Updated: Jul 8
If you have performed a good magic trick before, you understand what I write here. You have seen the wonderful human reaction to magic, and you know the fantastic feeling that response brings. If you are adept at performing magic, you also understand how exciting the expectation of a miracle is for the person witnessing it is. I, like you, have seen the positive emotional changes a well-executed trick brings to an audience.
Now, I will clarify that by magic, I mean the craft of stage or close-up magic, not anything paranormal or supernatural. The mechanisms that religion and mysticism use to manipulate minds constitute a different conversation that I am always willing to have, despite my mother’s insistence to avoid it at the dinner table.
Magic is beautiful. Magic as a craft demands good practice and an exuberant level of charisma to perform well. More significantly, the discipline of mental magic, as I have come to call it, is a fantastic combination of technical knowledge and showmanship (or show-people-ship, to be more inclusive) that opens people’s imagination in ways almost nothing else does. A good mentalist, or what we call the person doing mental magic, can make others question reality by exposing them to possibilities outside their natural expectations. I have seen people abandon convictions after a well-done mindreading routine. In the right mood and behaving as the deplorable asshole I once was, I pretended to be psychic on occasion – something I did for money or control. In my defence, I’ll admit to having played the psychic bit lately to demonstrate the techniques used by the charlatans who prey on people’s credulity and emotions.
Magic takes conviction. If you don't believe you can do that trick, your audience won't believe it either.
Yes, people need to believe in miracles and their ability to betray their own anticipations makes magic a powerful tool for persuasion. Like those quacks I’ve enjoyed unmasking, I have used magic to alert others of different possibilities, but I have alerted them to the possibility of beneficial changes.
My advice is to use magic sparingly and to lead people to think more critically about their world. I use magic to show someone how they are being fooled or how it is possible to miss an essential part of any process. I enjoy using magic to show people how someone can use their focus against them – how simple gestures can misdirect their attention. My favourite employ of magic is to help people see their own limiting beliefs and help them overcome them. Think of it this way: if you can demonstrate that the things we focus on are not always important – and help move that focus to the parts that are – you can help bring about good change.
Importantly, always be honest about magic. Always use it to amaze, entertain, and help others think better. Understand that using magic to extort others is deplorable; it makes you like the asshole I used to be. And while the power of magic is in people’s perception of it as something wonderfully unknown, always admit that it is only a trick – a complicated trick – but a trick nevertheless.