Hindu Fakir Magic

The magic of the fakirs is entirely an imitation of the real magic, in which the oriental conjuror plays the role of a magician and mystifies his audience with clever trickery. Hindu magic has an aura about it different from conjuring found in any other part of the world, as in being the imitation of the genuine, it preserves a certain earthiness (relationship to nature) which is found in the performance of the real magic.

In the first book of this trilogy, The Secret World Of Witchcraft (pub. A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc. 1973), I wrote of a typical fakir exhibition of magic as the tourist sees it frequently performed in India. This description and occasional other references are presented here with permission:

"While traveling in India, I saw the Hindu fakirs perform magic in many places; turbaned fakirs with bushy black beards on the street corners and in the parks, making balls leap cleverly from cup to cup, then suddenly transforming them into baby chicks.

"In a park not far from the Great Eastern Hotel in the heart of downtown Calcutta, I saw the 'Hindu Basket Trick' performed. The bearded magician placed a boy in a basket that seemed scarcely large enough to hold him, then forced down the lid. Picking up a sword, he ran it through the basket in many directions. What happened to the boy? The crowd was tense. Next the magician picked up a cloth and threw it over the basket; reaching beneath he removed the lid. Then he leaped directly into the basket, pulling the cloth inside with him. There was nothing there; the boy was gone! The magician jumped out, discarded the cloth, and replaced the lid on the basket. Suddenly he pointed, picked up the cloth, and advanced toward the crowd. The spectators gasped, because he appeared to grasp a struggling form beneath the cloth. He brought it back to the basket; the lid popped off, and there sprang up, alive and happy, the boy who had vanished.

"It was a beautiful illusion. Other tricks of fakir magic were now performed such as the classical 'Mango Tree Trick' and 'The Diving Duck.' Even though such feats were not the real mysticism and magic of India which I sought, as an

Koka Fokir India

The incredibly magnificent Itma-Ud-Daulah of Agra, India. It is the first Moghul building designed entirely of white marble as the tomb of the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, the empress for whom the Great Taj was built. A two-storied structure, beautifully proportioned, it has mosaics with semi-precious stone inlay covering almost the entire surface. Inside are translucent marble screens hand carved so intricately, they appear like lace work.

The incredibly magnificent Itma-Ud-Daulah of Agra, India. It is the first Moghul building designed entirely of white marble as the tomb of the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, the empress for whom the Great Taj was built. A two-storied structure, beautifully proportioned, it has mosaics with semi-precious stone inlay covering almost the entire surface. Inside are translucent marble screens hand carved so intricately, they appear like lace work.

American magician I, as did the spectators, appreciated the artful presentation greatly. The fakirs are very clever conjurors."

I will now share the secrets of Hindu conjuring with you. It is well that you understand such, as you will then appreciate the real magic even more.

While the feats performed by Hindu fakirs are numerous, I will describe the most popular and will designate them by their common names, which in most cases are very apropos. Let us begin with the famous "Mango Tree Trick." As the trick is usually performed, it is shown in this manner:

The fakir comes forward, almost nude, being covered only with a loin

Fakir Hindu

The country fair at Pushhar. Here far out in the country some eleven kilometers from the city of Ajmer in Rajasthan, a lively fair is held in the fall of each year. There are camel races and all manner of amusements for the crowds who attend. To fairs such as this come the cleverest of the fakirs to amuse and amaze the natives with phenomenal exhibitions of magic.

The country fair at Pushhar. Here far out in the country some eleven kilometers from the city of Ajmer in Rajasthan, a lively fair is held in the fall of each year. There are camel races and all manner of amusements for the crowds who attend. To fairs such as this come the cleverest of the fakirs to amuse and amaze the natives with phenomenal exhibitions of magic.

cloth. It is obvious to the spectators that he has nothing concealed upon his person. As the trick is performed out-of-doors, the impromptu occasion demands no deceptive preparations. The fakir carries in his hands a little earthen pot containing water, and another containing a quart or so of dry sand. He also has with him some seeds of the mango-tree, and a large cloth, about four feet square. This is shaken out, and both sides are shown to the spectators, so that they may see nothing is concealed in the cloth.

All this having been gone through, the fakir proceeds to build a little mud pile of earth and water dexterously moulding them into a pyramid. The mango seed is now inserted in this soil, and covered on all sides with the earth. The fakir then constructs a little tripod of bamboo sticks and surrounds this with a shawl making a miniature tent; under this he works. He places his hands and arms under the shawl, manipulating the seed and earth for sometime. As his hands and arms are bare and can be seen never to approach his body, no deception is detected in this handling of the seed and earth beneath the cloth. After a few minutes of this manipulation, the fakir withdraws his hands, and proceeds to make passes over the little tent, at the same time muttering semiarticulate incantations. Sometimes a native drum is beaten, or other instrument is played upon, and, after a while, the fakir removes the cloth, and the seed is seen to have sprouted a couple of tiny leaves appearing above the surface of the earth.

Should the specators be skeptical, the fakir will remove the seed, and shows a couple of minute roots sprouting from the lower end of it. The seed is then replaced in the earth, the manipulations and incantations repeated, and, after awhile, the fakir removes the cloth a second time, and the mango is seen to have sprouted still more—now being several inches in height. This process is repeated five or six times, at the end of which period the mango-tree is two feet or more in height. Also on some occasions, the tree has been known to bear fruit.

Such is the effect of the trick as the spectators see it. Now for the explanation.

In the first place, it will be noted that it is always a mango-tree that is made to grow, and no other shrub. Why is this ? Surely it is not because the mango is the only tree in India that is ready to the hand of the fakir, for we know that there are numerous others that might be made to grow. Yet it is always the mango! I asked a Hindu fakir if he would make a young palm, a tea plant, or a banana tree grow for him, and received the response, "Nay sahib, cannot do. Mango-tree the only one can make." I repeat, why is this?

The reason is that owing to the peculiar construction of the mango leaf the trick is made possible. The leaf and twigs of the mango-tree are exceedingly tough and pliable, almost like leather, and can be folded or compressed into a very small space without breaking the stems or leaves, and, when this pressure is released, the leaves will resume their former expanded condition very rapidly, without showing any traces of the folding process. The leaves can be turned upon themselves and rolled into a tight ball, in which folded condition they occupy very little space, and yet will resume their extended condition when this pressure is released. This advances to the heart of the secret of the trick.

The mango seed that is placed in the mounded pyramid of earth is specially prepared before the performance, by the fakir, in the following manner:

He splits the seed open, scoops out its contents, dries it somewhat, then places within it a shoot of a mango-tree folded and pressed so as to fit inside neatly. It must be remembered that the mango seed is about two inches long by an inch and a half broad, so there is ample room for this preparation. It resembles slightly the mussel shell found on the seashore. It will be obvious that a seed of this size has space for containing a good deal of material, and if the mango leaves were folded in a small compass, the seed would hold a good-sized plant. The leaves are folded very carefully in a special manner. The upper surface of the leaf must be folded on itself, and that surface properly treated with water will scarcely show a crease on a superficial examination.

When the fakir places his hands beneath the cloth the first time, he then gets hold of the seed, and proceeds to manipulate it in such a manner as to extract from the upper end of the seed about an inch or so of the plant it contains. He may extract the seed altogether from the dirt for that purpose, and replace it in the earth again at the conclusion of this manipulation, banking up the earth around the seed before removing his hands. The fakir then removes his hands, and proceeds with the drumming and incantations as he sees fit to impress the onlookers. After a while, the cloth is removed and the seed is found to have sprouted, and an inch or so of the stem and the first green leaves are seen to be sprouting from the earth.

Indian Fakir MagicPhotos Hindu Magicians
Hindu magicians and changra of the Punjab. These entertainers of Northern India are among the most expert of Hindu fakirs, combining clever conjuring with the secret knowledge. This group is appearing at the "Festival of Baisakhi" celebrating the beginning of the Hindu solar new year.

The illusion is perfect, and the spectators are more taken up with gazing in wonder at the miraculous growth and discussing it with each other than with critically examing the seed and the sprouting plant. If the fakir wishes to show the roots sprouting from the lower end of the seed, he merely has to place these roots in the seed before the performance begins, and extract them in the course of his manipulation of the seed, as previously explained. The preparation of the seed is concealed by the fact that a duplicate seed is first exhibited to the spectators and is examined by them. This seed is deftly exchanged for the prepared seed by the Hindu magician, and the latter seed placed in the ground. Thus, no one thinks of examing the seed after the performance is concluded.

To return to the performance of the trick, after the fakir has shown the growth from seed the first time, he covers the seed again with the cloth and places his hands underneath it. He works out a little more of the mango; then repeats his incantations, finally showing the shoot a second time, when it is found to have grown a considerable amount in the interval. Amazement stuns the group! The performance is gone through several times, until the folded mango shoot is all worked out of the seed, the growing plant being covered each time by the shawl. When the shoot is all worked out of the seed, there is a fair sized plant standing before the spectators.

This is but the beginning of the trick, some subtle business is now applied that completes the effect into a development of a mango tree standing several feet, and in some cases even bearing fruit. The secret is that Hindu fakirs seldom travel singly, but always in troupes of threes and fours. During the performance these others assist him by passing him the articles used in his performance, such as jars, water, earth, etc. Now, every time the East Indian conjuror moves the shawl from the growing plant, he tosses it to his assistant, and shows his hands empty. When receiving the shawl back from his assistant, he again shows his hands empty and shakes out the shawl and exhibits both sides of it proving in this way that nothing is concealed in the shawl. To all appearances, nothing could be fairer, but the fakir shows the shawl more casually each time, until towards the climax of the trick he hardly shows it at all. The spectators, having seen it empty so many times, get into the habit of thinking it is empty as a matter of course, and pay'no attention to this part of the performance after the first few times. Their thoughts and attention are centered upon the mango-tree and its growth. So, when the conjuror has worked out all of the shoot from the seed, he is now ready for the introduction of a plant of larger size. To secure it unbeknown to the watchers, he gives a secret cue to his assistant that he is ready for the new "load," and the assistant in passing back the shawl to him this time passes him another cloth of similar type to the first. This second cloth is double, and contains a large mango plant, more or less doubled up in the manner of the first shoot that was placed within the mango seed. A slit in the cloth enables the conjuror to extract this folded plant, and place it in the mound of earth, working this plant out to its natural size with his hands beneath the cloth. When this large plant is worked out to its full size it makes a big display, and the fakir has only to remove the cloth to show the plant to his astonished onlookers.

The cloth just employed is exchanged for the original while the eyes of the spectators are fascinated by the huge tree just exhibited to them, and when the trick is concluded this cloth is handed for examination. Of course, no trickery is discovered in connection with the cloth. When it is desired that mango fruit be grown upon the tree, these are simply removed from a secret pocket in the cloth and are hung on the limbs amongst the leaves; the fruit is detached and handed to the spectators to eat before the surreptitious attachments can be examined. The whole performance is an excellent example of the psychology of deception—East Indian Style.

In what is known as "The Hindu Basket Trick," the effect of which I described in the beginning of this chapter, the fakir makes use of a large, oval basket, peculiarly constructed in being much larger at the bottom than it is at the top. These baskets are conventional in India, the lid being perhaps thirty inches by eighteen inches, while the central diameter of the basket spreads to about four feet seven inches, and then tapers down to approximately two feet six inches at the bottom. The basket's size, of course, can vary. Roughly, a basket of this design resembles a huge egg, with an opening on one side.

The basket is shown empty to the audience, and, as I mentioned in describing the effect, a boy is brought forward and stands in the basket. He is usually dressed in conspicuous clothing, such as a scarlet turban and jacket. He is placed in the basket, into which he apparently just fits, occupying the whole of it. The lid is placed upon his head, and a large cloth is thrown over it, completely covering him and the basket. He is seen to sink down gradually until he finally disappears into the basket altogether, and the lid resumes its natural position over the opening.

The performer now removes the cloth and proceeds to run the basket through and through with a sword. The basket is thoroughly pierced in this manner, and it appears as though the boy must be killed, even if somehow he managed to conceal himself within it. The fakir now replaces the cloth over the basket, places his hands under the cloth and removes the basket lid, throwing it to one side. He then places his hand into the basket and removes the scarlet turban and jacket, which he tosses out. The boy has apparently disappeared! To make matters more certain, the conjuror suddenly jumps right into the basket, stamps about with his bare feet, and ends by sitting in its himself.

As it was formerly seen that the'basket was only large enough to contain the boy, it seems impossible that he can be concealed in or about the basket. The fakir then places the turban and jacket in the basket, replaces the lid and removes the cloth. Suddenly he darts forward, carrying with him the cloth, and snatches in the air with the cloth as if catching a body, and goes back with much excitement and much jabbering to the basket, which he covers with the cloth; when surprisingly something is seen to be moving under the cloth! Immediately the lid of the basket goes up. In another moment, the boy, clad in his jacket and turban, emerges from the basket, none the worse for his recent trying experience.

I shall now explain this apparent marvel.

The instant the boy is covered with the blanket he proceeds to divest himself of his jacket and turban, which he deposits in the bottom of the basket.

Crowds of natives watch the magical performances in India. (Courtesy the Ron Ormond Collection)

He now gradually sinks into the basket until he is completely inside it and the lid is even with the top of the basket. Now comes main portion of the trick—the method of concealment of the boy within the basket—for he does not escape from within it, but remains in it throughout the performance. It will be remembered that the lower portion of the basket is much larger than the top portion. The boy within the basket manages to so curl his body around the basket, eel-wise, that he is occupying the entire outer rim of the basket, so to speak, thus leaving the center of the basket (the part of the basket directly under the opening) empty. When the fakir runs his sword through the basket he takes pains to run it through this unoccupied space; and, by the concealed boy wriggling from place to place within the basket, the magician is enabled to run his sword through every portion of the basket in turn, and so give the appearance of its complete emptiness. It will now be seen that the fakir can place his hand inside the basket and remove the discarded jacket and turban; also the lid, and to stamp and sit in the basket, since the space he occupies is that left unoccupied by the boy in the basket. So long as the cloth is over the opening in the basket, the boy can never be seen.

The fakir then replaces the jacket and turban in the basket, and replaces the lid—all this before removing the cloth. As soon as the lid is again placed upon the basket the boy inside slips on his jacket and turban, and is ready to emerge from the basket as soon as the lid is withdrawn. The snatching in the air with the cloth is to distract the attention of the spectators away from the basket while the boy is donning his clothes. The cloth is then brought back to the basket, and the boy reappears.

There is also a version of "The Hindu Basket Trick" in which the boy disappears from the basket and appears in a tree-top. The effect in this form is an excellent example of the clever misdirection used by the fakirs.

To perform the trick in this manner, the basket is placed within a few feet of some convenient wall, and the trick is performed on that spot. Matters proceed very much as before until the time comes for causing the boy to vanish and reappear in the tree. When this time comes the fakir brings forward four poles, four or five feet in length, and these are stuck in the ground around the basket. The audience is in front of the basket, and the conjuror has two or three confederates stationed on each side of the basket. While in the basket the boy wraps up his turban and jacket in a cloth, and this the conjuror manages to get hold of and pass out to one of his assistants earlier in the trick, while the basket is being repeatedly covered and uncovered.

Presently the Hindu performers begin to quarrel among themselves, and, at the same time, others begin to play upon drums, etc. making an awful noise and distracting the attention of the spectators away from the basket containing the boy. Meanwhile, the fakir has procured a large strip of cloth, and has attached an end of this to one of the poles, the one nearest the onlookers. He then proceeds to attach it to each of the other four in turn, thus enclosing the basket in a roofless tent, the front side—the side nearest the audience—being enclosed last. At least, so it appears. What has really happened, however is this:

At the moment when the noise was created, and the conjuror's assistants began quarrelling among themselves, and the spectators' attention was accordingly distracted, the fakir crosses in front of the basket for a moment, as though to see what is the cause of the disturbance, and for an instant conceals the basket from view. In that instant the boy leaps from the basket, darts between the legs of one of the assistant helpers, and is lost behind them before the cloth strip is withdrawn that has concealed his escape. The entire action is performed so swiftly that no one notes it, especially as the observers were distracted by the noise and confusion, at that instant. The careful enclosure of the basket subsequently tends to convey the impression that the boy is still within it. He has now escaped, and is behind the nearby wall, thus hidden from the view of the spectators. He carries with him the cloth containing his turban and jacket, which he proceeds to don. Then, climbing a near-by tree, he is ready to cry out to the audience whenever he receives the signal from the fakir to do so.

Another popular effect of Hindu fakir magic is named "The Dry Sand Trick." In this case, the East Indian conjuror brings forward a little pail, some eight or nine inches high, and perhaps six inches across the top. This the fakir proceeds to fill with water. There is no trick about the pail, and the water is ordinary water, which may be supplied from any source. The conjuror next extracts a handful of dry sand from a bag and blows it hither and thither, showing it to be exceedingly dry. A portion of this sand is then carefully deposited in the bottom of the pail, in the water, and everyone can see it. The conjuror carefully washes and wipes his hands, and shows them perfectly clean and empty. Then, placing his hand in the water, he extracts from the pail a handful of the sand and shows it to be just as dry as when it was placed in the water. Blowing sharply into his hand, the sand flies in every direction,/ it is absolutely powdery.

This is a very ingenious trick, and could never be discovered unless its secret were explained. There is no trick about the pail or water, as stated; it all consists in the preparation of the sand. In order to prepare this sand for the experiment, the magician procures some fine, clean sand. This is washed carefully a number of times in hot water, so as to free it from any adhering dirt of any sort. It is then carefully dried in the sun for several days.

About two quarts of this sand is then placed in a frying pan and a lump of fresh lard (or parafine may be used) the size of a walnut is placed into the pan with it. This mixture is now thoroughly cooked over a hot fire until all lard is burned away, the result being that every little grain of sand is thoroughly covered with a slight coating of grease (or wax), which is invisible to the sight and touch, and, at the same time, renders the sand impervious to water.

When a handful of this treated sand is placed into the bucket of water, to be shortly again brought out, it is squeezed tightly together into a little lump, the grease making it adhere. Thus, when it is brought out it is quite as dry as when placed within the pail, and the Hindu fakir's magic is complete.

There is a trick similar to the one before popular in India, called "The Colored Sugars Trick." In this, the fakir eats a small quantity of sugar of different colors (black, red, yellow, green, and blue, along with the usual white sugar; it is easy to tint the sugars with harmless food dies). The various colors of sugar is chewed and swallowed by the conjuror, each in turn. The fakir then asks his audience to select whichever color they prefer of those swallowed, and, upon the choice being made, the conjuror immediately blows from his mouth the

Ron Ormond photographs the Fakirs in action.

colored sugar requested. This is repeated until all the colors have been called for in turn.

To accomplish this trick, the fakir has secretly prepared beforehand six small packages, each containing one of the colored sugars. These are enclosed in thin, parchment-like skin, and are secreted in the conjuror's mouth, three in each cheek, in a prearranged order. The fakir can easily reach any of these packets with his tongue, bring it to the front of the mouth, break the skin by pressing it against his teeth, and blow the sugar out in a perfectly dry condition. This is repeated until all six colored sugars have been produced.

If some skeptical specator wishes to examine the fakir's mouth, he merely swallows the skins. Hindu fakirs frequently swallow far more disagreeable things than skins for the sake of a few rupees on occasion. The colored sugars were also swallowed in the first place.

"The Diving Duck" is a puzzling bit of Hindu conjuring. The fakir sets a shallow bowl upon the ground, which he proceeds to fill with water. When this is done, the conjurer places a miniature artificial duck in the water, and then moves to one side and plays upon his flute. Soon the duck begins to move, and shortly dives beneath the water in a very natural manner. Whenever the hand of one of the spectators approaches near it, the duck dives out of sight, reappearing as soon as the hand recedes. Finally, the duck is taken out of the water, and immediately handed for examination; it is found entirely free from trickery of any sort. The bowl is also emptied of its water, and again shown to the onlookers.

The secret is this:

In the bottom of the shallow bowl there is a tiny hole bored, and through this is passed a thread or hair. To the inner end of this hair is attached a small dab of wax (sticky substance). The other end extends along the ground, and the trick is always performed on soil the color of which makes the hair invisible. The duck is fastened to the inner end of the hair by means of the wax; and it can be readily seen that when the bowl is filled with water, the duck will dive beautifully every time the hair is pulled by the conjuror, and will rise to the surface when this pressure is released.

That is the complete secret of "The Diving Duck Trick." In order to conceal the fact that the bowl leaks, the conjuor first sprinkles some water on the ground, or fills the bowl so full (apparently by accident) that it overflows. This conceals the fact that water is gradually running out through the small hole in the bottom of the pot.

In another trick sometimes exhibited, the reverse method of "The Diving Duck" is employed. This Hindu trick is called "The Jumping Rabbit" in which a small toy rabbit placed in the water jumps out of the bowl and lands beside the bowl. No thread or hair is used in this case, and spectators sometimes come right up to the pail and stand over it while the rabbit makes his marvelous leap. The fakir may be any distance from the pail of water at the time, and even held by onlookers to prevent any action on his part.

The conjuror begins by filling the little pail with water. After he has done this he pours into the water some sand, and stirs it up with a stick. The sand muddies the water and makes it opaque. In the act of pouring in the sand and stirring the water, the fakir secretly introduces into the pail a thin but broad spring, bent over so as to form an almost complete circle. The two ends of the spring are kept apart by means of a piece of sugar; so that, when this sugar melts, the spring will be released and will spring open with a sudden jerk. It is upon this spring that the little rabbit is placed. The conjuror goes through the various incantations of playing on the drum, etc. until the sugar melts, when the spring will fly uncoiled, and the little rabbit jumps forth.

Koka Fokir India
A Hindu Fakir version of "The Levitation" illusion. Lying flat on the ground, the body of the magician is covered with a cloth; he then rises high into the air. (Courtesy The Great Virgil Collection)

Ending the trick, the fakir turns the pail upside down allowing the water to escape and palms away the spring in his hand during this action.

Speaking of "palming" brings to mind a couple of East Indian sleight-of-hand tricks which I have seen. One is called, "The Beans and Scorpion Trick."

In this trick, three beans are changed into a scorpion. In the performance, the fakir has a box containing two compartments. In the upper one the beans are kept, while the lower compartment contains the scorpion. These compartments are separate, and either can be opened as desired. The fakir puts the three beans into the hand of one of the audience, and tells him to hold them. He then asks the spectator to open his hand again to see if they are still there. Of course they are, so the conjuror takes them out of this person's hand and puts them back in the box. He then asks the spectator to again hold his hand out; and, when he has done so, the conjuror deftly opens the lower box and allows the scorpion to fall into his hand, where he palms it. Thus the scorpion is dropped into the person's hand instead of the expected beans. The trick invariably causes much excitement.

Some species of scorpions found in India are harmless, but the creatures look vicious. The effect on the spectators is startling.

The second sleight-of-hand trick I wish to mention, is named, "The Basket and Chickens Trick." In this, the fakir exhibits a basket, some eighteen inches in diameter and twelve inches high. A stone is placed under the basket, which is then inverted over it. Soon the basket is lifted, and a snake or scorpion is found beneath it, while the stone has disappeared. The creature is thrown into a bag which the conjuror carries with him, and the basket is placed on the ground. After some more manipulation the basket is again raised, and this time some ten or fifteen little birds walk out from beneath it. Apparently nothing could be more extraordinary!

The explanation lies that in the act of inverting the basket the first time, the fakir introduces the scorpion and removes the stone by sleight-of-hand. The little birds are all contained in a black cloth bag, and are secretly introduced into the basket when every one's attention becomes centered on the appearance of the scorpion. That scorpion is the Hindu magician's misdirection, and very effective misdirection it is, as people instinctively back away from what is regarded as a poisonous creature.

In the action of the trick, as the inverted basket is raised the first time, and while all attention is upon the scorpion, the conjuror simply brings the basket back towards himself and loads the bag of chicks from beneath a bundled cloth lying by his side. It is but the act of a second to make this steal. The basket with the concealed bag of birds beneath is now placed in the center of the ground. The fakir places his hand underneath the inverted basket and releases the little chickens from the cloth bag. The little birds are free to scamper about, and when the basket is again lifted are a great surprise. The bag can be disposed of at any convenient moment.

One of the most surprising tricks of Hindu fakir magic I have ever witnessed was this one in which a magician took a little ball of rough cotton thread, and threw the ball to a woman who formed one of the party assisting him. She unravelled about two yards of the thread and broke it off. The fakir then took the thread and placed an end of it in his mouth, and by a deep breath the cotton flew into his mouth and he appeared to chew it. Then he borrowed a penknife from me, and with the big blade made as though he would stab himself in the throat, the woman preventing him with some show of excitement; but, presently, turning her back, the man seized the opportunity to plunge the knife into his stomach, and that he did very well. He then put his hand under the loose linen shirt he was wearing and began to draw out the length of cotton thread.

When he had drawn out nearly as much as the length of the piece which he had swallowed, he lifted his shirt slightly and showed the end of the cotton apparently embedded in the skin. He then took the knife and moved it upward against the skin as if he were pressing out the last bit of thread, which was tinged with blood.

I practiced the trick.

The sucking in of the cotton thread takes skill, but you can achieve it. The only precaution to be taken is to prevent the end coming into contact with the back of the throat, for if it does it will bring on an attack of coughing.

The plunging of the knife into the stomach is all pretense, and, of course, the chewing of the thread is merely a way of secreting it, as it is wadded into a small ball by the tongue, and is deposited between the side of the lower teeth and cheek. The piece of thread that is reproduced is another length of cotton rolled up beneath the shirt, the Hindu then makes a small nick in his skin and forces the end of the thread into this, the slight bleeding coloring the end of the thread. Thus it seems that following the pulling out of the thread, when the shirt is raised, the last bit of thread appears to be coming still out through a slit in the skin. In my performance, I got away from the cutting of the skin by merely fastening the end of the thread to the skin of the stomach with a bit of flesh colored tape of about a quarter of an inch size. This looks exactly as though the thread were sticking out of the skin, and the upward movement of the knife scraps this off, and the thread is pulled free. A little red coloring on the end of the string completes the illusion.

"The Brass Bowl Trick" is an ingenious effect performed by the fakirs. The Hindu magician brings forward a brass bowl which he shows empty. He fills this with cold water, placing a piece'of i<3e in the water to emphasize that it is really cold. He then covers the bowl for a few moments with a borrowed handkerchief, makes passes over the bowl, plays on his drum, etc., and soon removes the handkerchief. The water in the bowl is now found to be scalding hot!

The secret of this astonishing trick lies in the peculiar construction of the brass bowl. The sides of the bowl are double, as are also the feet upon which it stands. When brought forward the space between the two sides of the vessel is filled with the boiling water, while the lower space is empty. While covering the bowl with the handkerchief, the faker has an opportunity to scratch off a wax pellet covering an air-hole, this allows the cold water to run down into the empty space in the foot of the bowl. By scratching off a second wax pellet on the side of the bowl, the hot water is made to run into the body of the bowl, until it finds its own level. The trick is a clever adaption of physics by the native East Indian magician.

Snake charming is commonly seen performed by the fakirs in India. While not conjuring, it is closely associated with the performances of these interesting magicians. The snake charming is genuine and is a skill acquired by long practice. Usually the cobra is used for this purpose, and being known as a deadly snake fascinates the watchers. Of course, the fangs of the serpents have been extracted, so it is not as dangerous as it seems. The Hindus are exceedingly dexterous in extracting fangs.

One of the classical feats of the Hindu fakirs about which stories have been circulated all over the world is that known as "Voluntary Interment."

In this demonstration, the fakir places himself in a self-induced trance (undoubtedly closely akin to self-hypnosis), he is then placed inside of a coffin, the lid nailed on. The coffin is then lowered into a grave and is covered with dirt. Sometimes no coffin is employed, the entranced fakir merely being lowered in a hole with boards placed over him before the dirt is heaped on top.

The fakir remains buried for an inordinate length of time, after which he is dug up, revived, and seems none the worse for his experience.

There is no trickery in the demonstration. A trance state is induced and the breathing and body functions reduced to a low ebb which makes it possible to survive for a surprisingly long time on the amount of air which exists in the burial situation. The feat is unquestionably dangerous, and many performances have resulted in death.

"The Voluntary Interment Trick," or as it is popularly called, "Buried Alive" is the most hazardous trick of Hindu Fakir Magic. So many magicians have been killed that the Indian government has now outlawed it being shown. In volume two of this trilogy, Religious Mysteries of the Orient (pub. A. S. Barnes and Co., Inc. 1975), I wrote of a personal experience with the effect in which my partner, Ron Ormond had a near brush with death. "The Buried Alive" performance, along with pain control feats such as sleeping on a "Bed of Nails," and passing pins through the flesh brings the fakir very close to genuine East Indian Magic about which I will write in the next chapter.

Indian Magician Fro Hendu
Ron Ormond, and "The Cobra Eating Magician." This Fakir performs the fantastic feat of swallowing a cobra alive. (Photos reprinted with permission from The Secret World of Witchcraft, A. S. Barnes & Company, Inc. 1973)
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Responses

  • boyd
    Who is the magician that swallow india king?
    3 months ago
  • Ave Iadanza
    How to get magic for hindus?
    1 month ago

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