The legends of almost every culture contain references to classes of people whose powers appear supernatural:
Ninja--Japanese assassins known for their stealth--were said to be able to walk through walls, appearing and disappearing at will.
Among the gypsy clans of Eastern Europe there are those who, it is claimed, can read minds and look into the future using cards, crystals or even tealeaves.
During the Britain’s Dark Age, as detailed in the Malleus Maleficarum, it was believed that witches had among their powers the ability to control the minds of others with spells and potions.
And legend has it that the monks of the Shaolin temple in China’s Henan Province could render themselves invulnerable to attack by controlling the flow of chi in their bodies.
Magic? Perhaps, but sufficient scrutiny will reveal that each of these seemingly mystical abilities has at least some grounding in reality. Does invisibility require actual transparency or simply that one can pass unnoticed? If future events can be forecast and people’s inner thoughts divined through observation, investigation and analysis, is it any less powerful a gift? Is invincibility really a matter of winning every battle or is it simply having the wisdom to fight only battles that can be won?
These skills are real. They have been taught in select circles for centuries. They are the tradecraft of the interrogator and the fortune-teller; the mercenary and the woodsman; the thief and the assassin. They can be learned, but the knowledge does not come easily. Their elements are sensitivity, awareness, nuance and patience. They can be as delicate and ephemeral as the wings of the butterfly from which their collective designation takes its name.
But they also have the power to change the course of history.