From the Desk's Mystery Series.
©2016 The Media Desk
Wow. What a question.
Hang on, need a cup of coffee, maybe something crunchy to chew on, and some music:
"I never believed in things that I couldn't seeLet's see. First we have to define, well, what is meant by "real", but we'll keep that to a minimum.
I said if I can't feel it then how can it be
No, no magic could happen to me
And then I saw you
I couldn't believe it, you took my heart
I couldn't retrieve it, said to myself
What's it all about
Now I know there can be no doubt
You can do magic"
- America, You Can Do Magic, by Russ Ballard, single released 1982, Capitol Records.
Eventually, we'll come to some sort of answer.
"Reality, what a concept"
- Robin Williams (1951 - 2014)
Let's define it like this. Without resorting to deus ex machina (outside intervention, we'll come to that too), or the trickery of those infamous items "smoke and mirrors", an event or phenomenon that cannot be otherwise explained.
A for instance or two may help.
Perhaps the most famous "flying nun" in history, corny late sixties TV shows with a cute but vapid Sally Field (born 1946) notwithstanding, was Teresa of Avila (1515 - 1582), who, on several occasions, and in front of a number of witnesses, levitated during mass while experiencing one of her ecstasies, at times she is reported to have asked the other nuns to hold her down to prevent her from floating away. See link below to various sources.
If there had been any trickery, it would likely have been exposed in the intervening 500 years. As it is, her flights are either accepted or flatly rejected with little gray area in between.
Franscis of Assisi, and a bare handful of others, East and West, are said to have performed similar feats, some with reliable witnesses, some without.
Speaking of witnesses, we can look at somebody else who is reported to have performed flights of their own was Daniel Dunglas Home (1833 - 1886), a physical medium of astounding abilities. Or so he claimed about himself.
However, he did perform some stunts that land squarely in the middle of our current discussion, including pulling live burning coals out of a hearth and handling them without injury, and, as we mentioned levitation. On neutral territory. And in front of outside witnesses.
And debunkers were on his case as well, to no good end.
"Later debunkers would propose various theories as to how Daniel Dunglas Home performed such seemingly inexplicable feats–ranging from the somewhat possible (mass hypnosis) to the bizarre (trained monkeys moving furniture, tiny musical instruments concealed in his mustache)."And so the history of magic goes. With luminaries like Houdini (1874 - 1926) exposing fraudsters who were performing acts that were billed as something besides stage magic, and, of course, his war on false mediums. What Harry (Erik Weisz) Houdini, or more recently, the famous debunker James Randi (born 1928) would have made of Mr. Home is a fascinating line of inquiry, but we'll never know.
And even today, some magicians have made a name for themselves by working what the mainstream media labels a 'miracle', only to have some guy with a bag on his head show everybody how it was done. In at least one case, Criss Angel, the debunkers have has almost as much success exposing his secrets has he has had doing the stunts for fun and profit.
What it comes down to, if you want to levitate, and you don't happen to be a Catholic Mystic or a Physical Medium, get a tricked up shoe and some odd pants, and practice in front of a mirror. And if you want to make a taxi disappear, just step out of the arrivals area at the airport and wave your hand for one. An entire line of them will vanish into thin air. Either that, or have a stage on wheels and some fancy TV lighting (not to mention a good deal of photo trickery and outside apparatus), same result.
So much for examples.
Let's look at what's "Real" in the light of Mr. Angel's fancy footwear, and for that matter, David Blaine's stunts, both of whom seem to have had their "fifteen minutes".
For anything we'd call Magic to be something we'd call Real, the reasonable possibility of trickery has to be removed from the equation. Which is something both Houdini and Randi did during their active period of exposing frauds with the experienced eye of a master stage performer and a genius for sniffing out trickery. And, of course, their efforts resulted in a debunking of the debunkers when several offended fraudsters went crying to reporters and even to court claiming that they had been unfairly put out of business. Said efforts were almost uniformly fruitless, but quite entertaining in their own right.
So it goes.
The requirement that mundane technology, or even in a few cases, somewhat fantastic mechanization be ruled out, which by definition removes television from the discussion and throws a light of suspicion on anything ever done in a setting fully controlled by the magician, such as a theater.
For real magic to be considered just that, it has to be out amongst the people. But a clever showman (to be kind) or fraud, such as Mr. Angel, can exploit the illusion that the the street scene is neutral territory and the people around are common passers-by when in fact, the 'street scene' has been well prepared, including have a crane on the roof of the building, and most of the passers-by are on his staff.
So exactly what is neutral territory and who would be an unbiased observer? When dealing with expert illusionists who have access to advanced technology and very nearly unlimited funds, is such a thing even possible? We'd like to say that 'yes, a neutral site and objective observers' could be arranged, but then again... well, human nature being what it is.
Let's move on, shall we?
"I'm sorry, man, but I've got magic."
- Charlie Sheen (born 1965) "... winning...." (sorry, couldn't resist)
Which raises another point, and we introduce into the discussion a swarm of bees called "the Suspension of Disbelief". At what point does a reasonable person, who, incidentally is NOT a confederate on the magician's payroll, or Mr. Sheen for that matter, watches what is going on, and then looks up to see the crane?
The employees, the true believers, and those who are willing to stand wide eyed and gape jawed without thinking critically about it, never look up.
That's the difference.
You do not have to be a professional skeptic of the caliber of James Randi to take a step back, look around, and think about what's what and how. And perhaps even see the strings. Of course, some do, and they smile and wink at the magician and don't give it away so the others in the crowd can be amazed at the show.
Stage magicians know this. They know they cannot walk out on stage and perform their greatest trick. They start small, they pull a rabbit out of their hat, sometimes literally. A card trick or two. Or maybe a whole universe of 'card tricks' to warm up the crowd. They get them to buy in, to at least say "hey, this guy is good" and sit back and enjoy the show, even if they see the strings.
Perhaps a current example.
Hector Mancha expertly crosses the line of disbelief with close up and small stage performances such as the one recorded at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yw8HZmLxSqY (video was working as of this writing 10 Jan 2016). Another related link below.
Yes, he is nimble of finger, an expert at directing the attention of his audience, and, it helps that he himself is somewhat odd looking and has a very expressive face. He Looks and Moves like a Magician should look and move.
If you watch him, and not just the appearing cards, it is obvious that there is some sort of mechanism under his shirt. However, there is total audience buy-in after the first few minutes of his performance. And indeed, the mechanism of his performance is as magical as it effect on the people in the gallery. Which we'll come back to with a relevant quote in a few minutes.
Does anybody in the audience really believe that Senor Mancha is materializing his cards from the universal ether?
That's doubtful. Well, to be fair, the old line 'there's always one in every crowd' is in play, so there's probably one or two. But most of them would know it was 'a card trick' and that before and after the show, his cards were back stage doing whatever playing cards do to get ready for the show.
As reasonably intelligent modern humans, the majority of the audience's line for the suspension of disbelief should be rather high. They have seen women sawed in half and then emerge whole and smiling at the end of the act. They have probably witnessed tigers being transformed into poodles, or vanishing into thin air, or appearing in a cage in the back of a van, before. They may have even seen "how it's done" type shows. They understand it is a trick. And as is mentioned in another video after one of his shows, the people state that it was a wonderful performance, and they "don't know how he did it", not that it was Magic....
Or as would have been claimed in another era not all that long ago, that it was Sorcery, and burned him at the stake.
And with that S-word dropped into the conversation, we come to the defining moment of our essay.
Is the aforementioned Water-Witching, not to mention levitation of the various historical figures, and Mr. Mancha's cards what we could call Sorcery?
When the old man goes out to find a water well, is it science or actual Witchcraft as the name implies, or does it deal with the poorly understood physio-electrical properties of underground water, perhaps even the Earth's Ley Lines, and the sensitivity of certain people, not to mention the sensitivity of forked sticks, to those emanations from underground?
With this one we can answer without resorting to sprinkling Holy Water here and there and lighting some incense. It is an art and a science from back before Art and Science parted ways, as we'll discuss when we get to the Druids and the Alchemists, trust us on that one.
Underground water can be detected technologically to some depth given water's electromagnetic properties and even its ability to generate and transmit low level sound. And it can be detected even further below ground than a dowser can locate it. In fact, it was looking into how dowsing worked that some of the techniques used to identify water, and oil, and other resources were developed. A more interesting test than finding water is linked below where a dowser was challenged by ground penetrating radar team to find unmarked graves. Two instances are related below, one account from a dowser, the other from a state archaeologist, whose study came to a slightly different conclusion at least in that case.
Of course, many modern dowsers, like the one who famously battled Mr. Randi back and forth for a couple of years do what they do for show (finding a chalk circle in a parking lot in that case!) instead of looking for a water well. And with them, skepticism may be the word of the day. However, if you asked your grandparents how they found water on the farm at the turn of the last century, the answer would be in the dowser's favor.
But even then, dowsing Is Not Magic.
Playing cards, trick levitation and disappearing taxi cabs, water-witching and all, and we still haven't uncovered Real Magic.
For that we have to go back a ways.
Friar (Roger) Bacon, His Discovery of the Miracles Of Art, Nature, And Magick
- Published 1659, London
Text available for free at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/aor/bacon/miracle.htm
No, actually, a bit further than that, but you're on the right track.
The classic Alchemists, of which Roger Bacon was one, as well as Albertus Magnus, and several of the others that come to mind immediately, and are featured in the Desk article on the subject linked below, did not see a division between science, religion, art, and magic. To them there was Above, the realm of God, and Below, down here. And through various manipulations of substances in our world an adept in the Great Work could influence the other world.
Which, as has been stated elsewhere, is also a good working definition of Sorcery/Wizardry and Witchcraft. Using frog innards and some orange mud to call up a demon and make it do something, or to not do something, or whatever.
Now, let's draw a line in the sand.
What is the difference between a Sorcerer and his burning frog guts who is trying to convince an out of work spirit to go scare the wits out of the king of the next province over so he won't declare war on his king, and the nuns in the convent across the road praying that God will change the other king's heart to the same ends?
Think about it. Both are asking a Power from outside this world to do something. Right? Or not?
There is a significant difference. The Sorcerer commanded the demon to do his bidding. Controlling the entity through the strength of his own human will and the attributes of the substances he was using.
Nobody 'commands' God to do anything, and while many religions, Christian and otherwise, use incense to please their Deity, nobody claims nice smelling smoke forces the issue. The nuns are asking the Lord for peace "if it be His Divine Will".
What the Sorcerer is doing is by definition Magic. What the nuns are doing is not.
As to which is more effective, that is beyond the scope of this article, which brings us to...
"Order your magicians," said Merlin, "to come before me, and I will convict them of a lie."
The History of the Kings of Britain
- Geoffrey of Monmouth (link below)
In the story the above quote is from, Merlin, who is always assumed to be a 'real magician' challenged the King Vortigern's court magicians to tell him about what was under the foundation of a building, which involved underground water, and a dragon, but the water is enough of a tie-in to dowsing for our purposes, so we can move on.
If, and those two letters should be about a foot tall, in "3-D", and perhaps glowing some unearthly color... but we're OK with bold caps: IF Merlin were real, was he the real magician or wizard he is always said to be?
Now we've gone off and stumbled into history, and we've run smack into the Druids of the Celts.
Yes we have.
First off, nobody knows where Celtic people and their Druid 'priests' came from. When the Romans moved into Central and Northern Europe, the Celts were already there. When the Greeks were out and about, they found Druids pulling the strings. There is reasonable argument that even the Ancient Hebrews had contact with those who would later be called the Celts. And, by some accounts, there are still Celts, now called Hallstatts, and their Druid mystics up in the hills of south eastern Europe.
Did they originate in India or Egypt, or perhaps both? Nobody really knows. What passes for their written language is somewhat like Cuneiform, but then again, Cuneiform may be like their language, which they only seemed to use to keep track of sheep, their history and knowledge was passed down orally. Which makes most of what we know about them secondhand hearsay at best, such as when a group of them stopped a Roman army, at least temporarily, by standing on a hill and shouting curses at the soldiers.
And now we have to address a mistake that we just made, and that almost everybody else makes, with the word used to describe the role of the Druids in Celtic culture.
Yes, the Druids were priests. OK, sure. Yeah. No problem.
But they were everything else as well. They were the teachers, the judges, the weather forecasters, natural scientists and physicians, and even the civil administrators who, as a group, served for centuries instead of their having a king. There was a hierarchy of them, all the way up to an Arch-Druid who presided over an annual convention. If you wanted to know if your great grandfather was so-and-so, you asked the local Druid. If you had a dispute with your neighbor about access to a water hole for your cattle, you took it to the Druid. If you needed your house cleared of an evil spirit that was making your wife disagreeable... you get the idea.
And now, back to Merlin.
Was Merlin a ranking Druid who worked his way into a better job with the various early British kings?
The answer is simple, we don't know.
There is a general consensus that the character in the Arthurian legends referred to as Merlin is based on at least two real characters of local legend, and at least one of those was a well known Druid.
Our question still remains however, it is just expanded now: "were any of these guys a Real Magician?" Could they, as mentioned in our opening music.... "do magic"? And the same answer stands, we don't know.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
- Arthur C. Clarke (1917 -2008)
And there you go.
It's not likely that Merlin, or his predecessors, had access to advanced technology, but there is no doubt they had access to a broader and deeper knowledge than those they dealt with. A conclusion that holds with most of our other historical examples as well.
You could say that Senor Mancha has a deeper knowledge than those in his audience, as well as probably access to a most interesting technological device. If he wandered into Merlin's meeting with the magicians and started flicking cards about, it is possible that King Vortigern may have fired Merlin and hired him. Which would make the later stories of Camelot a bit different wouldn't it?
The discredited TV illusionists we mentioned earlier fall under that statement as well. They have knowledge and devices most people do not, and have spent a great deal of time and effort becoming an adept at using it. As did the Druids.
We can say the same thing about Friar Bacon and the other Alchemists. It is quite likely that even their most mystical operations are based on some aspect of science, as well as perhaps a bit of skilled sleight of hand, and if you can wade through the "Mane of the Lion" and know what the "Occlusion of Venus" is, and work at it, there IS a physical basis for what they did, and that demon from next door is still unemployed.
STAND BY FOR GEAR CHANGE
That's right. Now we're going to say very nearly the exact opposite.
We Do Not Live In A Mundane World. No we don't.
There are forces from outside at work in our lives, both on the good side, and on the other side as well. Every ancient culture worth being called an 'ancient culture' talked about those "things that go bump in the night" and had advice about how to deal with them, or to not to. And the Desk dealt with them at length in another article (link below) so we don't have to do that here.
Except said powers are not influenced by, and probably have NEVER been influenced by the burning of amphibian inwards with some odd colored clay in a crucible while one mumbles some obscure words over it.
Having said that, we'll say this: Humans can, and have influenced those powers one way or the other by their pleading. Call it a Miraculous Occurrence if you will, and this writer has seen its fair share of them, but in most cases, the simplest and most likely explanation was that the Divine intervened. Was that intervention in answer to prayer? Well, it is probably better for us if we think so. To believe that the Godhead operates in a random and somewhat capricious manner is most disagreeable on several levels. Including, when taken to the logical extreme, if that were the case we would most likely no longer exist.
So yes, our existence serves the purpose of The Almighty and it also serves His purpose to influence our world from time to time.
On the other side, the other guy is out there as well. And he meddles as well, and does so for reasons of his own, and sometimes those reasons are best described as "just for the hell of it". (was that the only pun in this one?)
And now, would either the Creator Of The Universe or 'the other guy' make playing cards appear on stage?
That idea is good for a hearty laugh, if nothing else.
OK, taking miracles out of the picture.....
Would Anything Else we've mentioned come from that drawer we've labeled "magic" as an event without other reasonable explanation?
Well, only if the drawer was in the filing cabinet labeled Classic Alchemy where The Entire Universe as a whole was the topic of the discussion, and even those miracles we just dismissed were back in play. As far as our modern, much narrower definition? No. They wouldn't. It Wasn't Magic. A trick, a stunt, even "deus ex machina", but not what we called Magic.
For us, we're going to have to live with the idea that "magic" is something best looked at in terms of either Medieval Europe or the Ancient Mystic East and the like, or with the word "Stage" or "Television" in front of it, and on its own, dismissed as wishful thinking.
RESOURCE LINKS as mentioned above and others.
All outside sources will open in new window, all were working as of date of original posting of article.
St Teresa Avila:
her autobiography: www.ccel.org
A look at a Criss Angel special on chicagoreader.com.
James Randi's foundation: http://web.randi.org/
Hector Mancha's website: http://hectormancha.es
And set of an interesting test cases:
"My dowsing abilities to find unmarked graves was put to the test against a Ground Imaging Radar unit from Milwaukee, Wisconsin." www.cemeterymapping.org
A different conclusion from a state archeologist: http://archaeology.uiowa.edu/files/archaeology.uiowa.edu/files/Dowsing.pdf
The History of the Kings of Britain by: Geoffrey of Monmouth http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/geoffrey
Media Desk Articles mentioned:
"Don't let it be forgot, That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot"
Arthur and Company
Ghosts and Spirits
"Can you Sell Your Soul To The Devil?"
And other Non-Fiction and Mystery Series Articles.
[NOTE: EveryBody and everything mentioned in this article is owned by other entities. No disparagement or disrespect is intended. No endorsement of the Desk of them, or by them of the Desk is to be inferred.
The Desk is solely responsible for the analysis and conclusions hereby presented. If the reader has any issues with anything in the article they may contact the Desk through the usual channels.
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