I had the good fortune last week of working with the School of Music, Humanities and Drama at the University of Huddersfield last weekend. The event is part of my role as a Visiting Professor of Performance Magic, which involves contributions to the Journal of Performance Magic, working with drama students, and performing my own material in evening shows.
This year, I worked with Nik Taylor and David Wainwright (FRSA) during the day with drama students in filming four short videos that explored a little known syncretic religion from Mexico, the medieval symbolism of the Tarot, the power of history through inherited objects, and the magical morality of Plato’s Ring of Gyges.
La Flaquita explores the Mexican cult of Santa Muerte through offerings, transformations, and yielding to important messages. I had been exposed to this phenomena while in Mexico last January and became further intrigued after reading Andrew Chesnut’s fascinating Devoted To Death. I arranged for Andrew to give a talk on his book at Treadwell’s bookshop this summer and developed my own magical exploration as a result. A connection is made through the use of a pendulum, a coin mysteriously vanishes, tobacco transforms into wine, a prayer disappears over a candle to leave an uncanny message, and concerns of a young woman are revealed through direct communication with La Flaquita.
The true origins of the Tarot are unknown, but many believe that the cards evolved from a game of the court to a set of medieval archetypal images that represent different phases in our development (the Major Arcana), accompanied by ongoing forces relevant to our daily lives (travel, health, romance, adventure, material wealth, etc. as articulated through the Minor Arcana). My own exploration of these ideas involved two young people, free choices and contemplation, which made themselves known to me, perhaps from the shared community of human minds. In the event, a the radiance of The Sun and the compassion of the Queen of Wands were revealed in a truly inexplicable fashion.
I explored the power of history through a set of inherited objects: a small book, a silver coin, a key, a ring, and a gold watch. These objects are introduced in the context of my grandfather from Leiden and accompanied by his photograph and letter. The letter explains that each object has a deeper set of meanings that transcend their immediate physicality. The book is a miniature version of The Tempest and signifies knowledge and magic, the silver coin is a Morgan dollar and signifies material wealth, the key signifies secrets, the ring symbolises trust and commitment, and the watch stands for time, order and progress. My helpful participant ordered them thus: watch, key, coin, ring and book. He was keen to focus on the orderly aspects of life before using the key to unlock opportunities, before looking at issues of wealth, trust and commitment, and the hidden world of knowledge that awaits him. Other participants made hidden selections which were divined, and the final selection was predicted in the letter, but nonetheless chosen by our final participant.
Deep within the pages of Plato’s Republic is a thought experiment on morality called the Ring of Gyges. The ring is found within the belly of a bronze horse and renders its wearer invisible. The question for Plato centres the kinds of immoral acts one would commit while invisible and the temptation to wear the ring knowing the immoral acts that are possible under such circumstances. Two participants were given the choice to put the ring on (out of sight) or to leave it in the box (and shut), while my own powers of perception divined their true intentions.
The day was capped off with a performance of my show Lifting the Veil of ignorance. The Milton Theatre was full for an evening of magical exploration of fundamental ideas such that concern us all: epistemology, morality, justice, human rights, language, the nature of the modern state, and the role of practical wisdom. The evening was hugely enjoyable with many wonderful surprises from the audience as they made choices, imagined outcomes, and engaged with my mind games with a view to delivering a serious message about what constitutes the good life.