I love to weave stories and tales into my magic. This photo was shot at the 2021 MN Renaissance Festival by Darin Jensen. The theme of the magical effect I am performing here is the classic Magician vs the Devil. The story is told in the words of a poem. I titled it The Young Lad and the Mysterious Stranger. Captured in this photo is the moment the young lad sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for incredible magical abilities. In the end he outsmarts and beats the Devil at his own game with some incredible card magic.
Over my many years of performing this style of magic I have found the audience gets drawn into the magic, they begin to care about what is happening, they are engaged, enriched, enchanted.
The Mysterious Hole
Having been a professional magician for over 45 years I have witnessed some pretty amazing things. The three I am about to share are the most memorable because they happened directly to me, unexpectedly and accidentally. It is in these rare moments that the seasoned magician, caught totally off guard, instantly becomes a simple, baffled spectator.
This occurrence caught me totally off guard and was by far the most astonishing thing I have ever witnessed. I was sitting at my computer for a relaxing evening, finishing up some small business tasks. I poured a glass of wine. It was the end of the day and time to unwind.
After taking a few sips of wine while working I again reached for my glass of wine and see…
WHAT THE HECK?!
There’s a perfect hole cut into the side of the glass… like a laser cut hole about the size of a nickel! At this moment I was witnessing something so startling and unexpected my brain could not comprehend it. There was that rush of adrenalin causing all my senses to go into overdrive trying to deal with this bizarre phenomenon. A chill pass through my body and the hair on the back of my neck stood up.
This is unbelievable, how can this possibly be?!
In that moment of total astonishment I was convinced I was witnessing some kind of bizarre supernatural phenomenon. The only explanation was REAL MAGIC! Something unbelievable had just happened to me!
I slowly reached a finger out to touch the hole in the glass.
But wait… let’s go back in time just 20 minutes.
As I was opening the bottle of wine I used a foil cutter to remove the top piece of foil. I removed the cork and poured a glass of wine.
So what really happened?
Good magicians never reveal their tricks. However this was no trick, at least not in the traditional magic sense. This was in reality a strange and bizarre accident.
When I used my foil cutter to remove the foil top on the bottle one of the cutting wheels was loose and didn’t line up with the other wheels so it cut an extra piece of the foil. A perfect thin foil ring as thin as the glass itself.
I had removed the cork and poured the wine. The thin foil ring, still on the bottle, fell from the neck of the bottle into my glass unnoticed along with the wine. While I was drinking my wine the foil ring, by a bizarre chance, stuck to the inside of the wine glass, clinging to the glass with the help of the liquid.
This really was a freak accident, try as I might to recreate it later on I could not.
Back at my computer when I looked down at my glass and saw the “hole” I was dumbfounded. It was a perfect illusion. I can’t think of a strong enough word to describe my emotions at that moment. As a magician I deal in the impossible, I work creating the illusion of miracles, I believe in the impossible. As I said before, for a brief few moments I was convinced I was witnessing true magic at work! Or could it possibly be some spirit being trying to freak me out.
After a moment or two I mustered the courage to stick my finger into the hole.
I’m not sure what I would have done had my finger actually passed through the hole?
My finger did not go through a hole but hit glass. That is when the magic bubble burst. I instantly realized what I was actually seeing.
It truly was a perfect illusion a stunning magic trick, a bizarre accident, presented for an audience of one! Presented just for me, for my sole amazement and entertainment.
For a brief moment I, a professional magical performer for over 45 years, instantly became a baffled & bewildered spectator.
I loved every moment of it… because I remembered that this feeling of total amazement was why I got into magic in the first place. I wanted to enable my audience to experience this very same feeling of wonder and amazement all the time.
Steven Paul Carlson
THE THREE GREATEST TRICKS IN MAGIC
© Steven Paul Carlson 2019
What are the three greatest tricks in magic?
That was the question posted by a magic acquaintance of mine.
It’s an intriguing question and I will say a tricky one to answer as well 😦 sorry about the pun! After 50+ years of professional magic experience my hope here is to submit a response that is both informative and interesting to all readers not just magicians.
The question was: What are the three greatest tricks in magic? I will, at the same time, take into consideration the three greatest effects in magic.
What is the difference?
In magic the effect is what the trick is all about. For example, in a trick where a coin disappears from the magician’s hand the effect is a vanish. A single trick usually has many different methods that create that one effect.
Often times this magical effect appeals to a basic human desire or need. It is this affect on the emotions that creates the powerful impact of magical effect.
Counting down from # 3
3. Producing money from nowhere (The Misers Dream)
In the Miser’s Dream trick the magician shows his hands empty, his sleeves are rolled back. He then proceeds to pluck silver dollars out of thin air and drops them into a top hat or a wine bucket. This occurs as many times as the magician wishes. Often he will walk into the audience and pull coins off people’s clothing. The coins are seen and heard dropping into the hat or bucket. For a finale the magician may produce a shower of coins from both hands.
This was a very popular trick in the 19th and early 20th century. Today the value of a dollar coin has diminished greatly. However, in 1897 when T. Nelson Downs performed his Miser’s Dream on the Vaudeville stage the purchasing power of a silver dollar was approximately $30. The average workman made $5 to $15. a week. So when the magician plucked a silver dollar out of the air it was big money! That ability would truly be the dream of any member of the audience!
As a magician I am often asked, “Can you turn a $1 into a $100?” That is one of those common, silly questions spectators like to ask magicians. The question does, however, reveal something valuable about how the audience’s mind thinks; if you really could do magic wouldn’t you just magically make money appear?
The Miser’s Dream earns its place in the three greatest magic tricks because it appeals to this basic human dream, the ability to produce money out of nowhere!
3. The Floating Bill, is tied for third
In the floating bill trick, paper currency is borrowed from the audience. The magician lays the bill upon his empty hands and gently crumbles it into a ball. The paper ball, lying upon the magician’s open palm, begins to rise up out of his hand. The magician waves his other hand over and under the floating ball to show nothing is attached to it. The magician now gracefully waves both hands around the ball floating in mid air. The magician then secures the bill between his fingers, unfolds it and hands it back to the spectator.
Gravity, without doubt is the first natural law or force of nature we become aware of… often with painful lessons. As a result witnessing something float, unaided in space, is truly an impossible phenomenon. Because gravity is one of life’s most powerful realities a levitation will always be disarming and stunning to behold.
In magic we of course refer to this effect as a levitation or anti gravity.
The Floating Bill earns its place in the top magical tricks of all time because it dramatically defies a fundamental force of nature. And it does so with a borrowed object, performed at a close up range, under any conditions. It is truly impossible.
Additional note: In a list of the three greatest stage magic tricks the levitation of a person would probably rank number 1 or 2.
2. The Cut & Restored Thread (Gypsy Thread)
In the Gypsy Thread trick, a 3’ length of common sewing thread is cut into 10 to 12 pieces. The pieces of thread, without ever leaving your sight, are instantly restored to their original undamaged condition. In magic the effect is referred to as a restoration.
In life we are constantly faced with disorder and destruction. Life itself is chaotic. And people, by nature, are compelled to find meaning and to bring order and restoration to this chaotic life.
Quite often the plot of a magic trick (especially card magic) is creating order and restoration out of chaos.
This is where the Gypsy Thread trick is so powerful. Life all around us is vulnerable and fragile. The Gypsy Thread trick earns its place in the top three magic greats because it visually addresses that deep human desire… the ability to restore something that has been damaged or destroyed; to bring restoration and healing to chaos and destruction.
1. The Cups & Balls
Standing at number one is the ancient classic… The Cups & Balls.
The unique quality to the Cups & Balls trick is that it covers many different magical effects; the balls appear, vanish, penetrate and move mysteriously from cup to cup or hand to cup. The Cups and Balls grande finale always produce astonishing final productions under the cups, like large balls or fruit and vegetables, objects that barely fit into the cups. I personally produce a cup filled with loose pennies.
One famous magician referred to the Cups and Balls as “the ground work of all legerdemain.”
Throughout ancient history many societies and cultures have created their own unique versions of the Cup or Bowl and Ball effect. India, China and Japan all independently created their own unique versions. First century Romans called the Cups and Balls, “Acetabula et Calculi”, the vinegar cups and the pebbles.
The first written explanation of the Cups and Balls trick appeared in 1584 in a book called, “The Discovery of Witchcraft.”
The Cups & Balls is certainly the oldest and most popular effect in the magician’s repertoire. At the same time it is also the most exposed magic trick. Every beginner magic set comes with the familiar plastic blue, yellow and red cups and the three little yellow pom pom balls.
There was even a humorous attempt to “expose” this great classic on national TV using clear plastic cups.
In spite of all this, or maybe because of all this, the Cups & Balls have stood up to the hard test of time and remains a true classic in magic. To this day the Cups & Balls continues to amaze and mystify audiences. And, like the Phoenix, it arises from its ancient ashes to recreate itself for new generations in a new world of advancing technology.
The Cups and Balls earns the top position in the greatest magic tricks of all time because this magic classic enables us to experience a true sense of wonder and mystery. A moment when nothing is impossible. We are reminded that we, as human beings, not only want magic in our lives we need it. Even if it is only an illusion.
© Steven Paul Carlson 2019
SLEIGHT OF HAND: The use of digital dexterity and cunning to deceive.
The sleight of hand artist relies upon digital skills to accomplish his illusions. These techniques are invisible to the audience. The juggler openly displays his hard earned skills. The sleight of hand artist hides them. They are concealed within natural movements and actions.
Beyond the finely acquired skills of his dexterous fingers the sleight of hand artist also relies upon other subtleties to accomplish his deceptions: Psychology and timing, language both verbal and physical, help him in deceiving all of the audience’s senses.
Sleight of hand is synonymous with the art of close up magic. It’s a form of magic performed within close proximity to the audience. The objects used are common everyday items, playing cards, coins, paper currency even cell phones. Though anything that fits into the artist’s hands becomes magical. This impromptu style of close range magic makes deception seem totally impossible, yet amazingly, the totally impossible still occurs.
Alexander Herrmann, better known as Herrmann the Great, came from a family of magicians. He was the youngest of 16 children born to Samuel Herrmann and Anna Sarah (Meyer) Herrmann. His father, Samuel, born in Germany, was a magician but also became a physician. As Samuel’s family began to grow he gave up his magic to practice medicine full time. Samuel moved his new family to France.
Samuel’s first son was Compars “Carl” Herrmann. Compars, opposite from his father, left medical school to go into magic full-time.
Alexander also had a great interest in magic and Compars, took him on as his magic assistant at the young age of 8. They traveled throughout Europe with a very successful show.
Alexander, began his own independent career in magic in 1862 in American. He had a number of very successful tours in England and Europe. But out of respect to his older brother Compars, Alexander moved back to America settling into his own successful magic career.
Alexander was tall and thin and always dressed immaculately. He had wavy black hair and wore a magnificent handlebar mustache with goatee which added to his Mephistophelean appearance.
According to H. J. Burlingame, Alexander Herrmann’s personality presented “an atmosphere of mystery about the magician.” Burlingame also noted that Herrmann was one of the kindest and gentlest of men.
Herrmann died on December 16 1896 at the age of 52. Herrmann’s wife Adelaide, continued her husband’s show becoming the Queen of Magic, the first lady of magic. She performed for 25 years retiring at the age of 75.
Herrmann the Great performed a large stage illusion show but he was best known for his elegant sleight of hand.
A Magician’s Walk in the Park – by Steven Carlson
Being a traditionally trained artist and illustrator I’m more familiar with brushes, pencils and pastels. However I do enjoy experimenting with the digital medium through Photoshop.
I recall the days when manipulating photography involved lots of time in the darkroom a steady hand with an X-acto knife and skill with an airbrush…. 40 years ago Photoshop would have been a true magical miracle!
Another title might be… Bicycles on the Walking Path.
You are entering a world of magic and illusion where anything is possible… pick a card… any card. 😉
This is my new magic promo poster, I had lots of fun creating it, I hope you enjoy it.
“Do not take me for some conjuror of cheap tricks!”
Not Gandalf the Grey! He’s the real deal, only real magic here. And Sir Ian McKellen is certainly the real deal when it comes to portraying the perfect Gandalf.
This is a graphite portrait I’ve been working on for some time; it’s not quite done yet. It’s one of those pieces I’m just doing for my own enjoyment but I did want to share it. It’s 16” X 20” the medium is graphite on board.
The poem is my own creation. I have always been intrigued with the story line of someone making a deal with the devil. Then of course when it comes time to pay the bill (their soul) they try to wiggle out of the deal with one last game or challenge. I wrote the part of devil as one similar to a con artist playing the three-card Monte or the shell game.
The idea of telling a story or a poem as a background to a magical effect has also been of great interest to me. Storytelling and magic are two very powerful mediums and together they can pack quite a one-two punch.
The card effect is called Beat the Devil from Darwin Ortiz, Scams and Fantasies with Cards. I took the presentation idea of the magician vs. the Devil and created the poem.
I truly hope you enjoy it.