The Magician’s Bauble

From Lawrence Hass, Associate Dean:

Throughout the month of October, we are celebrating the “Philosophy of Magic” on our Mystery School Monday shows. Thus, for this Museletter we wanted to bring you something special from one of our famous philosophers, Bob Neale. On the day this arrives in your box, Bob will be with us in Las Vegas for the Magic and Meaning Conference, where we will be celebrating the release of his brand new book The Sense of Wonder (available October 20 from

Meanwhile, enjoy these reflections:

The Magician’s Bauble

The Magic of Celebrating Illusion

 Robert E. Neale

(Excerpt from an unfinished manuscript, Breakaway: Bits and Pieces of a Magic Wand)

“Bauble” is an Old French term of obscure origin. It refers to a child’s plaything or toy. We continue to employ it to mean a trinket—a small, showy ornament of little value. In either case, it suggests something of little value. This is just as it should be . . . as long as we remind ourselves of the quite opposite meaning that is involved when we connect it with the Fool’s Bauble, which functions as a scepter that mocks the staff of office of rulers.

Fool’s Baubles could vary in form from an imitation phallus, to a bladder, to a doll-like replica of the fool himself. The prop was a symbol presenting the jester as a ruler of his own, fool of all fools. But our recollection of the jester in Europe should not obscure the fact that the fool figure has occurred in such cultures and societies as Eskimo, Aztec, Arabian, Roman, and Chinese. Fools occur to make merry, play absurd, and also critique society. They are experienced as innocent and yet knowing, criminal and yet caring, destructive and yet wholesome. Indeed, the jester is a most ambiguous figure about which we are properly ambivalent.

So I invite you to consider our traditional magic wand as a jester’s bauble:

Wand Whole

It is a bauble we have been using all through our magic lives, but perhaps haven’t fully recognized it as such.

But now consider it to be a kind of wand that we have sometimes used in our public performances:

Wand Broken

Indeed, at the most fundamental level, all our baubles are breakaway wands: the comedy stick with which we wave to make magic happen and then hand to a child who discovers it broken. We take it back, restore it, and may offer it to the child again. However abusive, this event has been experienced as funny by magicians, their audiences, and even those on whom the trick has been played. And it is properly ironic that we should finally play it on ourselves. Can we show our wand broken? Can we create the illusion for ourselves that we have restored it? Can we not like ourselves, then like ourselves, and then be silly with the serious?

So consider our wand now as fully revealed. Can we see it? And if so, can we appreciate it still as a comedy stick? Is it funny for us? Yes, can we laugh? Let us hope so by moving the life cycle of our magic wands to a new stage in which they embody ambiguity, and yet we treasure our own ambivalence about it.

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