Only on Eduzaurus

The Art of Magic and Its History

Download essay Need help with essay?
Need help with writing assignment?
writers online
to help you with essay
Download PDF

In the words of one of the world’s best-known magicians, Harry Houdini, “What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes” (Copeland 56). The term magic is derived from the Old Persian word “magi.” Magi originally referred to powerful individuals, most commonly associated today with the three wise men who traveled to worship the infant Jesus. Today, magicians may not be particularly powerful; however, for over four-thousand years, magicians have practiced simple tricks to entertain and deceive (Magic). The art of magic has evolved into a community of like-minded individuals who share a collective history centered around the fathers of magic, as well as sharing similar difficulties to their predecessors.

The earliest record of magic in the form of entertainment – conjuring – can be found on Egyptian papyrus dating back to 1700 B.C. In this depiction, a man named Dedi is entertaining a Pharaoh (Magic Entertainment). One of the illusions shown is the “cups and balls” trick, which gives the appearance of balls traveling between the solid bottoms of cups and reappearing elsewhere. Dedi also performed a routine in which he decapitates two birds and an ox and then “miraculously” restores their heads. The Ancient Greeks were the first to use the human body in illusions; for example, one would appear to drive a sword through another’s body and pull it out, with no harm inflicted on the person (Fudge). Even the earliest recorded tricks are still used by today’s magicians.

Essay due? We'll write it for you!

Any subject

Min. 3-hour delivery

Pay if satisfied

Get your price

During The Inquisition, Christians branded witchcraft as satanic worship in an effort to purge the community of pagan beliefs. St. Thomas Aquinas, who was often called the Universal Teacher, stated that the world was “Full of demons trying to tempt people astray from Christianity” (Pinch). During the Middle Ages of Christian Europe, the magic community continued to grow. Street performers used sleight-of-hand as a scheme to steal money, and although they referred to themselves as “tricksters” or “jugglers,” they were often associated with witchcraft. Due to the indeterminate distinction between those who practice magic as a form of entertainment and those associated with witchcraft, the street performers in seventeenth-century Europe put themselves in danger of being perceived as witches (Jay).

In 1554, two books were published to explain, or “debunk” the technique behind sleight-of-hand tricks, but also to make the distinction between the devil and performance magic (Eldin 181). The Discoverie of Witchcraft, written by Reginald Scot, opined that the devil had nothing to do with witchcraft. Scot stated that the lack of “biblical foundation” and scientific information disproved the accusations of witchcraft. Despite Scot’s efforts to separate magic from witchcraft in the public eye, his book had a negative effect. His views enraged King James I, which led to the burning of most copies of the book in the early seventeenth century (University of Michigan). The second book published on the subject, The First Part of Clever and Pleasant Inventions by Jean Prevost, was the first European guidebook on conjuring. Prevost’s book depicts tricks and step-by-step instructions on how to perform them. Many of the tricks in this book still serve as foundations for magicians today (During 78).

In the eighteenth century, magicians gained recognition as performers as their community evolved and their work became more widely known. Despite having no arms or legs, Matthias Buchinger, from Nuremberg, Germany, performed in front of audiences. His height was twenty-nine inches, and he received the nickname “The Little Man of Nuremberg” (Kimmelman). In 1735, the first American magician, Jacob Meyer, was born in Philadelphia and came to be known more commonly as Philadelphus Philadelphia. In 1765, Meyer moved to Germany, where he mastered his technique and filled his performances with mystery, which led to his popularity with royalty. Meyer became court magician to the Duke of Cumberland, as well as performing for numerous Emperors and Empresses across Europe. However, this was not the case with all magicians, and the era of magicians would ignite only in the next century (Magic Entertainment).

As magicians’ range of tricks and methods used to entertain their guests grew, six categories were drafted to distinguish between practicing members of the magic community. These include production, which involves a magician producing an object from nothing. The second category is vanishing, essentially the opposite of production. The third, transformation, categorizes an object’s physical state “magically” changing; for example, a scarf being put into a hat and coming out a different color. Restoration depicts an object being dismantled and restored, such as a magician cutting two ropes and making them whole again. Levitation involves a magician making an object or individual rise in the air. The final category, penetration, describes a magician showing an object moving through another; the ancient “cups and balls” routine is an example of penetration (Magic).

The nineteenth century was the ideal time to be a magician. New inventions and a global presence worked in magicians’ favor. Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin had joined the family business of clock-making, but enjoyed performing sleight-of-hand tricks. Using his knowledge of clock-making, he developed mechanical animals with realistic qualities. This led to the development of a special theater in Paris where Houdin displayed his creatures and performed a trick known as “Second Sight, in which his son, blindfolded on stage, correctly identified objects held by his father in the audience,” by using an elaborate verbal code (WGBH Educational Foundation).

It was also during this time that Ehrich Weiss began performing the art of escapism. He was born in Hungary into a family plagued by poverty. The Weiss family immigrated to New York when Ehrich was four years old. After seeing Dr. Lynn perform the linking rings trick, Weiss became interested in the art of magic and illusion (Kalush & Sloman 51). When Weiss turned seventeen, he and a friend started performing tricks as an alternative to working in a factory. This duo was known as the Houdini Brothers, a name chosen in tribute to Robert-Houdin. It was during a visit to a psychiatrist friend that Houdini saw his first straitjacket. It was an inspiration to him, and he quickly learned to escape the jacket, not only while standing, but also while hanging upside down from a crane. These escape tricks created the career of Harry Houdini. Houdini had a great love for his adopted country, and when World War I began, he tried to enlist but was rejected for being too old. Wanting to give back, he performed many shows for servicemen and women, often producing five-dollar gold coins out of thin air and throwing them to the service people. The name “Houdini” is still synonymous with magic today (Jay).

So the question then is, what is the difference between magic tricks performed by a magician and people who think they can perform magic? A magician is simply a title for someone who has studied and can perform tricks that involve sleight-of-hand or illusion. In reality, no actual “magic” is used; rather, hard work, practice, and special tools are used to perform tricks, often creating delight among observers. A magician, or an illusionist, knows that there is no supernatural involvement in the performance.

When members of the public think of magic, however, they may be inclined to think of the dark arts of magic, often seen in remote and primitive tribes and in the practice of religions that predate Christianity. In these cases, the title given to someone performing magic is not magician, but sorcerer. This kind of magic, according to Frankel and Stein, suggests that the world can be manipulated or controlled by performing rituals to change the world (Frankel & Stein 143). There are many instances of people trying to manipulate their world to create or change a situation. For example, professional baseball teams often try to win a game by manipulating their world by using superstitious ritual behavior.

In the magic community, there is a sense of respect for the art of magic: to members, magic is not a hobby, but a legitimate art form that should comprise only performers devoted to magic and its principles (Brennan). However, some people use these tricks and illusions to swindle people. These confidence tricksters are treated with contempt by the magic community.

Professional magicians have a lot of respect for each trick that they know or perform. They focus on a set of specific tricks or illusions and practice until the tricks are perfect. Because of professional magicians’ serious approach, they find hobbyists disrespectful and feel that the latter just want to have fun and show off mediocre tricks. The majority of magicians consider themselves hobbyists. Although hobbyists are frowned upon in the magic community, children and adolescents are simply interested in magic as a hobby. Even though some will continue into the profession of magic, many eventually grow out of their interest. Unlike professionals, children enjoy learning as many tricks as possible.

The magic community primarily uses technique and performance ability to entertain; however, others swindle their viewers for money or other rewards. These confidence tricksters use illusions to create false hope, or simply to swindle their way into getting what they want. Frauds, like psychics, use mind tricks to make events fit people’s lives, even though such events may never have happened. The aim of swindlers is solely to make money from their tricks. However, there is a marked difference between confidence magicians and illusionists: the former persist with the trick long enough to turn it into a crime, whereas professional magicians eventually show audiences that they are part of the trick. Frank Abagnale Jr., a fitting example of the former, made millions of dollars by impersonating an airline pilot and doctor. He forged checks until the authorities caught him in France. However, some illusionists use their techniques and tricks to teach people to be aware of people taking advantage of them (A&E Networks).

For example, Derren Brown, a famous deception artist, produces television shows to draw attention to confidence tricksters. Many hire Brown to help loved ones who have fallen into the trap of deception. Brown strives to show the world that not all magic is evil and deceptive (Magic Secrets Explained).

Within the magic community, there are many issues that might not be perceived from outside. Those associated with this coterie have been directly affected by the advancement of technology. Numerous older individuals interviewed have seen changes in society since they first became interested in magic. They gave their opinions on how they believe technology has refashioned the magic industry. Even within the magic community itself, many have debated whether or not progress in technology has hurt the industry or helped it to flourish.

Seventy-eight-year-old magician Terry Elton shared his thoughts on these issues. Elton believes technology has damaged magic, stating that “Technology has caused many newcomers to disrespect the art.” In this age of new technology, many websites sell tutorials on tricks, thus expanding access to magic, and now, this is mostly how the magic community works. Magicians create tricks and sell them online for others to learn. Elton has concluded that this new way of learning has caused magic to become less “pure.” Many creators produce tricks that will not work “in the real world” and construct advertisements that make their products appear desirable. Creators can produce these tricks with minimal effort to make money swiftly. Even though some elders of the magic community believe technology has damaged it, others believe it has led to growth (Elton).

Technology has allowed new enthusiasts to join an otherwise exclusive group. Allen Smith has been involved with magic for forty years and has seen this growth. He presumes this is directly related to the community’s accessibility. There are more magicians and, therefore, more creators and more material to be mastered. Online video tutorials have been a useful source for those seeking to learn the magician’s art as it allows tricks to be learned for free. However, for magicians who make a living from designing and selling tricks, this can be undesirable because their material is being shared without them receiving payment. For amateur magicians, online tutorials are a powerful tool, but professionals find that their material is often shared for no cost, which creates a void in their income. Novice magicians and hobbyists want to acquire as much material as possible because they want to entertain the same people again and again, which leads to the need to acquire more tricks. “Amateurs do different tricks for the same audience, but professionals do the same trick for a different audience” (Taff). The internet has allowed hobbyists to learn more tricks, which leads to fewer individuals aspiring to become professionals and more who are less serious about the art.

Professional magicians face an array of problems with the ongoing generation of technology. Magicians fear mobile devices will be used during their performance to reveal the secret behind their illusion, thus resulting in many performers banning phones from their performances. A magician’s secrets are priceless, and revealing them has the potential to ruin a viewer’s experience. As more people learn the secrets behind magicians’ acts, it removes the mystery of the performance. If magicians’ “trade secrets” were public knowledge, there would no longer be an audience for their shows. Learning how to perform tricks or “magic” has become easier; however, making a career out of it has become increasingly difficult. In comparison to the hard work and long hours magicians put into their acts, their work remains under-appreciated. This, along with the significant unemployment rate and falling economy in the US, means that finding a job has become the most prominent issue in the magic community.

For the general public, the magic community is often associated with the notion of witchcraft, which completely separates magic from Christianity due to the idea of witchcraft having pagan roots. While some may believe that dark arts exist in our world, the work of magicians is not about magic at all. Rather, hard work, diligence in practicing tricks, and finding an audience makes a true magician. Confidence tricksters, psychics, and people who believe they can perform magic through ritual may well be a danger to the world, but not magicians. Understanding this difference allows the followers of Christ to discern between people who are Christian in their beliefs and those who are not.

“When they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.” (Holy Bible: New Living Translation, Isaiah 8.19–20). Therefore, from a Christian perspective, in the face of confidence tricksters, psychics, or ritualistic magical performers, those who follow Christ must be wary and talk to them about the love of Jesus, so they come to know the miracles that He can perform. Christians must not enter into the belief that these sorts of people are good or innocent, or that they have the best interests of others at the center of their hearts. This is when Christians must acknowledge evil, proclaim the love of God through Christ, and bear witness to these lost souls. However, when a person performs magic as a practiced craft, and this performer is willing to show the audience that they are part of the performance, it is important to realize this is not a sign of evil, or of the devil, but that this is an art form, such as painting, dancing, and writing, which takes time, diligence, and a great deal of practice to perform. Many of these performers are Christians and will use their craft to pull people into a discussion of Christianity and Jesus’ love for the audience. In this case, Christian audience members need to remember the history of the craft and appreciate the gift that is given by the magician, a gift that comes to the performer through Christ Jesus. Rather than being about the supposed magical movement of cups and balls, the performance is about the spirit of the Lord working through both the audience and the performer.


This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers. You can order our professional work here.

We use cookies to offer you the best experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to our Cookies policy.


Want to get a custom essay from scratch?

Do not miss your deadline waiting for inspiration!

Our writers will handle essay of any difficulty in no time.