In episode two of the Theory & Thoughts for Magicians podcast I ask; "Do You Believe in Magic?" Specifically, does your performing character believe in magic? It's important to know the answer! When you present a magical effect, what is actually causing the magic to happen? What magic powers do you have? What is the source of these powers?
I encourage you to listen and ponder on these questions.
In this post I'd like to highlight one idea from the episode. Partly because it is my own original way of thinking about this, and partly because it benefits from a visual aid, unavailable in audio form.
This is a measurement of your (character's) belief in magic. I identify five particular spots along the way, but your own character may be a mix of two.
WIZARD - Resolute in their belief of magic, has complete control over the supernatural. Words Used: Command, summon, conjure.
MYSTIC - Connected with a supernatural force, but not in control of it. They possess some special ability to tap into this force and have it work through them. Words Used: Power, influence, intuition, phenomena.
AGNOSTIC - Sitting on the fence, expressing no opinion either way. This is dramatically uninteresting. Words Used: [shrug]
SCIENTIST - Observes the wonders of the universe and tries to make sense of it. May not have an explanation for all mysteries, but believes there is a rational answer. Words Used: Experiment, atoms, psychology.
JUGGLER - Amazing feats are the result of manual dexterity. In complete control of their skill. Words Used: Skill, practice, demonstration, stunt.
(I go into a little more detail on these types in the podcast.)
Two big takeaways (for me)
The majority of magicians are Agnostics only because they have not made a choice. They just haven't considered it. In performance they probably jump all over the place, being a wizard for one trick, and a juggler for the next, or express no viewpoint at all. It's either confusing or boring! I encourage you get off the fence and pick a spot.
Much like real life, your beliefs remain relatively consistent. Maybe not static, but within a limited range. Your performing character's beliefs should be consistent. It would not make sense for a Wizard (pure magic) to present a gambling demonstration (pure skill.) That said, with a little creativity, any magic trick can be adapted to suit your beliefs. When a coin vanishes, a mystic calls it magic, and a scientist calls it a quantum dislocation.
A chosen card has been lost into the deck, the deck shuffled, and placed on the table. You snap your fingers, and the chosen card is found on top. So what, exactly, happened when you snapped your fingers?
The snap implies it was that singular moment when the effect occurred. In that moment you caused the card to magically rise to the top. It was lost, and then [snap] found. In that moment you made magic happen. You’re a wizard! Well, maybe. It depends.
I’m Ryan Pilling, this is Theory & Thoughts for Magicians, and my question for you is this; Do you believe in magic?
Let me be clear; The beliefs I’m talking about in this episode are strictly limited to the make-believe theatrical world in which your magic exists. When I speak of “your beliefs” I am referring to the beliefs of your performance character, not you personally. Please keep your torch and pitchfork safely stowed under your seat for the duration of this podcast.
Your magician character, the role you play during your performances, has their own beliefs about magic as a spiritual force. Even if you haven’t consciously created this back-story there will be clues about the way they behave, the words they use, and their movements in the act of making magic.
Let’s see if we can place our characters on a spectrum of magicality. I just made that up, but it sure sounds real.
Imagine a rainbow silk streamer stretched out before you. The left side has warm shades of red, orange and yellow. The right half has the cool blue, indigo and violet. The spectrum represents just how warm you are to the idea of magic as a supernatural force.
On the red-hot end of the spectrum we have Wizards, resolute in their belief of magic. They know magic, and they know how to use it. With a snap of their fingers, they summon forth all sorts of mystical power, under their command, to do their bidding.
On the opposite end, in the deep cool blue, are the Jugglers. Not to say they’ve given up magic for an even less-lucrative career, but they are magicians who present themselves as jugglers. There is no intent to make magic, it’s simply a display of skill. Flourishes and manipulation. With no suggestion of the supernatural their snap has no hidden power or meaning, it’s just to show they can snap while holding silver dollars between all their fingers.
Card cheats, such as Darwin Ortiz and Martin Nash, would classify as Jugglers on this spectrum. Everything they show you, though it may appear as magic, is credited to their supreme skill at handling a deck of cards. It’s interesting to note that this still involves a theatrical suspension of disbelief. Sometimes they are doing magic tricks, impossible things, and creating a fiction around superhuman skill, rather than supernatural magic.
These two extremes Wizard and Juggler, are easy to identify by their absolute conviction, but are also quite rare. Like any bell curve, most of us are lumped in the middle somewhere.
There are an infinite number of stops along this spectrum of I do or do not believe in magic. For today I’ll group it into five sections, so we have three more to talk about.
The Mystics are those who believe in magic, but do not necessarily have full command over it as a Wizard might. They are tapped into some supernatural force, and use it to influence events and outcomes to create the desired effect. Mystics may speak of intuition or manifesting as a gentler form of magic.
On the side of non-magic believers, are the Scientists. They aim to observe the mysterious wonders of the universe and find rational explanations. They may not know the answer, but they believe there is one to be discovered. Scientists may dismiss magic, the part they can’t explain, as a lucky coincidence.
For both the Mystics and the Scientists their snap becomes the catalyst of a magic effect. They don’t control whatever forces are at work, but the snap triggers the process.
Finally, the largest group smack-dab in the middle are the Agnostics. The fence-sitters. They haven’t decided if they believe in magic or not. As an artistic choice for your performance character this is a non-choice. Expressing no point-of-view is dramatically uninteresting. Their snap is ambiguous and meaningless. If you find your character in this undetermined space, I encourage you to get off the fence.
How far you go to the left or the right is a question of conviction of belief. The Wizard has no doubt about their magical ability, just as the Juggler has no doubt about their physical skill. It’s okay to not be so confident. I feel it’s better, more interesting, to have a character who is wrestling with their beliefs.
Wizard, Mystic, Scientist, or Juggler. Where does your character seem to fit in? What does it mean when you snap?
If you imply you possess or channel supernatural powers, you’ve got some explaining to do. If you want us to go along on this theatrical journey, we need to understand your origin story.
In the Linking Ring magazine, November of 2001, Bill Fienning opened his new column with a look at “Sources of Magical Power.” In folklore and mythology, he notes, humans do not inherently have such powers. Magic is the business of the gods, demons, genii, elves, and fairies.
For a human to gain magical ability they must come into contact with the mystical realm. Bill suggests five ways in which powers may be acquired.
1 – Through study of arcane knowledge.
In the deepest, darkest corner of the Vatican lies a book forgotten to history. In it a reader may uncover the secrets of the universe, deemed so dangerous the scribes who wrote those words cut out their own tongues to avoid passing on the forbidden knowledge.
2 – You may have objects, materials, or know words which enable magical powers.
If you’re at a magic convention you can often pick out the mentalists and bizarre magicians by how many pieces of jewelry they wear. Talismans around their neck, large signet rings, and (I’m not making this up) a cat skull dangling from their walking staff. I’ve seen it! These accessories serve to connect the wearer with the supernatural realm.
The right magic words - Sim-Sala-Bim - can conjure miracles, or an iconic magic wand used to amplify and direct the ethereal forces at work.
3 – Possess objects which are magical by themselves.
In this case you do not wield the power, but you are the owner of the thing which does. Jon Armstrong’s “Tiny Plunger” comes to mind. The plunger does the magic, while Jon acts merely as ringmaster showcasing its impressive talents.
4 – You have received your powers from a supernatural being.
Just as Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to play the guitar you might have a similar arrangement to gain superhuman abilities in the department of small plastic sticks with coloured gems. Your ability to change those colours is impressive, though your counting skills seem to have suffered in the deal.
There’s also the passing of magical powers through genetics. Many stories have gods and demons inter-mingling on earth to make magical half-human babies. Perhaps you come from a magical family.
5 – You’ve come into contact with the mystical forces of the universe.
Whether you walked to the top of Mount Fuji, or just passed out at Burning Man, your vision-quest revealed the great truth unto you, and you’ve returned to us with new abilities.
Or, perhaps you were struck by lightning in an Iowa corn field. Now, with only the power of your mind, you can pop corn from ten feet away.
There we have it. The five mythological sources of magic powers.
1 – Studied arcane knowledge 2 – Powers enabled through an object 3 - An object with power of its own 4 – Power passed from a supernatural being 5 – Contact with a mystical force
If you’re weaving a story about possessing magical powers, one of these will be your secret source.
If you’ve ever prattled on about molecules, atoms, wavelengths and quantum mechanics to describe a magical effect you may be a Scientist.
It doesn’t matter if your scientific explanations are real science or nonsensical pseudo-science. Just as superhero stories can explain almost anything by invoking “gamma radiation,” you’re allowed dramatic license to create your own theatrical version of science.
As Arthur C. Clarke tells us, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Magicians take advantage of this to tell tall tales about high-tech gadgets capable of impossible things.
The interesting thing here is that, while it is disguised as science, it still originates from the same five sources of magic power.
1 – You’ve studied arcane knowledge, or as scientists call it; post-doctorate research. 2 – Powers enabled through an object like my trusty sonic quantum laser de-combobulator. 3 – An object with power of its own, which I could show you if you just step inside this time machine. 4 – Power passed from a supernatural being. By the way, did I mention I’m the illegitimate grandchild of Albert Einstein? 5 – Contact with a mystical force. Well… I was working in the lab, late one night, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…
Just as in the real world, the beliefs held by our performance character will seep into everything. The way you behave, what you say, and the choices you make. Whether you are performing a full evening show, or showing a single trick, I feel it’s important to have some sense of where your magic comes from, and how your belief is communicated through your routine.
If you want your audience to believe in your belief, your performance must be reasonably consistent. You can’t swing wildly from having magic powers one moment to using science the next. You’re asking your audience to accept your fictional world which comes with its own set of rules. Just as Spider-Man can’t suddenly fly, your Wizard can’t suddenly start demonstrating second deals. You need to stay consistent with the world you create.
The five, well, really four types – Wizard, Mystic, Scientist, and Juggler - are a start and will serve to get you in the neighbourhood, but there is no limit to how specific you can get about your character’s back-story. You may want to send your magician on an imaginary back-packing trip through Europe to find themselves.
To discover what it means when you… [snap]
Thank you for listening to Theory & Thoughts for Magicians. These episodes are meant to poke and prod at your beliefs on a wide range of magical ideas. I ask many questions, and provide few answers. I hope you carry these thoughts with you and ponder on the source of your own magic powers.
This podcast is just one of many creative outlets for my own magical thinking. I encourage you to subscribe to my weekly newsletter at www.MagicTipsAndTricks.com