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Part 5. Astonishment, magic and Neuro Linguistic Programming

Art of astonishment part 5

Art of astonishment part 5

Alfred Korzybski whose best known dictum is “The map is not the territory”, that human beings are limited in what they know by (1) the structure of their nervous systems, and (2) the structure of their languages. Human beings cannot experience the world directly, but only through their “abstractions” (nonverbal impressions or “gleanings” derived from the nervous system, and verbal indicators expressed and derived from language). Sometimes our perceptions and our languages actually mislead us as to the “facts” with which we must deal. It is these perceptions which couax the more verbal audience members to speak out with their view of how a trick or effect is done.

Essentially if someone sees a piece of magically performance and immediately starts to dissect the mecahnics and workings of the trick then this they are not seeing, or experiencing real magic. It is a leap of faith for them, to suddenly start believing in magic from this ‘unknown’ magician when the very concept of magic had been banished from their minds along with the tooth fairy, father Christmas and leprecahuns long before they started secondary school. As a result from the moment we start our performance, we should make every effort to shape our performance into a piece of theatre which, if correctly structured, with congruence, authenticity and an air of mystery then hopefully they will buy into this frame, leave their beliefs and misconceptions and the door and enter into a world, where their moment of astonishment may run and run…..

If they react to this correctly ‘dressed’ piece of theatre or magic then the end result should finish with a gaps of amazement, a nervous giggle (the kind that you used to do when queuing up to have your first jab at school from the school nurse) or be left with a moment of absolutely stillness in senses. This piece of theatre, piece of magic, then transcends their pre-conceived idea of a magic trick and enter into a completely different world before the emotion of astonishment starts to crumble, the questions about its impossibility, then possibility and then dissection return as their mind starts in inevitable whirring again.

For me any piece of magic, mentalism or effect should result in a degree of astonishment. My professional set is configured to achieving that. That is why very few new effects ever enter in. Often the proverbial magic trick ‘wheel’ is reinvented time and time again with merely just another spin placed on it. This is not always the case I may add,; occasionally there is something truly unique come to the shelves and webpages of magic dealers but – truly unique pieces of magic or mentalism to create astonishment, for me are few and far between. You may disagree. How many effects have you bought that have not impressed you? Admittedly we look at them with eyes of scrutiny – have they impressed us – no – therefore why would they amaze the audience. This sadly is the case time and time again where we do not even take the time to try it out for overly convoluted mechanics. For some it is this overly convoluted card flourishes which find themselves into performance pieces and add nothing to the final impact of the illusion – and to some degree, detract from it, as the performer becomes ‘a show off’ or ‘a sleight of hand artist’. Now this in itself , is not a bad thing – far from it. I know extremely skilled cardicians who are superb ‘finger flickers’ – but does this add to that final encore of astonishment…….? (I’ll leave that as a rhetorical question). Next blog post – part 6 will look at the more spiritual thinking behind astonishment and how it can be likened to meditation…..

Part 4: Astonishment, magic, and those who captured imaginations….

art of astonishment part 4

Art of astonishment part 4

A more modern taste of ‘real magic’ came courtesy of karate expert and sleight of hand artist James Hydrick. In 1981 Hydrick was invited to appear on American National Television to demonstrate his skill of using ‘telekinesis’  to spin a pencil using the power of his mind.  Hydrick performed a similar trick using his supposed magical and superhuman abilities to turn the pages of a phone directory without touching it. This garnered a huge and almost cult-like following. Again people could not these feats of impossibility could only be attributed to ‘magic’.

The following year – debunker of psychics – James Randi – invite Hydick to appear on That’s my Line television show and for Hydrick to replicate the trick under test conditions. (The phone book surrounded by pieces of Styrofoam) to check if Hydrick was simply blowing. Sadly, after an hour and half and several excuses Hydrick had to resign and this signalled the end of his following, TV career and cult-like following. Again – what originally appeared like magic that captivated the nation, was nothing more than a trick.

To an extent these two examples show that people want to believe in magic. I mean real want to. They want to be astonished. Without being heavily duplicitous claiming powers we don’t, I feel we can at least reach out with our magic and allow those to believe and be astonished who journey with us on that path to magic. To astonishment

As profound as this may sound, this is to some extent the beauty of magic. There is nothing else which can compare or take us back to this state of astonishment in our conscious state. Regression therapy or hypnosis may take us there, but we are in a different state of consciousness and are therefore unable to fully appreciate that moment of stillness in our mind. We may be able to thumb through a box of old photos and reminisce on the memories of our childhood but there is nothing that really transports us metaphorically to that infantile state of astonishment.

I believe there are 2 schools of thought with regards to what is the art of astonishment in magic. The first is less my viewpoint than the latter but has it’s own positives.

Effect Vs Trick

Audience sees and effect.

Audience sees a trick – it will always be a trick. Trick has so many connatations to deceptions, deceit  and an attempt to outwit someone.

I believe a ‘trick’ will always leave a sour aftertaste in the spectator’s mouth of having bee ‘tricked’, duped, or fooled. If this is the case then sadly the magic has been performed incredibly badly, and is so far removed for the ideal state of astonishment which magic should attempt to achieve.

For some, the art of magic is not merely to be puzzling, but impossible. This level of impossibility for some in turn leads to that feeling of astonishment. But for me, that is still too complicated. Theere is still too much chicanery and trickery involved in the ‘impossible’. For something to be labelled as impossible still requires a cerebral interaction – a conscious state to question – query, know that it is a trick, look for the possible solution – not matter how believable able or believable and buy into the self-made answer (which is inevitably wrong) but helps us to make meaning of the world around us.

Part 5 will look at astonishment and the psychology behind why we are astonished or not…… keep your eyes peeled 😉 and feel free to share with your friends…

What is astonishment in magic for children: Part 3

The art of astonishment part 3

The art of astonishment part 3

The field of magic can be a fickle and judgmental business with some entertainer looking upon the world of children’s entertainment with scorn from the lofty heights of adult magic. I do not shy away from the fact that I also perform children’s magic and offers different and arguably greater rewards to share in moments of astonishment. If we, as magicians create magic to create astonishment and enjoy that experience from the participants / spectators then we have a more open blank canvas to work with in the form of children – in that (as mentioned previously) their world is still unfolding before their eyes. It is here, that I must interject and say that performing for magic is certainly not easier because of this. In fact it is a completely different dynamic. For children the magical prestige at the end, will certainly garner a higher level of gasp of astonishment – for children it is the entertainment ride and fun on the way to this plateau of astonishment which is the most important element of performing to children.

If you asked “Do you believe in magic? Do you believe in mind reading?”

(to a child:)

The answer would be an unashamed ‘Yes’. When we start absorbing information at our infantile years we can see a bird in the sky. We know a bird flies. We see adults walking around. We know adults walk. Over time we too, stop crawling, start toddling and eventually start walking. We know we can walk but we know we cannot fly. (Except Superman) If we then see someone fly based on our knowledge of the world that human’s cannot fly, this by deduction must be magic.

As we grow older, our reality and beliefs are shaped into what is normal and what is not normal. Everything else, is either impossible – or if you see something as impossible (and discard the belief-limiting sceptical shackles which regards it as a ‘trick’) you a left with pure ‘magic’.

Indulge me for a second.

In 1848, 3 young sisters by the names of Kate, Leah and Margaret Fox, garnered worldwide public  acclaim for delivering public séances, and being able to produce rappings and tappings of spirits. Over the years, they held many séances – usually extremely frivolous, giving advice about stocks and shares, love or marital affairs, and alike. Over time, however, their relationships lead to heavy drinking and quarreling and in 1888, after many years of members of the public believing in the magic and mystery shrouding these tappings – their performances were exposed as fraudulent and the sisters exposed how they had been able to create the sound of the raps by cracking their knuckles, joints and toes and the control of the muscles below the leg of the knee which control the tendons of the foot and in turn allow this action of the toe and ankle bone. These techniques were not commonly known and as a result – were perceived as magic or more…..

Keep your eyes peeled for part 4 in my look at astonishment in the world of magic. Next post will look at some people who have attempted to show magic as real to the world. These have cause outrage and upset when debunked, but intrigue, excitement and even a cult following before their lies and myths were blown….we want to believe yet we also want to know the explanation to magic. Part 5 looks at some people, who, just for a moment, made the world believe in magic and Psychic phenomenon.