Psychic Phenomena: Paranormal and Supernatural, or Quite Normal and Very Natural?
Psychic. This is a term that most of us relate to crystal balls, tarot cards, ladies in macrame and gypsy scarves, who have the ability to tell the future, right? But what are psychic abilities really? How do they work?
What is it that makes someone psychic? And, most importantly, how can we know if we are psychic?
Today, much of our own western culture has managed to label that which we might refer to as psychic phenomena as strange, scary, weird, and that these are what might be called “supernatural” or “paranormal” abilities.
The term “supernatural” is actually defined as something that is not of the natural world, and is derived from the Latin supra (above) natura (nature). “Paranormal” is a term that we generally use to describe something that cannot be explained, and the beginning of this word comes from the Greek para (beyond) normal.
These terms are more than a little puzzling to me, as how could such a widely reported ability in some human beings be above nature? Aren’t we a part of nature? And, what is “normal” anyway, that something should exist beyond it?
Actuality, the term psychic comes from the Greek word psychikos, which means “of the soul”. This is the same root of the words psyche, psyched, psychology and psychoanalysis, all of which have to do with different states of the mind. This is because the Greeks, as well as the majority of other ancient cultures, held a belief that the mind and the soul were one and the same. And therefore, any problem with the mind also required healing of the spirit.
And so, the actual definition of psychic is “that which comes from the soul and the mind”. That sounds pretty darn natural to me.
So where did an ability that comes from the “soul and the mind” get this paranormal, supernatural reputation from? Looking at the past (as I tend to do), and understanding this phenomenon from a historical perspective can help us to find at least part of the answer to that question.
Psychic abilities, and their use for various purposes, have been around since ancient times. In fact, the use of psychic abilities by human beings has occurred and been recorded in nearly every culture on the planet, both ancient and modern. The unsavory reputation of psychic abilities, though, largely developed in the western world as a direct result of the political, religious and social changes that occurred after the advent of Christianity.
One of the most famous examples of an ancient world psychic is the Oracle at Delphi, located at the Temple of Apollo on Mount Parnassus in Greece. Visitors to the Oracle would encounter the Pythia, who was the head priestess there, and would be invited to engage in a question and answer session with her that would result in a prophecy. This infamous Oracle was in operation for nearly 1200 years (take that, Miss Cleo!), beginning in the 8th c. BC and only ending in 393 AD when the Christian Emperor Theodosius I ordered all pagan temples to close.
This Oracle, and the prophecies that came from it, were considered highly prestigious during this time period and was mentioned extensively by writers such as Plutarch, Ovid, Sophocles, Plato and Aristotle, to just name a few. Archeologists now believe that the Oracle was located on a volcanic fissure, and the Pythia was giving these prophecies in an altered state of consciousness induced by inhaling the resulting gas emission. (Don’t try that one at home.)
So, if psychic abilities have been around since ancient times, why do so many of us in this day and age feel that perhaps they are not normal and are therefore unnatural? I think that much of this unsavory reputation of psychics has stemmed from the perception that some of us have “powers” that others do not, and the natural fear that would result from that belief. This concept became the fundamental problem with the use of psychics as Christianity spread in Europe, as church authorities began to fear that these “powers” were from an innately evil and/or supernatural source.
This bad rap did not, however, cause the practice of consulting psychics to disappear. It is well known that many devout Christian monarchs and other notable figures throughout history consulted astrologers and seers for advice on various personal and political matters. One example of this can be found in the relationship between Catherine de Medici and the famous seer Nostradamus, whom she consulted regularly about her troubling dreams despite the fact that her country was engaged in a bloody religious war during the height of the Spanish Inquisition.
It is interesting to note that this practice of powerful figures consulting psychics continued well into the 20th century, as it was well known that Nancy Reagan often consulted astrologers and psychics about auspicious dates and ask for advice about governing and policy that she would then pass on to her husband, who was the President of the United States at the time. But yet, she swore these psychics to secrecy, as she feared it would tarnish her reputation or undermine her husband’s power and authority. But one thing is clear, the fear due to a lack of understanding about where these abilities come from, what they are, and why some have more than others has permeated all of western history.
Why then, did the act of consulting psychics never disappear despite this rampant fear and resultant persecution? In my opinion, it managed to survive as a practice because the abilities themselves never disappeared, and human beings have continually displayed the capabilities of knowing or seeing that which exists outside of the tangible, physical realm. I truly believe that these abilities are innately human (of the soul and of the mind, remember?) and that we all possess psychic abilities in one form or another. Yes, you are psychic. We all are. But, before you decide to disagree, hear me out on this.
If you ask people (and I do), most of them will own up to having had an experience that can be called “psychic”. In fact, we do regularly use these abilities without bothering to label them as “psychic”. Having a gut feeling about someone that ended up being right, having a dream actually happen in the way that you dreamed that it would, having a presentiment of a tragedy (or even a bad feeling about something about to happen), thinking of a person two seconds before they call, being able to hear or feel someone else’s feelings, having a dream or vision of someone who has died, meeting someone for the first time and experiencing a deja vu sensation (in my opinion, this is more than likely from a past life), or having sensed something or someone in the room with you when you were alone are all psychic experiences.
Most of my clients are pleasantly surprised when I help them discover that they are indeed psychic, and have been all along despite the fact that they have never considered themselves to be. And, the reason that it never occurred to them that what they have experienced is normal and that everyone else has them too, is that we do not discuss these experiences in an open and practical enough way in our culture. Yes, it is definitely changing, but for the large part many of these phenomenon and experiences remain “closeted”, particularly in the United States.
Now, it is true that there are some of us who seem to have a natural talent in this arena. Some of us are just born with an innate talent and have psychic abilities that operate on a much higher level than the average person. I like to compare these psychic gifts with having a natural talent for music, or athletic ability. Yes, some of us are born with a bit more of an ability to tap into their psychic abilities, but just like an athlete or musician that doesn’t change the need to study it, practice it, build muscles that strengthen it, and carefully hone that skill over time.
There do seem to be several factors that could possibly contribute to a person’s level of natural psychic-ness, including heredity (for some reason more often occurring on the mother’s side), or it can be triggered by a traumatic event such as an accident, becoming a victim of extreme violence, having a near death (or even clinical death) experience, or even a significant and/or sudden transcendental or spiritual experience. But, for those of us who are not inherently psychically talented, there are several ways that have been proven to help develop these abilities. (More on this later.)
So then, what are these psychic abilities and how do they work? There are many different ways in which psychic abilities manifest in an individual, but first we need to revisit our definition of psychic to further clarify and figure out exactly what it is that we are talking about here. Psychic is “that which comes from the soul and the mind”, but what is the “it”? The what, then, involving psychic abilities has to do with perception using senses outside of the physical five that we use with our bodies: sight, touch, sound, smell and taste. I am talking about our “extra-senses”.
We are all quite familiar with our physical five senses, and are even taught their names and practice using them in preschool. In fact, you are more than likely using more than one of them at this very moment (assuming you are all using at least your sense of sight to facilitate your reading). But, what most of us do not know is that we all possess additional senses to the familiar five. These are our “extra-senses” (and it is interesting to note that the term “ESP”, which refers to a particular use of a psychic ability, stands for extra-sensory perception- so by my definition, technically all psychic perception is ESP). These “extra senses” are the various ways that we perceive the sensory information that is not physical in nature (that of the soul and the mind), or psychic information.
The first of these extra senses is called clairvoyance, or clear seeing. This is our spiritual “sight” and those who have well developed clairvoyant abilities can “see” visions, pictures, symbols, colors, etc. in their mind’s eye (sometimes referred to as the “third eye”, which is located on your lower forehead at the center point between both eyebrows). Those who have this ability will “see” vivid images flow into their mind, where they are interpreted based on what has been seen.
Then there is what is called clairaudience, or clear hearing. Those who can use this sense can hear voices, sounds and other noises that cannot be perceived using the physical ear. Clairaudients hear things that do not seem to physically be there. This sense is most commonly associated with mediums, or a psychic who can communicate with the dead, but I have heard many people describe hearing a voice call to them, acting as a warning or an otherworldly sound. I experienced this myself once when I was in my early 20’s, I was driving my car and heard a voice I didn’t recognize say “turn here right now” in a way that seemed very stern. A few minutes after exiting, I crossed an overpass and looked down on the highway I had just been on I saw a big truck make a sharp turn and flip over, causing a horrible accident involving many other cars. I know that voice was there to protect me, and who knows what might have happened if I had not listened. But that is an example of clairaudience.
Next, there is clairsentience, or clear knowing. This sense involves an ability to ‘just know’ and is truly difficult to clearly define. Clairsentient people will have something appear in their mind in the form of a thought, or they will just know something without really knowing where it came from. This is an ability that can be difficult to trust, but this is actually a very primal ability that we have as human beings. Some people associate this “inner knowing” with being more feminine, calling it “female intuition” or “mother’s intuition”, but both genders can and do have this ability. Clairsentience is also associated with a physical sensation that can accompany the “knowing thought” such as a chill or goosebumps when something “feels” true.
There is also clairgustance, or clear taste. This is an ability to taste something in your mouth or on your tongue that cannot be traced to a source in the physical world. I have heard people say that they could taste alcohol or drugs in their mouth upon shaking someone’s hand that you just met who might have a problem with substances. I know a healer who can tell you what part of your body you should look into or where your health might be compromised by way of how it tastes in their mouth. I have heard people describe being in extreme emotional situations such as intense grief or anger and tasting a kind of metallic taste in their mouth.
Then there is clairalience, or clear smelling. This is the ability to smell things that are not physically there and it also seems to be strongly associated with mediums, but it can be present in anyone. My grandmother, who passed 15 years ago, was a hair dresser. I adored her. The way that she smelled was a cocktail of Aquanet hairspray, cigarettes, black coffee, and some old-lady perfume. There have been times that I have been walking around my apartment alone and felt like I caught a whiff of that signature smell that could only be her. I have always taken that as confirmation that she is still around me and adores me right back.
The last extra sense that I will describe is referred to as psychokinetic abilities. (There are probably more than what I named here, but these are the ones that I am most familiar with.) Those with psychokinetic abilities can move or otherwise alter objects by using their minds. This sense also seems to be quite rare, and many doubt how genuine this one actually is despite reports of its’ occurrence throughout history. But, many have insisted that there are people who can bend a spoon with their mind or move an object from one side of the room to another. To me, legends tend to exist for a reason, so I am a believer at least in theory even if I have never seen this myself.
Most people will use more than one of these senses when accessing psychic information, and the way that these senses combine will create a personal “way of seeing” which is as individual as a fingerprint. In the same way that some of us have a heightened sense of smell, a great memory, or a sharp eye for detail, these extra senses vary from person to person. No two people will experience this information in exactly the same way, just like no one will see, touch and smell a flower and experience it in an identical way as someone else.
Ok, so if we now know that we all have these “extra senses”, what do we do with them? How do we get these psychic abilities that we all have to work for us and benefit our lives in a practical way? How can knowing we are all psychic be useful to us? There is quite a lot of information that can be gained through the use of these senses, and perceiving things that occur on a non-physical level can provide insight into the fact that there might be quite a lot more to our existence than meets the eye (the physical eye, not the third eye – ok bad joke, but pun intended). Although psychics can do many things with their ability to connect with the “soul and the mind”, such as communicating with spirits, reading auras, and interpreting dreams, it is the ability to foretell the future that holds our collective abiding interest in psychic abilities. We all just want to know what is going to happen in the future, but can we all learn how to do that?
How can someone tell the future? Isn’t the future something that hasn’t happened yet? Yes, technically the future has yet to occur, but first we need to establish what type of relationship the future has with time and the nature of the movement of time itself. I believe that time moves less like an arrow, or a straight line, and more like a circle. This was the belief of many ancient and indigenous cultures, and is the basis for the famous Mayan calendar (which has managed to correctly predict many events that occurred centuries after its’ development).
If this is true then, and time moves like a circle, then that would mean that the past, present and future are all happening simultaneously. So, maybe psychics are simply tapping into an alternate reality that exists around us in which everything that has ever or will ever happen is occurring all at the same time, but we don’t usually perceive this with our limited physical senses. Yeah, this is some pretty deep stuff. But, it is my opinion that any psychic who can predict the future at best is only giving you a possible, or probable future. The future isn’t determined, as we are creating our own future each moment of every day by way of our choices. But yes, people still want to know what the possible future is, even if it is only slightly accurate.
One way that psychics have historically “told the future” is through a process called divination. Divination is the act of making a prophecy about the future by using an object, a ritual or a process of some sort. Basically, it is using a prop to aid the flow of information, and I have been told that these objects are merely a way to increase a person’s focus during this process. There are many different types of divination including: astrology (using the stars and planets), palmistry (reading palms), numerology (using numbers), onomancy (using names), chronomancy (using time, lucky/unlucky days), cartomancy (using cards, i.e. tarot cards), pyromancy (using fire), extispicy (using the entrails of animals), I Ching and Runes (the use of these objects), and scrying (the use of a reflective object).
I Ching (or “book of changes”) is a book that contains a system of symbols designed to find order in seemingly random events. It was written around 2800 BC (almost 350 years earlier than the construction of Khufu’s Great Pyramid at Giza) by a legendary Chinese emperor named Fu Xi. The book is divided into 64 hexagrams that each describe a predicted outcome or a prescribed course of action. One would pose a question for the I Ching and then throw 3 coins six times, and recording the results: a solid line for each roll that was predominantly ‘heads’ and a dotted line for each roll that was predominantly ‘tails’. After all six rolls, the result would be one of these 64 solid and dotted line patterns, or hexagrams. Upon locating the corresponding hexagram in the text, the questioner would them read the poem next to it that contained the “prophecy”. The I Ching is still widely used both in China and around the world, and even after 5,000 years is still considered highly accurate and relevant.
The form of divination known as scrying is the source of our crystal ball stereotype. A shiny and reflective surface is used to see (clairvoyantly) a vision of the future, and this method has been around since ancient times. Other types of scrying involve mirrors (as in the well-known example from Snow White: “mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”- the wicked stepmother in that fairytale was a scryer), glass, crystals, smoke, or water. The seer Nostradamus was also a scryer, as he used a bowl of water to see his visions of the future.
Some psychics use their abilities without the use of props, and will tap into psychic information by using ritual or other means of altering their consciousness. Doing this will turn down the volume on their physical senses and will help the “extra-senses” to emerge. This altering of consciousness usually involves relaxing, shifting focus, meditating, deep breathing, etc. Edgar Cayce, who would lie on his couch and go into a deep trance from which he would deliver his predictions, is a great example of someone who employed this technique. Supposedly, one had a window of only a few seconds in which to pose him a question before he would go under too deeply and then proceed to drift off to sleep. My personal favorite story about this phenomenon concerns Jane Roberts, the well-known author of the psychically channeled “Seth Material” books. In order to achieve the relaxed and altered state that she used to connect with “Seth”, a disembodied spirit who would deliver the material for her books, she would first have one beer and two cigarettes before going into a trance. (I am not entirely sure why, but I find her technique somewhat hilarious, given the incredibly profound nature of the resultant material.) But, that was her own, particular way of relaxing.
This altering of consciousness technique to tap into our “soul and our mind” has been an important part of spiritual and religious ritual since the dawn of time. The hypnotic rhythm of a beating drum, swaying back and forth in time with a chant or a prayer, humming, and chanting are all powerful methods of initiating this connection with our “extra senses”. The first time that I ever saw an aura around another human being happened in the middle of an indoor cycling class, and I was cycling hard enough that I went into a “zone” that anyone who has ever engaged in an athletic activity can probably relate to. That, coupled with the hypnotic noise of the bikes and the low light, my mind was in an altered and perceptive state that allowed me to “see” this. (I have since learned to replicate this outside of the gym.) The fact that this phenomenon occurs more frequently in a relaxed and altered state is the reason that so many people will have psychic experiences while under hypnosis.
This ability to alter our consciousness (without drugs or other substances, mind you- although many cultures have traditionally used various plants and herbs ritually for this very purpose) varies from person to person and could quite possibly be a clue as to why some of us are more psychic than others. Is it as simple as that? Some people can just “zone out” easier than others? Well, not quite. There are some aspects of receiving any “extra-sense” material that are somewhat difficult to place, and many aspects of this phenomenon are definitely in the category of unexplainable given my current limited knowledge of exactly how it works, but one must be good friends with their own inner self, or the part of them that houses the “soul and the mind”.
And, for those of us who were not born with innate psychic gifts or didn’t have a sudden awakening, there are ways that we can develop these abilities that we all possess. In fact, you should know that even world famous and renowned psychics must constantly work to maintain and develop their abilities. Many working psychics meditate daily, or have a regular spiritual practice that serves to aid their ability to alter their consciousness and tap into their “inner selves”, or their spiritual selves. Regular meditation and contemplation seem to help in the development of psychic abilities, and there is also a heavy correlation between people who spend a great deal of time in nature and the ability to use their “extra senses”. To me, it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that avid meditators and nature lovers are more in touch with their “soul and the mind”.
There also seems to be a correlation between psychic abilities and the state of our physical bodies, specifically our care and regard for them. Eating healthy food, engaging in regular exercise, limiting the consumption of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs also seem to aid in the ability to mentally focus and tap into these “extra senses”. This does vary from person to person, and everyone is different and our bodies are individually unique. I have heard some psychics tell me that consuming red meat will block their abilities, while others have told me that they eat meat regularly with no noticeable change. Some medications have been known to prevent the flow of psychic information, and most psychics say that they have more difficulty tapping in when they are experiencing a physical illness.
The third way that I have discovered that one can develop their ability to utilize their “extra senses” comes through the practice of compassion and loving-kindness. That’s right, I did just say that being nice can actually make you more psychic. People who are able to be compassionate and truly connect with others in an empathic way are able to tap into this spiritual realm more readily. This is especially true when you are dealing with another person one on one. Many working psychics, clergy, social workers or therapists employ this technique either consciously or not by focusing on your voice, or your energy and also focus on their intent for your well-being. And, I hope I don’t have to say that if a psychic doesn’t have your well-being in mind, then you shouldn’t listen to them anyway, right? I often utilize this technique in my one on one work with my clients, in addition to the other techniques that I have found to work well for me individually over time.
Another question: why then, should we work so hard to develop our own abilities when we can just consult someone else who is more naturally talented at it then we are? It’s true; we can get information about our future or receive loving messages from our deceased relatives from a good, professional psychic. But, keep in mind that this other person will be delivering it to you second hand. If you do choose to consult a psychic, you must make sure that it is a person of a high moral caliber (and again, cares for your well-being!). Because when you consult a psychic, you are dealing with another human being who cannot help but deliver the information to you through the filter of their own existence. It can be often difficult to navigate what information belongs to you and what is rightfully someone else’s. It takes years of discipline and practice to master this. One of my psychic teachers used to refer to us during class as “tubes”, meaning that we are to learn to get out of the way and allow the information to flow unhindered, as if we are nothing but a tube to deliver the information. And, as always, trust your intuition when you are choosing someone to work with in a personal way who is delivering you guidance and advice. (Yes, I did just tell you to be psychic when choosing your psychic.)
Besides, why should we rely on second hand information that we got from someone else, when we all own these “extra senses” ourselves? We all dream, get gut feelings, can sense things, and so why not learn more about how they work so that we can “see” our own possible future? And, how differently would we live our lives on a daily basis if we could all use and rely on our “extra senses”? I believe that this use of our “extra senses” could be a part of a new phase in human evolution that would, in the future, require us to redefine the parameters of our own true potential. And, if we all used these abilities that are available to us, perhaps it would help us create a society here on planet earth that is more kind, loving, sensitive, and “of the soul and mind” for all beings everywhere.
Unlike some abilities which require you to “use it or lose it”, your own, unique psychic way of seeing is there, patiently waiting to be acknowledged and discovered. But, in order to use these “extra senses” to the best of our ability, we must first take a leap of faith in ourselves and begin to trust the information that we are receiving. Trusting ourselves is often the most difficult thing to do, and often we will take another person’s word for it before we will believe in our own innate psychic abilities. As we work to understand our own, unique way of accessing “our soul and our mind” we can also begin to unlock our true potential as human beings. Why not use all of the tools available to us as we struggle down this often rocky and always complicated road that we call life? To me, this is the most natural and normal thing that we can possibly ever do. How do I know this?
Well, I just do.