Suppose that magic exists, but is uncommon enough that most people don't have direct experience with it; and you have a government which wants to suppress knowledge of it, so that the general populace has no idea it exists. (Something like the "men in black" in UFO folklore, but for magic instead of UFOs.)

How, with resources available to your typical 21st century government, do you find people who have mind control powers? They know that people with the ability to control minds via magic do pop up from time to time, and generally don't advertise it. How do they identify these individuals for recruitment/ execution/ dissection? What behaviours or signs would they look for?

Any solutions that involve breaking the masquerade, substantially raising taxes, or telling large swathes of people about magic will not be preferred.

Edit. There isn't just one method of mind control, so there isn't a simple and reliable scientific way of detecting all mind control with 21st century science (to my knowledge). Methods that don't rely on a scientific solution to find it remotely from ambient mind control radiation or something are better.

  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men_in_black. The OP seems to be using "men in black" as a verb, presumably meaning something like "to suppress knowledge of [something] by harassing/threatening/etc. anyone who becomes aware of it". $\endgroup$
    – ruakh
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, basically. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 7:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Then say "hide" or "suppress" instead of doing unnecessary, antigrammatical tongue-in-cheeck references that leave the readers wondering about what you mean. $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ @ruakh but what magic did MIB use? It was all technology and psychology. (Using "men in black magic" as a colloquialism in WB.SE is seriously dangerous, since we'll take literally the word "magic".) $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: "Magic" is the direct object. In our world, there supposedly exist men in black who supposedly suppress knowledge of UFOs. In the OP's parlance, they supposedly "men in black UFOs" ("men in black" = verb, "UFOs" = direct object). In the OP's world, this government wants to suppress knowledge of magic. In the OP's parlance, they want to "men in black magic" ("men in black" = verb, "magic" = direct object). And the OP means the word "magic" literally: in his/her world, magic literally exists, and it's literally what (s)he's talking about. $\endgroup$
    – ruakh
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 18:50

9 Answers 9


"By their fruits will you know them"

Wild mind controllers will grow in their powers and use them for their benefit, perhaps without even being aware of what they're doing. Lots of people stare at one another all the time, instinctively thinking things like "Come on, say yes" or "Sign the agreement, sign the agreement!" or "Tell me I passed!".

But for some of them, it works.

So, your 21st century government sets out to identify - using Big Data - cases of unexplainable / illegal behaviour on the part of clerks, bank directors, managers, and so on. People who routinely get on the bus without a ticket and aren't fined. People who are caught speeding or running a red light and are left alone.

Then, these people will naturally gravitate towards jobs and positions where their powers can work the best. Someone finding they're very good at selling anything will tend to become a salesperson, and so on.

Once you've got a suspect, they can be tested without revealing the secret by using some unaware person as bait. For example I could tell a cop to stop my candidate on pretext of speeding, and give them a ticket no matter what, even if they weren't speeding at all, and maybe search the trunk too, because Uncle Sam needs that car to remain motionless on the road for fifteen minutes - don't ask why. Just keep that car still. The cops stop the car and the driver knows not to have been speeding, so concludes the cops must be mistaken, and tries very convincingly to tell them off -- and succeeds. The cops come back empty-handed, tail between legs, mumbling they can't explain what took them. Gotcha!

Done cunningly, this could work even if the esper can read minds - just supply the cops with suitable false information about the reasons they're doing this stunt, that the esper might believe aren't related to mind-control powers.

Lots of other possibilities exist, depending on the mind control range and whether espers are themselves immune to mind control or not. Controlling espers might need to resort to anesthesia and surgical implant of trackers plus remote-controlled explosives on a deadman's switch.

In The Demolished Man by A. Bester, the "esper" test is conducted on aspirants in a waiting room by a lone esper transmitting to all of them "if you can hear me, go through the door with the ACCESS FORBIDDEN - STAFF ONLY sign". This case is in some ways the exact opposite. If espers are immune, one could supply some stimulus that everyone in a certain area would respond to - e.g. an evacuation order - and at the same time control everyone to make them stand still and look hopelessly around. The ones that do so will just believe they don't know what to do, the ones that don't are espers, even if they're unaware of the fact.

  • $\begingroup$ I like this answer, as it provides a clear mechanism to capture them if they use illegal or legal methods to abuse their mind control, and provides a clear way to investigate further in a cheap and non exposing mind control way. The idea to test espers by seeing if they don't respond to mind control is a good one as well. I had imagined those with mind control powers may be more resilient to mind control, so having a weak but widespread esper test a population is a good way to find them. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 8:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Do you mean "The Demolished Man"? I think the title may be wrong. $\endgroup$
    – Stilez
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 10:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Stilez you're absolutely right (amended answer). I was going from memory, but that book I first read in Italian, and the Italian title was "L'Uomo Disintegrato". Vaguely remembering that the English title was "The D-* Man", I filled in with "disintegrated" :-D $\endgroup$
    – LSerni
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 10:27


  • There is a mind control magic. Exact mechanism and details unknown and may vary from mages. What's known is just that they can control mind.
  • Cannot tell populace that such magic exists.
  • Government must find mind control magicians.


  • Establish an accurate method to identify mind control magicians (later called MCC)


  1. Recruit at least one MCC
  2. Recruited MCC should be in charge of recruiting/detecting other mind controllers
  3. Try to narrow down who might be a 'wild' (unrecruited) MCC. In this step, manual labor and surveillance is required (e.g.: looking for not very talented people who achieve more than their ability as stated by other answers)
  4. Recruited MCC will be supplied list of person who might be a mind controller (narrowed down by other agency/branch)
  5. Recruited MCC will try to determine whether the 'suspected' MCC is really a MCC or not: recruited MCC will control the suspect MCC's mind to mind control someone. If it's a success then the suspected MCC is a positive (really a MCC). If the proxied mind control attempt is failed then the suspect is a negative.
  6. Since MCC details are not very clear, it's also possible that an MCC cannot be mind-controlled by other MCC. If so, then whenever recruited MCC encountered a target he/she cannot control, then the target is obviously an MCC.


  • Alice is an MCC recruited by government.
  • Bob is a suspected MCC (not known yet if he is actually an MCC or not)
  • Charlie is a normal person who volunteered to be test subject, he waits at designated place (e.g.: public park or inside some office building)
  • First, Alice try to control Bob's mind to go to where Charlie is.
    • If the mind control is failed, then Alice knows immediately that Bob is definitely a MCC. She then calls another team to arrest/lobby/recruit/whatever they do with a MCC.
    • If the mind control succeed, continue to next point
  • Alice give command to Bob's mind that said: "control Charlie's mind to make Charlie stand up/sit down"
    • If Charlie do as Alice's command, then Bob's mind control attempt succeed. At this point Alice knows that Bob is a MCC.

Other ideas:

  • Make the existence of MCC an urban legend (e.g.: leak some information about it in occult site or occult TV program)
  • Also make sure the urban legend is not taken seriously (e.g.: broadcast some comedy that make people who proclaim themselves MCCs are stupid, delusional people, and that existence of MCCs are just fiction made for entertainment)
  • This will make real MCCs feel agitated: the leaked information is right, real MCCs feels that something is wrong (imagine you awoken an ability that you yourself don't understand very much, but everyone knows a lot details about such ability and say that such ability is delusional)
    • Example:
    • There has been an established social norm that MCC is a fiction and people who claimed to be one is delusional clown.
    • Bob awakened as a MCC.
      • If at this point Bob make a big commotion about his ability, then the government can find him immediately
      • If he did not, then continue
    • Bob knows little about his own ability.
    • Urban legend leaked information says that MCCs effective range is no longer than 10 meters.
    • Not even Bob knows his own range, so he tried to verify this 'urban legend' by practicing his ability
    • Bob finds out that those facts in government-spread urban legends are mostly (if not all) true
      • If Bob tries to find further information about the urban legend (e.g.: via internet search) then government can try to locate/profile him (e.g.: government-built sites that contain the urban legend will track and try to profile its visitor from IP address, tracking cookies, etc.)
      • If not then Bob will (hopefully) show sign of discomfort. Your agents might want to look for such people

Other cheap idea:

Use recruited MCC to give command to all populace:

  • "If you're a mind-controller, then you have to do X,
  • if you're not then you will never do X.
  • Also, you will think that doing or not doing X is not from this command but from your custom/tradition/religion instead,
  • and you will forget about ever receiving this command".

The command to do X or not to do X should be something simple and observable (e.g.: X is wearing hat when indoor, or X is always put 3 pen of different color in breast pocket whenever wearing clothes that have breast pocket).

  • $\begingroup$ This is excellent - uses the single in story magic premise to achieve exciting and plausible things that could not be possible in the real world. The additional things unfold like a TV series. I can see the assembled MC squad for the series. Make sure you have your contact info on your profile for when Netflix comes to hire you, Kristian! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 19:06
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ why "Mind Control Magician" is called "MCC" instead of "MCM"? $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure this is a preferred answer. It involves a lot of revealing magic to people, and works on the assumption that you have the stronger mind controller. You might have weaker mind controllers, since they're easier to coerce and capture, and then exposing such people to the populace and hoping it goes well. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 7:55
  • $\begingroup$ That's true. You're saying that in your story there are stronger and weaker mind controllers and the weaker ones won't automatically succeed every time, then? I think probably this answer was assuming that the power always succeeded every time, unless somebody was all-out immune to it. If not, then yes, this becomes a riskier plan. $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 9:16
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ the first solution still works without revealing magic to people $\endgroup$
    – Kristian
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 10:14

A method of detection can use either psychology ("Hmmm, Susan is showing a lot of unusual interest in the Doomsday Device") or technobabble ("We use froogles to detect the psionic waves").

If using psychology, use plain-old action-movie-style detective work: Set a trap for the mind controller. Let Susan steal the (fake) Doomsday Device, observe and follow her...and everyone she contacts...until you find the forehead-throbbing mysterious weirdo with a fortune and mansion and harem and super-loyal defenders despite the fellow's obvious unsuitability for any of those.

If using technobabble, you're outside "magic" and into "science." If you can detect psionic waves, then with a bit more technobabble you can track them and block them and jam them, too. Once jammed, let the wierdo's (former) harem handle the vivisection before you move in to clean up. They deserve the opportunity.

If you want to recruit the wierdo over to The Good Guys, you must catch them soon after their powers manifest, before they have the time and practice to become a full-blown abusive/exploitative egomaniac. This may require a very large detection/tracking network and risks many false positives.

It's critical that successfully-recruited mind-controllers operate under constraints that they cannot control, and face terrible consequences for violating those constraints: For example, they should never have the opportunity to place their direct supervisor under control, and their supervisor should occasionally be tested for free will. Should the mind-controller go rogue, they should be killed quickly by somebody they have never met using that a method they are unfamiliar with (and therefore unprepared for).


The task would be hopeless if the mind control was not used. So is there a way to detect the use of mind control? Things will depend, in part, on how difficult mind control is. Would it be done on a single target, after an exhausting spell, or would a sufficiently powerful mage be able to sway a concert hall full of targets?

Look for clues that an immoral-but-not-totally-evil mage controlled minds for relatively minor benefits, victimizing the representatives of faceless institutions. Computerized data mining might help here, and it could be disguised as anti-corruption or anti-fraud drives.

  • A bank has granted a loan that should not be granted according to a hard look at the numbers, and inexplicably fails to collect when the payment is overdue.
  • Speeding tickets against an individual got recorded by a traffic camera, then dropped by an override from a flesh-and-blood clerk.
  • A big business employs someone in a cushy, preferential job who seems not to have earned it. The kind of fast-track job one would expect for the heir of the owner, except that there doesn't seem to be a relationship.
  • Look for artists who can impress a crowd in a club or concert, but fall flat on TV or the web.

A more evil mage might think nothing of victimizing individuals.

  • Look in the tax and bank records for unexplainable gifts of money.
  • Look for cult leaders with less-convincing-than-usual messages and plenty of followers.
  • Look at people who are dating one celebrity after another, while appearing distinctly average.

This might also be started with a record search, and then your MIBs have to check the individual cases.

  • $\begingroup$ There may or may not be a way to detect mind control, depending on the method and type. It isn't necessarily just one type of magic producing mind control. Detection methods that don't depend on the exact mechanism of mind control are better. The rest looks great, thanks. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep, my examples are all based on detecting unusual behaviour of the victims. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 15:41
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, which is great. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 15:41

There have been several IRL attempts to determine mind control and psychic ability.

See The Men Who Stare at Goats which describes the American militaries attempts.

The difference in your world is that magic does exist. So when these people try to figure it out they don't come up inconclusive. Rather, they come up with results that show mind control can be achieved.

Once the military or any corporation gets even a whiff of that, the cats out of the bag, and they dump all kinds of time and effort into it until they break through.

Then, once you have one person who can do it, that person finds the other and so on and so on. Magical psychic espionage.

Edit - answering Nepene Nep's comment:

In your world psychics can detect one another psychically. Like the X-Men's Cerebro. And The masquerade is maintained by keeping one another's secret, because its to both your advantages to do so.

Then, killing the opposing sides psychics keeps your side in the greater numbers. The dark side of magical psychic espionage. I would imagine IRL spy organizations operate much the same way.

  • $\begingroup$ Sure, they'd succeed in my world, but how would that lead to being able to detect it? Sure, they find a few psychics. After that, how do they find new psychics in the world without breaking the masquerade? $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @NepeneNep In your world psychics can detect one another psychically. Like the X-Men's Cerebro. And The masquerade is maintained by keeping one another's secret, because its to both your advantages to do so. Then, killing the opposing sides psychics keeps your side in the greater numbers. The dark side of magical psychic espionage. I would imagine IRL spy organizations operate much the same way. $\endgroup$
    – Len
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 19:18

As a frame challenge, I suggest that it's so easy you don't need clever ideas. In fiction mind control is so hard to find since no one believes in it. But if all the right people in government know and have trained people who also know, it's easy to spot and detain possible mind-controllers.

In movies, there's just one guy who thinks there might be something supernatural but isn't even what it could be -- shape-changing, invisibility, mind-control or just nothing. And their partner and boss don't believe them. When their partner says in a monotone voice: "I checked her out, I'm positive she's not the one" our hero just shrugs "well, we tried" since they don't know anything for sure.

But in your world they're there to investigate possible mind control. They have a good idea about how types A, B and C work. After talking to a few witnesses they have a pretty good idea who mind controlled them. If they both get mind controlled their boss will recognize it immediately and call in a level-2 response, and so on.

Since it's known at top level, there will be systems. Could have school nurses required to report "charismatic personality disorder" (let's say type B mind control is natural and tends to manifest at puberty, and is often used in obvious and stupid ways). Likewise police and judges are told what kind of odd cases to refer to the FBI. Again, in TV the hero thinks they finally know, but then a super-secret agency swoops in, grabs the suspect in 2 minutes and are never seen again. It's easy for them since they were on the lookout and know what they're dealing with.

Pretty much any system made by people who know it exists will detect quite a few, drive the rest underground where they don't cause as much harm, and have Psy Corps shoot the real trouble-makers with tranquilizer darts.

  • $\begingroup$ The idea of using a mental illness to get nurses to screen for mind control is pretty interesting. Thanks for that. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Commented May 30, 2021 at 8:07

What would a country like the USA do?

At first, they would have some trouble, because people with mind control aren't common. However, some mind-controllers will be so obvious that they can be captured and analyzed, perhaps using a robot uncontrollable by conventional methods. Then, after analyzing a few of those samples (say, in MRI scans), they would find a rare abnormality in the way their brain functions, which is what allows them to do mind control. Then, they could use statistics and other mechanisms to find out the important abnormality, and use that to examine suspected mind-controllers by using an MRI scan to determine if they're active, dormant, or just a charming person with no magical powers.

What would a less technologically advanced country do?

They would likely depend on behavioral cues (say, people being unexpectedly willing to do stuff for the suspect) and possible symptoms of actively being mind-controlled (blank eyes, lack of reaction on normal reflex tests) which would be there because of the difference between being mind-controlled and being normal, assuming the mind-controller has to focus to get even a sense of sight and memories of the person being controlled.


You don't need magic for mind control. Mind control is a old companion of humanity. It has been with us since before wrote history. The oldest form of mind control is yet operating today, near your house. It is named religion. Is it not? How can you explain a adult person who attended a good well equipped modern school with a modern library and full access to Internet believe the Noah's ark is a true historical event? Several things into the Bible are debatable but Noah's ark it's not. Just read the account, it is clear it is impossible. The vegetarian animals could eat collected grazing, but what did the carnivore ones eat? It is only a example of the absurdities of the story. Enter into the Theological discussion with intelligent and prepared people and you find Noah's ark is only gullible by mind controlled persons.

The same interpretation applies to any radical ideological/political philosophy. Nazism and Soviet communism are only two twenty century examples.

Hypnotism and subliminal stimuli are two scientifically explained ways of mind control. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subliminal_stimuli

How, with resources available to your typical 21st century government, do you find people who have mind control powers?

The same way you identify if suspect people are controlling other people' mind today. I am not a psychiatrist/psychologist but I think that handbooks about mind control detection do exist.

How to detect magical mind control at a distance?

Into a world where magic is possible I could make use of the traditional approach:

The witches hunter/blade-runner must apply a apparently nonsense test to the suspect. Indeed this was the method catholic church used the whole time the inquisition operated.

Two probable fictitious tests:

A word association test. https://www.britannica.com/science/word-association-test

A crude example dialog:

Hunter question: Peanuts? Suspect answer: Charlie Brown.

Hunter question: Virgin? Suspect answer: Mary.

Hunter question: Capitol? Suspect answer: Invasion.

A enhanced Rorschach test. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rorschach_test

In the fictitious enhanced Rorschach test the hunter shows an official inkblot (there are several different ones) that not only has the inkblot, but has background sound and a smell too.

A crude example dialog:

Hunter question: What do you see in this inkblot? Suspect answer: Looks like Washington DC Capitol hill.

Into a magical world anything is possible.

  • $\begingroup$ You seem to have slightly misread the question, which asks about the detection of magic mind control individuals. Welcome nonetheless to worldbuilding, please enjoy our tour and read-up in the help center about how we work. (From review) $\endgroup$ Commented May 31, 2021 at 9:10

Make a honey trap

So you want to know if someone has mind control? Make it tempting to do it.

Build a society with a bunch of annoying rules and regulations that exist for absolutely no good reason. Even the people enforcing them know there is no good reason to enforce them, other than it is their job.

Make it seemingly easy to avoid doing the stupid things, so long as you nudge the petty bureaucrat in front of you. Have piles of methods to detect fraud and bribery, but absolutely none (officially) for "the bureaucrat just lets you not do it".

Licenses for everything, with annoying lineups. Traffic stops. Emissions tests.

Annoy the crap out of everyone, until the espers walk through it.

Your detection mechanisms, impersonal and indirect, then pick up on the people who navigate your bureaucratic maze with suspicious ease.

We don't even have to tell the people writing the detection systems. They double as corruption detection; but, they are secondary to suspicious financial flags on the bureaucrats themselves. Their input is nearly nothing in the end algorithm (we don't want to spook the espers or bureaurocrats), but the secondary flag is harvested by yet another system as a potential esper case.

Those potential esper cases are singled out for additional harassment, again by people who do not even know they are looking for espers. Traffic cops that are told to stop people going 1 km over or under the speed limit along the person's commute "randomly" by a superior or a computer. In-person audits of tax forms that an esper can get around easily. Snap inspections of renovations or the like.

The ability for the possible esper to get around those is then fed back into the system, filtering candidates even more.

Only after the candidates are much reduced do they put in serious resources. Seemingly life threatening actions aimed at the esper themseves or someone else are triggered in their vicinity in order to force a use of their power, again with nobody in the area aware that they are testing for espers.


Make the world so awful, specifically for possible espers, that they are tempted to use their power.


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