Originally published in Genii magazine

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Like many of you, I genuinely enjoy watching magic. Happily, I get to see a large number of magical performances over the course of a year. Not only are there my students here in Chicago who regularly perform their magic for me, but also the students who come from all over the world to attend Jeff McBride's Master Classes with which I have become involved. Then there is the magic that I see at the Magic Castle, which I always visit during my several trips each year to California. Finally, there are the magicians that I meet in the many cities to which I am drawn here in the United States and Europe and Asia. I think you get the picture: I really do see quite a bit of magic.

Sadly, much of it isn't performed as magic at all. It is performed as a series of stunts.

I mean by "stunt" something like balancing an egg on your nose or a feather on your chin. Stunts can be a lot of fun.

A stunt is very often performed as an exhibition of an acquired skill. This skill might be something that anyone could develop if they devoted the time and effort; or it might be a skill that is achievable only by a very few. The skill, however, is always within the realm of the possible. Further, the very fact of exhibiting the skill is the whole point-and, in itself, worthy of applause. You have balanced the egg on your nose and there is nothing left but to take your bow.

Performing magic is different. Magic takes us out of the realm of attainable skills, out of the realm of the possible, and into the strange world of the impossible: a world where the impossible is made magically possible. There is a great difference between this and balancing an egg on your nose. If the magician knows when to stop talking, audience members may even enter this strange world where there is no laughter and applause-or where, before any laughter and applause, there is that moment of stunned silence which appears when we come face-to-face with something that we absolutely believed could not be.

To achieve such moments of impact with an audience requires, among other things, that we are able to create a real sense of importance around our magic. Magic demands a sense of importance. And this is what I find so sadly lacking in much of the magic that I see performed. Consequently, we must approach this question of how we shall present our magical effects with great sensitivity and care. We are, after all, talking about empowering people to leave their analytic mind-sets at the door and to enter, for a brief time, the realm of the impossible, a realm of make-believe and imagination, where our most basic beliefs are turned upside-down. Without an over-arching framework of importance, the sense that what we are doing is in some sense very special, there simply is no magic. There are only stunts.

Have I lost you yet?

I ask you this question because I don't think this is the way most magicians approach the question of how they shall present their magic before real audiences. Most magicians-and I really do get to see a great deal of magic performed-seem utterly afraid of presenting their magic in a way that presumes it is important, a way that seeks to give a sense what we are experiencing here is special. They do their tricks as stunts and they hope for the best.

I wonder why. Do you wonder as well? Why do you think so many magicians-perhaps even you yoursef-fail to create a sense of importance with their magic, this sense that what is happening here is very special? Why do they present their magic in a way that suggests, instead, that it is basically unimportant and trivial?

The list of answers might be a long one. Most obviously, if we haven't practiced and rehearsed enough, confidence is replaced with the worrisome fear of getting caught, the fear that our audience will see through our intended deception-and, in the process, we will look exceedingly foolish. Informally, the logic goes as follows: "If I make a big deal out of this trick and it flops, I will look like a jerk. Better to present my magic in a way that, if it does fail, I won't look too bad." Enter idiotic comedy. Go for one emotion, laughter, and forget the fact that there are many human emotions that a magical performance might successfully engage.

If you think about it for a moment, it really is strange, if not surreal, to organize our magical performances around the presumption of failure. Yet, that seems to be what many are doing.

Then, of course, there is the fact the person or character they become when they perform their magic has not been consciously chosen by them but, rather, it is a "person" which they have become, more or less, by default. That may sound strange to you, but think about it for a moment. An unpleasantly large number of magicians "develop" their performing character simply by watching other magicians and, like good little monkeys, take a line here, a trick there, a moment from someone else and ideas from wherever they can find them. If they have learned their card trick watching a Michael Ammar video, they often attempt perform the effect as Michael-saying exactly what Michael said on the video. If they have learned their coin trick from a David Roth video, they attempt to perform it, more or less, as David Roth. They watch their videos and then they imitate what they see.

And, in the process, magic dissolves into stunts.

So I leave you with a few questions. How can you give your magic a new sense of importance? What can you do or say-or, more likely, not do or not say-to create in the minds of your audiences the sense that your magic--and you!--are both very special?

Do these questions even interest you? Do they interest you deeply? If so, what shall you do?

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Fundamentals of Magick

Fundamentals of Magick

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.

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