Magic – Medicine for the Mind

Dear Friends:

As I sit down to write this, we have just received a photo of Eugene Burger holding his award from FISM. Once again, congratulations, Eugene!

Eugene’s books were a huge influence on me as I was rekindling my interest in magic twenty some years ago. I think it was his Performance of Close-up Magic that introduced me not only to some fantastic new magic, but also to a completely new way of thinking about magical performance. Eugene was the first magician I encountered who wrote about why magic might be important to us, and to our audiences.

I have come to think most magical performers fail to see the potential power of our art, not just to entertain, but to transform our audiences and ourselves. Science shows that every experience we have affects us – not just our thinking and emotions, but our physical being, as well. Ideas manifest physically in our neurons, and that affects our body chemistry, our actions, and more. When we experience a story by reading a book or watching a movie, and enter the imaginary worlds they create, that experience changes us, too. I’m sure you have had the experience of feeling changed by a particularly powerful book or movie, to some degree.

Well…magic is an especially powerful form of storytelling. It is more direct than most, because we involve our audiences directly as characters within the stories our magic creates, not just as outside observers. Beyond that, we strive to show them a view of reality as they know it – and then shatter that understanding of the world with our magic. That “moment of astonishment,” as Paul Harris calls it, can be extremely powerful. It requires us to shift our ideas and beliefs about the way things are – about what is possible in the world. And that can change us in profound ways.

Throughout the ages, one particular kind of magician – the shaman, or medicine man – has used the magic moment to heal members of the shaman’s tribe who have become ill or injured. The success of this type of healing has often been remarkable. I have heard it said that the most powerful drug in the world has a name: it is ‘Placebo.’ The healing power of our minds – of belief – was, for many thousands of years, by far the most effective cure available to medical practitioners.

I recently watched a talk on by Dr. Atul Gawande, in which, among other things, he mentioned that “up until about the middle of the last century, there were really only about 40 different things doctors could do that would really help our patients.” I was a bit shocked, remembering all those visits to the doctor as a child, to realize he was pretty much just prescribing penicillin and painkillers and hoping for the best. The rest was left to magic; though I’m sure my doctor never would have termed it that. In many ways, it is our belief – the power of our minds – and the power of our bodies to naturally heal themselves, which actually brings on healing. And magic can change belief.

So, I’d like to pose a question for you. Since whatever you do in your shows — whatever stories they leave in your audience’s minds, whatever worlds they conjure up – will actually change the lives of those you perform for…often as powerfully or more so than if you were to administer powerful drugs to those same audience members – what are the results you are aiming for? What effect do you want your performances to have? Will your magic be good medicine…or not?

Having said that, allow me to draw your attention to a couple of events we have coming up at the Magic & Mystery School, where this issue (the real power of magic)…along with many that may seem more practical to many of you…will be addressed. The first is “Magic & Medicine,” formerly “Magic for Medical Professionals.” It is designed for medical service providers at all levels who are interested in magic and how it can help them improve their own work as doctors, nurses, therapists, etc. The one-on-one performance aspect of close-up magic is in many ways analogous to the healer/ patient relationship, and so we’ve found that magicians and healers can learn a great deal from one another during our previous year’s offerings.

The second event is our annual “Master Class for Mentalists,” (and for magicians interested in mental magic). Hosted by Jeff, Eugene and our very special guest Ross Johnson, this class has proved to be one of those that students want to come back to again and again. Mental magic is so powerfully convincing when it is performed well that it becomes extremely important that the performer is clear about the results he or she wants.

Speaking of shamans and magic that is good medicine, we have a video clip to share with you! As many of you know, Jeff McBride has been touring with The Illusionists throughout Mexico back in July, and is set to go to Colombia (Bogota), Ecuador (Quito) and Panama (Panama City) later this month. It is the largest magic show currently touring, featuring today’s greatest stars of magic – and Jeff plays the character of The Shaman (El Chaman). You can get just a taste of the show in the following clip. It might make you want to jump on a plane to South America to see a performance!

The Illusionists


For Jeff and all our crew at the Magic and Mystery School, I wish you most magical month!

Tobias Beckwith

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