Mercury, the Roman trickster god, stands at the center of the
I.B.M. logo. Few magicians are aware of that. But Mercury’s
mythology illuminates the plight of the modern-day conjuror. For
The other arts (e.g., literature, drama, music) all have college
and university departments devoted to them. Conjuring has nothing
like that. Why?
Answers come from theories of liminality and anti-structure.
Magic flourishes in Las Vegas. Several conjurors there have long-term
employment. Almost everywhere else they must travel to make a living.
Magicians are overwhelmingly male. Why?
Jeff McBride occasionally uses the word “liminality”
in his writings. The concept was developed in anthropology, and it
is widely applicable to conjuring. It is also key to the trickster
figure and to the paranormal.
Magicians have been involved in paranormal controversies
for centuries. In fact, the first English-language book on conjuring
discussed the matter.
Magic and the paranormal have always been intimately
related. Early shamans engaged supernatural powers, but they also
used tricks. They were predecessors of today’s magicians. An
entire chapter is devoted to the “sham of shamanism.” Eugene Burger
and Robert Neale provided some groundwork in their book Magic &
Within magic, paranormal controversies continue.
Some conjurors are debunkers. On the other hand, there have been
many prominent Magicians Who
Endorsed Psychic Phenomena, including John Nevil Maskelyne, Howard
Thurston, Dante, Kellar, and Walter Gibson.
The tension between mentalists and magicians is a
direct result of antagonisms over the paranormal. For instance, Penn
Jillette frequently denounces Kreskin. Also, the mentalist-magician
conflict spurred the founding of the Psychic Entertainers Association.
Several magicians exemplify the trickster archetype.
Brief biographical sketches are provided for Tony ‘Doc’ Shiels, Eric Dingwall,
and James Randi, the hoaxer, the investigator, and the debunker, respectively.
A more extended discussion of Martin Gardner is included.
The Trickster and the Paranormal
includes full chapters on conjurors, shamans and their trickery, deceptive
psychics, and hoaxes, among others.
George P. Hansen was cataloger of The
Milbourne Christopher Library.