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The medium Daniel Dunglas Home an alleged practitioner of pyrokinesis.

Pyrokinesis is an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to create and control fire with the mind.[1] There is no conclusive evidence that pyrokinesis is a real phenomenon. Alleged cases are said to be hoaxes, the result of trickery.[2][3]


The word 'pyrokinesis' was coined by horror novelist Stephen King in his 1980 novel Firestarter to describe the ability to create and control fire with the mind.[1] The word is intended to be parallel to telekinesis, with S.T. Joshi describing it as a "singularly unfortunate coinage" and noting that the correct analogy to telekinesis would "not be “pyrokinesis” but “telepyrosis” (fire from a distance)".[4] King is the first person to give the idea a name as neither the term pyrokinesis nor any other term describing the idea have been found in prior works.[5][6] Parapsychologists describe pyrokinesis as the ability to excite the atoms within an object until they generate enough energy to burst into flame.[7] Science fiction works define pyrokinesis as speeding up the movement of molecules in order to increase temperature.[8]


A. W. Underwood, a 19th-century African-American, achieved minor celebrity status with the purported ability to set items ablaze. Magicians and scientists have suggested concealed pieces of phosphorus may have instead been responsible.[3] The phosphorus could be readily ignited by breath or rubbing. Skeptical investigator Joe Nickell has written that Underwood may have used a "chemical-combustion technique, and still other means. Whatever the exact method — and the phosphorus trick might be the most likely — the possibilities of deception far outweigh any occult powers hinted at by Charles Fort or others."[3]

The medium Daniel Dunglas Home was known for performing fire feats and handling a heated lump of coal taken from a fire. The magician Henry R. Evans wrote that the coal handling was a juggling trick, performed by Home using a hidden piece of platinum.[9] Hereward Carrington described Evans hypothesis as "certainly ingenious" but pointed out William Crookes, an experienced chemist, was present at a séance whilst Home performed the feat and would have known how to distinguish the difference between coal and platinum.[10] Frank Podmore wrote that most of the fire feats could have easily be performed by conjuring tricks and sleight of hand but hallucination and sense-deception may have explained Crookes' claim about observing flames from Home's fingers.[11]

Joseph McCabe has written that Home's alleged feats of pyrokinesis were weak and unsatisfactory, he noted that they were performed in dark conditions amongst unreliable witnesses. McCabe suggested the coal handling was probably a "piece of asbestos from Home's pocket".[12]

In March 2011, a three-year-old girl in Antique Province, Philippines gained media attention for the supposed supernatural power to predict or create fires. The town mayor said he witnessed a pillow ignite after the girl said "fire... pillow." Others claimed to have witnessed the girl either predicting or causing fire without physical contact to the objects.[13]

Sometimes claims of pyrokinesis are published in the context of fire ghosts, such as Canneto di Caronia fires and earlier Italian case of young nanny, Carole Compton.[14]

Without some form of electromechanical device, such as a device to release several of the compounds that do spontaneously ignite upon contact with the oxygen in air (such as silane, a pyrophoric gas, or rubidium), or some form of triggering device located at the source of the fire, there is no scientifically-known method for the brain to trigger explosions and fires at a distance.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Joyce, Judith (2011). The Weiser Field Guide to the Paranormal. San Francisco, CA: Weiser Books. p. 159. ISBN 1609252985. 
  2. ^ Stein, Gordon; Gardner, Martin (1993). Encyclopedia of Hoaxes. Detroit: Gale Research. pp. 161–164. ISBN 0-8103-8414-0. 
  3. ^ a b c Nickell, Joe (2004). Mystery Chronicles: More Real-Life X-Files. Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 56–60. ISBN 978-0813123189. 
  4. ^ Joshi, S.T. (2001). The Modern Weird Tale. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. p. 75. ISBN 978-0-7864-0986-0. Retrieved 6 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Muir, John Kenneth (2001). An Analytical Guide to Television's One Step Beyond, 1959-1961. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland. pp. 77–78. ISBN 978-0-7864-0969-3. 
  6. ^ McCrossan, John A. (2000). Books and Reading in the Lives of Notable Americans: A Biographical Sourcebook ([Online-Ausg.] ed.). Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press. p. 144. ISBN 0-313-30376-2. 
  7. ^ a b Gresh, Lois H.; Weinberg, Robert (2007). The Science of Stephen King: From Carrie to Cell, The Terrifying Truth Behind the Horror Masters Fiction. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley & Sons. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-0-471-78247-6. Retrieved 5 September 2014. 
  8. ^ Westfahl, Gary; Gaiman, Neil (2005). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy (1st ed.). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 637. ISBN 9780313329524. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Evens, Henry R. (1897). Hours With the Ghosts Or Nineteenth Century Witchcraft. Laird & Lee, Publishers. pp. 106-107. "The "coal" is a piece of spongy platinum which bears a close resemblance to a lump of half burnt coal, and is palmed in the hand, as a prestidigitateur conceals a coin, a pack of cards, an egg, or a small lemon. The medium or magician advances to the grate and pretends to take a genuine lump of coal from the fire but brings up instead at the tops of his fingers, the piece of platinum."
  10. ^ Carrington, Hereward. (1907). The Physical Phenomena of Spiritualism. Herbert B. Turner & Co. p. 404
  11. ^ Podmore, Frank. (1910). Chapter Levitation and the Fire Ordeal. In The Newer Spiritualism. Henry Holt and Company. pp. 55-86.
  12. ^ McCabe, Joseph. (1920). Is Spiritualism Based On Fraud? The Evidence Given By Sir A. C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London Watts & Co. pp. 78-80
  13. ^ "Fire 'seer' draws hundreds to Antique village". Retrieved 2013-11-07. 
  14. ^ "Sicilian fires recall nanny's 'witch' ordeal". The Scotsman. 2004-02-12. Retrieved 2015-03-05. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gordon Stein. (1993). Encyclopedia of Hoaxes. Gale Research. ISBN 0-8103-8414-0
  • John G. Taylor. (1980). Science and the Supernatural: An Investigation of Paranormal Phenomena Including Psychic Healing, Clairvoyance, Telepathy, and Precognition by a Distinguished Physicist and Mathematician. Temple Smith. ISBN 0-85117-191-5