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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Periods & styles of Magic » » Magnets and "Magic Tricks" in Porta's Natural Magick (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

HenryleTregetour
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Were magnets (loadstones) used to perform tricks in the 1500s? The answer is yes.

In Natural Magick (1584), John Baptista Porta (Giambattista della Porta) describes three instances of such tricks. Chapter 7 (pages 173-194) discusses loadstones. On page 182, one heading is "How to make an Army of sand to fight before you." It is essentially a description of moving toy soldiers with a magnet. More interesting is "How a man of wood may row a little boat; and some other merry conceits," pages 185-186. This effect is essentially a medieval Ouija board manipulated with a magnet an iron. It also includes an effect in which a piece of paper rises along the surface of a "wall." I am quoting this entry in its entirety.

"How a man of Wood may row a little boat; and some other merry conceits."

"the fraud here is notable. For women shall see a man of Wood rowing, a little boat well waxed, in a large vessel full of water, and they can counterfeit hereby as imposter do divination by water. The fraud is thus began. The vessel is filled with water; a little ship of Wax is put into it, or else of Wood. In the middle sits a little man of Wood, fastened through the middle with a Hogs Bristle, so equal balanced, that with every light motion he may easily stir himself. Let him have oars in his hands, and under his feet a piece of Iron. Let the Alphabet be made on the brim of the vessel, round about. Wherefore a woman coming to enquire of some doubtful matter, the little man of Wood, as it he would give a true answer, will row to those letters that may signify the answer. For he that holds a Loadstone in his hand, under the table, can draw the boat which may he will, and so will answer by joining these letters together. Or put a boy of Cork into a glass Viol, with a broad mouth, that turns himself about the needle equally balanced. About the Glass vessel, make the Alphabet, that the man turning round about may give answers."

I will post the rest in a second post.
HenryleTregetour
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Natural Magick (continued)

p.186 "A paper goes up and wall, and come down by itself"

"For I glued a piece of iron on the backside of the paper, and I gave my friends to hold to the wall. But behind stood a boy with a Loadstone, and the paper that was left there, stood still. My friend commanded it to go up two foot. The boy that heard what was commanded, moved the Loadstone against it, to that place. And the paper moved thither also, and so downwards, or sideways. They that knew not the reason were astonished at it. But, which exceeds all, when he moved the Loadstone over his head, by an arch of wood; it drew the paper after it. Whereupon the paper hung over our heads and moved. But all that saw it, believed the Devil was the cause of it."

I will write a third post discussing more general effects included in Natural Magick.

HLT
HenryleTregetour
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Natural Magick (continued)

One of the most interesting parts of NM is Chapter 16 which includes several entries on "invisible writing." First, the well known effect of writing with lemon juice then heating the paper is included. Variations of this include writing with orange and onion juice. One can get colored letters using a "sour" grape (black), ammoniac salt (white), "Sow-bread" (red), or by mixing cherry juice with "Calamus" (green). Another effect is to dissolve alum in water, write with it, then emerge the item in water, revealing the writing. One can write on a stone with goat fat and then submerge it in vinegar to reveal the letters. One can write in vinegar and then rub it with soot to reveal the writing.

An interesting effect is to "mingle the white and yolk of Egg together" and write on paper; then the paper is made "a black color" [with graphite?]. Then where the letters are, the black is scraped off revealing the words. Also included are descriptions of writing on the shell of a raw egg with lemon juice, and writing on the shell of a hard boiled egg in such a manner as to imprint the letters on the egg inside. Letters on a egg written in vinegar are revealed by rubbing the egg with soot. Also described is how to put a letter inside a raw egg.

"How you may speak at a great distance" is commented on in two places: pages 325 and 359 (long pipes are used to carry the voice). Finally, there is a short section entitled "To discover Frauds whereby impostors working by natural means, pretend that they do them by conjuration." (pages 373-374) Tricks include discovering treasure using dowsing rods; making "three scrolls of paper not touched" to change places; "bore thorugh the head of a Pullet with an Awl, and yet maintain that she is alive" (also in Discoverie of Witchcraft), and how to make flowers fall from a tree. One trick is "Women are made to cast off their cloths and go naked," which corresponds to a similar trick using "boys" in Discoverie of Withcraft and Hocus Pocus Junior. "A remedy for the Sciatica" talks of cutting and restoring a long reed, but its description is confusing and it is questionable if it is a variation of the cut and restored rope.

There are two conjuror's tricks that I will describe in full. "Money to turn about upon a point" reads "two scrolls of paper, or some other light matter upon a plain, should lift up themselves, and move alone. If you search in Barley, you shall find a small ear of wild Oats, that is black and wrested, like the foot of a Locust. And if you bind this with Wax to the top of a knife, or point of a Stile, and shall sprinkle some drops of water upon them, when it feels wet, it will twist like a Harp string, and the paper will rise, and so will money turn on the point of a Stile."

The second is a way to "Discover theft." It reads "They write the names of those that are suspected upon scrolls, and make them fast in clay bullets, and put them under water. The pellets being well wet, open, and the light scrolls of paper rise above the water. And this causes the spectators to admire, and to suppose it is some diabolical art. The clay pellets are made as many as the standers by are, and the names writ in the scrolls, are wrapped up in the pellets. for the scrolls that are not very fast wrapped in the pellets, are not very fast bound. But if you will have them never to open, you shall work it well with the scroll, and so it will never come forth."

The final entry in the book is entitled "Of some mechanical Experiments." "The Flying Dragon." It is the description of a kite. The effects used are as follows. "Some place a lantern in it, that it may show a comet. Others put a Cracker of paper, wherein Gunpowder is rolled, and when it is in the air, by the cord there is send a light match, by a ring or something that will abide. This presently flies to the sail, and gives fire to the mouth of it, and the engine with a thundering noise, flies into many parts, and falls to the ground. Others bind a Cat or Whelp, and so they hear cries in the air." Yeah, the last part is a do not do this at home!

Well, I hope these posts gives people some fresh ideas. Of course, one doesn't have to do the effect as written, ie. you don't have to use goat fat, and some of the writing recipes call for mercury (quick silver). But these posts should document period effects not discussed in Discoverie, The Art of Juggling, or Hocus Pocus. And to answer a question I haven't seen posted: yes, effects using magnets were performed in the sixteenth century. Whether "jugglers" actually used them when performing remains unanswered, but certainly (probably?) within the realm of possibility.
D. Yoder
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Thanks for the informative post!
HenryleTregetour
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You're welcome!
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