In the year 1425, Joan of Arc, a peasant girl from the French village of Domrémy, had her first vision: “I was in my thirteenth year when God sent a voice to guide me.” The voice was that of Saint Michael and he came with a message from God: Joan had been chosen to rid France of the English invaders who now ruled most of the country, and of the resulting chaos and war. She was also to restore the French crown to the prince—the Dauphin, later Charles VII—who was its rightful heir. Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret also spoke to Joan. Her visions were extraordinarily vivid: she saw Saint Michael, touched him, smelled him.
At first Joan told no one what she had seen; for all anyone knew, she was a quiet farm girl. But the visions became even more intense, and so in 1429 she left Domrémy, determined to realize the mission for which God had chosen her. Her goal was to meet Charles in the town of Chinon, where he had established his court in exile. The obstacles were enormous: Chinon was far, the journey was dangerous, and Charles, even if she reached him, was a lazy and cowardly young man who was unlikely to crusade against the English. Undaunted, she moved from village to village, explaining her mission to soldiers and asking them to escort her to Chinon. Young girls with religious visions were a dime a dozen at the time, and there was nothing in Joan’s appearance to inspire confidence; one soldier, however, Jean de Metz, was intrigued with her. What fascinated him was the detail of her visions: she would liberate the besieged town of Orléans, have the king crowned at the cathedral in Reims, lead the army to Paris; she knew how she would be wounded, and where; the words she attributed to Saint Michael were quite unlike the language of a farm girl; and she was so calmly confident, she glowed with conviction. De Metz fell under her spell. He swore allegiance and set out with her for Chinon. Soon others offered assistance, too, and word reached Charles of the strange young girl on her way to meet him.
On the 350-mile road to Chinon, accompanied only by a handful of soldiers, through a land infested with warring bands, Joan showed neither fear nor hesitation. The journey took several months. When she finally arrived, the Dauphin decided to meet the girl who had promised to restore him to his throne, despite the advice of his counselors; but he was bored, and wanted amusement, and decided to play a trick on her. She was to meet him in a hall packed with courtiers; to test her prophetic powers, he disguised himself as one of these men, and dressed another man as the prince. Yet when Joan arrived, to the amazement of the crowd, she walked straight up to Charles and curtseyed: “The King of Heaven sends me to you with the message that you shall be the lieutenant of the King of Heaven, who is the king of France.” In the talk that followed, Joan seemed to echo Charles’s most private thoughts, while once again recounting in extraordinary detail the feats she would accomplish. Days later, this indecisive, flighty man declared himself convinced and gave her his blessing to lead a French army against the English.
Miracles and saintliness aside, Joan of Arc had certain basic qualities that made her exceptional. Her visions were intense; she could describe them in such detail that they had to be real. Details have that effect: they lend a sense of reality to even the most preposterous statements. Furthermore, in a time of great disorder, she was supremely focused, as if her strength came from somewhere unworldly. She spoke with authority, and she predicted things people wanted: the English would be defeated, prosperity would return. She also had a peasant’s earthy common sense. She had surely heard descriptions of Charles on the road to Chinon; once at court, she could have sensed the trick he was playing on her, and could have confidently picked out his pampered face in the crowd. The following year, her visions abandoned her, and her confidence as well—she made many mistakes, leading to her capture by the English. She was indeed human.
We may no longer believe in miracles, but anything that hints at strange, unworldly, even supernatural powers will create charisma. The psychology is the same: you have visions of the future, and of the wondrous things you can accomplish. Describe these things in great detail, with an air of authority, and suddenly you stand out. And if your prophecy—of prosperity, say—is just what people want to hear, they are likely to fall under your spell and to see later events as a confirmation of your predictions. Exhibit remarkable confidence and people will think your confidence comes from real knowledge. You will create a self-fulfilling prophecy: people’s belief in you will translate into actions that help realize your visions. Any hint of success will make them see miracles, uncanny powers, the glow of charisma.