Magic is a many-splendored thing. It is a performing art and an academic discipline. Both can be enjoyable pursuits. Neither can exist without the other. Magic can also be a wonderfully engaging hobby. Hobbyists, like sports fans, are true devotees; they are important, perhaps even essential, to the vitality of our art, though they are not players themselves. Their tastes influence magic, their creativity feeds its repertoire and their dollars contribute to its viability as a livelihood. Still, however much they dream, hobbyists with rare exception do not share the considerations of the professional. On the other hand, many professionals, concerned with the need to put food on their family table, sacrifice their technical and creative growth to more pragmatic considerations. This book is not written from the hobbyist viewpoint. I certainly hope and expect that many hobbyists will find this book an enjoyable read and a handsome, often referred to, addition to their libraries; but that could not be my principal focus. This work may open the eyes of a few, but I fear some hobbyists will find it too serious, too detailed, too analytical. I won't apologize. While I no longer perform very often in a professional capacity, my mind-set, and therefore perspective, remain that of a professional performer, and a serious one at that. Having been a full-time professional, it is difficult to divorce myself from the attention to detail so critical to professional success. This book, therefore, should find its greatest favor with the professional—who should appreciate the attention to details—with the serious hobbyist—who may enjoy my analytic approach—and with the amateur who aspires to become professional—who will, hopefully, find this book revelatory. For all such individuals and other intrepid souls, read on; know that this book reflects my love of both the art and craft of magic.
the art of magic
Magic that is not designed to be publicly performed is an educational exercise at best and mental masturbation at worst. Magic that cannot be performed is essentially a puzzle. I would seriously question a sonata written for a piano with 112 keys; such a piece could not be performed because no such instrument exists. Like music, magic must be performed to be art; therefore, an effect must be practically performable to be magic.
For some this will seem to be preaching to the converted, but examine your experience for just a moment. How often have you read effects, even whole books, that have no point and no hope of finding one? Can an effect that requires dealing through a deck three times ever be practically performed? Can twelve cards be passed off as four in a close-up routine? Such material is born of individuals being clever for the sake of cleverness; they are clever pipe dreams. I can appreciate a clever idea as readily as the next fellow, but I wouldn't offer such fare as magic. Such material is not, nor can it be, magical and will not be offered here.
Having stated my position starkly, I hasten to add that such fare can be amazing. The world is full of amazing things that are not magic. When I'm not pursuing magic these days, among other things I design computer software and electronic devices. I assure you, what my software does and what my circuits do is amazing—in many instances, clever and amazing. They are not magic. So, taking nothing from the cleverness of any of these creations, I don't confuse them with performable effects and, I strongly recommend, you don't either. That's why you won't find any here.
Performability alone is no assurance that ones efforts will produce magic. An effect must be "magical" at its core. If being amazing doesn't automatically qualify an effect and being amazing and performable doesn't completely fill the bill either, what then is required? Magicality comes from a special place; to be magical an effect must speak to the human experience. It must touch an emotional, aesthetic or primordial chord in the spectator. That can only happen in today's world, burdened by magics poor public image, if the performing magician creates a receptivity in the spectator and then delivers more than a "trick"—an experience.
Most spectators want very much for this to occur but we must work to accomplish it. The desire of our audiences to embrace what we do is a double-edged sword. It has lamentably allowed many very poor performances to be inflicted on an uninformed public, who do their utmost to cooperate and respond positively. This has encouraged an enormous amount of bad magic to survive. As a result, many very poor magicians continue cheerfully along, believing that the performances they give are good magical entertainment when it is simply not so. This is truly sad.
The positive aspect of this willingness on the part of our spectators (often called "willing suspension of disbelief') is that for those few but hopefully increasing number of performers who are aware of their task, it is relatively easy to accomplish. It requires only that one get one's ego out of the way, muster some faith in magic (even without the benefit of comedy) and afford the spectator a reasonable vehicle. That translates to a giving attitude, good execution of the requisite techniques and a theme that allows the spectators something interesting to substitute for the explanation that purely "tricky" physical means are at work. People want very much to embrace the cozenage we present. Were that not so, magic would not have survived so long. Even when we insult, demean and condescend to our audiences, they endeavor vigilantly to find a way to enjoy our performances. If we fail to offer plausible alternatives to "trickery" for them to wrap their minds around, they will allow us to cast our performance as a puzzle, a challenge or almost anything we choose. Since so many performers have chosen the challenge approach, audiences have come to presume this is what we want. We've played a game of "You try to catch me and I'll insult you until you do" for too long. A straightforward presentational adjustment could eliminate this attitude and end the game with most spectators. Those few who misguidedly persist in the challenge mentality are likely to give up if they realize they are playing the game alone.
Do not misunderstand; I am not advocating that we present what we do as "real." The effort to convince an audience of the notion that means of a truly supernatural nature are at work is charlatanism, not magic. It was this type of performer that Houdini set out to expose so many years ago. Uri Geller is such a performer. Both James Randi and, to a lesser degree, Danny Korem enhanced their careers by exposing such acts. Neither am I saying that patter that includes the statement that a spirit occupies a deck of cards is charlatanism. The distinction is one of characterization. If you profess to be a spirit medium, the assertion of a spirit occupying the deck is charlatanism. When you profess to be a magician, such a claim participates in a theatrically acceptable presentational premise, albeit one that ends with your performance. Some of today's Bizzarists seem to have confused the line between theater and life.
That brings us to the question of who, as a performer, the magician is. The celebrated Robert-Houdin line, "The magician is an actor playing the part of a magician," is, in my opinion, false. It sounds good superficially but shatters under examination. The western world has no image of a character who is a "true" benevolent magician (except perhaps for the Merlin archetype). While Dante, for example, may have looked like the public's image of a magician, it was because he resembled the darker side, Magick, not our art. The West has many images for the dark side: Aleister Crowley, Anton LaVey, etc. The magician cannot be an actor playing the part of a magician, because the audience cannot recognize and surely cannot identify with such a character. Jon Racherbaumer has suggested that the magician is a REactor playing...but that doesn't hold up for me either. It seems to me that one possible view—I am sure not the only valid one-—is that the magician is an actor playing the part of a professor (one who professes) who holds knowledge on arcane subjects. (I have often thought of the role as similar to a Sensei of martial arts—perhaps because I am a martial artist.) The subjects change with the effects. One minute we are demonstrating a little-known method of printing by rubbing two cards together while chanting a nonsensical accolade to the gods; in the next instance, we are offering that the properties of a rope are not as commonly understood. In the capacity of professor one is likely to find as broad a range of personality types as you have, no doubt, encountered over the course of your life, and with the same potential for audience reaction. Some professorial types are likeable and we enjoy being with them and learning; others are not so affable and one comes away thinking of them as dolts, buffoons or worse. People don't generally change from good-natured to foul-tempered without adequate provocation and, in most cases, neither should our character. One should be true to the character one creates. The great magicians have all known who they were, whether it was Cardini's English Gentleman or A1 Flosso s Carnival Ballyhoo (both are types that could be encountered in life; both could be memorable). My hope here is not to suggest who you should be—that's an individual decision—but to revitalize the dialogue about the magician's role. It is clear, at least to me, that the idea that we are playing the part of a magician is circumlocution that leads nowhere. We can do better and we must. The creation of a character and persona is part of the art in performing magic.
I alluded earlier to an aspect of the academic side of magic when I wrote that one was required to have "good execution of the requisite techniques." The academic side of magic and the craft aspect are closely allied. The craft of magic is what is most often written about: new "tricks"—if tricks we must call them—new sleights and new flourishes. Increasingly, however, over the years excursions into the thinking behind various techniques and the refinement of their execution have become acceptable fare. If only it were more often so. This book will, to a significant degree, enter that domain. I will not attempt to define or redefine the landscape, only to contribute to the dialogue in those areas that I fear have been abandoned or left inadequately explored. There is very little more to say about this matter. To me it is entirely cut and dried. Just as a musician would be derided for performing in public without adequate ability to play his instrument, we are obligated to have mastered the technical aspects of our craft. One need not have mastery of the most challenging pieces in the repertoire to play simpler, nevertheless enjoyable, pieces. One should, however, never perform publicly beyond one's level of competence. In my opinion, doing so has no justifiable excuse. Toward that end, I have taken great pains to describe the best techniques and methods of executing them I have been able to learn or devise. My obligation in writing this book was to give you the best tools of which I was aware and to make my best effort to present them to you so that you might learn them. Your obligation—not to me but to yourself, your audiences and our craft—is to master the techniques and the effects they produce, investing your best effort before you present them publicly. An audience has the right to expect this at minimum in return for giving you their attention and trust when you perform. There are no exceptions or excuses for doing less. At the same time, returning to the music analogy, the great Vladimir Horowitz said, "You have to make mistakes when you perform because you have to take risks. Otherwise, you might as well play a record in the concert hall." Every performer has had bad performances, shows when things went awry, nights when everything that could go wrong did. The professional covers as best he can and continues, just as a musician would. Nevertheless, practice and rehearsal are disciplines meant to be pursued away from public scrutiny. It is a requirement for all performers, whatever their craft. Once you've mastered the techniques of a piece and have rehearsed it, with its patter, sufficiently to present it before an audience, you enter into a period roughly akin to previews in theater. This is a difficult period but crucial to one's development of polished effects. Most magic books give no indication as to what level of refinement the included material has been developed. This book is an exception and, I admit, hopes to start a trend.
the material of magic
Some of the effects in this book were taken directly from one of my close-up acts. This material is all thoroughly performance-tested and works extraordinarily well as a piece. That is to say, these routines stand as vignettes. Changing of a single line, gesture or nuance might disrupt the whole. For those effects— which I've marked "Final"—I would advise that you learn them exactly as they appear. Think long and hard about any change you propose before making it, and be prepared to back off from the change if it doesn't work. This should not be understood to mean that I think my words, timing, techniques or the other contributing factors are perfect or even too good to be improved. The term "Final" merely indicates that the effect, as described, like a hit song, might not be a hit if changed. At the same time, like the late Slydini, I recognize that only by learning the effect, though not performing it, exactly as written, will one hilly understand all the nuance and implications of the full Gestalt of the piece. In sum, my offering of the full details should not be understood as license or encouragement to clone my way of performing the piece but rather as a means to convey the fullness of my knowledge and experience with that piece.
The majority of the material in this book has received what I call "Beta" testing. Beta testing is second-level testing. The major bugs have been worked out and the piece is a cohesive whole but it is not as set as the "Final" material. A few of the effects are only "Alpha" tested. They have been performed between five and twenty times and their construction is known to stand up but they have not been fine-tuned. Moves may be changed, patter lines may be altered but the premise of the effect has proven viable and the presentational shape is believed right. Finally, there are some effects in this book that I believe are fundamentally sound, entertaining and magical and that can work for lay audiences. Beyond that, I can say little with assurance. I include them motivated by a line of reasoning that parallels Peter MacDonald's in his book, Highly Mediocre Tricks, when he named an effect "Somebody Else's Watch Trick." To wit: The ideas are unfinished and whoever comes up with the finishing touches can make the effect his or her own. I hope that by presenting the idea it will spark in you an idea that has escaped me. Perhaps you will be the one to take one or more of these effects to the next level of development. You can recognize them as marked "SEWT" (pronounced like "suit") in appreciation of MacDonald's observation.
Interspersed through this book are explorations of the thinking behind, rationale for, and well-established principles underlying various technical subjects. Some are included to contribute to the record, some to share observations and some to encourage further thought. All are intended to be at least as important as would be another "trick." It is hoped that you will find some of these observations affecting your thoughts and, with luck, your way of thinking.
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Magick is the art and practice of moving natural energies to effect needed or wanted change. Magick is natural, there is absolutely nothing supernatural about it. What is taught here are various techniques of magick for beginners. Magick is natural and simple and the techniques to develop abilities should be simple and natural as well. What is taught on this site is not only the basics of magick, but the basics of many things.