ANCIENT TIMES IN THE BEGINNING..
The craft of magic is thought to have begun with the Egyptians, and the earliest recorded magic is found in an Egyptian papyrus dated around 1700 BC. It depicts an illusionist named Dedi of Dedsnefu showing tricks to a Pharaoh. Dedi was also thought to have entertained the slaves who built the Pyramids and his performances included the famous ‘Cups and Balls’ trick which is still widely performed today!
The ancient Greeks and Romans were also intrigued at the idea of magic and in particular by the art of deception. Magic devices were built into temples that enabled doors to open unaided and wine to flow magically from the open mouths of statues, and the Priests used these miraculous effects to secure their power over the god fearing folk of the times.
THE MEDIEVAL YEARS – BURN WITCH BURN!
In Medieval Europe, the practice of magic became associated with witchcraft., and thousands of so called witches were burned at the stake or drowned during the famous ‘Witch Hunts’ of the times. In 1554 the very first book to expose magic tricks ‘The Discoverie of Witchcraft by Reginald Scot’ was published. The book set out to prove that magic was done with sleight of hand and not with help of Satan, and was influential in putting a stop to the persecution of thousands of innocent women.
PRE 19TH CENTURY – FREAKS OF NATURE
Before the beginning of the 19th century, the performance of magic with all it’s taboos wasn’t really accepted in Europe. Until this time magicians were only able to perform in circuses and side shows alongside those considered freaks of nature.
THE 19TH CENTURY – MAGIC, SCIENCE AND THE WORLD’S MOST FAMOUS MAGICIAN
In the 19th century a French man by the name of Robert Houdin made the performance of magic respectable. Originally a watchmaker, Houdin turned his intricate skills to the invention of magic and illusions, and false scientific explanations to explain these effects. These explanations were very credible and were therefore widely accepted. This not only led to the removal of many of the taboos associated with magic, but also allowed many magicians of the time to add the titles ‘doctor’ and MD to their names.
Robert Houdin was the hero of the man who is arguably the world’s most famous magician. Born in Hungary in 1874, Erich Weiss, chose the stage name Harry Houdini, after Houdin and captivated his audiences who could only watch in awe as Houdini performed his death defying feats.
Rumour and legend surrounded Houdini and his remarkable life, but it was his commitment to performing illusions which could endanger his life, which finally led to his dramatic death. Ten days prior to Halloween night in the year 1926 Houdini sustained a ruptured appendix after receiving a punch to the stomach. Houdini died on Halloween, 1926.
THE 20TH CENTURY – ROLL UP! ROLL UP!
By the 20th century magic was fully established and practised in the travelling shows that were popular in Europe and the USA. Magic found a more permanent home, when a magician by the name of John Nevil Maskelyne opened a magic theatre in London in 1873. The theatre became host to some legendary magicians including a mock-Chinese magician called Chung Ling Soo, who died on stage whilst performing a trick which required him to catch a bullet between his teeth, which was fired from a loaded gun.
THE PRESENT DAY – STOP – REWIND – PLAY
Nowadays magic is a very different beast. With the closure of many theatres, it has become necessary for magicians to find ‘new’ ways to show their much practised skills. Television is now the prime medium, but as many members of television audiences own video recorders, magicians have had to rise to the challenge of ensuring their miracles aren’t exposed during playback.
This has led to some of the most ambitious ‘ magic spectaculars’ from such famous magicians as David Copperfield and Doug Henning, whose approach seems to be the bigger and more impossible the trick the better! Other magicians, however, favour Close-up- magic, and this has caused a split in the magic world between the two of the major fields of magic: Big stage illusions and Close-up.