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in size, is most startling, and makes a deep impression on the
audience; but the artifice through which the manipulation is rendered
possible is very simple. The sword, or needle, used for the purpose,
is made of a very thin and flexible plate of steel, sufficiently
blunt to prevent it from doing any harm. The victim, as if trying to
ward off the dangerous weapon, takes hold of it and causes it to slip
into the opening of a concealed sheath (B), which he carries strapped
around his body, whereupon the assassin makes his thrust. The
interior of the sheath contains a red fluid, which dyes the blade and
helps to make the deception complete. The accompanying illustration
sufficiently explains the performance.

* * * * *

While the performance of magical tricks is an art, the observation
of them and also their description is a science, presupposing a
quick and critical eye, of which very few people are possessed; and
scientists by profession are sometimes the least fit persons to
detect the place and mode of the deception.

How differently different persons watch the same events becomes
apparent when we compare Professor Zöllner’s reports of
spiritualistic séances with those of other more critical witnesses.
Professor Zöllner, for instance, writes (_Wissenschaftliche
Abhandl._, Vol. III, p. 354) in his description of one of the
experiments with the famous American medium, Dr. Slade, that
Professor Fechner’s chair was lifted up about half a foot above the
ground, while Dr. Slade touched the back of it lightly with his
hand, and he emphasizes that his colleague, after hovering some
time in the air, was suddenly dropped with great noise. The event
as thus described is mystifying. However, when we carefully compare
Professor Fechner’s account, we come to the conclusion that the
whole proceeding is no longer miraculous, but could be repeated
by prestidigitateurs. Fechner writes that at the request of Dr.
Slade, he himself (Professor Fechner), who was slim and light, took
the place of Professor Braune. Dr. Slade turned round to Professor
Fechner and bore his chair upward in a way which is not at all
inexplicable by the methods of legerdemain. Professor Fechner does
not mention that he hovered for some time in the air, but it is
obvious that Dr. Slade {xxv} made the two professors change seats
because he would scarcely have had the strength to lift up the heavy
Professor Braune.

[Illustration: PROFESSOR ZÖLLNER AND DR. SLADE. (From Willmann.)]

Similarly, the accounts of the famous painter, Gabriel Max, who also
attended some of Slade’s séances with Zöllner, make the performances
of the medium appear in a less wonderful light. {xxvi}

Mr. Carl Willmann, a manufacturer of magical apparatus at Hamburg,
and the author of several books on modern magic, publishes a
circumstantial description of Professor Zöllner’s double slates
used in séances with Dr. Slade, which are now in possession of
Dr. Borcherdt of Hamburg, who bought them, with other objects of
interest, from the estate of the deceased Professor Zöllner. The
seals of these slates are by no means so intact as not to arouse
the suspicion that they have been tampered with. To a superficial
inspection they appear unbroken, but the sealing wax shows vestiges
of finger marks, and Mr. Willmann has not the slightest doubt that
the slates were opened underneath the seals with a thin heated wire,
and that the seals were afterwards replaced.

[Illustration: THE OPENING OF SLADE’S SLATE BY MEANS OF A HEATED WIRE.

(After Willmann.)]

Professor Zöllner, the most famous victim of the bold medium,
lacked entirely the necessary critical faculty, and became an easy
prey of fraud. One of his colleagues, a professor of surgery in
the University of Leipsic, had entered upon a bet with Professor
Zöllner that a slate carefully sealed and watched by himself could
not be written upon by spirits; he had left the slate in Professor
Zöllner’s hands in the confidence that the latter would use all
necessary precautions. Professor Zöllner, however, not finding Dr.
Slade at home, saw nothing wrong in leaving the sealed slate at the
medium’s residence and thus allowing it to pass for an indefinite
time out of his own control, thinking that the seals were a
sufficient protection. It goes without saying that his colleague at
once cancelled the bet and took no more interest in the experiment.
{xxvii}

The foot and hand prints which Dr. Slade produced were apparently
made from celluloid impressions, which could easily be carried about
and hidden in the pocket. This explains why these vestiges of the
spirit were not of the size of Dr. Slade’s hands or feet.

Mr. Willmann calls attention to the fact that the footprints, as
published by Professor Zöllner, were made from feet whose stockings
had been removed but a few moments before, for they still show the
meshes of the knitting which quickly disappear as soon as the skin
of the foot grows cold. Professor Zöllner did not see such trifles,
and yet they are important, even if it were for the mere purpose of
determining whether the spirits wear stockings made in Germany or
America.

* * * * *

The accounts of travelers are, as a rule, full of extravagant praise
of the accomplishments of foreign magicians; thus, the feats of our
American Indians are almost habitually greatly exaggerated. The same
is true in a greater measure of fakirs and Hindu magicians. Recent
accounts of a famous traveler are startling, but the problem is not
whether or not what he tells is true (for only a little dose of good
judgment is sufficient to recognize their impossibility), but whether
or not he believes his tales himself. The problem is neither physical
nor historical as to the reality of the events narrated; the problem
is purely psychological as to his own state of mind.

The primitive simplicity of the methods of the Hindu jugglers
and the openness of the theatre where they perform their tricks
cause wonderment to those who are not familiar with the methods of
legerdemain. Mr. Willmann, who had occasion to watch Hindu magicians,
says in his book, _Moderne Wunder_, page 3: “After a careful
investigation, it becomes apparent that the greatest miracles of
Indian conjurers are much more insignificant than they appear in the
latest reports of travelers. The descriptions which in our days men
of science have furnished about the wonderful tricks of fakirs, have
very little value in the shape in which they are rendered. If they,
for instance, speak with admiration about the invisible growth of a
flower before their very eyes, produced from the seed deposited by
a fakir in {xxviii} a flower-pot, they prove only that even men of
science can be duped by a little trick the practice of which lies
without the pale of their own experience.”

Eye-witnesses whose critical capacities are a safeguard against
imposition, relate more plausible stories. John T. McCutcheon
describes the famous trick of growing a mango tree, as follows:

“The further away from India one is the greater appears the skill of
these Hindu magicians. How often have we read the traveler’s tales
about the feats of Indian jugglers, and how eagerly we have looked
forward to the time when we might behold them and be spellbound
with amazement and surprise. When I first saw the Indian juggler
beginning the preparations for the mango trick I was half prepared
by the traveler’s tales to see a graceful tree spring quickly into
life and subsequently see somebody climb it and pick quantities of
nice, ripe mangoes. Nothing of the kind happened, as will be seen
by the following description of the mango trick as it is really
performed:

[Illustration: THE SINGALESE CONJURER BEN-KI-BEY.

(After Carl Willmann.)]

“The juggler, with a big bag of properties, arrived on the scene
and immediately began to talk excitedly, meanwhile unpacking
various receptacles taken from the bag. He squatted down, piped a
few notes on a wheezy reed whistle and the show began. From his
belongings he took a little tin can about the size of a cove oyster
can, filled it with dirt and saturated the dirt with water. Then
he held up a mango seed to show that there was nothing concealed
by his sleeves; counted ‘ek, do, tin, char,’ or ‘one, two, three,
four,’ and imbedded the seed in the moist earth. He spread a large
cloth over the can and several feet of circumjacent ground. Then
he played a few more notes on his reed instrument and allowed the
seed a few minutes in which to take root and develop into a glorious
shade tree. While he was waiting he {xxix} unfolded some snakes
from a small basket, took a mongoose from a bag and entertained his
audience with a combat between the mongoose and one of the snakes.

“ ‘Ek, do, tin, char; one, two, three, four—plenty fight—very good
mongoose—biga snake—four rupee mongoose—two rupee snake—mongoose
fight snake. Look—gentlymans—plenty big fight.’

[Illustration: MODERN SNAKE CHARMERS. (From Brehm.)]

“All this time the cloth remained peaceful and quiet, and there
were no uneasy movements of its folds to indicate that the mango
crop was flourishing. The juggler now turned his attention to it,
however, poked his hands under the cloth, and after a few seconds of
mysterious fumbling triumphantly threw off the cloth, and lo! there
was a little bunch of leaves about as big as a sprig of water cress
sticking up dejectedly from the damp earth. This was straightway
deluged with some water and the cloth again thrown over it.

“Once more there was a diversion. This time an exhibition of a shell
game, in which the juggler showed considerable dexterity in placing
the little ball where you didn’t think it would be. Still the cloth
revealed no disposition to bulge skyward, and a second time the
juggler fumbled under it, talking hurriedly in Hindustani and making
the occasion as interesting as possible. After much poking around he
finally threw off the cloth with a glad cry, and there was a mango
tree a foot high, with adult leaves which glistened with moisture.
When his spectators had gazed at it for awhile he pulled the little
tree up by the roots, and there was a mango seed attached, with the
little sprouts springing out from it.

“The trick was over, the juggler’s harvest of rupees and annas
began, and soon his crowd faded away. A few minutes later, from a
half-hidden seat {xxx} on the hotel veranda, I saw the wizard over
across the street, beneath the big shade trees, folding up the mango
tree and tucking it compactly into a small bag.”[2]

To conjure ghosts has always been the highest ambition of performers
of magical tricks, and we know that the magic lantern has been used
for this purpose since mediæval days, but modern necromancy has been
brought to perfection by Robertson and Pepper, through the invention
of a simple contrivance, known under the name of Pepper’s ghost, by
which impalpable specters become plainly visible to the astonished
eyes of the spectators.

For a description of these performances, as well as many other feats
in the same line, we refer to Mr. Evans’ fascinating explanations in
the body of the present volume.

Tricks performed by mediums are in one respect quite different from
the feats of prestidigitateurs; if they come up to the standards,
they are, or might be, based upon the psychic dispositions of people.
Believers will gladly be caught in the traps set for them and are, as
a rule, grateful for the deception, while determined unbelievers will
either prove altogether hopeless or will become so bewildered as to
be likely to become believers. Sleight of hand is always a valuable
aid to the medium; but, as tricks pure and simple, mediumistic
séances are not different from the performances of prestidigitateurs,
and differ only in this, that they claim to be done with the
assistance of spirits. Mediums must be on the lookout and use
different methods as the occasion may require. They produce rappings
with their hands or their feet,[3] or with mechanical devices hidden
in their shoes; neither do they scorn the use of rapping tables with
concealed batteries and electric wires.

[2] Chicago Record, April 22, 1899.

[3] One of the Fox sisters could produce rappings through
a peculiar construction of the bones of her foot, and
Cumberland’s big toe was blessed with a tendon of its own,
enabling him to rap the floor quite vigorously without
being detected.

The instances here adduced are sufficient to show that even the most
complete deceptions admit of explanations which, in many instances,
are much simpler than the spectators think. {xxxi} Neither the
marvelous feats of prestidigitateurs nor the surprising revelations
of mediums should shake our confidence in science or make us slaves
of superstition. The success of modern magic, which accomplishes more
than the old magic or sorcery ever did, is a sufficient guarantee of
the reliability of reason, and even where “now we see through a glass
darkly,” we must remain confident that when we grow in wisdom and
comprehension we shall learn to see “face to face.”

[Illustration: THE CONJURER. (By Prof. W. Zimmer.)]

For all these reasons, knowledge of magic and its history, the false
pretenses of the old magic and the brilliant success of modern magic
should have a place in our educational program. I do not advocate
its introduction into schools, but would recommend parents to let
their children become acquainted with the remarkable performances
of the best and greatest among modern magicians. We all should know
something of the general methods of magic, and some time in our lives
witness the {xxxii} extraordinary feats, bordering on miracles,
with which a prestidigitateur can dazzle our eyes and misguide our
judgment.

Modern magic is not merely a diversion or a recreation, but may
become possessed of a deeper worth when it broadens our insight
into the rich possibilities of mystification, while a peep behind
the scenes will keep us sober and prevent us from falling a prey to
superstition.

{1}




HISTORY OF NATURAL MAGIC AND PRESTIDIGITATION.


“Therefore made I a decree to bring in all the wise men of Babylon
before me. . . . Then came in the magicians, the astrologers, the
Chaldeans, and the soothsayers.”—_Dan. iv._, 6–7.

“What, Sir! you dare to make so free,
And play your hocus-pocus on us!”
—GOETHE: _Faust_, Scene V.


I.

The art of natural magic dates back to the remotest antiquity. There
is an Egyptian papyrus[4] in the British Museum which chronicles a
magical seance given by a certain Tchatcha-em-ankh before King Khufu,
B. C. 3766. The manuscript says of the wizard: “He knoweth how to
bind on a head which hath been cut off; he knoweth how to make a lion
follow him as if led by a rope; and he knoweth the number of the
stars of the house (constellation) of Thoth.” It will be seen from
this that the decapitation trick was in vogue ages ago, while the
experiment with the lion, which is unquestionably a hypnotic feat,
shows hypnotism to be very ancient indeed. Ennemoser, in his _History
of Magic_, devotes considerable space to Egyptian thaumaturgy,
especially to the wonders wrought by animal magnetism, which in the
hands of the priestly hierarchy must have been miracles indeed to the
uninitiated. All that was known of science was in {2} possession of
the guardians of the temples, who frequently used their knowledge of
natural phenomena to gain ascendancy over the ignorant multitude.

[4] Westcar papyrus, XVIII dynasty; about B. C. 1550. In
this ancient manuscript are stories which date from the
early empire. “They are as old,” says Budge (_Egyptian
Magic_, London, 1899), “as the Great Pyramid.”

An acquaintance with stage machinery and the science of optics and
acoustics was necessary to the production of the many marvelous
effects exhibited. Every temple in Egypt and Greece was a veritable
storehouse of natural magic. Thanks to ancient writers like Heron
of Alexandria, Philo of Byzantium, and the Fathers of the early
Christian Church, we are able to fathom some of the secrets of the
old thaumaturgists. The magi of the temples were adepts in the art
of phantasmagoria. In the ancient temple of Hercules at Tyre, Pliny
states that there was a seat of consecrated stone “from which the
gods easily rose.”

In the temple at Tarsus, Esculapius showed himself to the devout.
Damascius says: “In a manifestation, which ought not to be revealed,
. . . there appeared on the wall of a temple a mass of light, which
at first seemed to be very remote; it transformed itself, in coming
nearer, into a face evidently divine and supernatural, of severe
aspect, but mixed with gentleness and extremely beautiful. According
to the institutions of a mysterious religion the Alexandrians honored
it as Osiris and Adonis.”

By means of concave mirrors, made of highly polished metal, the
priests were able to project images upon walls, in the air, or upon
the smoke arising from burning incense. In speaking of the art of
casting specula of persons upon smoke, the ingenious Salverte says:
“The Theurgists caused the appearance of the gods in the air in the
midst of gaseous vapors disengaged from fire. Porphyrus admires this
secret; Iamblichus censures the employment of it, but he confesses
its existence and grants it to be worthy the attention of the
inquirer after truth. The Theurgist Maximus undoubtedly made use of a
secret analogous to this, when, in the fumes of the incense which he
burned before the statute of Hecate, the image was seen to laugh so
naturally as to fill the spectators with terror.”

A. Rich, in his _Dictionary of Roman and Greek Antiquities_, relates,
under the heading of the word “Adytum,” that many of the ancient
temples possessed chambers the existence of which was known only
to the priests, and which served for the {3} production of their
illusions. He visited one at Alba, upon the lake of Fucius. It was
located amid the ruins of a temple, and was in a perfect state
of preservation. This chamber of mysteries was formed under the
apsis—that is to say, under the large semi-circular niche which
usually sheltered the image of the god, at the far extremity of
the edifice. “One part of this chamber,” says he, “is sunk beneath
the pavement of the principal part of the temple (_cella_) and the
other rises above it. The latter, then, must have appeared to the
worshipers gathered together in the temple merely like a base that
occupied the lower portion of the apsis, and that was designed to
hold in an elevated position the statue of the god or goddess whose
name was borne by the edifice. This sanctuary, moreover, had no door
or visible communication that opened into the body of the building.
Entrance therein was effected through a secret door in an enclosure
of walls at the rear of the temple. It was through this that the
priests introduced themselves and their machinery without being
observed by the _hoi polloi_. But there is one remarkable fact that
proves beyond the shadow of a doubt the purpose of the adytum. One
discovers here a number of tubes or pipes which pierce the walls
between the hiding-place and the interior of the temple. These tubes
debouch at different places in the partitions of the cella, and thus
permit a voice to be heard in any part of the building, while the
person and place from which the sound issues remain unknown to the
auditors.”

Sometimes the adytum was simply a chamber situated behind the
apsis, as in a small temple which was still in existence at Rome in
the sixteenth century. An architect named Labbacco has left us a
description of the edifice. Travelers who have visited the remains
of the temple of Ceres, at Eleusis, have observed a curious fact.
The pavement of the cella is rough and unpolished, and much lower
than the level of the adjacent porch, thereby indicating that a
wooden floor, on a level with the portico, covered the present floor,
and hid from view a secret vault designed to operate the machinery
that moved the flooring. This view is confirmed by vertical and
horizontal grooves, and the holes constructed in the side walls.
Similar contrivances existed in India. Philostratus, in his _Life
of Apollonius_ (1, III, {4} Ch. v), says: “The Indian sages
conducted Apollonius toward the temple of their god, marching in
solemn procession and singing sacred hymns. Occasionally they would
strike the earth in cadence with their staves, whereupon the ground
moved like a sea in turmoil, now rising with them to the height of
almost two feet, then subsiding to its regular level.” The blows
from the wands were evidently the cue for the concealed assistants
to operate the machinery that moved the soil. Says Brown, in his
_Stellar Theology_: “Among the buildings uncovered at Pompeii is a
temple of Isis, which is a telltale of the mysteries of the Egyptian
deity, for the secret stair which conducted the priests unseen to an
opening back of the statue of the goddess, through whose marble lips
pretended oracles were given and warnings uttered, now lies open to
the day, and reveals the whole imposition.”

The Bible has preserved to us the story of the struggle of Daniel
with the priests of Bel, in which the secret door played its part.
The Hebrew prophet refused to worship the idol Bel, whereupon the
King said to him: “Doth not Bel seem to thee to be a living god?
Seest thou not how much he eateth and drinketh every day?” Then
Daniel smiled and said: “O King, be not deceived; for this is but
clay within and brass without, neither hath he eaten at any time.”
The King sent for his priests and demanded the truth of them,
declaring his intention of putting them to the sword should they fail
to demonstrate the fact that the god really consumed the offerings of
meat and wine. And the priests of Bel said: “Behold, we go out; and
do thou, O King, set on the meats, and make ready the wine, and shut
the door fast, and seal it with thy own ring. And when thou comest in
the morning, if thou findest not that Bel hath eaten up all, we will
suffer death, or else Daniel that hath lied against us.” And they
“little regarded it, because they had made under the table a secret
entrance, and they always came in by it, and consumed those things.”

Daniel detected the imposture in a very original manner. He caused
ashes to be sifted upon the floor of the temple, whereby the
footsteps of the false priests were made manifest to the enraged
King of Babylon. {5}

One reads in Pausanias (_Arcadia_, 1 VIII, Ch. xvi) that at Jerusalem
the sepulcher of a woman of that country, named Helena, had a door
which was of marble like the rest of the monument, and that this door
opened of itself on a certain day of the year, and at a certain hour,
by means of concealed machinery, thus antedating our time-locks.
Eventually it closed itself. “At any other time,” adds the author,
“if you had desired to open it, you would have more easily broken it.”

When Aeneas went to consult the Cumæan Sibyl, the hundred doors of
the sanctuary opened of themselves, in order that the oracle might be
heard.

“Ostia jamque domus patuere ingentia centum
Sponte sua, vatisque ferunt responsa per auras.”

[Illustration: APPARATUS FOR BLOWING A TRUMPET ON OPENING A DOOR.]

According to Pliny, the doors of the labyrinth of Thebes were
constructed in such a manner that when they were opened a sound
resembling that of thunder greeted the astonished worshipers.

Heron, in his _Pneumatics_, describes an apparatus for blowing a
trumpet on opening the door of a temple, the effect of which must
have been awe inspiring to the uninitiated common people.

It is hardly necessary to give a detailed translation of the text
of the Greek engineer, as the _modus operandi_ of the experiment is
sufficiently explained by reference to the descriptive {6} picture.
It will suffice to add: One sees that when the door of the temple is
opened, a system of cords, rods and pulleys causes a hemispherical
cap, to the upper part of which the trumpet is attached, to sink into
a vase full of water. The air compressed by the water escapes through
the instrument, causing it to sound.

[Illustration: MECHANISM WHICH CAUSED THE TEMPLE DOORS TO OPEN WHEN A



Online LibraryHenry Ridgely EvansThe Old and the New Magic → online text (page 2 of 28)