History of the Magic
Throughout history, different cultures have had their unique forms of magic, such as hoodoo, shamanism, and voodoo.
Magic can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where it was closely tied to religion and spirituality. Then it was used for various purposes, such as divination, healing, and influencing the natural world.
How far back can we go?
The history of magic can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans.
We can learn more about early magic from an Egyptian papyrus, “Westcar Papyrus,” that dates back around 2500 BCE. This papyrus is one of the oldest surviving documents containing magic illustrations, making it a great piece to study.
The Westcar Papyrus is a collection of five stories written in hieratic on a papyrus scroll. The stories revolve around the court of the pharaoh Khufu, and one of the stories features a magician named Dedi.
In the story, Dedi is called upon by Khufu to perform a magic trick in front of the court. Dedi agrees and proceeds to decapitate a goose, cut off its legs, and then put the head and legs back on the goose. The goose then comes back to life and flies away.
The story is significant as it illustrates the power and skill of a magician and emphasizes the importance of magic in ancient Egyptian society.
Magicians were considered influential and respected members of society and were often called upon to perform rituals and ceremonies for the pharaoh and the court.
While some historians term the Dedi story as fictional, and the historical accuracy of the events described in it is not certain, the story is more likely a reflection of the beliefs and worldview of the ancient Egyptians at that time.
Besides the Dedi story, we can learn more about the beliefs around magic in ancient times from a painting on the tomb wall of Baquet III.
The painting dates back to the 21st century BCE, and it depicts a scene of a magician performing a ritual. A magician is a bald man wearing a leopard-skin loincloth and holding a staff.
He is surrounded by various magic props, such as an Ankh (symbolizes life), a Sistrum (a musical instrument), and a Was-scepter (symbolizes power).
The magician is performing a ritual in front of an altar, and there is a depiction of a god or a spirit in front of him.
Like in the Dedi story, this painting is significant because it shows that magic was an essential part of Egyptian culture and that magicians were considered influential and respected members of society.
The painting also illustrates the close link between magic and religion in ancient Egypt. It suggests that magicians performed rituals and ceremonies meant to appease the gods and spirits.
It’s worth noting that the painting is one of many examples of how the ancient Egyptians believed in the power of magic and its ability to influence the natural world and spirits.
They depicted it in various forms of art, such as paintings, statues, and hieroglyphs.
Magic in the middle ages
From 400 to 1500 CE, little is known about the history of magic, but most of it is associated with the occult, which was often viewed as heretical by the church. Due to this, many people didn’t practice it openly for fear of persecution.
The church heavily influenced magic at this time, and those practicing it were labeled as heretics and were often subject to punishment and persecution.
This went on until the later middle ages, when there was a resurgence in the interest in magic. This can be attributed to the influence of the Byzantine and Islamic cultures, which were more tolerant towards magic practices.
Influential figures such as Albertus Magnus and Roger bacon wrote about the topic, which also played a major role in reviving the interest.
In 1584, Reginald Scot published a book titled, “The Discoverie of Witchcraft,” which aimed at persuading people to stop burning and hanging those practicing magic tricks.
As the belief in witchcraft waned, and magic became more acceptable, magic shows became more commonplace. You could find them in fairs as sources of entertainment where different performers would entertain the public using various tricks.
Magic in the modern era
Magic in the modern era is associated with stage performances, illusion, and various forms of esotericism and occultism. There are many different traditions and practices of magic, such as Hermeticism, Wicca, and Ceremonial Magic.
One notable figure that has significantly impacted the history of magic is Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. Born in 1805 in Blois, Houdin started practicing magic at a young age, and after perfecting it in 1830, he began performing professionally in Paris.
Houdin is credited with popularizing many of the classic tricks still being performed today, such as the disappearing birdcage and levitation illusion.
One of the greatest contributions that Houdin has had to magic is the creation of the “theater of illusions” in Paris in 1845. The theater changed how magicians performed—instead of performing in music halls or circuses, they started performing in theaters, and they could regularly have magic shows.
Besides building a theater, Houdin also wrote several books on magic, which are still highly regarded by modern magicians. His most famous book, “The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic,” is considered a classic piece of magic literature and is widely read by magicians worldwide.
Although Houdin is long gone, his legacy lives on, and his work in magic has heavily influenced many aspiring magicians.
As Houdin was revolutionizing magic in France, another magician was making a similar impact in London. Born in 1814 in Scotland, John Henry Anderson began practicing magic from an early age (like Houdin) and started practicing magic professionally in London in the 1830s.
Anderson was known for his outstanding charisma and many innovative and spectacular illusions, including disappearing acts, levitation tricks, and the famous “bullet catch” trick.
He was the first magician to use the term “Wizard” in his stage performances, where he regularly called himself “The Great Wizard of the North.”
Anderson heavily toured Canada, the United States, and Europe, becoming one of the most popular magicians of his time.
Besides these two, plenty of other magicians have significantly contributed to the world of magic. One notable figure is Alexander Hermann (1844-1896), who became the ideal model of a magician.
Courtesy of Alexander, a magician was perceived as a man with thick wavy hair, a top hat, a goatee, and a tailcoat.
Another notable magician is Harry Houdini, who took his stage name from Robert Houdin. Houdini developed many stage magic tricks based on escapology, making him extremely popular and achieving tremendous commercial success in his career.
Houdini is one of the most recognized names in the magic world and the entire show business.
Over the years, performance magic has evolved, and now it has not only become a staple in Broadway theaters but it has also found its way into our televisions.
Television magicians bring their magic supplies to the television studios and perform before a live audience which provides the remote viewer with the assurance that the illusions on the television are real and aren’t obtained with visual effects.
What is the future of magic? There is no way to tell. Only time can do that.