An experiment in “physical clairvoyance”

Over the last few years, there’s been a bit of an uptick in books about developing “psychic abilities.” I put that phrase in quotes not because I’m looking to call the existence of such things into question, but rather because it’s often used as a kind of umbrella term.

Precognition, telepathy, spirit communication—the term “psychic” or “psychic phenomena” is applied to all of these and more. So when an author offers to help you build your own psychic potential, you usually have to go digging a bit to figure out exactly what they’re describing.

Overall, though, the general thinking here is that human beings (some if not all) have certain, innate senses which don’t seem to fit in with the “mundane” five we’re all familiar with. And, with proper training and practice, these “extra” senses can be worked like muscles at the gym, resulting in better performance.

Many of the “psychic improvement” books I’ve read seem to be of reasonable quality, or at least they offer some useful exercises in concentration, meditation, and listening to your own intuition. That said, not all of these books are created equally, and a few are…less than good.

I won’t name and shame here, nor am I aiming to put out any book recommendations. Rather, I wanted to say that the public’s increasing interest in psychic development reminded me of something from my very early days of magical study.

Touching things with Aleister Crowley

It was sometime around 1990, when I was about thirteen years old, that I first stumbled onto the writings of Aleister Crowley, an English occultist I’m certain you’ve not only heard of, but also have strong opinions about. I won’t get into my own thoughts about the man here, save to say that in my circle of friends we tend to refer to him as the “creepy uncle” of the Western, esoteric tradition.

One of the earliest papers of his which I read was titled Liber E vel Exercitiorum and it contained, among other things, a simple exercise under the heading “Physical Clairvoyance.” Here’s a slightly abridged version of this exercise:

  1. Take a pack of Tarot cards. Shuffle; cut. Draw one card. Without looking at it, try to name it. Write down the card you name, and the actual card. Repeat, and tabulate results.
  2. Remember that one should expect to name the right card once in 78 times. Also be careful to exclude all possibilities of obtaining the knowledge through the ordinary senses of sight and touch, or even smell. There was once a man whose fingertips were so sensitive that he could feel the shape and position of the pips and so judge the card correctly.
  3. It is better to try first the easier form of the experiment, by guessing only the suit.
  4. Remember that in 78 experiments you should obtain 22 trumps and 14 of each other suit; so that without any clairvoyance at all, you can guess right twice in 7 times (roughly) by calling trumps each time.
  5. As you progress you will find that you are able to distinguish the suit correctly three times in four and that very few indeed inharmonious errors occur, while in 78 experiments you are able to name the card aright as many as 15 or 20 times.

My teenaged brain loved the implications of this experiment. Not only did it seem to promise magical (or “psychic”) powers, but it provided a means by which to quantitatively measure your development.

If it looks like science, it’s gotta be science, right?

It’s a fun experiment to try, and relatively easy to pull off. There are a couple of stumbling blocks, though, which bugged me a bit whenever I came back to this exercise over the years.

First, my Tarot decks don’t tend to stay pristine for very long. Countless hours of shuffling has given every card of every one of my decks its own unique character—by which I mean they’re warped, with a wrinkle here and there. That’s how I like ‘em, so don’t judge me.

Second, doing out the probability math can get a bit tedious with the Tarot, thanks both to the varying numbers of cards in the suits, as well as the need to consider “harmonious” errors (like naming “The Tower” when you draw the “Five of Wands”) as being at least partial successes.

The general idea behind the exercise seems solid enough, though.

What if we tossed the Tarot cards and tried a different sort of deck?

Physical Clairvoyance v2.0

Let’s say we stick with a regular pack of fifty-two playing cards. We can buy a new pack without any dings or wrinkles, toss the advertising cards and jokers, and voila! We have a clean deck with exactly the same number of cards in each of the four suits.

Playing cards have been used for divination even longer than the Tarot. And, like the Tarot, each of the four suits has a general, traditional meaning:

  • Hearts are considered very positive, often meaning love or emotional fulfillment.
  • Diamonds are pretty good, and usually associated with material success.
  • Clubs are a little more challenging, and while they can mean success or accomplishments, it’s the sort which is only gained after hard work.
  • Spades aren’t very good at all, and usually mean struggles, arguments, or more serious challenges.

You might have your own associations and that’s fine. Use ‘em if you’ve got them.

We’re going to shuffle these cards thoroughly, then try Crowley’s version of the experiment wherein we want to guess only the suit of the card we pull. We’re also going to keep a running score, so grab a piece of paper and a pencil or pen.

When you’re ready, shuffle the deck, give it a cut, then draw a card without looking. With the card in your hand, take a minute or two to sit with and feel its energy.

Once you think you know which suit it belongs to, look at the card and see if you were right or wrong.

Write down the card you guessed, what the actual card was, and how many points you earned for that guess. Give yourself two points for an exact match (calling “Diamonds” and actually getting a Diamond). Give yourself one point if you guessed the wrong suit, but got the same color (calling “Hearts” and getting a Diamond). If you didn’t even get the color right, give yourself no points.

Now, unless you have far more patience than I do, you probably don’t want to go through the whole pack of cards in a single sitting. Instead, try it with five cards. You want to take your time settling in, and take your time with each card, but the whole exercise shouldn’t take you more than about fifteen minutes.

When guessing five cards using this scoring system, assuming your guesses are totally random, you can expect to get three or four points on average. A ten would be a perfect score, meaning you guessed the correct suit all five times.

It probably can go without saying, but this is an exercise designed to be done regularly, over a long period of time. This is both because we’re aiming to “psychic muscles” a workout, but also because small sample sizes can be very deceiving when doing these kinds of experiments. It’s entirely possible that you’ll guess all five cards right on your first try, but you probably wouldn’t want to take that result too seriously. Nor should you be disappointed if you don’t get a single card right.

Rather, shoot for five cards in a session, and try to do around three sessions per week. That’s over seven hundred guesses over the course of a year, which will give you a lot of data to play with.

Personally, I’d suggest using a spreadsheet to track your results, but I’m kind of a nerd. Do whatever works for you. The important thing is to be able to ask and answer at least some of the following questions.

  1. What is your average score each day?
  2. Does your average daily score improve over time?
  3. Do you get a better score if you perform this experiment right after meditation?
  4. Do you get a better score if you perform this experiment right after divination?
  5. Is there some ritual you can do to improve your score?
  6. Do you get a better score on certain days of the week, or during certain times of the day?
  7. Are your guesses more accurate when the card you draw is a certain number? Large? Small? Face cards?
  8. Do you tend to guess one suit more than the others? Are those guesses more or less likely to be right?

I’m sure you can see that there’s a lot of room to play here, and that’s a big part of the reason while even after more than thirty years, I still come back to some version of this exercise now and then.

I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.