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.

After the Thought Exchange at Lily Dale, I asked two women seated next to me about the Indigos. Many parents, they said, don't understand their children's warrior spirits, and so Indigos are often diagnosed with ADD and medicated with Ritalin. "Indigos are system busters," one of them said. "They don't like authority they can't trust. Unless they're properly nurtured, they may withdraw, or burst into violence."

Boomers have always idealized what Rousseau called the "vigor of youth." In an essay in the Tobers' "Indigo Children," visionary and healer Robert Gerard writes, "Indigo Children bring subtle messages that are beyond all our knowing. Take a good look at the children, listen to their message, and go within. This is how they assist us in finding our truth, our purpose, and our peace.. They know exactly what they came to this planet to accomplish."

The Indigos themselves can be equally in thrall to their genius. Writes twentysomething wunderkind Ryan Maluski, "I always knew I belonged here on Earth, and I always had a deep-seated universal knowledge of how things really work and who I really was. Yet, with grand humor, I chose to grow up with people in situations and places that reflected absolutely none of my sense of self. Can you begin to see the infinite possibilities for fun in this play I chose to come into? . I felt like a king working for a peasant, viewed as a slave."

Virtue's list of 17 Indigo characteristics--strong-willed, creative, bores easily, prone to insomnia--apply to countless people young and old. They are universal human traits documented through the ages in literature from Bible stories and Greek tragedy to Shakespeare's plays. But if 14 of 17 Indigo traits apply to a child, Virtue writes, "then they're most likely Indigos." I quizzed my mother about how as a child I stacked up against the Indigo criteria, and she said I had all but three of the Indigo traits, including "Born in 1978 or later." When I told this to Doreen Virtue, she said that I was probably a "scout"--"someone sent to check out Earth before the big wave of Indigos in the '70s."

Believers like Virtue have founded special schools for Indigos, as well as a network of summer camps across the country to cater to their heightened awareness. There are international conferences, seminars and online materials for the parents and teachers of Indigos. A line of crystals, Indigo Essences, is designed to help the "new children" stay balanced.

All these resources are there to make sure the Indigos create the New Age of Peace. "The Indigos will get rid of all systems that have no integrity," Virtue told me. "They will use their warrior spirits, combined with their internal truth detectors to banish our existing educational, government, legal, and health-care systems, which do not work. They know how to solve these problems intuitively, because they're working out of their third-eye chakras."

Virtue believes such changes are already afoot, as the Indigos enter adulthood. The real changes, Virtue says, will begin between 2011 and 2013, when the Indigos assume positions of national leadership. Virtue says we now live in the Age of Fear, but as the leader at the Thought Exchange in Lily Dale assured us, our current anxieties are groundless. "The angels tell me we don't need to worry about global warming," Virtue said. "It appears to be a crisis, but it's just part of the divine plane to return us to Eden. The angels show me a future world that is very lush and warm, full of organic tropical fruit."

It occurred to me that once the Indigos have ushered in the New Age, there will be no fresh subject matter for authors like Doreen Virtue to tackle. Could there be a forthcoming generation more spiritually advanced than the Indigo Children?

"Oh yes, absolutely," Virtue said. "The Crystal Children are just starting to appear, and they're as pure, as close to being angels, as anything we have on earth. They're very, very happy kids, with none of the Indigos' warrior spirit. They give me even more reason to be optimistic about the future than anything I've researched."

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