Posts Tagged ‘transformation’

Magic Menagerie

I am really excited for my new show, which draws on my lifelong love of magic and my deep appreciation of historical mysteries, the unexplained, and the unknown.

Coming in 2015, The Magic Menagerie is a parlour show steeped in mysteries from a bygone era, where lives crossed paths, people disappeared from social life, and deception was commonplace.

The show will have its debut on 7 February 2015 at the Milton Theatre in Huddersfield, a perfect venue housed in a converted Victorian church with an intimate seating arrangement for full participation.


Exploring the Outer Edges of the Mind

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.

ring of gyges

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.

lifting the veil-1

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.


Transformational Education

This week I was asked to speak to our first year business students about what a transformational education means at the University of Essex. This was both an honour and a privilege as I have always believed that a University education is truly transformational and is one of the most incredible times in your life. My own time at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1980s was unbelievably good. The professors, the campus, the extracurricular activities, and the dense social relationships all combined into four years of learning, living, and lucidity that have been a great foundation for all that I have done ever since.


In preparing my comments for our new students, I reflected on my time at Penn with great fondness and thought back on all the changes I experienced. I also reflected on the word transformation and its different meanings. For the talk, I made reference to the natural world and included images of the life cycle for a butterfly and a frog. I then reflected on the Aristotelian notion of telos accompanied by an image of an acorn and an oak tree. Inside all of us (acorns) is an oak tree waiting to get out.

As a magician, I had of course to reflect on alchemy and the scholar magicians of the 16th century, who were interested in the conversion of base metal into gold, as well as the process of spiritual development. For me, the notion of the vessel from alchemy was important for my talk. Inside the vessel, all sorts of changes happen. The vessel as a metaphor was useful for my point about education at Essex.

We take our base material (the students), put them in a vessel (library and classrooms), ferment the students (books, lectures, knowledge, skills, relationships, learning environment), and distillation (the newly formed graduate), the result of which is a person ready to take on the world.

I shared my own personal transformation from an idyllic childhood in rural Pennsylvania to an Academic Magician living in England. To cap off the event, I performed a quick demonstration using a Rubik’s Cube and a mind reading experiment using Thomas Hobbes classic tome Leviathan.Wivenhoe House

I like the openness of the University of Essex to these kinds of ideas. It is a University that has been challenging convention since its founding in 1964 and this week was ranked among the top 100 in the world for the social sciences. It has been my professional home since 1993 and a base from where I have been able to explore the world.

Next week, the Edge Hotel School, the first of its kind in the UK for work based learning in the newly refurbished Wivenhoe House Hotel, will host my new show ‘Lifting the Veil of Ignorance’, which explores many foundational philosophical ideas through the medium of magic and mentalism.

Like the lecture, the show offers a different opportunity for transformational education, which for me, is something that is ongoing and never really reaches an end…