Sankar led me to a small stool that faced a black box about the size of a shoebox. The box was fitted with a tiny lens that poked out toward my face and a bundle of wires that coiled back into his computer. "You don't have to be so nervous," he assured me. Sticking out of another side of the black box was a wire leading to a hand-shaped pad covered in sensors. Sankar gave me an instruction: "When I say, put your hand on the pad."
I'd come to Sankar's studio to have my aura photographed. Which isn't something I'd usually do, but I was looking into the phenomenon of "indigo children"—kids supposedly born into the next stage of human consciousness, possessing unusual and occasionally supernatural abilities. I'd heard that, when photographed by aura specialists such as Sankar, the full-body indigo halo that surrounds these kids—invisible, of course, to the naked eye—makes itself known. So naturally I wanted to see whether I was one of the blessed souls inhabiting this enlightened plane of being.
Photo taken and aura registered, Sankar—a friendly man with a salt-and-pepper mustache and a studio full of crystals—beckoned me over to his computer to show me the result: a low-quality photograph of my face surrounded by a red cloud that looked like it had been inserted with the spray can tool on Microsoft Paint.
The author's aura photograph.
"You're a very active person, aren't you?" he asked. I guess I'm active—I mean, I work a lot more than I sleep and I always fall asleep on the sofa, so I'm never technically in bed... “A person’s aura is divided into different sections," Sankar continued. "Each part gives us a reading of a different part of that person’s life. Your aura is intense red.”
“All of it?”
“Yes,” he answered.
“Is that normal?”
“There isn’t a normal.”
After chatting to Sankar about his trade for a little while, I brought up the reason I was there and asked him if he knew much about indigo children. He told me that he'd heard a bit about them within the spiritual community and had met indigo adults before, but never an indigo child. Before I left, he said something that seemed kind of odd, like I'd fallen into a Stephen King script that never made it past development: "This is the time the indigo children are being born, isn’t it?”
I started off referring to indigo children as a "movement," but was quickly chastised by the indigos I met ("It's not a movement; a movement is something you can join, it's not like we're spreading an ideology."). So let's call it a phenomenon—like the X-Men if they never went to stay at that big school with the bald guy.
The indigo children phenomenon started some time in the 70s—the term coined by self-proclaimed psychic and synaesthete Nancy Ann Tappe, who published a book about the concept called Understanding Your Life Through Color after noticing, through the mid-60s, that a large amount of children were being born with "indigo" auras.
Nancy Ann Tappe. Image via
However, as with most spiritual phenomena, there are no concise classifications of what that indigo aura really means, no accepted dogma you can research or prophets you can look to. People just interpret it how they like. But most people seem to interpret it as the idea that indigo children represent the next stage in human evolution and possess traits from the mundane—that they're more creative and empathetic than their peers—to the sublime: that they can read minds.
There are, however, a few generally agreed characteristics of indigo children, outlined on a reliable-sounding website called Spiritual Growth Prophecies: "They are born feeling and knowing they are special and should be revered;" "These children are confident and have a higher sense of self-worth;" "An indigo knows they belong here as they are and expect you to realize it as well;" and "The fulfillment of their personal needs is important to them, and they will let you know."
To me, they just sound like the sort of selfish and self-entitled dickhead children you move cars to get away from on the subway, but reading through further characteristics I suppose that arrogance is justified: "Creative, with an artistic flair for music, jewelery making, poetry, etc;" "Intuitive or psychic, possibly with a history of seeing angels or deceased people;" "Possess a deep desire to help the world in a big way" and "Looks for real, deep, and lasting friendships."
The opposing school of thought, maintained by academics like David Cohen and Robert Todd Carroll, is that parents label their children as indigo instead of seeking proper diagnosis for the out-of-the-ordinary behavior they're displaying. In Carroll's book, The Skeptic's Dictionary, he notes that, "One thesis of The Indigo Children [a guidebook for parents who believe their children to be indigo] seems to be that many children diagnosed as having ADD or ADHD represent 'a new kind of evolution of humanity'," adding, "One can understand why many parents would not want their child to be labeled as ADD or ADHD. The label implies imperfection."
So instead of addressing the fact that their kids have ADD or ADHD, parents can call them "indigo children" and tell all their friends at the nursery that their child is "gifted" rather than suffering from a disorder. Dr. Ovais Badat, an ADHD specialist, told me, "If a child with many of the symptoms of ADHD is not treated in childhood, it could—as we know from research—lead to significant problems academically, socially, and emotionally. In adulthood, we see untreated children become disadvantaged, with higher rates of mental illness, accidents, lost jobs, and crime.”
A clip from the movie Indigo, a film about indigo children.
So while the child might be addressed as "gifted," the adverse effects of not properly addressing the disorder that's giving them that gift could be highly detrimental in later life.
While I began looking into indigo children, after trawling through all the relevant forums, I quickly noticed that any age is welcome in the indigo realm. The label isn't just for spiritual stage moms who are keen to lumber their kids with supernatural powers, but an explanation for any adult who's ever felt slightly uncomfortable in their own skin. If you've never really felt like you fit in—or if you have a child whose behavior strikes you as a little peculiar—there are some handy, empirically rigorous internet quizzes that will tell you whether your child is indigo or not.
Here are a few example questions:
– Has your child acted like royalty since they were born?
– Does your child refuse to do certain things he or she is told?
– Is waiting in lines torture for your child?
None of these, of course, are applicable to normal children—most kids fucking love waiting in lines—so the quizzes are pretty foolproof (despite the fact my aura wasn't indigo, the results of the quiz told me I am, in fact, an indigo human—something I knew all along and was just waiting to have confirmed).
But, for whatever reason, people are always going on about not trusting what you read on extremely rudimentary quiz websites. So in an effort to decipher whether "indigo people" exist, I thought it best to seek out some myself and ask them some questions.
After posting on a number of Facebook groups, a man with "indigo" in his name added me and posted a message on my wall: "ur an indigo?" he said. It turned out he runs the UK Indigos Facebook group and, though he seemed a little nervous—he made me promise I wouldn't use his photo and assured me that he wasn't a drug user—he sent a short letter I'd written around to some online indigo groups. I got two replies: one answering some of my questions, and another offering to meet.
A short documentary about indigo children.
First up: the questionnaire respondent. My ADHD/ADD questions were skirted over and my question about indigo people possessing powers answered vaguely—that the powers are all psychic and unexaminable; Reiki healing, that kind of thing. When I asked whether indigos have been around for a long time or just for the last few decades, I was told: "My understanding is that the first-generation indigos started manifesting in human form in the early to mid-60s. I was born in the late 60s. My role was to help ease the shock and dis(ease) of later indigos who began being born in great numbers in the 80s through today... [sigh] I do my best."
The thing is, although there were apparently indigo children born "in great numbers" just a couple of decades ago, I couldn't track down any current kids with the gift of an indigo aura. I read about them, heard about groups of parents angrily telling teachers that they don't know how to teach their indigo children properly—I trawled spirituality forums and questioned any indigos I got in touch with. Even Dr. Badat told me he’d come across the phenomenon in his line of work. But, as far I can tell, the indigo community is made up solely of middle-aged people for whom the phenomenon is almost a form of therapy.
One of those people is Caroline, whom I met with recently. She was friendly and talkative, opening up quickly and talking for about 45 minutes without me asking many questions. She's had a tough life—abusive partners, depression combated with antidepressants, suicidal thoughts—the full spectrum of unhappiness.
"I always felt different from everybody else. I never felt like I fit in," she told me. That's until she started reading about indigos online and discovered that all of her feelings could be explained by the fact that she too was perhaps an indigo. "I went on a blind date with someone who owns a big company in Canary Wharf. We were talking for about 15 minutes and it turned out he’s very spiritual. He said to me, ‘You know you’re indigo, don’t you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’”
I asked Caroline for her thoughts on the ADHD/ADD question, to which she replied, "I don't really know a lot about ADHD. It's a weird thing that all the indigos I know all love animals, all love nature, all are very spiritual. Are ADHD people like that? When I was a kid at school, there were probably kids there who had ADHD, played up and wrecked the class's learning conditions. And they weren’t spiritual or into animals in any way.”
Akiane, a ten-year-old supposed indigo child.
She describes herself as holistic, but understands that sometimes medication is important. She also seemed more enlightened than I would have expected, more rational than you’d think for someone talking to you about auras.
But, after a while of chatting, Caroline said something that I took to be revealing. While talking about her ups and downs and how finding out that she was an indigo had helped her to deal with her issues, she said, "You get people who come in [to indigo groups] and say, ‘I feel really low today, I actually feel suicidal.’ If I was to say that to a normal person, they won’t understand, they’d just think ‘Why? What's happened? Why do you feel like that?’ But you can’t explain it. The other indigos understand so we can support each other.”
Perhaps managing your emotions by ticking them off against an online checklist helps people justify why they didn't fit in at school, why they haven't been able to hold down a job or why they've found it hard to settle into new environments. And if auras and a slightly misplaced idea that they represent the next stage of human evolution helps people deal with those issues, then what's the harm in allowing them to do so?
However, as with most Big Topics—war, famine, runway fashion shows—the whole thing gets far more uncomfortable when you add children into the equation. As Dr. Badat told me, ignoring that a kid might be ADHD—be it through labeling children as indigo or not—isn't likely to do them much good in later life. And the most troubling problem is that it's a disorder that is relatively easy to treat.
By way of example, he told me, “I would invite any skeptic to argue with my many ex-offender [ADHD] patients who are totally transformed by treatment, even to their own surprise. They are getting into work, even college. They're becoming assets to their community and families and totally steering away from crime, all down, in some cases, to a modest and cheap medicine and some basic coaching and education about ADHD.”
It's easy to empathize with parents who don't want to accept that their child has a disorder. And, especially in the case of ADHD—unlike children with physical disorders—symptoms are invisible, making it far easier for parents to pass behavior off as misunderstood or "gifted" rather than tied to any specific medical condition.
But by relying on the intangible, spiritual option and not properly dealing with the ADHD symptoms when they present themselves, these parents run the risk of watching their child become less "gifted" as they grow older, ending up instead as an adult struggling to find their place in the spiritual world that's been pushed onto them and still lacking an explanation as to why they feel like they don't belong anywhere else.
Follow James on Twitter: @duckytennent
This post originally appeared at VICE.