Photos by Hugo Denis-Queinec
Jean-Pierre Girard in his teaching uniform, showing off his physique.
Shit. I’ve been determinedly rubbing this metal skewer for more than 25 minutes and it still doesn’t want to bend. I’m doing everything my metal-bending teacher, Jean-Pierre Girard, has instructed me to: I’m wearing green, stroking the rod tenderly, and focusing all my mental energy on making it curve. Yet no matter how hard I try, this piece of steel stubbornly clings to the laws of physics. I’m sitting at my grandparents’ house the day after attending Jean-Pierre’s two-day seminar, and I’m starting to regret the $295 I paid him to discover the hidden telekinetic powers of my brain.
Since 1974, Jean-Pierre has hosted these psychokinetic seminars every other month or so. He calls himself a “psi subject,” meaning he possesses extrasensory abilities that allow him to accomplish spectacular physical feats using only the power of his mind. In practice, most of his exercises involve bending metal rods, but in his autobiography, Influencing Matter, he wrote that psychokinesis can potentially “destroy a cruise missile in flight or cause arrhythmias from a distance.” Jean-Pierre says that his powers manifested when he was seven years old after being struck by lightning while mushroom hunting. He also claims the CIA kidnapped him in 1979, back when the spooks were experimenting with how psychic phenomena could help them remotely spy on people and places.
According to Jean-Pierre, anyone can tap into and hone their inner supernatural powers. Or at least enough people to support his livelihood by continuing to pay the hefty price tag for his classes. I attended one of his fabled seminars in July, which was held in a Parisian magnetic healer’s dispensary. Fellow attendees included a few requisite magick/paranormal nerds, a couple of metalheads, and a lot of yuppies who looked like they owned art galleries.
The psychokineticist starter kit, which includes a metal rod, a psi wheel, and, of course, Jean-Pierre’s autobiography.
The session began promptly at 10 AM, and the class arrived to find Jean-Pierre waiting for us in a tight red sleeveless T-shirt that showed off his biceps, which were especially impressive given that he was 70 years old. He looked more like a personal trainer trying to sell juice machines than a psychic, making it easy to picture him at the height of his fame in the 70s, when he was frequently invited to showcase his powers on television. Scientists and magicians quickly discredited most of the self-proclaimed psychokineticists from that era (and there were many), but no one has ever been able to figure out exactly how Jean-Pierre bent all those spoons on live TV. And until someone does discredit him, we have no other choice but to believe that he could have supernatural powers.
The first day of the seminar began with a presentation that served as an introduction to the functions of the brain and Jean-Pierre’s colorful personal life; strangely enough this also included information about his romantic endeavors. During a PowerPoint slide show he expounded on the hemispheres of the brain and mentioned that he “really enjoyed Japanese girls.” When the discussion turned to his time with the CIA, he said, “Those fuckers used me as a special agent for 11 years.” OK, Jean-Pierre, I thought, Ooooo-K.
Jean-Pierre lectured on neurology in the mornings, but he quickly bored everyone.
We got down to business around 11:30, when Jean-Pierre distributed metal rods to the 15 students before calmly instructing us to bend the bars with our minds. Luckily, he provided a few tips: Envision the rods as animals, softly rub them with your index and middle fingers, focus the right hemisphere of your brain by shutting your left nostril. But ten long minutes later, despite his guidance, the bars were as rigid as ever. Jean-Pierre then instructed us to think about the color green, which apparently has the ability to “stir up the molecules” and, thus, move objects.
No matter how hard I concentrated on shooting kinetic energy out of my brain, my rod remained unbent. Looking around, the rest of my class wasn’t doing any better. Some students didn’t appear to be trying very hard, though—Bruno, a 25-year-old goateed martial-arts expert, spent the morning texting his girlfriend. His indifference prompted Jean-Pierre to snap, “You might as well go fuck yourself if you’re not interested in how your brain works!” I couldn’t have agreed more.
Jean-Pierre demonstrating his psi superpowers.
Not a single pupil managed to succeed at this first exercise, so we went on to another, supposedly easier, activity. The class was directed to spin a psi wheel, which is basically a folded-up piece of foil balanced on a needle. We placed our hands above the foil and attempted to gather energy in our palms. I closed my left nostril and thought about the greenest stuff I could imagine—freshly mowed lawns, marijuana, the rolling hills of Ireland—as I clutched the wheel in my hands.
The results were much more encouraging: After five minutes of extreme focus, my wheel started to spin! I was ecstatic until I noticed the breeze that had swept in through an open window. Nonetheless, I bragged to Jean-Pierre about my achievement, and he replied, “Not bad. Let’s go eat.”
After lunch, a new student named Jonathan joined us. He began rubbing his metal rod in a suggestive fashion, which I’m pretty sure distracted all of us from even attempting to unleash any sort of mental energy whatsoever. After half an hour of uninterrupted psychic stroking, he suddenly fell asleep. Ten minutes later, several other students had nodded off as well; apparently trying to move metal with one’s mind is exhausting work. Either that or it’s extremely boring.
Jonathan finally awoke awhile later, and I struck up a conversation. He said he was 26 and a graphic designer, then referred to himself as a “radiokineticist,” explaining how he was able to interact with objects from a distance. This dovetailed into a long speech about how “psycho-particles” that originate from stars work (as he explained it, they are invisible molecules that go through our bodies). Like Jean-Pierre, Jonathan believes that anyone can develop his or her sixth sense; however, he takes it one further: “… and also their seventh sense, which we don’t even know about yet.”
Jonathan the radiokineticist taking an impromptu study break.
Four o’clock rolled around and I was still trying to bend my metal rod by frowning at it. I was also about to barf after thinking about the color green for so long. Other students were also growing disenchanted. Some played games on their phones, while others had opted to use a few other senses to bend the rod with their hands.
Noticing the malaise, Jean-Pierre recounted some more stories from his CIA days in an attempt to lift our spirits. “I sold some missiles to Saddam Hussein’s stepbrother,” he said. “The Husseins know me quite well.” Presumably these transactions hadn’t bothered him because he was confident that if the Husseins did launch their bombs, he could dismantle them in midair with the sheer power of his mind.
The seminar’s second and final day was less memorable. We tried a few more practical telepathic experiments, such as splitting into pairs to predict which symbols would appear on mystical-looking dice. I managed to help my partner foresee a sequence of a cross, a sun, and an unidentifiable squiggle. It was the most fun we’d had the entire session.
The author trying to bend a metal bar with his mind amid lots of green.
Before we left, Jean-Pierre couldn’t help but show us how bending metal was really done. He asked us to wait while he went to the back room to prepare. On his reentrance he began staring at the rod while twitching and muttering gibberish. After four or five minutes, during which he had the class’s undivided attention for the first time during the seminar, the rod inexplicably bent at its center. The room erupted into applause; watching him perform was much more enjoyable than trying to do it ourselves.
Before wishing us au revoir, Jean-Pierre instructed us to practice all the exercises we had learned every day for the next two months, and the class left in good spirits, certain that the world of metal rods and foil would be at our feet in no time.
And here I am today, dressed in green, sitting in the dining room of an old Parisian apartment, twitching while I stare down my grandparents’ old metal skewer. I keep referring back to the notes I took during Jean-Pierre’s lectures, but as of yet the rod refuses to obey me. Close left nostril, I read. J.P. loves the Asian ladies. Maybe there’s something there? An Eastern secret? Probably not. Jean-Pierre obviously has a special talent, but it may lie in his storytelling rather than in anything involving psycho-particles. Still, I’m going to keep practicing on this skewer. Wouldn’t it be crazy if he were telling the truth? Until someone proves him wrong, it’s a possibility that we may just not understand.
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