Mentalism is a performing art in which its practitioners, known as mentalists, appear to demonstrate highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. Performances may appear to include telepathy, clairvoyance, divination, precognition, psychokinesis, mediumship, mind control, memory feats and rapid mathematics. Hypnosis may also be used as a stage tool. Mentalists are sometimes referred to as psychic entertainers.
Much of what the modern mentalist performs in his or her act can be traced back directly to tests of supernatural power that were carried out by mediums, spiritualists and psychics in the 19th Century. However, the history of mentalism goes back even further. Accounts of seers and oracles can be found in works by the ancient Greeks and in the Old Testament of the Bible. Among magicians, the mentalism performance generally cited as one of the earliest on record was by diplomat and pioneering sleight-of-hand magician Girolamo Scotto in 1572.
The performance of mentalism may utilise similar principles, sleights and skills as street magic or stage magic.
Styles of presentation can vary greatly. A few performers, in the mold of Uri Geller, or James Van Praagh, claim to actually possess supernatural powers such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, or telekinesis.
Many contemporary performers, including Richard Osterlind, Banachek, Max Maven, and Derren Brown, attribute their results to mundane skills, such as the ability to read body language or to manipulate the subject subliminally through psychological suggestion.
Mentalist or magician
Mentalists generally do not mix “standard” magic tricks with their mental feats. Doing so associates mentalism too closely with the theatrical trickery employed by stage magicians. Many mentalists claim not to be magicians at all, arguing that it is a different art form altogether. The argument is that Mentalism invokes belief and when presented properly, is offered as being “real” be it a claim of Psychic ability or proof that supports other claims such as a Photographic Memory, being a Human Calculator, the Power of Suggestion, NLP, etc.
Magicians ask the audience to suspend their belief and allow their imagination to play with the various tricks they present; they admit that they are tricksters and entertainers and the audience understands that the lady really isn’t sawn in half nor can the performer actually fly or make exceptionally large objects vanish into thin air. . . it’s all Illusion. There is however a “cross over” between these two worlds known as “Mental Magic” — effects that have the feel of something psychic or mentally phenomenal and yet incorporate a series of physical devices that lend to the public a plausible explanation tied to trickery
Many magicians, however, mix mentally themed performance with magic illusions. For example, a mind-reading stunt might also involve the magical transposition of two different objects. Such hybrid feats of magic are often called mental magic by performers. Magicians who routinely mix magic with mental magic include David Copperfield, David Blaine, The Amazing Kreskin and Dynamo (Steven Frayne)
Mentalism techniques have, on occasion, been allegedly used outside the entertainment industry to influence the actions of prominent people for personal and/or political gain. Famous examples of accused practitioners include:
- Erik Jan Hanussen, alleged to have influenced Adolf Hitler.
- Grigori Rasputin, alleged to have influenced Tsarina Alexandra.
- Wolf Messing, alleged to have influenced Joseph Stalin.
- Count Alessandro di Cagliostro, accused of influencing members of the French aristocracy in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace.
Mentalism in television
- The Mentalist: an American crime procedural television series in which the main character, Patrick Jane, works as an independent consultant for the California Bureau of Investigation solving serious crimes by using his amazing skills of observation and his frequent use of his abilities as a former professional mentalist.
- Psych: an American criminal comedy-drama television series in which the main character, Shawn Spencer, works as a consultant to the Santa Barbara Police Department as a “psychic detective.” Though he purports to be a psychic, in truth it is his exceptional observational skills and near-photographic memory that allows him to portray himself as such.
- Now You See Me: Four street magicians—J. Daniel Atlas, Henley Reeves, Jack Wilder, and Merritt McKinney—are brought together to perform one year later in Las Vegas as “The Four Horsemen,” sponsored by insurance magnate Arthur Tressler.