History of Magic

John Field, a retired solicitor from Ashstead, gave the Probus Club of Basingstoke an informative insight into the history of magic over the centuries. John has been performing magic for over 40 years and is a member of the prestigious Magic Circle. He has developed his skills to such a high level that in 2005 he was elevated to the exclusive degree of Associate Member of The Inner Magic Circle with Silver Star. Fewer than 350 magicians hold this degree worldwide.
John started with the first known magician, Dedi, in 2700BC. He was famous for cutting the head off a bird – it would fall to the ground – then attaching another one so the bird could fly away. The secret? It’s all to do with the way a bird will tuck its head under a wing. And a second, less fortunate bird. Rumour has it that he tried the same trick with a cow.
Moving along through the ages John described the famous ‘cup and ball’ trick, which is 2,500 years old. “Which walnut has the pea under it” together with the “Find the Lady” card trick are all variations of the same idea. They have one thing in common in that you can never win! Gangs who do this are highly sophisticated and make a good living. Associates planted in the audience appear to win small fortunes with ease, luring onlookers to bet large sums. Despite knowing how the trick is done John described how he lost $14 in less than a minute in Times Square, New York.
On a more serious note, he told of witchcraft trials, where suspected witches were repeatedly pricked with a bodkin – a needle with a small handle. This was to test for the Devil’s mark, a numb spot where the Devil had supposedly kissed the witch. Initially the success rate was minimal, so a bright spark redesigned the bodkin, putting the needle on a spring so it would retract when it touched anything. From that point onwards the fate of hundreds of innocents was sealed.
In early years magicians could be hanged or burnt for witchcraft but, later, magicians made their fortune. He told of William Ellsworth Robinson, who shaved his head, grew a pigtail, dressed in Chinese robes and called himself Chung Ling Soo. His speciality was catching bullets in his teeth, and it paid very well indeed – in 1912 he was earning the equivalent of £31,500 per week – until the day when the trick went wrong and he was killed. Some say it was because special chambers in the gun had corroded; others whisper of suicide – or murder.
John gave a demonstration of his ability to mind-read National Lottery random numbers from the audience, getting all six correct. He finished off, with the help of an audience assistant, in a demonstration of a version of the ‘cup and ball’ trick. Amazingly, even an observation at close quarters could not detect how it was done.
Questions were welcomed at the end but he refused to say how any of his tricks were done.