Mentalism: Where Did it Come From?
Updated: May 12
EARLY History of Mentalism
Mentalism, also known as mental magic, is a performance art that involves creating illusions of psychic abilities such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and mind-reading. The history of mentalism dates back to the late 19th century, when performers began to incorporate elements of spiritualism and hypnotism into their acts. Even going back to the days of the Old Testament of the Bible, people such as fortune-tellers or “oracles” would be regarded as god-like figures and while there was very little knowledge to back-up mentalism at the time, many historians have concluded that the people at the time were witnessing the work of early mentalists.
During the early 20th century, mentalism became a popular form of entertainment in Europe and the United States. Performers like Houdini, Dunninger, and Kreskin popularized mentalism tricks and techniques, such as the use of concealed devices, sleight of hand, and suggestion to create convincing illusions.
The Decline and Resurgence
In the post-World War II era, mentalism experienced a decline in popularity, as people became more skeptical of psychic claims and more aware of the methods used by mentalists. However, the art form experienced a resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s, as performers like Uri Geller and The Amazing Kreskin gained fame for their psychic abilities. Additionally, several theorists decided to take a stance on whether the emergence of scientific theory was leading to the growing disbelief in magic. In fact, writers continue to debate the topic even today, such as David Wootton’s The Invention of Science, which suggests that science “must” be responsible for shifting attitudes to magic and Michael Hunter’s The Decline of Magic which, contradicting this, argues that the science of the scientific revolution actually left a lot of possibility for the continued belief in magic.
Today, mentalism has become a respected and popular form of entertainment, with mentalists performing in theaters, on television, and at corporate events. The art of mentalism has evolved to include elements of psychology, hypnosis, and neuroscience, as mentalists seek to create even more convincing illusions of psychic abilities.
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