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.

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