The History Of Mentalism

Contemporary mentalists are widely recognized as psychic entertainers. These talented mind manipulation artists combine their keen understanding of human psychology with excellent showmanship and theatrics to create the illusion of extraordinary powers. The key word in that last sentence though is “illusion”.

Modern mentalists demonstrate highly developed mental abilities instead of authentic displays of intuitive abilities or supernatural powers. They focus on fooling our mind and imagination, sort of like magic tricks for our brains. Yet, that wasn’t always the case. Today, we explore the fascinating history of mentalism.

Girolamo Scotto

The Early Days of Mentalism

During the middle ages, many prominent kings were known to truly believe in the mysterious powers of seers and oracles. They would often call upon these prophets before a major battle or decision to help predict the future or use their psychic powers to speak with deceased leaders for guidance.

Divine Intervention

Going back to the days of the Old Testament of the Bible, fortune tellers were revered as god-like figures. The Ancient Greeks and Romans held them in extremely high regard, treating every prophecy like a direct message from God. Often referred to as “Oracles”, some commoners even believed these psychic individuals were gods themselves.

While these people truly believed they were experiencing divine intervention, most historians agree that they were more likely just witnessing the work of early mentalists.

Kennedy the Mentalist performing a mentalist trick

The Magical Art of Mentalism is Born

While the first recorded mentalism act can be traced back to a performance in 1572 by pioneering sleight of hand magician Girolamo Scotto, mentalism didn’t really break into the mainstream until the early 1800’s. Since then, it has undergone an exciting evolution led by famous mentalists such as J. Randall Brown, Theodore Annemann, Al Koran, The Amazing Kreskin, Uri Geller, Max Maven and Richard Osterlind.

During this time, historians believe that some mentalists may have used their powers of mental deception to impact the course of history. For example, it is rumored that Austrian clairvoyant, hypnotist, occultist and all-around charlatan Erik Jan Hanussen helped Adolf Hitler understand the importance of performance and the impact of dramatic effect prior to the start of World War II. Joseph Stalin may also have been impacted by the influencing techniques of psychological performers.

To this day, modern performers like Luke Jermay and Peter Turner continue to discover new ways to improve their ability to read body language or to manipulate our minds with carefully crafted language or mentalism tricks.

Modern mentalist Peter Turner reading minds of young mentalists and audience members

Debunking Fake Psychics

Today, mentalism is a respected performing art that continues to further separate itself from traditional magic tricks and card tricks. Supported by Derren Brown’s international television specials and theater shows, and appearances on America’s Got Talent by amazing mentalists Colin Cloud, Oz Pearlman and Max Major, mentalism is more popular than ever.

Modern mentalism features incredible psychological presentations filled with displays of highly-trained mental abilities and mind manipulation such as mind reading, mind control, telepathy, clairvoyance, hypnosis, memory stunts, telekinesis and more. Yet, it’s important to emphasize that the mentalist community is adamant that mentalism should be used for entertainment purposes only.

This is why mentalists and skeptics like James Randi work diligently to expose and debunk mediums, spiritualists and psychics like John Edwards, Long Island Medium Theresa Caputo and Hollywood Medium Tyler Henry. Despite the fact that they regularly use common mentalism techniques such as cold reading to exploit grieving and vulnerable people for their own gain, these fake psychics and scam artists continue to attribute their results to authentic supernatural abilities. As a result, they are not considered mentalists and are not acknowledged by the mentalist community.

How to Learn Mentalism

You can start learning mentalism right away with our free mentalism tricks for beginners or our list of the best books for beginner mentalists. With a little practice, who knows, maybe one day they’ll be making a TV show like The Mentalist or Psych about you.