For the purposes of this question, by telekinesis I mean the generalized ability to pick up and move most objects at will, not the ability to move a particular object under specific circumstances (like having a weapon return to one's grip).

Psychokinesis might be the most common power of a "magic" workers in popular culture, but in myth and folklore it seems uncommon. Essentially the earliest descriptions I have been able to find of it come from 1800s mediums, only around 50 years before the word was coined. So I am wondering if the concept of telekinesis as we know it is purely a modern(ish) invention or if there is actually a folkloric or mythological background. I am open to any examples (mystics, monks, wizards, shaman, ect). Thank you!

  • Does Moses parting the Red Sea count?
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 11:21
  • 1
    Commanding invisible spirits to move thing doesn't cut it? Because off the top of my head, I think it would be explained as that.
    – Mary
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 17:04
  • @Chenmunka I thought of that as being close, but in context it seems less like a true "power" per say, and more of a boon granted to Moses by God under specific circumstances for a specific purpose. Based on the story as I understand it, he would not of been thought capable of then levitating a boulder or such, just being the instrument of God's power under specific circumstances. I may be in error though as I am not very familiar with the Bible.
    – 99a99
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 21:40
  • @Mary Commanding invisible spirits produces a similar effect, but since then it's more of a power of communication or bargaining it isn't quite the same in my opinion. Though that does bring to mind why a power that seems so simple and easy to describe would be relatively rare or absent. Because people in supernatural folklore/myth tended to anthropomorphize objects/forces so much that it was actually might of been more of a leap for someone to work magic without some kind of bargaining or communication.
    – 99a99
    Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 1:22

1 Answer 1


There is a tale in the Mahabharata (ca. 400 BCE) about Shakuni manipulating the outcome of dice throws so that his opponent loses his kingdom and his wife until Krsna intervenes and saves the woman from rape.

There's also a so-called technique called "touchless knockout" in martial arts that is described as being "mastered" in various texts dating long before the 1800s, usually described as "flowery boxing(花拳)". A period that sees many of these "schools" claiming such techniques appearing is the late Ming-Early Qing Dynasties (ca. 1640) as a reaction to the rising Manchu influence and ultimate dominion in imperial China. The Manchu had a ruthless, aggressive fighting style, so the "flowery boxing" is regarded as a (not very effective) cultural countermovement.

Martial arts practice during the Qing was generally discussed by martial artists using terms specific to the system of practice itself. The most common way for them to refer to their practice was by name. systems such as plum flower boxing (梅花拳), eight trigrams boxing (八卦拳), etc. were generally discussed by name without a generic term being applied. For those who were attempting to classify martial arts practices, a distinction was usually made between the so called External School (外家), which were considered to focus on muscular and physical strength, and the Internal School (内家), which were defined by their focus on meditation and strength derived from the manipulation of qi (气), or internal life force. This language used primarily by martial artists defined their practice by the specific set of techniques or skills they studied and grouped them by what those practices had in common. - from Internal Cultivation or External Strength?: Claiming Martial Arts in the Qing Period

  • Fascinating! Thank you, I thought that India was the best bet. Glad to see an example.
    – 99a99
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 18:26

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