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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."[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 describe pyrokinesis as the ability to speed up the movement of molecules in order to increase temperature and start fires.[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 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]

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.[12]

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.[13]

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]


  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 (1 publ. ed.). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 637. ISBN 9780313329524. Retrieved 6 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Evens, Henry. (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. ^ "Fire 'seer' draws hundreds to Antique village". Retrieved 2013-11-07. 
  13. ^ "Sicilian fires recall nanny's 'witch' ordeal". The Scotsman. 2004-02-12. Retrieved 2015-03-05. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Taylor, John. (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

See also[edit]