The ancient art of magic dates as one of the oldest forms of entertainment, and yet it never grows old. Tricks and illusions present a factor of impossibility to human abilities and it is that very trait that keeps its fascinating presence in the performing world. Many classic tricks such as the cup and ball or deck of cards tricks have originated from the world of gambling, and to this day are still used for the same purpose. The history of magic is extensive, captivating and dates back as far as caveman times, when caveman started performing magic for religious rites. Here’s a quick synopsis of such an elaborate timeline:
One of the very first recordings of magic used as a form of entertainment dates back to 1700 BC, when The Westcar Papyrus recorded the earliest known conjuring act for amusement purposes. With origins dating back to religion, the Middle Ages saw the common belief of magic conjoined with the superstitious and supernatural.
Such beliefs became fears until 1240, when Franciscan monk Roger Bacon provided basic explanations on tricks to remove associations with the satanic and instead, redirect the focus to harmless entertainment purposes. This dedication to protecting the art of magic was further backed in 1584, when the first book on the subject was produced by English MP Reginald Scot.
This book was the beginning of countless seventeenth century studies that sparked a revolution in magic. Magic became a street art, and was performed at carnivals, public areas and even at the homes of patrons, with many forms of magic being incorporated into the world of the circus. The turn of the eighteenth century saw a shift from street to stage, with the famous Robert-Houdin exploding theatre magic to life. His majestic conjuring would transform magic from an art primarily enacted by the lower class to an honourable art performed for the highest of classes.
The Twentieth Century
With the nineteenth century providing sell out shows for Houdini, many magicians began to produce large scale productions that attracted thousands. Traditional illusions and classic techniques such as levitations, disappearances, the use of ropes, cards, coins, catching bullets and so on, were mixed with specialized acts to give fame to unique performers.
Conjuring became very popular coming into the mid twentieth century, with kits designed for children and adults alike. Magic was now a household commodity, and the television would enhance such a now domesticated and widely circulated entertainment. Stage performances, close up tricks and tours became more and more extravagant and challenging, as David Copperfield made evident by making the Statue of Liberty disappear.
In the seventies, Las Vegas banked its many dollars in on the magic industry. It remains today the residence of many of the world’s magicians, and no casino in the city is without a master of magic.
The Present Day
Thanks to the efforts of scripture, practice and wit, magic has made its way into every facet of life. Conjuring is a feat anyone can learn, with books, kits and media at large providing how tos at every turn. A particular art form to emerge from the present day has been mentalism- i.e. the power of the mind to control. David Blaine is the perfect connoisseur of such a practice, demonstrating close ups of self electrocution, freezing and food deprivation.
The world has converted the world of magic to the world of entertainment, and of course, to the world of commerce. The act is now a practice that can be learned, mastered and used for profit by anyone willing to try their hand at it. Should you be such a person willing to try, make sure you thank the historical figures that gave it the status that it has today.
Related: Check out Svengali Deck – The History Behind the Trick. More info here.