Clairvoyance ia aparanormal vision of objects, events, places and people that are not visible through normal sight. Clairvoyance is an extrasensory perception (ESP) that overlaps with telepathy and precognition (knowledge of the future). It is a factor in Mediumship and Retrocognition, and may come into play in some cases of apparitions.

The term “clairvoyance” comes from the French for “clear seeing.” It is also popularly called “second sight,” “ghost seeing” and “ghost vision.” Individuals gifted with clairvoyance have, throughout history, been oracles, prophets, diviners, holy men and women, healers, wizards and witches. However, everyone possesses the capacity for clairvoyance and probably experiences at least one clairvoyant episode during life.

Clairvoyance can happen spontaneously, such as when a person has a vision of apparitions of the past (see Versailles Ghosts), or can perceive nonphysical forms in a place alleged to be haunted. Clairvoyance—and sensitivity to ESP in general—may account for the great disparity of experiences that occur in an alleged haunting. For example, one person may be able to clairvoyantly perceive a ghost while another may not (and the other thus may not believe in the haunting). Many stories of hauntings include testimony from individuals who claim they experience nothing. In a case where collective apparitions are seen, some psychical researchers speculate that one person may perceive the apparition and communicate it to others through telepathy.

In mediumship, clairvoyance may account for the ability of Mediums to provide “unknown” information at Séances. Information unknown to the medium (and perhaps the sitters) but that can be verified through other sources is considered “evidential” in support of survival after death. However, some psychical researchers say that a medium’s unconscious clairvoyance of existing sources—anywhere in the world—cannot be ruled out (see Super-PSI).

Clairvoyance may be induced through various techniques, such as fasting, ecstatic dancing, ingestion or inhalation of certain substances, and magical ritual. Such techniques have been employed whenever humankind has sought to commune with the spirits of the dead, the spirits of nature or the divine. Ancient Egyptian and Greek priests used herbal mixtures to induce temporary clairvoyance. The Pythia oracle at Delphi inhaled the smoke from burning laurel leaves to induce clairvoyant visions. Shamans induce clairvoyance through ecstatic dancing, chanting and drumming, and sometimes with the help of hallucinogens. Native Americans experience clairvoyance during vision quests and solitary spiritual pursuits in the wilderness.

Clairvoyance is experienced in different ways. Perhaps most common is a vision seen by the inner eye. Some clairvoyant visions seem to have an objective reality, temporarily replacing the present time and environment. Such is the case in shamanism, for shamans enter a “non-ordinary” reality in which they search for lost souls and heal the sick. Clairvoyance of distant places—called “travelling clairvoyance” by mesmerists and early psychical researchers—may involve an out of- body experience (see Emanuel Swedenborg). Clairvoyant visions also have been recorded of non-earthly places, such as the astral plane, the spirit world or “Other Side,” and realms of heaven and hell. Descriptions of these places vary considerably. Clairvoyance can occur in dreams.

In his research with medium Eileen J. Garrett psychologist Lawrence LeShan conceived of two kinds of reality, sensory and clairvoyant. Sensory reality is everyday, real-time life, defined by the five senses. Clairvoyant reality, which is accessed by mediums, is a place where time is illusory (everything seems to exist in an ever-present “now”), judgments are impossible, and all things are perceived as interconnected.

Scientific study of clairvoyance began in the early 19th century with mesmerized subjects who exhibited paranormal, or “higher,” phenomena. One of the subjects of Alphonse Cahagnet, a French magnetist, was a young woman named Adele Magnot. While entranced, Magnot had visions of the spirit world and could see and converse with the dead.

Tests for clairvoyance of concealed cards using hypnotized mediums began in the 1870s with French physiologist Charles Richet. Card testing reached its peak later in the 20th century in the laboratory experiments of J.B. Rhine.


  • Brown, Slater. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1970.
  • Douglas, Alfred. Extrasensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1976.
  • LeShan, Lawrence. The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist: Toward a General Theory of the Paranormal. New York: Viking Press, 1974.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits– Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007

Clairvoyance The perception of current objects, events, or people that may not be discerned through the normal senses. Clairvoyance, from the French for “clear seeing,” is a common psychic experience. The seeing may manifest in internal or external visions, or a sensing of images. Clairvoyance overlaps with other psychic faculties and phenomena, such as clairaudience, clairsentience, telepathy, precognition, retrocognition, psychometry, and remote viewing.

Clairvoyance appears to be a general ability among humans, and it also appears to exist in animals. Research in this area, which is largely limited to anecdotal case studies, has been highly controversial. See Animal psi.

Clairvoyance has been acknowledged, used, and cultivated since ancient Clairvoyance times. Prophets, fortune-tellers, shamans, wizards, witches, cunning men and women, and seers of all kinds through all ages have employed clairvoyance. Many have been born with clairvoyance as a natural gift; others have consciously developed it through training. Egyptian and Greek priests used herbal mixtures to induce temporary clairvoyance, especially in training and initiating novices. The Pythia oracle at Delphi in ancient Greece also induced clairvoyance for prophetic visions, using smoke inhaled from burning laurel leaves. Other ancients discovered clairvoyance-inducing properties from certain natural springs and wells. Shamans induce clairvoyance through ecstatic dancing, chanting, and drumming, and sometimes with the help of hallucinogens. The ecstatic ritual dance to achieve clear vision has been used by many cultures throughout history, including the ancient Egyptians, Hindus, and Sufis. In yoga clairvoyance results from the opening of the sixth chakra, located between the brows, which is called the “third eye.” Clairvoyance is one of many psychic by-products, called siddhis, of yogic spiritual development.

Clairvoyance is experienced in different ways and degrees. In its simplest form, clairvoyance is the internal seeing of symbolic images, which must be interpreted according to a person’s own system of meanings. In its highest form, clairvoyance is the viewing of nonphysical planes, the astral, etheric, and spiritual worlds and the beings that inhabit them, and the auric fields surrounding all things in nature. Most clairvoyant experiences fall between the two.

Lawrence LeShan, American psychologist, defines reality as being divided into two kinds, “sensory reality” and “clairvoyant reality.” Sensory reality is normal, everyday life, flowing in real-time, perceived with the five senses. Clairvoyant reality is lifted out of this track to a place where time is illusory, judgments impossible, and all things are perceived as interconnected.

Various terms have been put forth to describe different states of clairvoyance:

  • X-ray clairvoyance: The ability to see through opaque objects such as envelopes, containers, and walls to perceive what lies within or beyond.
  • Medical clairvoyance: The ability to see disease and illness in the human body, either by reading the aura or seeing the body as transparent. Edgar Cayce, one of the most famous of all medical clairvoyants, viewed the Akashic Records on the Astral plane to obtain information, including remedies and cures.
  • Travelling Clairvoyance: The ability to see current events, people, and objects that are far away. See Remote viewing.
  • Spatial clairvoyance: Vision that transcends space and time. Another term for this is travelling clairvoyance, but it also relates to precognitive clairvoyance, or visions of the future, and retrocognitive clairvoyance, or visions of the past. This type of clairvoyance is employed by shamans, diviners, and psychics who work in applied psi fields such as psychic archaeology and psychic crime detection.
  • Dream clairvoyance: The dreaming of an event that is happening simultaneously. Dream clairvoyance may be combined with precognition, which is especially helpful and instructive in all matters in personal life, as an early warning system.
  • Astral clairvoyance: Perception of the astral and etheric planes, and the elementals, demons, devas, and other beings that inhabit them. It is also the perception of the aura and auric colours, thought forms, and other partial manifestations of thought. This is another level of vision used by shamans, yogis, and adepts.
  • Spiritual clairvoyance: Vision of the higher planes and angelic beings; a mystical state of being and knowing.

Clairvoyance and Western Science

Although adepts and nature-oriented societies have taken clairvoyance for granted for thousands of years, Western science has not. The first scientific efforts to study clairvoyance came during the days of mesmerism in the early nineteenth century, when magnetized subjects displayed clairvoyance and other psychic phenomena. In the 1830s Alphonse Cahagnet, a French magnetist and follower of eighteenth-century Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg, a great clairvoyant who could peer into the spiritual realm, systematically studied a young woman named Adele Magnot. In magnetic trance Magnot experienced clairvoyant visions of the spirit world, seeing and conversing with the dead. She was able to describe their features, characteristics, and the clothing they wore at the end of their lives. She heard them clairaudiently, and relayed their messages to the living. At first Magnot saw her own relatives, then was able to see the dead relatives of strangers who provided only names. The accuracy of her readings was verified by many and recorded by Cahagnet.

In the 1870s another Frenchman, Professor Charles Richet, began testing for clairvoyance by asking subjects to guess cards concealed in envelopes. In 1889 some of his outstanding work was done with a medium known as Leonie B., whom he hypnotized. Richet’s work was taken a great deal further in the 1930s by American parapsychologist J. B. Rhine, who used a special deck of symbol cards to conduct thousands of tests for both clairvoyance and telepathy. See ESP cards.

In the decades since, impressive evidence has been accumulated to support the existence of clairvoyance. In parapsychology it is considered one of three classes of psychic perception, along with telepathy and precognition; there is much overlap among the three. While many scientists acknowledge that the capacity for clairvoyance seems to exist through the general human population and in animals, others disagree, contending clairvoyance does not exist or is merely a form of telepathy.

Development and Direction of Clairvoyance

Psychics and occultists say virtually anyone can develop the clairvoyant faculty with the proper training, such as through scrying exercises of gazing into mirrors, specula, crystal balls, flame, and shiny objects; yoga exercises to stimulate the third-eye chakra; and auric sight exercises of gazing at magnets in the dark. This assertion has not been borne out in the laboratory, however. Most likely, the clairvoyant faculty may be enhanced through development of one’s spiritual consciousness, which facilitates use of the sixth sense.


  • Clairaudience;
  • Clairsentience.


  • Slater Brown. The Heyday of Spiritualism. New Yotk: Hawthorn Books, 1970;
  • W. E. Butler. How to Develop Clairvoyance. 2d ed. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1979;
  • Alfred Douglas. Extrasensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1976;
  • Arthur Ford in collaboration with Marguerite Harmon Bro. Nothing So Strange: The Autobiography of Arthur Ford. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958;
  • Manly P. Hall. 1928. Reprint. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Los Angeles: The Philosophic Research Society, 1977;
  • Michael Harner. The Way of the Shaman. New York: Bantam, 1986;
  • Craig Junjulas. Psychic Tarot. Dobbs Ferry, NY: Morgan & Morgan, 1985;
  • C.W. Leadbeater. The Chakras. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1927;
  • Robert R. Leichtman, M.D., and Carl Japikse. Active Meditation: The Western Tradition. Columbus, OH: Ariel Press, 1982;
  • Lawrence LeShan. The Medium, the Mystic, and the Physicist: Toward a General Theory of the Paranormal. New York: Viking Press, 1974;
  • Ormond McGill. The Mysticism and Magic of India. Cranbury, NJ: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1977;
  • Edgar D. Mitchell. Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science. Edited by John White. New York: Paragon Books, 1974;
  • Russell Targ and Keith Harary. The Mind Race. New York: Villard Books, 1984;
  • Joan Windsor. The Inner Eye: Your Dreams Can Make You Psychic. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1985.


Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 1991 by Rosemary Ellen Guiley.

Clairvoyance is the psychic ability to see the unseen, such as spirits, auras, ghosts, otherworldly dimensions, and distant locations. Clairvoyance comes from the French term for “clear seeing.” It is experienced in different ways, such as externalized visions, inner visions, and impressions. Clairvoyance overlaps with other psychic faculties and phenomena, such as clairaudience (psychic hearing), clairsentience (psychic sensing), telepathy (thought transfer), precognition (seeing the future), retrocognition (the past), psychometry (obtaining information by handling objects), and remote viewing (a modern term for “travelling clairvoyance” or seeing distant locations).

Clairvoyance has been a valued skill in divination, prophecy, and magic since ancient times. Some individuals are born with marked abilities for clairvoyance; others can cultivate it through training, sometimes through the use of psychedelic agents such as drugs and herbs, and also by techniques to induce altered states of consciousness. In folklore, clairvoyance is a gift sometimes bestowed upon humans by fairies or deities. Magical objects, such as a ring or hat, also confer the gift of clairvoyance.

In magical practice, clairvoyance is used to visit and work on the astral plane and to evoke and communicate with entities.

In Irish lore, the thumb of knowledge is a term for clairvoyance or supernatural sight. When a sorcerer desired “the sight,” he pressed one of his teeth with his thumb. The origin of the thumb of knowledge is in the saga of Fionn, or Finn MacCoul, who injured his thumb when he jammed it into the door of a fairy knoll. He sucked on his thumb to ease the pain and discovered that he suddenly possessed supernatural sight.

Robert Kirk, a 17th-century Scottish minister who perceived the fairy world, said that seers continually have a beam of light around them that enables them to see the atoms in the air. He described ways to acquire the second sight in The Secret Commonwealth. In one method, a man takes hair that bound a corpse to a bier and runs it in a helix around his middle. Then he bows his head down and looks back through his legs until he sees a funeral approach, or he looks backward through a knothole in a fir tree. But if the wind changes while the hair is still tied around him, his life is in danger.

Kirk said that a way to gain temporary clairvoyance— especially for seeing fairies—is for a man to put his foot on the foot of a seer, and the seer put his hand on the head of the man. The man looks over the seer’s right shoulder. The sudden appearance of multitudes of swarming fairies will strike people breathless and speechless, Kirk said.


  • Imagination
  • Oracle


  • Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
  • Spence, Lewis. The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain. Van Nuys, Calif.: Newscastle Publishing, 1996.
  • Stewart, R. J. The Living World of Faery. Lake Toxaway, N.C.: Mercury Publishing, 1995.


The Encyclopedia of Magic and Alchemy Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley Copyright © 2006 by Visionary Living, Inc.

A form of extrasensory perception (ESP), clairvoyance (which means “clear seeing”) is the receipt of visual images not through the sense of sight but through the mind. Sometimes the clairvoyant “sees” only a brief glimpse of a person or object, but other times he or she is able to “watch” a mental movie of an event. In either case, these images can come from the past, present, or future. When clairvoyants receive images of future events, they are said to be experiencing “second sight” or precognition.

Clairvoyance Versus Telepathy

Researchers who study clairvoyance are careful to distinguish this phenomenon from telepathy, which involves mind-to-mind communication; the images received by a clairvoyant seem to arise spontaneously; that is, without being transmitted from another human mind. For example, a man who finds a lost watch through clairvoyance does so by seeing a mental picture of exactly where it is, without receiving the image from someone else who is looking at the watch or knows where it is. The distinction between clairvoyance and telepathy, however, can be elusive, and even experienced researchers often have trouble determining whether telepathy or clairvoyance is at work during a particular incident.

Such difficulties occur not only in regard to laboratory tests but also in instances of spontaneous ESP taking place outside of a laboratory because it is not always clear whether a human sender was involved. For example, one day a pilot flying a single-engine plane suddenly decided to go 70 miles (113km) out of her way, where she spotted a crashed car beside the road below. She landed her plane and rescued the unconscious passenger, only to discover that it was her mother. Some experts would call this a case of telepathy, saying that the woman in trouble transmitted a call for help to her daughter. Others would call it a case of clairvoyance since the injured woman was unconscious and presumably unable to transmit a message. Moreover, the injured woman would not have known how to direct her daughter to the crash site.

Disagreements over whether clairvoyance or telepathy was involved in a particular ESP incident have long plagued researchers. In fact, when ESP was first studied by the Society for Psychical Research in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, researchers believed that only telepathy, not clairvoyance, existed. When someone in a laboratory test exhibited the ability to know what was on a playing card before pulling it from the deck, for example, researchers thought it was because the person conducting the test knew the order of the cards beforehand and was unintentionally transmitting this information to the test subject via telepathy.

The Rhines’ Tests

In the 1930s parapsychologists J.B. and Louisa E. Rhine, then at Duke University, set out to prove that clairvoyance existed. In their tests, they used special cards with symbols on them known as Zener cards. To eliminate the possibility of telepathic communication between testers and their subjects, the researchers made sure that testers did not know the order of cards not only before but also during tests. They also made sure that test subjects could not see or hear the person administering the test, so as to eliminate any possibility of a tester’s facial expression or tone of voice influencing the test subject’s answers. The Rhines’ experiments seemed to be well designed against fraud; nonetheless, when some of their results suggested that clairvoyance was a real phenomenon, skeptics accused the test subjects of cheating.

In fact, the more psychic a test subject seemed to be, the more that subject was attacked by skeptics. Consequently, when test subject Hubert Pearce, a Duke University student, showed an unusually high success rate in guessing the symbols on Zener cards, he was accused of fraud despite the many precautions the Rhines took to ensure that Pearce could not cheat during his tests. To this end, Pearce was placed in one room, while in another room, in a different building a hundred yards away, a researcher named J. Gaither Pratt turned over cards in a pack and recorded their order, without trying to transmit them telepathically to Pearce. Pearce got 558 out of 1,850 guesses right, when only 370 correct guesses would have been expected according to the laws of probability. Skeptics subsequently insisted that Pearce had to have seen the cards, perhaps by going to Pratt’s building and peeking in a window in the room’s door, even though Pratt repeatedly pointed out that the cards would not have been visible through this window.

Tests on Animals

In addition to Pearce, the Rhines found several other subjects whose guesses on similar tests were also much better than chance alone could explain. Other researchers believe that they have found gifted clairvoyants as well—not only among humans but among domestic animals as well. With animal tests, however, researchers must be very careful in establishing their procedures because animals have a much greater ability than humans to pick up on extremely subtle cues provided by testers. The effect of this ability on psychic testing is often called the Clever Hans phenomenon, named for a horse named Clever Hans who, in tapping out answers to questions, appeared to be psychic but in fact was responding to his owner’s body language.

Like Clever Hans, the animals most commonly called psychic are those that have been in close contact with humans for years and are used to interacting with them on a daily basis. Also like Clever Hans, before a supposedly psychic animal comes to the attention of researchers, its owner has usually been promoting it as a psychic, saying that the animal is displaying unusual behaviour that cannot be explained by anything but ESP. In most cases, the owner is eventually proven wrong. In other cases, test results seem to indicate that the animal does indeed have ESP. However, this ESP usually appears to be telepathy—that is, human-to-animal mental communication.

Some researchers say this is because it is extremely difficult to test for animal clairvoyance as opposed to telepathy. This is because in most tests, a human is involved in directing the animal on how to complete the steps of the test; therefore, the human’s mind could be influencing its results. One study, however, attemped to solve this problem, with apparently successful results. It occurred in the late 1950s, when parapsychologist Remi Cadoret of Duke University conducted a series of tests on a dog named Chris. Before coming to Cadoret’s attention, Chris had demonstrated the ability to tap his owner the correct number of times when told that number. At Cadoret’s behest, the dog was trained to paw the floor a certain number of times when shown a particular symbol on a Zener test card. Individual cards were then placed in black envelopes that were mixed up so that no one knew which Zener card was in which envelope. Upon being shown an envelope, Chris would be directed to paw out a number of his choosing. No one knew the order of the cards or envelopes, which eliminated the possibility that human facial expressions were influencing the dog’s choices or that human-to-dog telepathy was involved. Nonetheless, Chris guessed which card was concealed in the envelope most of the time. In fact, according to one series of tests, the odds of him giving the correct answers simply through “lucky guesses” was a billion to one.

Government Interest

Because of such results, not only in animals but in humans, the U.S. government became interested in the possibility that clairvoyants could be used to “see” distant military targets and spy on enemies. In the 1970s the Pentagon launched a project called Stargate, conducted at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in California, that lasted until 1995. Much about this project remains secret, including its success rates, but some of its former participants claim the results were impressive. Although the government ended the project, research into remote viewing continues in private research institutions.

People involved in this research have discovered that remote viewers have great difficulty visualizing the location of lost objects and people. In contrast, a type of clairvoyant known as a psychic detective can receive images of missing persons spontaneously and/or with very little effort. They also “see” crimes in progress, whether in the past, present, or future, and some are able to use these received images to help police officers. However, in many cases the psychic’s visions do not offer enough details to allow the crime to be solved, and even when the visions are clear rather than vague, it can be difficult for the psychic detective to determine where or when the images originated. Indeed, this is true of all instances of clairvoyance, casting doubt on the phenomenon’s usefulness in law enforcement or military intelligence applications.


  • Mediumship
  • Psychic Detectives
  • Remote Viewing
  • Telepathy


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning

Related Articles


Extrasensory Perception (ESP) and Psychokinesis (PK) are collectively known as “psi”; super-psi is a theoretical limitless extension of these abilities that would accommodate all the…


Psychics are people who appear to have one or more psychic abilities. Psychics whose ability appears to be spirit communication are called mediums or channelers,…