A mentalist is an arts performer who uses their mental talents and intuitive insights to understand body language, behavior, and energy in order to perform. Unlike traditional stage magic, mentalism performers claim to have supernatural abilities such as telepathy, precognition, and clairvoyance. Mentalists use ‘mental magic’ rather than traditional magic to perform magic ‘for the mind’.
What is Mentalism?
To perform the art of mentalism, a very sophisticated knowledge of human psychology and body language to manipulate and provide inexplicable psychological experiences is required. Sleight of hand tricks, visual illusions, and theatrics that you may see in a traditional magic performance are excluded from mentalism; instead, mentalism performances often explore the boundaries of reality through examinations of psychology, suggestion, and influence.
Methods of Mentalism
It appears that the following practices can be used as part of a mentalism performance.
- Hypnosis: a state of heightened sensitivity to suggestion in which human beings engage their focused attention (the selective attention/inattention hypothesis, SASI) and experience decreased peripheral awareness as a result.
- Telepathy: the alleged transmission of thoughts or ideas without using any of the known senses
- Clairvoyance: the ability to perceive and gather information outside of the use of normal physical senses such as sight and hearing.
- Divination: the use of natural, psychological, or other approaches to decipher hidden meanings or causes of events, which sometimes foretell the future.
- Precognition: the ability to tell what will happen in the future.
- Psychokinesis (telekinesis): the ability to move objects at a distance through thought or other nonphysical means.
- Mediumship: being able to interact with the spirit world while in a state of trance.
- Mind Control (Brainwashing): any technique aimed at influencing human behavior against their own will or knowledge, or technique to manipulate another’s thoughts
- Memory Feats: an impressive and unusual display of memory.
- Deduction: backwards reasoning, or the art of using a set of statements leading to a logical conclusion, such that the conclusion is guaranteed to be correct based on information gathered from the original statements.
The Difference Between Mentalists and Magicians
To those who are not familiar with the world of mentalism, it can be confusing and difficult to see any difference between a ’magician’ and a ’mentalist’; however, most mentalists could go on and on about how they are not magicians, because they believe their art form relies on a specific expertise. Instead of “magical tricks,” mentalists say that they manufacture mental experiences and explore psychology, suggestion, and influence. Mentalists are also often referred to as psychic entertainers, although that category also includes non-mentalist performers like for example, psychic readers.
Psychic or supernatural forces may be employed during a mentalist performance, but they are actually achieved using “conjuring means”, natural human abilities (i.e. reading body language, refined intuition, subliminal communication, emotional intelligence), and a thorough knowledge of human behavior.
The distinction between mentalism and magic lies mainly in their performances. Magicians may perform tricks such as pulling rabbits out of hats or cutting women in half, but mentalists aim to make their audiences believe that they have psychic abilities or mind-reading abilities. Because a mentalist’s performance depends on the reaction of the audience, the end result may be strongly influenced by them. On the other hand, a magician’s performance is the result of misdirection and sleight of hand. As a result, the show of one performer can vary greatly.
Claud Alexander Conlin was an American stage magician and psychic reader who specialized in mentalism and psychic reading. When performing as a mentalist, he was known as ‘Alexander – The Man Who Knows’ and was an expert on stage performance, psychology, and spirituality (particularly the 19th-century higher thought movement referred to as New Thought or Higher Thought). The New Thought movement was a mind-healing movement based on religious and metaphysical assumptions that regards truth as a subject of continual revelation. According to the New Thought movement, no single leader or institution could definitively proclaim what truth is.
He was particularly renowned for performing mentalism tricks that even the greatest mentalists couldn’t figure out. In the early 1900s, Alexander skyrocketed in popularity as a result of his innovative mentalism. He earned a lot of money over his lifetime, which is believed to have made him one of the most famous and one of the most high paid mentalists ever.
Joseph Dunninger, better known by his stage name “The Amazing Dunninger,” is one of the greatest mentalists of all time. He invented many innovative methods of visual mentalism and magic on television and radio, pioneering methods for visual art in mentalism and magic. As a master of a wide range of mentalism techniques, Dunninger was a pioneer in exploiting television and radio to expose mediums and psychics who pretended to have psychic abilities.
Uri Geller, arguably the most controversial performer in the mentalism world, was an Israeli and British mentalist who became famous in the 1970s after appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson as a performer demonstrating supposedly genuine psychic abilities (for example, the ability to bend spoons using his signature spoon-bending routine). After it was demonstrated that Geller was using simple magic tricks, diversion, and mentalism to simulate psychokinesis and telepathy, he was exposed for using mentalist abilities to impress his audiences.
Despite being known for his infamous beginnings in the mentalism community, Uri Geller has had a long and successful career as an illusionist, magician, mentalist, and television personality for over four decades. Although James Randi (who is a prominent skeptic and the author of the book The Truth About Uri Geller) might still not be a fan of Geller’s, the former has unquestionably had an impact on the broader mentalism community.
Derren Brown is undoubtedly one of the most significant and renowned mentalists of all time. Brown’s first significant television special Derren Brown: Mind Control sparked massive popularity, prompting him to star in many other television specials and stage shows. In 2019, Brown made his long-awaited Broadway debut in New York City with his production titled, Secret.
Brown has also written books for magicians and mentalists, as well as works for the lay public. It is worth watching Brown perform if you want to learn mentalism or magic tricks. Brown performs across various platforms, and he is particularly good at exposing fake psychics, mediums, and faith healers that disguise magic tricks, misdirection, and psychology as true psychic powers.
Theodore Annemann is renowned for writing the extremely influential Practical Mental Magic book, which has been praised by many mentalists as an important read. He was an American mentalist, magician, and inventor, and some of the most popular mentalism methods still in use by present-day fortune-tellers like Colin Cloud, The Clairvoyants, The Evasons, Morgan & West, and Oz Pearlman on America’s Got Talent and Penn & Teller: Fool Us.
While mentalism was certainly his greatest interest, Theodore Annemann was also a talented stage magician who transformed the notorious and perilous bullet catch trick into a popular spectacle. Unfortunately, just two weeks before his bullet catch was to be performed on an indoor stage for the first time (as opposed to an outdoor stage like it had been performed on every time up until this point), Annemann committed suicide.
The Amazing Kreskin became famous in the United States and Canada in the 1970s when his television show, The Amazing World of Kreskin, was broadcast across the country and provinces. He appeared on talk shows throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including several appearances on Late Night with David Letterman and 61 appearances on The Tonight Show. In 2009, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was the first program to ever have him on three times.
Despite the fact that Kreskin performed mind reading, mind control, and clairvoyance, he has never claimed to have real psychic powers. He is most famous for allowing a member of his audience to hide his paycheck somewhere in the theater during his performance. If he was unable to locate the money using pulse reading, body language reading, and facial analysis, he would not be paid for that performance.
A mentalist and magician have different objectives when it comes to performing, which results in very different shows. Magic shows are similar to theatrical performances; of course, there is a stage, and a magician may even dress up in costumes and add drama to make the trick more exciting.
When a mentalist performs, though, there is a strong emphasis on personal communication and building a story to convince the audience that no tricks were used. A mentalist wants their audience to believe in the reality that he or she has supernatural abilities—or, at the very least, be so astonished that they do not understand how it was accomplished.
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