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.

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