Glossary of Terms in Mentalism

Explore key concepts in mentalism and mental magic

About this Glossary

Explore our Glossary of important terms in mentalism and mental magic.

All definitions in this Glossary have been composed by Michael Daniels

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Animal Magnetism
A term coined by F.A. Mesmer to refer to a putative force or fluid capable of being transmitted from one person to another, producing healing effects. See also Mesmerism.
A physical object which appears in a way that cannot be explained (seeming to come from nowhere). Apports are often associated with the seance room and physical mediumship. Cf. deport. See also materialization, teleportation.
A field of energy believed by some to surround living creatures. Certain clairvoyants claim to be able to see the aura (generally as a luminous, coloured halo). See also Kirlian photography.
Automatic Art
See automatism.
Automatic Writing
The ability to write intelligible messages without apparent conscious control or knowledge of what is being written. See also automatism, dissociation.
Physical activites (e.g., arm movements, writing, drawing, musical performance) that occur without the automatist's apparent conscious control or knowledge. Also known as motor automatism.


Barnum Effect
A common tendency to find personal meaning in statements that are so general they could apply to anyone. Often exploited in cold reading.
Billet Reading
Procedure in which a question is secretly written on a piece of paper which is folded or sealed in an envelope, and handed to the mentalist who attempts to answer the question.
Black Art
Method of concealing objects using black covers against a black background.
Book Test
An effect in which the mentalist reveals the words written on a particular page of a book.


A box or curtained enclosure in which the magician is secured and from which various phenomena may manifest (e.g., lights, objects moving, instruments played).
Card Guessing
An experimental test for ESP in which people guess the identity of a set of cards (e.g., playing cards or Zener cards).
Fortune telling using cards. See also tarot.
Card Stack System
An elaborately prearranged deck of cards that, when memorised, permits various magical and mentalism effects. Well known examples are the Aronson, Si Stebbins, Tamariz and Nikola systems.
Center Tear Method
A sleight of hand method for obtaining information that a spectator has secretly written on a folded piece of paper.
Receiving messages and inspiration from apparent discarnate entities. See also medium.
Cipher Test
A coded message left by a person who intends to communicate the cipher after death.
The paranormal obtaining of information by hearing sounds or voices. See also clairvoyance, clairsentience.
An archaic term that refers to the paranormal obtaining of information using faculties other than vision or hearing. Cf. clairaudience, clairvoyance,
A general term that refers to the paranormal obtaining of information about an object or event. In modern usage, this does not necessarily refer to obtaining information visually. Cf. clairaudience, clairsentience, ESP, psi.
A person claiming to experience clairvoyance. See also clairvoyant medium.
Clairvoyant Medium
Or clairvoyant. A person who obtains information paranormally (often by spirit communication) without the need to enter into a trance state. Cf. trance medium.
Cold Reading
A reading given with no prior knowledge of the sitter. Often a mixture of very general Barnum-type statements which could apply to anyone, together with inferences made from cues presented by the sitter (e.g., physical appearance, clothes, tone of voice, statements made). Cf. hot reading.
A apparent audience member who secretly assists or provides information to a magician or mentalist.
Using trickery to simulate paranormal effects, generally for the purpose of entertainment.
Contact Mind Reading
A technique simulating telepathy, in which the mentalist (who generally holds a hand or arm) responds to slight muscle movements produced unconsciously by the person whose mind is apparently being read. Also known as muscle reading, Cumberlandism or Hellstromism.
Knowledge (acquired in normal ways) that may be revealed without the person remembering its source. Such memories may falsely appear to be paranormal revelations. Sometimes cryptomnesia is used as an explanation for apparently paranormal experiences such as xenoglossy or past-life memories.
Crystal Gazing
Staring into a reflecting surface (e.g., mirror, glass, crystal, liquid) in order to obtain paranormal information. Also known as scrying.
See contact mind reading.


The paranormal fading or disappearance of a physical object. See also deport.
The paranormal movement of objects out of a secure enclosed space. Cf. apport. See also dematerialization, teleportation.
Direct Voice
A voice heard in a seance which does not seem to emanate from any person. The voice may seem to come out of thin air, or from a trumpet used specifically for this purpose. Cf. indirect voice.
Discarnate Entity
A spirit or non-material entity. Often used to refer to the personality of a deceased individual. See also channeling, mediumship.
Activity performed outside of normal conscious awareness, or mental processes that suggest the existence of separate centres of consciousness. See also trance.
Practices involving the interpretation of signs or symbols that seek to obtain knowledge of events.
Divining Rod
A forked rod (or sometimes a pair of L-shaped rods) used in dowsing.
The paranormal detection of underground water or mineral deposits (or lost persons and objects) using a divining rod or pendulum.


A semi-fluid substance exuded by a physical medium from which materializations may form.
See Extrasensory Perception.
ESP Cards
See Zener Cards.
Extrasensory Perception (ESP)
Paranormal acquisition of information. Includes clairvoyance, telepathy and precognition. See also psi.


Faith Healing
Healing that is associated with prayer or belief in Divine power.
False Cut
A method for apparently cutting a deck of cards fairly, but actually leaving the cards in the same order, or a another desired order.
False Shuffle
A method for apparently shuffling a deck of cards fairly, but actually leaving the cards in the same order, or a another desired order.
Fire Walking
Walking on red-hot coals, without pain or damage to the feet.
A method that forces a spectator to unwittingly choose a particular item.
Fortune Telling
Various practices which aim to divine future events. See also divination.
The deliberate faking of paranormal phenomenena, generally for the purpose of financial gain, psychological manipulation, or notoriety. Faking for the purpose of entertainment (e.g., by stage magicians and mentalists) is not normally classed as fraud.


Any small concealed apparatus that is used to produce a magical effect.
Secretly looking at a card or other item.


Someone who claims the power of healing.
Generally indicates cures that cannot be explained in terms of accepted medical principles. See also faith healing, psychic healing, spirit cures.
A term for contact mind reading.named after Alex Hellstrom who developed the technique.
A response that accurately matches the target. Cf. miss.
Hot Reading
A reading given in which prior knowledge of the sitter has been obtained, often using devious or fraudulent means. Cf. cold reading.
See hyperaesthesia.
Exceptionally acute sensory awareness.
A psychological state involving a heightened degree of suggestibility. See also Mesmerism, stage hypnosis.
See hypnosis.


(a) An appearance that leads the person to draw mistaken conclusions.
(b) In magic, a perceptual trick; alternatively, a large-scale trick.
Indirect Voice
Mediumistic phenomenon in which the discarnate entity appears to speak using the vocal apparatus of the medium. Often the voice will sound very different from the medium's normal voice. Cf. direct voice.
Instrumental Transcommunication
Use of recording equipment to produce evidence interpreted as communication from deceased persons or other entitites. See also. Raudive voices, pareidolia.
The non-paranormal ability to grasp the elements of a situation or to draw conclusions about complex events in ways that go beyond a purely rational or intellectual analysis.



Key Card
A known card that is used to locate a spectator's chosen card.
Kirlian Photography
A photographic method involving high frequency electric current, discovered by S.D. & V. Kirlian in the Soviet Union. Kirlian photographs often show coloured halos or "auras" surrounding objects.


The raising or suspension of an object or person without apparent means of support.
Link System
A mnemonic system for remembering lists of items by associating each item with the next, creating a story line.
Luminous Phenomena
The experience of strange lights or glows, often around objects or people. See also aura.


Major System
A mnemonic system for remembering numbers by associating each integer with the sound of particular consonants. Number sequences are committed to memory by linking the consonant sounds together with arbitrary vowels to form memorable words or phrases. Also known as the phonetic mnemonic system.
An alternative term for hit.
See mathematical magic.
Mathematical Magic
Mentalism effects that are based on mathematical principles. Generally these are wholly or partly self-working. Sometimes called mathemagic.
The formation of a visible and tangible object or human shape during a seance. Cf. apport.
A person believed to act as an intermediary between discarnate entities and the living. See also clairvoyant medium, trance medium, mental mediumship, physical mediumship.
Activity of a medium.
Memory System
See mnemonic.
A branch of magic involving the simulation of psi.
A magician who practices mentalism.
Mental Mediumship
The paranormal obtaining of information by a medium. Cf. physical mediumship.
A system of healing developed by F.A. Mesmer, involving the induction of trance states and the supposed transfer of animal magnetism. People in Mesmeric trance often showed paranormal abilities such as clairvoyance.
Metal Bending
Apparently psychokinetic ability to bend metal objects. A phenomenon popularised by Uri Geller.
Method of loci
A mnemonic system for remembering items by forming associations between each item and particular locations in an imagined scene or journey.
Mind Control
Tricks or other methods for influencing a person's thoughts and behavior.
Mind Reading
See telepathy.
Techniques used by magicians and mentalists to distract a person's attention or confuse their thinking.
A mismatch between the target and response. Cf. hit.
A technique for aiding memory. See Link System, Major System, Method of Loci, Peg System.
A person who has learned mnemonic techniques that enable extraordinary feats of memory.
Motor Automatism
See Automatism
Muscle Reading
See contact mind reading.


Nail Writer
A magical gimmick that allows the performer to secretly write a message on a piece of paper. Similar in method to a thumb writer.
Newspaper Test
An effect in which a mentalist predicts a future newspaper item.
A system of divination involving the interpretation of numbers.


Object Reading
See psychometry.
One-Ahead Principle
In mentalism, a procedure for sequentially revealing information where the revealing of one item gives the mentalist the next answer.
Optical Illusion
An visual image that gives a false picture or interpretation of what is being seen.
Ouija Board
A board with letters and numbers on which messages are spelled out by unconsciously moving (with the fingers) a glass or planchette. See also automatism.
In magic and mentalism, a convincing explanation for an apparent failure, or a convincing alternative ending to an effect that has not worked as planned.


Secretly hiding an object in the hand.
The art of assessing a person's character and forecasting life events by examining features of the hand. See also divination.
Beside or beyond the normal. Inexplicable in terms of our ordinary understanding or current scientific knowledge.
Term coined by J.B. Rhine to refer to the experimental and quantitative study of paranormal phenomena. Now generally used instead of "psychical research" to refer to all scientific investigation of the paranormal.
Psychological tendency to interpret a random stimulus (especially a sound or visual pattern) as meaningful. See also. instrumental transcommunication, Raudive voices.
Past-Life Memories
Mental images that are believed to be memories of previous lives. See also past-life regression.
Past-Life Regression
A technique of hypnosis involving regressing people to supposed previous lives.
The talk used by a magician when performing a trick. Often used to misdirect the audience.
Peg System
A mnemonic system for remembering lists by associating each item with pre-remembered words ("pegs") that represent each number in the list. Often combined with peg words generated using the Major System
An object suspended by a thread. Movements of a pendulum are often used by mentalists or dowsers to locate objects or answer questions.
Person who receives impressions in an ESP test.
Phonetic mnemonic system
See Major System.
The reading of character and mental ability from the shape of a person's skull.
Physical Mediumship
The production of paranormal physical phenomena (e.g., lights, sounds, materialization, levitation) by a medium. Physical mediumship often (but not always) involves a state of trance. See also mental mediumship.
Picture Drawing
An ESP test in which the person attempts to draw impressions of the target.
See psychokinesis
A small platform on casters generally used with a ouija board. Sometimes used with an attached pencil to produce automatic writing.
German word meaning "noisy or troublesome spirit". Poltergeist activity may include unexplained noises, movements of objects, outbreaks of fire, floods, pricks or scratches to a person's body.
The paranormal awareness of future events. See also prediction, premonition, prophecy.
A statement that claims to foretell future events. Cf. premonition, precognition, prophecy.
Prediction Chest
Magical apparatus that allows the performer to reveal a previously sealed prediction.
An experience believed to foretell future events. See also prediction, precognition, prophecy.
(a) A prediction, usually resulting from a sense of spiritual revelation.
(b) The ability to receive prophetic revelations.
Proxy Sitting
A seance in which another person sits in on behalf of the person receiving a communication.
A term used to encompass all paranormal abilities. Includes both ESP and PK abilities.
A person who exhibits or claims psi ability (also used as an adjective).
Psychical Research
Term coined in the late 19th century to refer to the scientific study of the paranormal. Now largely superseded by "parapsychology".
Psychic Healing
Forms of healing using psychic powers. See also psychic surgery.
Psychic Photography
General term used to refer to paranormal photographic images. See also Kirlian photography, spirit photography, thoughtography.
Psychic Surgery
Actual or simulated surgical procedures carried out by healers.
Psychokinesis (PK)
The paranormal influence of the mind on physical events and processes.
Psychological Force
A method that uses psychological principles to influence a spectator to make a particular choice.
Obtaining paranormal knowledge using a physical object as a focus. Also known as object reading.
Pyramid Power
Belief that pyramid shapes can produce paranormal effects.



Theories based on the assumption that living organisms emit some kind of radiation or emanation that is capable of being detected using instruments or by dowsing. See also aura.
The name given to unexplained knocking sounds associated with physical mediumship and poltergeist activity.
Raudive Voices
Intelligible voices recorded on magnetic tape under conditions of silence or random hiss (white noise) which are heard only when the tape is played. A phenomenon discovered by Konstantin Raudive. See also. instrumental transcommunication, pareidolia.
Information given by a psychic or medium to a sitter. See also cold reading, hot reading.
See percipient.
Remote Viewing (RV)
An ESP procedure in which a percipient attempts to become aware psychically of the experience of an agent who is at a distant, unknown target location.
Paranormal knowledge of past events.


A person inclined to discount the reality of the paranormal and to be critical of parapsychological research. Generally seeks rational or scientific explanations for the phenomena studied by parapsychologists and psychical researchers.
See crystal gazing.
A mediumistic session.
Second Sight
Another name for clairvoyance.
Selective Memory
A common tendency to remember information that relates to the self and to forget unrelated information. This is often exploited by psychics and mentalists who may rely on sitters remembering correct elements of a reading and forgetting incorrect elements.
A magical effect that works automatically and requires little or no skill in performance. Often these effects are based on mathematical principles.
Another name for a psychic.
Sherlock Holmes Technique
Making inferences about a person, based on detailed observation. Often exploited in cold reading.
A person who has a session with a medium or psychic.
A seance.
Sixth Sense
Popular term for ESP.
See sceptic.
Writing that appears on a slate during a seance. Often produced by fraudulent mediums and mentalists.
Spirit Cabinet
See cabinet.
Spirit Communication
In mediumship, a message purported to be from a discarnate entity.
Spirit Cure
Healing that is believed to result from the intervention of spirits.
Spirit Photography
Photographs of figures or faces, believed by some to be those of deceased persons. These photographs are generally revealed as fraudulent.
Spiritualism (Spiritism)
Religious doctrines that advocate communication between the living and the spirits of the dead using a medium as intermediary.
Spoon Bending
Effect in which a spoon or other cutlery is apparently bent or snapped using psychokinesis. See also metal bending.
Stage Hypnosis
A stage act in which members of the audience are apparently hypnotised and made to behave in amusing and sometimes outrageous ways.
Stereotype Thinking
Making inferences about a person based on their membership of certain groupings (for example, based on their gender, age, accent or ethnicity). Often exploited in cold reading.
Unexplained markings on a person's body that correspond to the wounds of Christ.
A confederate who, while pretending to be an innocent member of the audience, secretly assists the magician or mentalist.
Street Magic
Casual magic performed on the street, generally using everyday items.
A term used by C.G. Jung to refer to coincidental events that are meaningfully but not causally connected.


Mysterious movements of a table, usually occurring in a seance when a group of people place their hands on the surface of the table. Often the movements are interpreted as spirit communications. Also known as table-turning or table-tipping.
See table-tilting.
The object or event which the person attempts to perceive (ESP tests) or influence (PK tests).
A special deck of cards (usually 78) used in fortune telling.
Paranormal movement of objects.
Paranormal awareness of another person's experience (thoughts, feelings, etc.). In practice it is difficult to distinguish between telepathy and clairvoyance. See also ESP.
Paranormal transportation of objects to a distant place. See also apport, deport.
Paranormal ability to produce images on photographic film (e.g., by concentrating on a mental image). Most famously demonstrated by Ted Serios. See also psychic photography.
Thought Transference
See telepathy
Thumb Tip
A magical gimmick that allows the performer to hide small objects in the hand.
Thumb Writer
A magical gimmick that allows the performer to secretly write a message on a piece of paper. Similar in principle to a nail writer.
A dissociated psychological state, generally involving reduced awareness of surroundings and of external events.
Trance Medium
A person who enters a state of trance in order to produce mediumistic phenomena.
In psi tests, a single attempt to demonstrate paranormal ability.
A conical tube (often luminous) used in seances to produce direct voice communication.
Two-person telepathy
A mentalism act in which one performer apparently communicates telepathically to another performer, often using a well-rehearsed verbal code. See also Zancig code.



Verbal Code
A method of secretly communicating information to another performer by using particular words or vocalisations that represent that information .See also Zancig Code.



The ability to speak or write in a language that has not been learned.



Zancig Code
An elaborate verbal code used to communicate information in a two-person telepathy act.
Zener Cards
Set of 25 cards (5 each of circle, square, Greek cross, five-pointed star, three wavy lines) designed by the perceptual psychologist Karl Zener for use in card-guessing tests of ESP. Also known as ESP cards.


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