The history of psi comes from a number of paths. First, there is the fact that people have been doing psi since the dawn of time, and so records of things that sound like occurrences of psi are scattered throughout human history. But what's more interesting is to examine the modern emergence of the cultural perspective of viewing the abilities as "psi".
The history of modern psi begins in the late 1700's, with the work of Frank Anton Mesmer, a physician who began to study abilities, such as the ability to see other locations, that arose during trancelike states. These abilities became known as "mesmerism", named after Dr. Mesmer. Mesmer considered this to be the product of another force, similar to electricity and magnetism which were then being investigated by science.
However, at this time science was undergoing a period known as the Enlightenment, in which many scientists were discarding ideas that sounded too religious. So there was a split, and mesmerism moved into the realm of the Spiritualist movement for a time.
Then in 1882, the Society of Psychical Research (SPR) was founded, by three spiritualists at Cambridge University. The SPR gained support from members of the British Royal Society, giving it a unique convergence of spiritualist practices and the scientific method.
During the early period of the SPR, most of the work focused on examining individuals who claimed psychic abilities, and the work was called "psychic research". From the 1920s through the 1940s, there was a revolution of maturity in this research, with significant contribution by Joseph B. Rhine. During this period, the term "parapsychology" was coined, and controlled statistical research replaced anecdotal research, turning the field into a rigorously controlled experimental science.
In 1937, the Journal of Parapsychology was founded, and in 1957, the Parapsychology Association.
The term "psi" was first introduced around 1942 by Thouless
and Wiesner. They wanted a new term which could describe both the causation of change and the sensing of information through non-classical means, but without encumbering the description with the implications of previous terminology. This term was adopted by the parapsychological community as a more neutral description for the effects they studied. Rather than dividing effects into numerous categories, such as separating clairvoyance from precognition, or separating psychokinesis from biokinesis, the term psi could simply be divided into active
psi, for causing change with psi, or passive psi, for receiving information with psi.
Russia launched an investigation into psychic abilities for warfare and intelligence gathering in the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, the CIA and DIA responded by launching an investigation into psi called "Project Star Gate", resulting in the system of intelligence gathering called "remote viewing". There were a number of books released throughout these years discussing psychic abilities, and describing ways to learn them.
The phenomenon of psi on the internet really took off in 1993-1994 when Skywind released the online book "Playful Psychic", and showed that psi could be effectively taught and learned via the internet. Small loose-knit communities quickly sprang up, and over time these communities evolved and grew into the contemporary online energy communities.