Story of Magic
Posted: August 17th, 2017, 11:56 am
There is an interesting article in July (2017) issue about definition of "magic" and what it is and what it is not by Peter Lamont. It was a good read, but I tend to strongly disagree with author's opinion that "throughout history, audiences have understood that magic tricks are tricks". Author claims that there were(are) two types of magic: traditional, just-for-entertainment thing and other one disguised as supernatural thing. And the question is: could people separate these two forms on their own? Author claims that they could, but I really doubt. They cannot do it even today in XXI century (just look random episode of Pen&Teller "Bulsh*t")! If you cannot distinguish one form from another, then there are no two forms to you. It is just one single entity - magic (conjuring, witchcraft, whatever you name it). And main problem is that in older times everyone believed in supernatural, therefore just-for-entertainment-magic was also strongly influenced by it. Simple example: what was the motivation for Scot to publish "Discoverie of Witchcraft"? Why does this book appeared at that time? He tried "to prevent the persecution of poor, aged, and simple persons, who were popularly credited with being witches." (WIKIPEDIA). All persecutions started with gossips and false accusation, so it is very hard to imagine, that when ordinary country folk observed some traveling magician showing devious tricks, none of them reported to inquisitor because "mech, it is just tricks, let's go to stoning". I am not expert in magic history, and my contemplation probably are amateurish, but I am not convinced by Lamont theory. It would be interesting to hear other opinions? And other question: would you dear to show some French drop coin vanish if you suddenly appear in some dirty tavern of rural Spain somewhere in XVI-XVII century?
Re: Story of Magic
Posted: December 1st, 2018, 12:14 pm
I think you have made a valid point. I saw Peter give an interesting lecture in London a couple of years ago where he convincingly demolished those examples documented earlier by Sidney Clarke.
Afterwards, I thought he might have pushed his argument too far. Those from an experimental psychology perspective can be extremely skeptical - I have a similar background and am likewise cursed.
It is quite possible that Peter has fallen victim to hyper-skepticism. He has looked carefully at how previous accounts have misrepresented the evidence. But he hasn't (as far as I can see) searched methodically through the primary archives for additional material.
I don't blame him, as you would have to be a trained medieval historian fluent in ancient languages with plenty of time on your hands. In fact, you'd need a team of medieval researchers.
So, I would say that the Lamont theory is seductive but premature.
I was in Madrid a few months ago and began conversing with Dr Bradley Mollmann, an American researcher and teacher. I put forward the revisionist theory that (and here I quote directly from Peter's chapter 'False Accusations' in the Secret History of Magic) "throughout the age of witchcraft , jugglers performed magic tricks without persecution , because their audiences understood that they were watching tricks".
Bradley was immediately able to pinpoint an apparent counterexample which he'd uncovered in the Spanish archives.
I asked him to email me the details of what he'd discovered:
Sorry that it's taken me a while to get back to you, but today I finally went back through my Inquisition notes and found the case that we discussed when you were in Madrid. He wasn't a fire breather but instead a "marvelous water drinker."
The case is from 1655 when a 32 year old Flemish illusionist named Juan Roge was arrested in Toledo for suspicious magical activity. The trial documents (held in Madrid's Archivo Historico, INQ 94, exp. 15) contain a remarkable broadside that Juan used to advertise his act. It's pretty excellent. I'll give you a rough translation:
Here in this city has arrived the marvelous water drinker, he who has made marvel the Cesarean King and other great potentates: he who has such rare virtues that he has obtained wide privileges; he drinks two arrobas of water
and expells it from his body as different wines, both white and red, wine from Italy, muscatel wine, wine from Burgundy, wine from Orleans, wine of apples, called cider, Flemish beer, aguardiente, a kind of vinegar of the quintessence, like that which comes from a still, so strong that it can be burned, fragrant waters: rose, lemon, orange flower, jasmine, and all kinds of flowers. He can be seen to expel a fountain of water of such quantity that it sparks curiosity, and additionally he expels sweets and many kinds of fresh salads, as if he had consumed a whole garden that he lances at once. As such, he is called the eighth wonder of the world, not to mention many other secrets that he possesses that are not listed here; all who desire can see him can, since we invite them to see this curiosity, with the assurance that they will be satisfied and marveled. He is lodged at [blank space].
On November 8, 1655 he was arrested by the Inquisition of Toledo. The prosecutor said that "what he did was against the natural order, and therefore can be nothing other than a pact that he was with the devil."
The inquisitors then called him into the chamber and he was asked if he knew why he had be detained, and he said that he presumed that it was for slights of the hand and for the broadside that he had distributed that day. Then, they asked about his act, and he described his methods of drinking lots of waters of different colors and fragrances, then spitting them out again. He also described how he carried licenses issued by the Duke of Medinaceli and other royal ministers. He even dared to tell the inquisitors that he would demonstrate his act for them if they gave him a subsidy, since his work was expensive. Whether or not they obliged him this request is unclear, but they did declare that he must come back the next morning for a demonstration, saying that they would hold his licenses and papers until then. That is the end of the document.