Spiritualists used to be quite the rage back in Charles Darwin’s day and even he was persuaded to attend a séance with one of the leading practitioners of his time. He was not impressed with the obvious theatricality and trickery involved in producing the noises and movement, but many people were duped into thinking that spirits existed.
With modern technology, it should be possible to convince gullible members of the public that some people have mysterious powers that can harness forces unknown to science, even without going to such elaborate extremes as shown in the video below (via David Drumm).
I am a bit surprised that such tricks are not being used more to fleece the rubes. I suspect that the danger with being too spectacular is that in this day and age, if word got around that you could do extraordinary things, others would start to investigate and debunk you. It is better for such people to keep it low-key and vague, with faith healings and the like.
This is what happened with Uri Geller when he became a big hit and was invited by Johnny Carson to show his stuff. Unfortunately for Geller, Carson (who had also been a magician earlier in his career) was a skeptic and was more interested in actually seeing if Geller was genuine and so he invited James Randi to help him make sure that no trickery was involved. As a result of those precautions, Geller couldn’t do anything and was laughed off the set. In this clip, we see Randi explaining how frauds like Geller and faith healer Peter Popoff do their stuff.
Unfortunately you can’t keep these people down, however much they are debunked. Like a whack-a-mole, they pop up somewhere else later. After lying low for a while Geller seems to be back, now claiming to gullible people that he uses his psychic powers as a spy for the CIA and Mossad. Popoff is also back, now hawking ‘miracle water’.
These people exploit the desire of people to believe that there is something other than this world and those mysterious forces can be used for their benefit.