The Origins of Magic
So old and ancient is the art of magic that even to say that it has been around for a couple of centuries would be an injustice. If truth is what matters, roots of magic have been traced all the way back to the time when first-generation humans set foot on the soil, lived in caves and depended on their surroundings for survival. May be the methods and purpose use for executing it may have been totally different from what they are today, but there is one common factor that binds it with its contemporary avatar – that of deception.
Throughout its lifecycle magic has evolved through the following stages –
- Being the first, this was the stage when this art was formative in its style and function and was performed either when a ritual called for it or as a means of warfare.
Existing at a time when dinosaurs and other mammoths roamed the land, cave dwellers during the time probably relied on magic to protect themselves.
It might have meant a lot to them otherwise why would they have depicted the tricks on the walls of their dwellings through the medium of paints or sharp stone implements?
- Magic was regarded as being synonymous with power during the epoch when ancient civilizations in Greece, Egypt and China flourished.
Although not the first to witness truly astonishing feats of magic, this (or Origins of Magic) era was definitely pioneering in case of creating written records and preserving them for the forthcoming generations.
While the main objective was to impress the sovereign power, at times the display of magical prowess was also aimed towards establishing superiority over rivals and arch enemies.
Papyri and other written accounts traced back to this era narrate tricks that entail converting water into wine, staff into snake, linking and unlinking links that was the specialty of Chinese and using cups as props in Greek courts.
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– Magic during the medieval era was all about witches and wizards who used their powers to alter the course of life from illness to good health and from misfortune to prosperity.
This era is credited with the emergence of conjurors who specialized in building make-believe worlds to deceive people and after a point of time managed to chagrin the Church to the point of bearing the brunt of its vengeance.
So strong was the crackdown that anyone displaying even the slightest link with magic was executed for there could no crime bigger or more sacrilegious than possession of magical powers.
– With persecution of magicians being the order of the day, credit goes to Reginald Scott to have authored a detailed book on magic wherein he has described each trick in terms of its manner of performance.
Named as ‘The Discovery of Witchcraft’ this book is regarded as a milestone because it was the first attempt to bring to light the fact that there was nothing more to magic than mere entertainment and that magicians were indeed mortal human beings.
– Having regained some of their lost aura after facing endless and ruthless persecution, magicians began to emerge from hiding during the 18th century and were no longer scared to display their powers unlike their predecessors.
Streets, squares, carnivals, events and noble mansions served as main venues to carry out such performances adept handling of swords and fire and graduated on to cards, coins and ropes.
– Mention of 19th century magic would be incomplete without paying homage to Robert Houdini who not only succeeded in reviving the art but also establishing it as a distinct entity.
Courtesy his theatrical performances, he restored much of the lost glory and is credited with being a magnet that would attract people towards magical performances for many years to come.
- 20th century magic has been all about specialization and presentation wherein it has come to be associated with magicians being dressed in their signature black tail-coats, tall black hats and white gloves.
Contemporary magicians do not hesitate to perform in streets but at the same time maintain their polish to enact in swank venues too.
The ultimate celebration was the championship in which the best of magicians were pitted against each other in a hard fought battle.
Modern magicians are a breed unto themselves and since they believe in honing their skills to perfection and explore new horizons in the process, they will have created a rich legacy for the future generations.