The Mantle of Magic

Dear Friends:
Our guest columnist this month is team member Daryl Rogers. Daryl performs close-up, strolling, parlor, and stage magic in a variety of venues, including birthday parties, private parties, fairs, festivals, schools, and libraries. He was recently named as an Instructor of the Magic & Mystery School and is a recipient of the Eugene Burger Legacy Award. He has taken numerous classes, acts as Assistant Media Manager to Scott SteelFyre for the school’s online classes and broadcasts, and occasionally hosts Mystery School Mondays

Discovering the Mantle of Magic

Mantle – noun 1. a loose sleeveless cloak or shawl  2. an important role or responsibility that passes from one person to another 

When I was 12 years old, I discovered magic and pursued it as a hobby for three years. The community I grew up in did not have a public library, and there were no magic stores nearby, so my knowledge of the art of magic was very limited. Forty years later, my interest in magic was reignited, and access to information was plentiful. The public library near me was large, and it didn’t take me long to discover the 793.8 section, and check out every item available.

One of the first books that caught my eye was The Illustrated History of Magic by Milbourne Christopher. I was fascinated to read about the long and rich history of magic. I was intrigued by the stories of past magicians like Robert-Houdin, Alexander Herrmann, Harry Kellar, Chung Ling Soo, Howard Thurston and other illustrious performers. I finally understood the reason for all the red tin tubes and boxes with fake Chinese lettering on them that I saw in the magic stores! Within that book I discovered the story of the Mantle of Magic.

Thurston’s poster promoting The Mantle of Magic being passed to him

The History and the Symbology
Harry Kellar became the premier American magician after the death of Alexander Herrmann. Toward the end of Kellar’s career, he started grooming a protégé to carry on in his footsteps. The original choice was a magician named Paul Valadon, but personal conflicts between Kellar’s and Valadon’s wives, in addition to some of Valadon’s personal actions, soured the deal. 
Howard Thurston stepped into the breach and made a bid to buy the show. He was accepted as Kellar’s heir apparent and performed with Kellar during his final tour. Kellar’s last show was held at Ford’s Opera House in Baltimore on the evening of May 16, 1908. At the end of the show, he gave a brief farewell speech, called Thurston onto the stage, and formally introduced him as his successor. 
At this time the passing of the Mantle of Magic was a metaphorical symbol, but it was soon depicted in a fanciful poster Thurston had created to promote his own show tour the following year. At the end of his career, Thurston passed the mantle to Harry Jansen, who performed under the name Dante. Dante passed the mantle to Lee Grabel, and Grabel passed it on to its current holder, Lance Burton, a close friend of the Magic & Mystery School. 
The Mantle of Magic is symbolic in a number of ways. At the surface level the mantle symbolizes a continuous lineage of master magicians. It is an outward designation of a person who has mastered all of the aspects of performing theatrical magic, and has reached the pinnacle of the art. It is the physical embodiment of a level of ability worthy to strive for by anyone serious about performing magic.
On a deeper level, it touches on the concept of a Jungian archetype. Indeed, the magician is one of the twelve brand archetypes in the Jungian aesthetic. The image of the classic magician in a white tie and tailcoat, tuxedo, top hat, cane, and cape is instantly recognizable as depicting a person of mystery, ability, and power. Even the youngest person getting involved in magic instinctively understands the meaning of this symbol.

Lee Grabel passing the Mantle of Magic to Lance Burton on May 12,1994

Earning Your Mantle

Though you may not perform in the traditional Robert-Houdin inspired wardrobe of the magician, another kind of mantle exists that you can wear. It is a mantle in your mind, and of your spirit. It is that never-ending quest to perform to the best of your abilities, and to raise the appreciation of magical performances in the eyes of the public. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing card tricks for one person at a bar, or performing for thousands of people on stage in a formal theater. The goal is the same.

There is no secret formula for reaching this level of performance ability. It comes from reading good books on magic history, theory, and philosophy. It comes from focused, conscious practice, and rehearsal. It comes from knowing your character, choosing the correct wardrobe, scripting your routines, and blocking your performances. It comes from your dedication, perseverance, and commitment to continual improvement. 

Perhaps most important of all is your connection to your fellow magicians, your mentors. and your teachers.

  • Whose writings and teachings do you learn from?
  • Who do you choose to have review and critique your act?
  • Whose business advice do you listen to? 
  • What actions do you take based on what you learn? 

How you answer these questions will have a profound impact on how you perform your magic, how your audiences will perceive your magic performances, and ultimately on your foundational relationship to the art of magic. 

There is no better place to make connections with people you can trust, and that have a deep understanding of the art of magic than at the Magic & Mystery School. The entire faculty and supporting staff are dedicated to the school’s mission of “improving the art of magic one magician at a time.” 

All skill levels are welcome. You will be connected to some of the friendliest and most generous magic teachers and mentors working today. As you deepen and strengthen your relationship with the school, you will be joining prior students like Shin Lim, Mat Franco, Bill Cook and many others. What it has done for their careers, it can do for yours as well, and soon you will find a Mantle of Magic that fits you. 

Learn more about the Mantle of Magic in the books The Illustrated History of Magic by Milbourne Christopher and The Last Greatest Magician in the World by Jim Steinmeyer.

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