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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Periods & styles of Magic » » Magic in the ancient world (5 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

HistFicAuthor
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Hello and thanks for having me along. I am not a practioner, nor do I intend to be. I am a historical fiction author and looking for authentic ways to portray magician's skills set in the ancient era. In this particular case, it would be the 5th Century AD. The subject is widely travelled, across the Roman Empire and as far as India. I am hoping someone can help me come up with some ideas that he might have picked up to use in Britain to establish his reputation. Please understand, I don't need to know specifics or trade secrets. I just would like to talk to someone willing to help me frame what he does in a way that a professional magician would recognize. For average readers, I would like them to have a sense that there is tradecraft behind what the character does, not the kind of magic one would expect from a fantasy novel.
Any help is greatly appreciated. I will also be happy to credit you, if you like, when the novel is released. Thanks!
HistFicAuthor
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Is no one able or interested in helping? Am I asking something against the rules?
Wravyn
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One person that comes to mind that may be able to help point in a direction to help...
look for Café member, funsway.
HistFicAuthor
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On Dec 8, 2020, Wravyn wrote:
One person that comes to mind that may be able to help point in a direction to help...
look for Café member, funsway.


I will. Thank you so much!
Mr. Woolery
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Fifth century is mighty early for any documentable magic tricks. Earlier, we can read a letter by Seneca the Younger which mentions the use of acetabularia (vinegar cups) and a stone hidden beneath, which seems to move from one cup to another. This is something any modern magician will recognize as the cups and balls. Every medieval portrayal of a performer who does magic seems to depict cups and balls. Again, I don't have documentation for 5th century, but the available sources seem to bracket that time, so it isn't out of the realm of reasonable conjecture to assume a common familiarity in Europe with that trick.

Other things I would expect would be cut and restored rope, sleight of hand with coins, and some "mutilation" tricks such as spike through tongue. In a harsher time, with a harsher life, it seems to me that a lot of the entertainments were harsher as well. I think of bear baiting and bull dogging in particular. But when we look at material from India, even today, magicians are very low-class folks (well, the street magicians are) and a lot of what they do is pretty gory by my standards. (For India, look for Lee Seegal's book Net of Magic and for Penn and Teller's Magical Mystery Tour.)

The earliest description I know of for the working of European magic tricks is Secretum Philosophorum, which I think was 14th century. The earliest readily available book would be Scot's Discovery of Witchcraft, which includes maybe 20 pages on magic tricks among the amazing mess of superstition. The trick descriptions are really more what we call exposure (how it is done, as opposed to how to do it - think of writing being described as "sit at a computer and type in the words of the story you wish to tell, when finished you can submit to a publisher." This describes how it is done, but doesn't really tell you how to do it.)

Funsway is one of several Café members who have experience with performing in a medieval reenactment context, but the others who I know of in that area are not posting very often these days, so I agree that he is probably the best person easy to find here to give you specific advice about what to expect your character to know or not know.

Sorry I didn't see this sooner. I don't really check this board very often, I'm afraid.

-Patrick
HistFicAuthor
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Hi Patrick,
Thank you for the reply! I did reach out to Funsway, but haven't heard back yet.
I assumed some sleight of hand tricks. I know pretty much nothing of the mutilation tricks, but I will try to look them up if I can hold down my lunch.
Are there any materials that would reasonably be used to create flashes or smoke in the late Roman era? I'm hoping to find things that would work as stage acts, sort of. Imagine the magician walking into a hall and doing something in front of a group of warriors.
Thanks!
HistFicAuthor
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Oh, I actually did hear from Funsway! I just didn't get the IM notification.
Off to the races!
Mr. Woolery
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Again, fifth century is too early for most of my documentation. However, it is highly unlikely that there would be smoke or flashes. Gunpowder was hundreds of years off.

For much of medieval history, magic tricks fit into a jongleur’s repertoire. He might also sing, do acrobatics, do puppetry, and tell stories. Think variety performer.

I don’t think you’d be far wrong with cups and balls, a few sleights (vanish a coin, snort it out his nose, that sort of thing), and possibly a cut and restored cord.

Patrick
imgic
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I used to have a book that told of old “tricks” that would fine great for you. I can’t remember name and books are in storage. I’ll check this weekend. But the book included such things as:

- A hollowed staff that would be filled with eggs, then the hole plugged with beeswax. The sorcerer would then have a pan put on the fire and stir the empty pan with the staff. The heat would melt then wax, and magically eggs would appear in the pan.
- it told of how the biblical trick of turn in staffs into snakes may have happened. There are certain snakes the, when held right behind their head, turn rigid...and look like sticks. When dropped, the snakes wake from their stupor and slither away.
- then there doors that magically open with hidden weights, fonts that are always full of water, no matter how much is taken out.

So much more
"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
HistFicAuthor
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On Apr 14, 2021, imgic wrote:
I used to have a book that told of old “tricks” that would fine great for you. I can’t remember name and books are in storage. I’ll check this weekend. But the book included such things as:

- A hollowed staff that would be filled with eggs, then the hole plugged with beeswax. The sorcerer would then have a pan put on the fire and stir the empty pan with the staff. The heat would melt then wax, and magically eggs would appear in the pan.
- it told of how the biblical trick of turn in staffs into snakes may have happened. There are certain snakes the, when held right behind their head, turn rigid...and look like sticks. When dropped, the snakes wake from their stupor and slither away.
- then there doors that magically open with hidden weights, fonts that are always full of water, no matter how much is taken out.

So much more

Great stuff, thanks! If you get the title, I will see if I can find it.
WitchDocChris
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Secrets of Magic by Walter Gibson?
Christopher
Witch Doctor

Psycho Seance book: https://tinyurl.com/y873bbr4
Boffo eBook: https://tinyurl.com/387sxkcd
imgic
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On Apr 22, 2021, WitchDocChris wrote:
Secrets of Magic by Walter Gibson?


Yes. That’s it. Goggling it, I had old edition with white cover. Here’s one I found for sale so you can see what it looks like

https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDet......46875334
"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
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