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Brad Burt
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Note: I am 'fairly' happy with how this essay turned out, but not totally. I rewrote it several times and I think...hope....that it makes clear what I am attempting to say. The fact is...that keeping secrets, especially for the beginner, is a very problematic situation. Social pressures can be in some cases extreme. I have been convinced for many years though that these situations 'can' be dealt with in a manner that is acceptable to all but the most backward and recalcitrant of those encountered.

In addition to what you will read below, it occurred to me that one of the things that is needed in order to uphold ones integrity in this arena is the cultivation of a an 'attitude' that simply does not care whether anyone is 'put out' by the fact that you will NOT in fact let loose with your hard earned knowledge. If the problem of pressure is most often the desire to remain friends then magicians must be willing to count only those friends who are willing to understand that magicians do NOT simply give out their secrets simply because someone desires that they/we do so!

I would not expect a 'good' friend to lie for me simply because I 'wanted' him or her to do so. I expect that same attitude in return from non-magic friends in regard to my desire to uphold an ages long desire on the part of magicians to keep their secrets....secret.

The argument that magic secrets are not in fact sold wholesale in both book and video form is not the issue. If someone wants to spend THEIR hard earned money 'simply' to find out HOW something is done, well that has always been available in one form or another. But, the expectation that I should casually give 'you' one of my secrets demeans what I do and the code or general secrecy to which I hold. It assumes that what I do is of little event, of little value generally and to that I will not accede. Magic my NOT be of the same value of what a pediatric surgeon does, but it is something that 'I' value and value much. Magic may never be in a position to change the world, but the fact is that during WWII Maskelyne the famous British Magician devised methods of illusion that convinced the enemy that they faced many, many more opponents than in fact was the case. This is recounted in the amazing book, "The War Magician" a most worthy read.

The fact is that magic is important to those of us who value it for it's own sake. Who believe that the simplest of tricks done well is entertaining inherently. We love magic for what it offers in mystery and amazement and ability to apparently transcend the mundane. Magic, I am convinced, for those of us who had difficult childhoods was the 'way' to transcend the pain and offered a way to insert control into a situation that seemed to have none. It was not simple escape it was a way to believe that we could in fact transcend that which we could do nothing about.

To 'give' away our secrets casually as if they have no worth is to betray the friend that stood by us in both hard times and good. It is this betrayal that is at the heart of the reason for keeping our secrets as secret as 'we' can. Nothing more.

Although the appeal above is mostly emotional I make no excuse. Emotion is WHAT the affect of the effect of magic is all about. The gut reaction of seeing something that is impossible happen before your eyes is only amazing AS it affects the emotions.

What will Enhance Your Ability To Work Wonders in the case of this present discussion IS in your reacquiring or acquiring a full measure of respect for the craft itself. For the 'affect' of magic on the viewer. On what it means to be AMAZED! If it has little importance to you then it will be of little import whether or not you give up your secrets when asked to. Magic is important as it is important to YOU. My sincerest and most heartfelt regards - Brad Burt, owner

Secrets and the Milieu of Magic
By Brad Burt
Copyright 2007

Magic is an odd kind of thing to do. It’s also an odd kind of thing to ‘watch’ and that is in fact it’s charm. Magic by definition is the apparent contravention of what some call ‘Natural Law’. Crumpled up dollar bills should NOT float about with no apparent care for the same Law of Gravity that keeps both the magician and his audience firmly in place and rooted to the ground. Yet, we as magicians love to give the impression that we can in fact cause dollar bills to float.

The only real currency in which we as magicians have to deal is that of Secrecy. Secrets are the milieu in which we ply our trade, craft, art or hobby. For those unfamiliar, ‘milieu’ is a wonderful little word not seen enough in common usage. It means: The totality of one's surroundings; an environment. The ‘totality’ of the environment of magic is the secrets with which we produce that magic. Take away the secrets and you end up with just so many puzzles solved, the methods lay bare and nakedly pathetic to those without the wit to appreciate their genius. Why pathetic? Because, once known the methods themselves are found to have been of no worth whatsoever EXCEPT to those of us who use them! And, more, of no use EXCEPT in the production of an ‘effect’ that fools and entertains, BECAUSE it fools. Take away the deception and we may as well become jugglers or work our magic by simply cranking the handle on the side of a box.

How many times has a magician caved and given up a secret only to have the recipient thereof turn away in evident disgust at the ‘seeming’ simplicity? It’s happened to me early on. It was a valuable lesson learned. That is: Don’t tell them how it works. Period.

‘Secrets’ have power only when they ‘stay’ secret. Once generally known they become nothing more than a kind of puzzle passed about for amusement. The problem arises for most magicians when they are pestered by friend or family to ‘give up’ a secret! In many cases the pressure can be quite severe. Although I have written on this before I recently had a further insight into this problem and I am convinced that it will help many of you, especially the beginner in the craft to thwart the supplications of those who only want to ‘know’ the secrets of magic as a passing ray of sun wishes to know the shadow of a blade of grass. There and gone, so what?

Let’s look at what generally happens….

“Wow, Brad, that is a great trick!”, says the soon to be supplicant.

“Thank you” the magician answers.

“How about telling me how that’s done? Look, I’m never going to do it, so I won’t be cutting in on your territory.” The supplicant begins his slimy attack on the magician’s integrity.

“Sorry, Bob, but I can’t do that.” You parry.

“Oh, come on! We’re friends…..”, and thus it continues on and on. The ‘wheedle’ has begun.

You’ve all had some version of this script play out in your magic life. Let’s look at the next step….

“Look, Bob,” you continue, “I CAN’T tell you the secret. I have made many promises over the years to a great many people in my industry to NOT tell how the things that I do work. I can’t do it. If I do I am going back on my word and I won’t do that and I don’t think you want me to.” You look at Bob.

“Oh, commmmmmmme on! I’m your best friend. You can tell me!” The assault continues. Apparently Bob is quite comfortable with the idea that you will surrender your honor so that he can satisfy a transitory curiosity. Whatever, the problem is that Bob’s mediating principle in this seems to be the following:

No matter what someone has taught or told you in confidence it’s ok to tell ‘him’ what that ‘secret’ might be.

Thus my new insight! Let’s look at what Bob is really saying when he asks YOU to embargo YOUR ethics in this situation. What Bob is saying is simple: Anything you tell him in confidence can be blabbed about both hither AND yon! Isn’t it? Isn’t Bob saying that ‘he’ does not in fact believe in confidence between friends? But, as we will see in a moment that knife cuts hard in both directions!

For our buddy Bob most certainly has secrets that he would not care to have bandied about. Bob, if he is a close friend of any kind may have told you some of those secrets. You have probably told Bob things that you would rather not have broadcast about. And, that’s where you have your friend between a philosophical rock and a hard place. The conversation concludes…..

“Look, Bob, remember when you told me about the dog, the walrus tusk and the five pounds of cherry jam incident?” Bob looks startled that you should bring that sordid incident up.

“Yeeeeeah….I remember….”, Bob answers looking somewhat pale. His eyes have narrowed and small beads of sweat have sprung forth on this brow.

“Well, look at this way….if you expect me to tell you secrets that have been transmitted to ME in confidence from someone else….well, why shouldn’t you think that I would tell others about the dog, tusk, jam incident?” You say this with all the sincerity that you can come up with trying to draw Bob into the spirit of the discussion, which to Bob’s way of looking has rapidly deteriorated into an area that he would rather forget.
Bob, suddenly gets the idea. The integrity he is asking ‘you’ to forgo is a two edged sword which can cut terribly in both directions. Give up your integrity here and why shouldn’t it be assumed that you would give it up over there.

But, for poor Bob it’s even worse. Do you see it? Do you see the bind that he’s now in? Because, what Bob is really saying is this: I am GIVING you permission TO TELL my secrets about. By subverting your integrity I also subvert my own and so what’s good for the goose is good for the gander so to speak. He may not see it that way, but in fact logically that is what is going on. He can’t unilaterally decide that ‘BANG’ in this one situation we’ll suspend ‘your’ integrity and ‘ZAP’ it back into place once he’s has satisfied his curiosity.

So when faced with someone who is pushing, pushing, pushing look at them and say:

“Look, I’ll tell you the secret to this trick. I will. But, understand something. You will NEVER be able to tell me anything in confidence. Ever. The reason is simple. You are giving me permission to tell ‘your’ secrets by telling me that it’s ok to tell you what I have gotten in confidence from some other source. So, if you tell me something that you would not want anyone else to know….what you are saying is that I CAN in fact tell the first person I find that has an interest in what you told me. Do you really want to put our friendship on that basis?”

But, it’s even worse. Do you see it? You friend is also saying the following: Secrets suck and there is every possibility that things you have told your friend in confidence are in fact known by more folks than you think. Oh, I know that there is a kind of counter argument that goes, “Well, look man, it’s only that magic stuff. It’s not that same as things that happen between a man and his dog, a walrus tusk and the five pounds of cherry jam!” But, look at the arbitrary nature of his assertion. And, because it’s so arbitrary how can you really trust in his ability to keep a confidence? I don’t think you can. His disrespect of your idea of honor shows a fluidity of the concept that really can’t be trusted to safe guard things that may in fact be of much more value than even, ‘gasp’, a magic secret!

I know and you know folks that can NOT keep a confidence. They can’t. Whatever you tell them whether you preface it with, “Please don’t’ tell anyone” they will be telling your secret to someone else probably within the hour. All that means is that with ‘that’ particular friend the relationship will always remain superficial at least on your side.

What the above does is partly clarify who those folks are in your life. You can love them for who they are, but you probably will never tell them things in your life of substance. They have proven unworthy of that level of closeness and it’s a sad thing.

The ultimate point here is to understand how to use the above analysis to help you avoid the angst of giving up your hard won secrets. Much like tossing pearls before swine it is an exercise in futility.

Afterward: Some reading this might argue that I in fact make my living by not just ‘telling’ secrets, but by selling them! They might say that the above essay is hypocritical. But, it’s actually the opposite. There is a considerable difference between casually giving anyone who asks the ‘secret’ to some routine or effect and selling to folks who are genuinely interested in acquiring magic skill. The former group bumps into us almost my happenstance. The latter comes looking specifically. Effort is expended. A goal is achieved.


Brad Burt
Brad Burt
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