Some call them "Emissaries from Heaven," others say the "New Kids" or even the "Children of the New Earth." They are best known as the Indigo Children, and I first heard about them last summer, while hanging around the Lily Dale Assembly. Lily Dale, a Spiritualist community founded in the mid-1800s, still draws thousands of specter-seeking visitors to its Victorian cottages overlooking scenic Cassadaga Lake, an hour's drive from Buffalo, N.Y. Each summer, more than two dozen resident mediums offer private readings, spirituality workshops and healing services. Television psychics James Van Praagh and John Edward, not to mention famous motivational speakers like Dr. Wayne Dyer make regular appearances. Edward and Van Praagh's recent popularity has only swelled the crowds.

My second night at Lily Dale found me at a "Thought Exchange," an informal meeting held weekly in an octagonal, one-room building called the Medium's League. At the start of the meeting, questions submitted in writing by those gathered are read aloud and discussed by the group. The moderator that night, a thoughtful woman in her early 60s, unfolded a scrap of brown paper and read: "Is the balance towards a positive sustainable future for the human race favorable, or are we to suffer destruction?"

As I tried to unpack the question in my head (I finally settled on, "Is the world going to hell?"), the 15 or so other attendees, mostly middle-aged and elderly Lily Dale year-rounders, nodded. "I'd like to answer first," the moderator said. "Yes, the world is full of terrorism, war, famine, poverty and crime. But I'm very, very optimistic about the future." She paused and smiled. "Because of the Indigo Children."

I looked around to see if anyone else's brow was furrowed in incomprehension. "They're the children of New Age parents," the moderator continued, "and they're smarter, more gifted, and more confident than any previous generation. I know several Indigo Children and they're far more spiritually aware and eloquent than my generation was at their age. They will save the planet!"

To those who believe in them, Indigo Children are everywhere. They are our sons and daughters, children born in the past two decades who exhibit an uncanny transcendence. They are most present in the ranks of children who, according to educators, don't fit in: they are the discipline problems, the Ritalin takers. One expert on the Indigo phenomenon says perhaps the best example of an Indigo child comes from the 1999 horror movie "The Sixth Sense."

In Haley Joel Osment's character, says Doreen Virtue, director M. Night Shamalyan gave us a boy who sees the world as it really is--teeming with spirits and import that adults, jaded and trapped by the mundane mechanics of daily life, can't see. For Virtue, author of "The Care and Feeding of Indigo Children," Osment represents the "special breed of individuals who have come to our planet to bestow us with their gifts." Virtue, who has a doctorate in counseling psychology from California Coast University, told me on the phone recently, "In my opinion, Haley Joel Osment epitomizes what an Indigo Child is."

The concept of spiritually endowed children has attracted a lot of attention since the mid-1980s, when the notion first came up in parapsychologist Nancy Ann Tappe's book, "Understanding Your Life Through Colors." Tappe had developed a system for explaining people's personality profiles according to hue of their auras, the metaphysical glow that our bodies give off and that only gifted psychics can discern. Tappe soon discovered in young children a never-before seen, dark color that she said indicates the presence of a new and exceptional personality type. Virtue's book, as well as Lee Carroll and Jan Tober's two explorations, "An Indigo Celebration," and "The Indigo Children: The New Kids Have Arrived," have expanded on the idea.

Named for the deep-blue aura they're said to radiate, Indigo Children make up more than 80 percent of the generation that began "appearing on Earth," in Virtue's phrase, in the 1970s. Virtue believes this special breed of young healers and teachers comes from a variety of "realms"--some are reincarnated priests and wizards, some come from far-off solar systems, while others are simply highly evolved humans. They represent a new form of consciousness that will bring about a leap in human evolution, taking us from thinking in three dimensions to four. Among other things, they can see spirits, levitate, bilocate, communicate telepathically, bend time, and "instantly manifest" any spiritual or material need.

They also enjoy the promise of longevity. "Many of them will live to be 300 and even 1,000 years old," Virtue told me. "It's in their spiritual contract." Their mission is "to help usher in the New Age of Peace," Virtue writes in her book. In short, the Indigo Children make Hogwarts look like Ridgemont High.

It's tempting to counter all this talk of transcendence with the observation that a generation deeply wowed by Christina Aguilera is unlikely to change the world. It doesn't take a metaphysicist to explain that the offspring of Baby Boomers, raised on the vocabulary of self-help and New Age thinking, might speak a spiritual language earlier generations didn't. A red flag is the insistence that many problem kids are just Indigos being held in check by pharmaceuticals.

All the major news magazines, as well as parents, educators, and social observers, have grappled with the problems facing the Ritalin generation. Credible thinkers argue that by medicating kids we diagnose as hyperactive we're imposing social norms that repress creativity and personality.