Magic, along with its subgenres of, and sometimes referred to as illusion, stage magic or close up magic is a performing art in which audiences are entertained by staged tricks or illusions of seemingly impossible feats using natural means. It is to be distinguished from paranormal magic which, it is claimed, are effects created through supernatural means. It is one of the oldest performing arts in the world.
Modern entertainment magic, as pioneered by 19th century magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, has become a popular theatrical art form. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, magicians such as Maskelyne and Devant, Howard Thurston, Harry Kellar, and Harry Houdini achieved widespread commercial success during what has become known as "The Golden Age of Magic". During this period, performance magic became a staple of Broadway theatre, vaudeville, and music halls. Magic retained its popularity in the television age, with magicians such as David Copperfield, Doug Henning, Penn & Teller, and David Blaine transitioning away from traditional venues to great success.
The term "magic" etymologically derives from the Greek word mageia (μαγεία). In ancient times, Greeks and Persians had been at war for centuries, and the Persian priests, called magosh in Persian, came to be known as magoi in Greek. Ritual acts of Persian priests came to be known as mageia, and then magika—which eventually came to mean any foreign, unorthodox, or illegitimate ritual practice. During the 17th century, many books were published that described magic tricks. Until the 18th century, magic shows were a common source of entertainment at fairs. A founding figure of modern entertainment magic was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who had a magic theatre in Paris in 1845. John Henry Anderson was pioneering the same transition in London in the 1840s. Towards the end of the 19th century, large magic shows permanently staged at big theatre venues became the norm. As a form of entertainment, magic easily moved from theatrical venues to television magic specials. Performances that modern observers would recognize as conjuring have been practiced throughout history. For many recorded centuries, magicians were associated with the devil and the occult. During the 19th and 20th centuries, many stage magicians even capitalized on this notion in their advertisements. The same level of ingenuity that was used to produce famous ancient deceptions such as the Trojan Horse would also have been used for entertainment, or at least for cheating in money games. They were also used by the practitioners of various religions and cults from ancient times onwards to frighten uneducated people into obedience or turn them into adherents. However, the profession of the illusionist gained strength only in the 18th century, and has enjoyed several popular vogues since.
Opinions vary among magicians on how to categorize a given effect, but a number of categories have been developed. Magicians may pull a rabbit from an empty hat, make something seem to disappear, or transform a red silk handkerchief into a green silk handkerchief. Magicians may also destroy something, like cutting a head off, and then "restore" it, make something appear to move from one place to another, or they may escape from a restraining device. Other illusions include making something appear to defy gravity, making a solid object appear to pass through another object, or appearing to predict the choice of a spectator. Many magic routines use combinations of effects.
One of the earliest books on the subject is Gantziony's work of 1489, Natural and Unnatural Magic, which describes and explains old-time tricks. In 1584, Englishman Reginald Scot published The Discoverie of Witchcraft, part of which was devoted to debunking the claims that magicians used supernatural methods, and showing how their "magic tricks" were in reality accomplished. Among the tricks discussed were sleight-of-hand manipulations with rope, paper and coins. At the time, fear and belief in witchcraft was widespread and the book tried to demonstrate that these fears were misplaced. Popular belief held that all obtainable copies were burned on the accession of James I in 1603.
During the 17th century, many similar books were published that described in detail the methods of a number of magic tricks, including The Art of Conjuring (1614) and The Anatomy of Legerdemain: The Art of Juggling (c. 1675).
Until the 18th century, magic shows were a common source of entertainment at fairs, where itinerant performers would entertain the public with magic tricks, as well as the more traditional spectacles of sword swallowing, juggling and fire breathing. In the early 18th century, as belief in witchcraft was waning, the art became increasingly respectable and shows would be put on for rich private patrons. A notable figure in this transition was the English showman, Isaac Fawkes, who began to promote his act in advertisements from the 1720s – he even claimed to have performed for King George II. One of Fawkes' advertisements described his routine in some detail:
He takes an empty bag, lays it on the Table and turns it several times inside out, then commands 100 Eggs out of it and several showers of real Gold and silver, then the Bag beginning to swell several sorts of wild fowl run out of it upon the Table. He throws up a Pack of Cards, and causes them to be living birds flying about the room. He causes living Beasts, Birds, and other Creatures to appear upon the Table. He blows the spots of the Cards off and on, and changes them to any pictures.
A founding figure of modern entertainment magic was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, originally a clockmaker, who opened a magic theatre in Paris in 1845. He transformed his art from one performed at fairs to a performance that the public paid to see at the theatre. His speciality was constructing mechanical automata that appeared to move and act as if alive. Many of Robert-Houdin's mechanisms for illusion were pirated by his assistant and ended up in the performances of his rivals, John Henry Anderson and Alexander Herrmann.
John Henry Anderson was pioneering the same transition in London. In 1840 he opened the New Strand Theatre, where he performed as The Great Wizard of the North. His success came from advertising his shows and captivating his audience with expert showmanship. He became one of the earliest magicians to attain a high level of world renown. He opened a second theatre in Glasgow in 1845.
Towards the end of the century, large magic shows permanently staged at big theatre venues became the norm. The British performer J N Maskelyne and his partner Cooke were established at the Egyptian Hall in London's Piccadilly in 1873 by their manager William Morton, and continued there for 31 years. The show incorporated stage illusions and reinvented traditional tricks with exotic (often Oriental) imagery. The potential of the stage was exploited for hidden mechanisms and assistants, and the control it offers over the audience's point of view. Maskelyne and Cooke invented many of the illusions still performed today – one of his best-known being levitation.
The model for the look of a 'typical' magician—a man with wavy hair, a top hat, a goatee, and a tailcoat—was Alexander Herrmann (February 10, 1844 – December 17, 1896), also known as Herrmann the Great. Herrmann was a French magician and was part of the Herrmann family name that is the "first-family of magic".
The escapologist and magician Harry Houdini took his stage name from Robert-Houdin and developed a range of stage magic tricks, many of them based on what became known after his death as escapology. Houdini was genuinely skilled in techniques such as lockpicking and escaping straitjackets, but also made full use of the range of conjuring techniques, including fake equipment and collusion with individuals in the audience. Houdini's show business savvy was as great as his performance skill. There is a Houdini Museum dedicated to him in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
As a form of entertainment, magic easily moved from theatrical venues to television specials, which opened up new opportunities for deceptions, and brought stage magic to huge audiences. Famous magicians of the 20th century included Okito, David Devant, Harry Blackstone Sr., Harry Blackstone Jr., Howard Thurston, Theodore Annemann, Cardini, Joseph Dunninger, Dai Vernon, Fred Culpitt, Tommy Wonder, Siegfried & Roy, and Doug Henning. Popular 20th- and 21st-century magicians include David Copperfield, Lance Burton, James Randi, Penn and Teller, David Blaine, Criss Angel, Hans Klok and Derren Brown. Well-known women magicians include Dell O'Dell and Dorothy Dietrich. Most television magicians perform before a live audience, who provide the remote viewer with a reassurance that the illusions are not obtained with post-production visual effects.
Many of the principles of stage magic are old. There is an expression, "it's all done with smoke and mirrors", used to explain something baffling, but effects seldom use mirrors today, due to the amount of installation work and transport difficulties. For example, the famous Pepper's Ghost, a stage illusion first used in 19th-century London, required a specially built theatre. Modern performers have vanished objects as large as the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, and a space shuttle, using other kinds of optical deceptions.
Magic is often described according to various specialities or genres.
Magicians describe the type of tricks they perform in various ways. Opinions vary as to how to categorize a given effect, and disagreement as to what categories actually exist. For instance, some magicians consider "penetrations" a separate category, while others consider penetrations a form of restoration or teleportation. Some magicians today, such as Guy Hollingworth and Tom Stone have begun to challenge the notion that all magic effects fit into a limited number of categories. Among magicians who believe in a limited number of categories (such as Dariel Fitzkee, Harlan Tarbell, S.H. Sharpe), there has been disagreement as to how many different types of effects there are. Some of these are listed below.
Many magic routines use combinations of effects. For example, in "cups and balls" a magician may use vanishes, productions, penetrations, teleportation and transformations as part of the one presentation.
The methodology behind magic is often referred to as a science (often a branch of physics) while the performance aspect is more of an art form.
Dedication to magic can teach confidence and creativity, as well as the work ethic associated with regular practice and the responsibility that comes with devotion to an art. The teaching of performance magic was once a secretive practice. Professional magicians were unwilling to share knowledge with anyone outside the profession to prevent the laity from learning their secrets. This often made it difficult for an interested apprentice to learn anything but the basics of magic. Some had strict rules against members discussing magic secrets with anyone but established magicians.
From the 1584 publication of Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft until the end of the 19th century, only a few books were available for magicians to learn the craft, whereas today mass-market books offer a myriad titles. Videos and DVDs are a newer medium of tuition, but many of the methods found in this format are readily found in previously published books. However, they can serve as a visual demonstration.
Persons interested in learning to perform magic can join magic clubs. Here magicians, both seasoned and novitiate, can work together and help one another for mutual improvement, to learn new techniques, to discuss all aspects of magic, to perform for each other—sharing advice, encouragement, and criticism. Before a magician can join one of these clubs, they usually have to audition. The purpose is to show to the membership they are a magician and not just someone off the street wanting to discover magic secrets.
The world's largest magic organization is the International Brotherhood of Magicians; it publishes a monthly journal, The Linking Ring. The oldest organization is the Society of American Magicians, which publishes the monthly magazine M-U-M and of which Houdini was a member and president for several years. In London, England, there is The Magic Circle, which houses the largest magic library in Europe. Also PSYCRETS—The British Society of Mystery Entertainers—caters specifically to mentalists, bizarrists, storytellers, readers, spiritualist performers, and other mystery entertainers. Davenport's Magic in London's The Strand is the world's oldest family-run magic shop. The Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, is home to the Academy of Magical Arts.
Traditionally, magicians refuse to reveal the methods behind their tricks to the audience. Membership in professional magicians' organizations often requires a commitment never to reveal the secrets of magic to non-magicians. Magic performances tend to fall into a few specialties or genres. Stage illusions use large-scale props and even large animals. Platform magic is performed for a medium to large audience. Close-up magic is performed with the audience close to the magician. Escapology involves escapes from confinement or restraints. Pickpocket magicians take audience members' wallets, belts, and ties. Mentalism creates the illusion that the magician can read minds. Comedy magic is the use of magic combined with stand-up comedy, an example being Penn & Teller. Some modern illusionists believe that it is unethical to give a performance that claims to be anything other than a clever and skillful deception. Others argue that they can claim that the effects are due to magic. These apparently irreconcilable differences of opinion have led to some conflicts among performers. Another issue is the use of deceptive practices for personal gain outside the venue of a magic performance. Examples include fraudulent mediums, con men and grifters who use deception for cheating at card games.
Some modern illusionists believe that it is unethical to give a performance that claims to be anything other than a clever and skillful deception. Most of these performers therefore eschew the term "magician" (which they view as making a claim to supernatural power) in favor of "illusionist" and similar descriptions; for example, the performer Jamy Ian Swiss makes these points by billing himself as an "honest liar". Alternatively, many performers say that magical acts, as a form of theatre, need no more of a disclaimer than any play or film; this policy is advocated by the magician and mentalist Joseph Dunninger, who states "For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will suffice."
These apparently irreconcilable differences of opinion have led to some conflicts among performers. For example, more than thirty years after the hugely successful illusionist Uri Geller made his first appearances on television in the 1970s to exhibit his self-proclaimed psychic ability to bend spoons, his actions still provoke controversy among some magic performers, because he claimed he was not using conjuring techniques. On the other hand, because Geller bent—and continues to bend—spoons within a performance context, the Dunninger quote may be said to apply.
Less fraught with controversy, however, may be the use of deceptive practices by those who employ conjuring techniques for personal gain outside the venue of a magic performance.
Fraudulent mediums have long capitalized on the popular belief in paranormal phenomena to prey on the bereaved for financial gain. From the 1840s to the 1920s, during the greatest popularity of the Spiritualism religious movement as well as public interest in séances, a number of fraudulent mediums used conjuring methods to perform illusions such as table-knocking, slate-writing, and telekinetic effects, which they attributed to the actions of ghosts or other spirits. The great escapologist and illusionist Harry Houdini devoted much of his time to exposing such fraudulent operators. Magician James Randi, magic duo Penn & Teller, and the mentalist Derren Brown have also devoted much time to investigating and debunking paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims.
Con men and grifters too may use techniques of conjuring for fraudulent goals. Cheating at card games is an obvious example, and not a surprising one: one of the most respected textbooks of card techniques for magicians, The Expert at the Card Table by Erdnase, was primarily written as an instruction manual for card sharps. The card trick known as "Find the Lady" or "Three-card Monte" is an old favourite of street hustlers, who lure the victim into betting on what seems like a simple proposition: to identify, after a seemingly easy-to-track mixing sequence, which one of three face-down cards is the Queen. Another example is the shell game, in which a pea is hidden under one of three walnut shells, then shuffled around the table (or sidewalk) so slowly as to make the pea's position seemingly obvious. Although these are well known as frauds, people still lose money on them; a shell-game ring was broken up in Los Angeles as recently as December 2009.
Because of the secretive nature of magic, research can be a challenge. Many magic resources are privately held and most libraries only have small populist collections of magicana. However, organizations exist to band together independent collectors, writers, and researchers of magic history, including the Magic Collectors' Association, which publishes a quarterly magazine and hosts an annual convention; and the Conjuring Arts Research Center, which publishes a monthly newsletter and biannual magazine, and offers its members use of a searchable database of rare books and periodicals.
Performance magic is particularly notable as a key area of popular culture from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Many performances and performers can be followed through newspapers of the time.
Many books have been written about magic tricks; so many are written every year that at least one magic author has suggested that more books are written about magic than any other performing art. Although the bulk of these books are not seen on the shelves of libraries or public bookstores, the serious student can find many titles through specialized stores catering to the needs of magic performers.
Several notable public research collections on magic are the WG Alma Conjuring Collection at the State Library of Victoria; the R. B. Robbins Collection of Stage Magic and Conjuring at the State Library of NSW; the H. Adrian Smith Collection of Conjuring and Magicana at Brown University; and the Carl W. Jones Magic Collection, 1870s–1948 at Princeton University.
Bizarre magic (or bizarre magick) is a branch of stage magic, like stage illusions, sleight of hand, or children's magic. The major difference is that bizarre magic uses storytelling and word play to a much greater degree, and less emphasis is placed on the manual dexterity of the performer or the complexity of his equipment. The experience is intended to be more akin to small, intimate theater than a conventional magic show.Close-up magic
Close-up magic (also known as table magic or micromagic) is magic performed in an intimate setting usually no more than ten feet (three metres) from one's audience and is usually performed while sitting at a table.Close-up magic can combine sleight-of-hand manipulations with card flourishes, and is called cardistry.
Sleight-of-hand, also known as prestidigitation ("quick fingers") or léger de main (Fr., "lightness of hand"), is the set of techniques used by a micromagician to manipulate objects such as cards and coins secretly.Card flourishes are an example of skill rather than of illusion or deceit. It is the equivalent of juggling to a juggler. The two principal forms of micromagic are card tricks and coin tricks but any small item can be used for sleight-of-hand performances including dice, bottle caps, sugar cubes, sponge balls, pebbles, pens and cups and balls. It is not uncommon for micromagicians to combine several of these objects in a single trick. Micromagician Johnny Ace Palmer produces baby chicks in his cups-and-balls routine.
Micromentalism is mentalism performed in an intimate session. This form of mentalism involves examples of telekinesis, extrasensory perception, precognition and telepathy. Most cold reading takes place in such an intimate session, as do most theatrical séances.Cone of power
The cone of power is a method of raising energy in ritual magic, especially witchcraft. The raised energy forms a cone with the circle forming its base. As a group the cone is formed by the coveners standing in a circle, holding hands, and focusing on a single point above and in the centre of the circle. They then dance, drum, chant, and perform various other ritual gestures, in order to raise the energy. This is called "Raising the Cone of Power".Equivocation (magic)
Equivocation (or the magician's choice) is a verbal technique by which a magician gives an audience member an apparently free choice, but frames the next stage of the trick in such a way that each choice has the same end result. For example, the performer may deal two cards to the table and ask a spectator to select one: if the spectator chooses the card on the left, the performer will say something like "you keep this card, I'll take the remaining card". If the spectator chooses the card on the right, the performer will take that card. Thus, the choice of which card to use is really made by the magician.
These basic techniques can be expanded to include practically any number of items, such as an entire deck of cards. For larger sets, items may first be grouped, then split up. The magician must quickly and carefully craft patter to convey the impression that the actions he or she takes with the items truly reflect the intent of the spectator.Escapology
Escapology is the practice of escaping from restraints or other traps. Escapologists (also classified as escape artists) escape from handcuffs, straitjackets, cages, coffins, steel boxes, barrels, bags, burning buildings, fish-tanks, and other perils, often in combination.Exposure (magic)
Exposure in magic refers to the practice of revealing the methods of magic tricks.
The practice is generally frowned upon amongst magicians, who believe that it ruins the experience of magical performances for audiences.
Exposure is uniquely impactful to magicians, as magic relies heavily on the elusive nature of secrets and methods in order to create mystery.Glossary of magic (illusion)
This is a glossary of conjuring terms used by magicians.Gospel magic
Gospel magic is the use of otherwise standard stage magic tricks and illusions to promote Christian messages. Gospel magic does not claim to invoke spirits or paranormal powers. Gospel magic is intended to present the Christian good news through "visual parables"; the trick or illusion is used to present theological points in an entertaining way with the intention that people will remember the message. Gospel magic is generally presented as stage magic or platform magic, but it can be adapted to close-up magic or micromagic situations.List of magic effects manufacturers
This is a list of magic effects manufacturers. Manufacturers of magic effects produce magic tricks and illusions. Some are large corporations while others are small "cottage" industries operated from the manufacturer's home or small workshop.List of magic publications
Magic publications are books and periodicals which are created on the subject of magic. They include reviews of new equipment and techniques, announcements of upcoming events, interviews with prominent magicians, announcements of awards, and columns on such subjects as the history and ethics of the art of magic. Most also feature various explanations and ideas pertaining to magic tricks/effects. Additionally you can commonly advertise for businesses and events with little charge.Magic club
A magic club is any group of local magicians who meet together on a regular basis. A club can be open to all with an interest in magic or it may be only possible to join by invite or by meeting some sort of notability criteria (e.g. professional magicians only). Some clubs may specialize in types of magic, or be primarily youth oriented.
Most magic clubs will charge a fee for membership. Fees will vary from club to club, depending on what services are offered.Magic store
A magic store (also magic shop or magician's supply shop) is an establishment which sells materials for performing magic tricks. Magic shops often also sell practical jokes and novelty items, and frequently serve as informal gathering places for amateur magicians, with some hosting organized magic clubs.Mathemagician
A mathemagician is a mathematician who is also a magician.
The name "mathemagician" was probably first applied to Martin Gardner, but has since been used to describe many mathematician/magicians, including Arthur T. Benjamin, Persi Diaconis, and Colm Mulcahy. Diaconis has suggested that the reason so many mathematicians are magicians is that "inventing a magic trick and inventing a theorem are very similar activities."A great number of self-working mentalism tricks rely on mathematical principles. Max Maven often utilizes this type of magic in his performance.Mentalism
Mentalism is a performing art in which its practitioners, known as mentalists, appear to demonstrate highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. Performances may appear to include hypnosis, telepathy, clairvoyance, divination, precognition, psychokinesis, mediumship, mind control, memory feats, deduction, and rapid mathematics. Mentalists are sometimes categorized as psychic entertainers, although that category also contains non-mentalist performers such as psychic readers and bizzarists.Potion
A potion (from Latin potio "drink") is a magical medicine, drug in liquid form.
In mythology and literature, a potion is usually made by a magician, dragon, fairy or witch and has magical properties. It is used for various motives including the healing, bewitching or poisoning of people. For example, love potions for those who wish to fall in love (or become deeply infatuated) with another; sleeping potions to cause long-term or eternal sleep (in folklore, this can range from the normal REM sleep to a deathlike coma); and elixirs to heal/cure any wound/malady.
Creations of potions of different kinds were a common practice of alchemy, and were commonly associated with witchcraft, as in The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
During the 19th century, it was common in certain countries to see wandering charlatans offering curative potions. These were eventually dismissed as quackery.
In modern fantasy, potions are often portrayed as spells in liquid form, capable of causing a variety of effects, including healing, amnesia, infatuation, transformation, invisibility, and invulnerability.Stage illusions
Stage illusions are large-scale magic tricks. As the name implies, stage illusions are distinct from all other types of magic in that they are performed a considerable distance away from the audience, usually on a stage, in order to maintain the illusion. Examples of stage illusions include sawing a woman in half and Lady-to-Tiger.
Stage illusions usually use large props and may involve the use of assistants or large animals. As this form of magic performance is very common on television, members of the public will report that this is the only form of magic with which they are familiar. In actuality, only a small percentage of professional magicians are stage illusionists. Most choose to specialize in close-up magic and perform in more intimate settings. Grand illusions are usually very costly and, due to their size, are difficult to ship, which would explain the paucity of professional stage illusionists.Street magic
Street magic falls into two genres; traditional street performance and guerrilla magic.Stuart Cumberland
Stuart Cumberland (1857–1922) was an English mentalist known for his demonstrations of "thought reading".
Cumberland was famous for performing blindfolded feats such as identifying a hidden object in a room that a person had picked out or asking someone to imagine a murder scene and then attempt to read the subject's thoughts and identify the victim and re-enact the crime. Cumberland claimed to possess no genuine psychic ability and his thought reading performances could only be demonstrated by holding the hand of his subject to read their muscular movements. He came into dispute with psychical researchers associated with the Society for Psychical Research who were searching for genuine cases of telepathy. Cumberland argued that both telepathy and communication with the dead were impossible and that the mind of man can not be read through telepathy, only by muscle reading.An opponent of spiritualism, Cumberland would attribute all mediumship phenomena to muscle reading and trickery.The Clairvoyants
The Clairvoyants (Thommy Ten and Amélie van Tass) are an Austrian magician and mentalist duo. The two of them have been performing together since 2011. They finished runner-up to Grace VanderWaal on season 11 of America's Got Talent.