Strange Powers - Introduction

The selection of unusual characters presented in this section represent what are generally called 'paranormal', psychic or 'supernatural' powers and abilities. These 'wild talents' as Charles Fort, pioneer collector of strange phenomena, called them, can take many forms. Unfortunately, due to the anecdotal nature of the vast majority of the evidence, none of these claimed abilities are recognized by science. 

Powers of the mind are the most predominant, and in the case of alleged psychics like Matthew Manning and Nina Kulagina, include ESP (extrasensory perception), telepathy, and the apparent ability to move objects using the mind alone - psychokinesis for short). Clairvoyant healing and prophecy were among the abilities claimed for that strangely talented individual Edgar Cayce. Some individuals in this section, like Lurancy Vennum (possession) and the mysterious Indian fakir (extreme mind powers)  allegedly buried alive for nine months, only seemed to acquire their unusual abilities when entering into a deep trance state. Odd and often unique talents are detailed in the cases of Bottineau (remote viewing), J. Raoul Derosiers (dowsing, x-ray vision), and A.W. Underwood (fire breathing). Mind control and Hypnotism are also represented in the rather sinister, though unproven case of Candy Jones.

The characters included are spread over a fairly wide time period, from Lurancy Vennum in 1870s Illinois, right up to the present with English psychic healer Matthew Manning. On the whole their abilities changed their lives for a short time, but, with the exception of Matthew Manning and dowser J Raoul Derosiers, did not bring them any great benefit in the long run. Indeed, in the latter part of their lives both Lurancy Vennum and Nina Kulagina hid from the publicity surrounding their talent.

The often unverifiable nature of such powers has led to a plethora of charlatans and frauds. Psychic abilities are very often down to downright fakery, whether by skilled magicians or even by ordinary people and much of the public are too often willing to believe on too little evidence. It is even possible that one day there may turn out to be rational or prosaic explanations for most of the occurrences described in this section, though at the moment I doubt it. Unfortunately, though the evidence for what took place in these cases is abundant, it is almost always anecdotal, and so often impossible to prove.   

That a large amount of people can be hoaxed over an extended period of time is best evidenced by the Mary Willcocks - Princess Caraboo case, which though not involving paranormal activity, should serve as a warning to all involved in the investigation of person-centered unexplained phenomena.

Understandably, bearing in mind the number of charlatans in the field, scientists have at best shown mild curiosity and some annoyance at those professing psychic, healing or other strange powers. However, both Manning and Kulagina were tested by men of science, though the standards of these tests varied considerably and the results were not published or are difficult to obtain. It would be fascinating to know what such experiments would have made of Lurancy Vennum, the Indian fakir, or 18th century remote viewer Bottineau.  

Current interest in strange and unexplained powers is at a high, mainly due to the profusion of show business magicians, TV shows dedicated to the paranormal, and the internet, with its online psychics, healers and tarot card readers. Though whether these people have anything in common with the mysterious characters detailed in this chapter is questionable. At best, the strange and unique lives of many of the characters in this collection of human enigmas allow people a glimpse of something away from the routine, something that can take you beyond the bounds of the everyday, and into another, often fantastical world. As such we should value them. The world needs those rare individuals that make us feel that anything is possible for ourselves, if only we dare to imagine it.  

Copyright 2005 by Brian Haughton. All Rights Reserved.

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