in studying the art of mentalists and almost universally want nothing to do with mentalism. Most people feel they have to choose between the mentalists (who feel there is no such thing as psychic gifts) and the psychics, spiritualists and those with a spiritual/metaphysical message (who feel there is a spiritual reality that should not be ignored). Truth is, one creates the other, and without both, life would be terribly dull. Feel free to embrace one or the other, or both.

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