What Attracts You to Magic?

sic heads

Another great question at the Genii Forum recently! It really got me thinking, and I enjoyed making up my mind and drafting an answer to myself. Maybe you want to consider it, too?

Here’s my take:

Like many others, I also don’t know why, but from early on, long before my first books or magic sets, I have simply been fascinated by magic, mysteries, secrets, riddles, and unanswered questions. I begged my parents to let me watch every magic bit on TV. I once dived into every available bit on Erich von Däniken’s claims about ancient alien astronauts on earth; I read about Area 51, the Bermuda Triangle, the Philadelphia Experiment, secret societies, spies and agents, gamblers and cheaters, fake psychics and the possibility of afterlife. Basically everything beyond our sheltered daily life, our book learnings and our “known knowns,” I guess.

But magic struck the deepest and has stuck the longest. Something just clicked.

Just a romantic thought: Maybe we are not discovering magic; maybe we are being chosen by our Goddess Maja, first as tried and tested disciples, later as conspired keepers of the secrets and worthy bearers of wonder and astonishment? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? A secret, sworn-in league of the knowing, wearing funny ties with playing cards motifs, swaying colorful silks and feather flowers…

I don’t need to see every show and trickster or the latest fad, but I’m fond of and grateful for many magic moments I have experienced (Copperfield’s “Flying” being just one of them). They felt warm and intense, and, for a moment, boundless. What a promise, what a sensation! I long for more of these.

I also don’t need to perform all the time, but I’m happy when I manage to create a small magic moment for a few spectators and see their eyes wide open and their minds racing.

I love the richness and diversity of magic, its universal appeal and the human condition on which it thrives. History, culture, theater, technology, dexterity, psychology and so much more—it’s all there, and I enjoy reading and discovering magic stories, principles, and effects.

I love sharing and discussing these with other magic buffs on a non-competitive level.

I love toying selfishly with props and ideas late at night, fiddling in front of the mirror, cutting and glueing cardboard stuff at the kitchen table, getting into the flow with nothing but my imagination and a pinch of woofledust.

And, sitting in the huge library of the emerging Magic Arts Foundation here in Germany, or browsing through their breath-taking files and boxes of props, I feel happy, I take in the power and beauty of our art and I feel I belong to, at least like a small rhinestone under the twinkling firmament, the mighty magic universe we have to preserve and yet to explore further, without ever fully grasping it.

Some key questions for you if you care to make up your mind, too:

1. How did you get into magic?

2. What is it that still attracts you to magic, after all these years?

3. What do you expect from magic, and what do you enjoy the most?

4. For whom do you do magic?

5. What do you want to express or give back through your magic?

—Your take!

My magic friend Paco from Spain kindly took the time to answer my questions from his perspective. Please click „comments“ below to read his thoughts.

Muchas gracias, amigo!


Empowering Your Spectator


Recently, there was a discussion over at the Genii Forum which impromptu trick you would do if you were handed a deck of cards and were to perform only one thing. This reminded me of three older favorites of mine:

(1) “Gemini Twins” by Karl Fulves – always a stunner! And as a “psychic experiment” great for couples, when both “intuitively” find the mate of their partner’s card. You will find it in his book More Self-Working Card Tricks.

(2) “The Waikiki Shuffle,” a fun card location invented by Bill Murata, to be found in Roberto Giobbi‘s Card College Light.

(3) Francis Carlyle‘s “Upside-Down Deck” from Scarne on Card Tricks. It’s easy, quick, and visual, and you can make the spectator the star, which is almost always a good idea and usually better than the “Look what I can do!” braggadocio approach. Just hand him a magic wand (a worn pencil stub gets a laugh), let him tap the mixed-up deck three times and then reveal 1) his chosen card, 2) your own chosen card in the 3) “triumphed” deck!

Bonus idea: If you hand out as a wand the rod with the gems on opposite ends (from Ken Allen‘s “Jumping Gems”), you can go with the flow right into this routine…

To be more precise, here’s what you could do: Show the rod as a regular mini wand, with gems on both ends on both sides. Proudly point out that over the years you have ascended through the ranks to the status of a full-fledged four-star magic wand holder. A beginner, however, would start with a blank rod (demonstrate it). But as your spectator friend has just accomplished a freakin’ miracle, you promote him to honorary two-star status immediately (demonstrate). So he only needs two more stars on the back of the wand to catch up with you (show four again). End with the warning to always handle such a wand with great care, otherwise some stars may loosen and drop to the other end of the wand (demonstrate and “repair”). Tap your fist and make a palmed coin or sponge ball appear. Put the wand away and continue with your flow.

Performed like this, I feel there is no need to bring out the second or even third rod from “Jumping Gems.”


Die Rückkehr des Zauberzwerges

Auch „Er“ ist wieder da: Der Zauberzwerg. Volkmar Karsten hat sein Magazin rund die Zauberkunst für Kinder, das von 2008 bis 2013 in gedruckter Form erschien, dieser Tage als Blog neu belebt.

Das erklärte Ziel:

Mit dem Blog „Der Zauberzwerg“ sollen Themen rund um die Zauberkunst für Kinder aufgegriffen und diskutiert werden: Theorie und Praxis, Trickrezensionen, Vorstellung von Programmen oder Tricks, Wie mache ich aus einem Trick ein Zauberkunststück für Kinder?, pädagogische Grundlagen, tricktechnische Grundlagen, Porträts von Zauberkünstlern, Berichte von Kongressen, Auftritten oder Meisterschaften – kurzum alles, was für die Zauberkunst für Kinder von Interesse und Bedeutung ist.

Mitmachen und Mitdiskutieren ist natürlich gewünscht und auch nötig! Volkmar freut sich auf viele Mitstreiter, die nicht nur Mit-Leser sind.

Einen Bonus gibt es jetzt schon: ein Seminarheft zum Thema „Was Kinder sehen wollen“ als kostenlosen Download.

Zauberzwerg Blog


Well Said: Simon Aronson on Methods


In his latest newsletter (Jan-Feb 2020), Michael Close has just reissued a wonderful interview from 2012 with the late great Simon Aronson and his wife and partner, Ginny. It runs over 19 (!) pages and thus covers a lot of ground—their becoming, their two-person mindreading act, mem deck work, and much more, plus a fine card revelation. I really enjoyed reading it. Highly recommended!

Here are just a few excerpts of Aronson’s thinking which I find worthwhile pondering over for any creator and performer of magic:

On deceptive magic:

I make the assumption that my spectators are thinking people and that they know a lot. Not necessarily that they know a lot about magic, but that they are observant and rational. I don’t have absolutist principles about the way I try to create things, but certainly one guideline that I’ve always used is that whatever the method is, it ought to be counterintuitive. Whatever first thought people might normally have about a possible method, then the actual method ought not follow that same direction.

On combining methods:

I love to combine methods. Sometimes, by accident, people will fall onto the method. But if you have several things going on – a little bit of sleight of hand, a little bit of mathematics, a little bit of a stack, a bit of subtlety, some misdirection – then even if they get one part of it, it’s not enough to discover the whole method.

On complex methods and effects:

I don’t mind complex methods as long as they don’t result in complex effects. It’s like the duck that looks so serene gliding across the water; but under the surface he’s paddling like crazy. My feeling is that magic should be that way.

On fooling scientists:

I think that scientists and engineers have a particular weak spot. They are used to starting their experiments with observable data and work from there. The one thing they are not equipped to do, it’s not in their methodology, is to assume that the data itself has a mind and is trying to fool them.

If you haven’t already, you may want to consider subscribing to Michael’s free newsletter.


A Test in Inattentional Blindness: Are You Ready?

Jack Queen

!!! WARNING !!!

The following test may cause extreme temporary self-contempt! Participate at your own risk, and don’t blame me for your likely failure, please!


O.K., first question to all you cardicians out there: About how many hours of your life have you logged in so far toying or practicing with a deck of cards in your hands? 1,000 hours? 10,000? Maybe even 100,000? (That would be my guess for the likes of Richard Turner and Roberto Giobbi!)

Anyway, you are pretty familiar with a standard poker deck of cards in USPCC design, aren’t you? I bet you bet you are!

So, here are a few simple questions then. If you have a deck in your hands right now, put it away. If you don’t carry one now, good. Keep away from the nearest box. And don’t peek! (I would notice.)

Ten questions to shake your cardboard world:

(1) How many different print colors do the regular court cards display, including black?
(Don’t guess! Envision the cards and try to remember their precise look!)

OK, that was quite easy for a starter, wasn’t it? Go on…

(2) When we look at all twelve court cards, how many of them are looking to our left?

I think I already got you on this one. But there’s more to come…

(3) How many court cards are shown in profile (and not full-face)?

(4) Which Queen is holding more than just a flower in her hand?

(5) Which King does not hold a sword?

(6) Which Jack is holding what looks like a fancy mirror (or maybe even a magic paddle)?

(7) How many Jacks do sport a fancy mustache? (And which ones?)

(8) And how many Kings don’t? (And which ones?)

(9) Only the Jack and Queen of which suit do not look into the same direction?

(10) Bonus question: How many of the regular 52 cards of a deck feature an asymmetrical design?

OK, that’s it.

And here’s my Super Ultimate No Stooges-Threads-Magnets-Switches-MO Prediction:

You have failed miserably! You mostly have no clue.

But don’t worry, almost everybody is in the same boat with you!

And now go back to your deck for a reality check and study the cards closely, as closely as probably never before in your life! I won’t post the correct answers here so later readers can enjoy (?) this test, too.

If you got just five (or even more) answers out of ten right (by knowing, not by lucky guessing!), I bow deeply and salute you! In that case, if you shoot me a proud and honest e-mail at zzzauber [at] arcor dot de, I will be happy to send you a free commercial and visual trick with a marvellous card-finding sword stunt performed by one of the Kings!


To make you feel better, I’ll post a brief explanation of this disturbing phenomenon in a few days. Rejoice, this is not about you and your shortcomings; it’s all about our brain, the way we perceive, filter and store information (or don’t)! That’s why so often we look, but don’t see…


Kampfkunst und Zauberkunst

Neulich erreichte mich eine interessante Anfrage eines Zauberfreundes zum oben genannten Thema. Gibt es mögliche Gemeinsamkeiten und Verbindungen zwischen diesen Kunstformen? Offensichtlich ja, wie bereits dieses Bild von Ryan Hayashi beispielhaft andeutet:

Hayashi Schwert2
Ein älterer Website-Snapshot von Ryan Hayashi

Nach einigem Nachdenken sind mir die folgenden Punkte eingefallen, die wohl für beide Disziplinen gleichermaßen gelten:

  1. Sie können auf ein sehr lange Geschichte und Tradition zurückblicken.
  2. Es gibt viele verschiedene Disziplinen bzw. Spielarten, denen aber ein überschaubares Set an Grundtechniken und -regeln zugrunde liegt.
  3. Man lernt am besten über einen erfahrenen Meister.
  4. Das Lernen und Wachsen in der Kunst ist langwierig und mitunter schmerzvoll.
  5. Es gibt einen Ehrenkodex und eine strenge Hierarchie (formell oder informell).
  6. Es gibt mehr Techniken, als man je beherrschen kann; die Kunst besteht in der strategischen und situativen Auswahl und Anwendung.
  7. Eine zwingende Koordination von Geist und Körper ist erforderlich.
  8. Es ist wichtig, dem Gegner bzw. Publikum immer einen Schritt voraus sein und beim Ausführen einer Aktion gedanklich schon bei der nächsten sein.
  9. Die Täuschung ist der Kern der Zauberkunst; auch im Kampfsport werden mitunter Täuschungen angewendet (z.B. Körpertäuschungen oder das Vorspiegeln von Ermattung).
  10. Es geht um maximale Effektivität, also auch um Fokus, Bündelung der Kräfte und das Weglassen alles unnötigen Ballastes.
  11. Es geht in jedem Fall um “Beherrschung” und Kontrolle, also Herr der Lage zu sein und sich erfolgreich gegen Widerstände durchzusetzen (magisch wie sportlich).
  12. Aus meinem Interessensgebiet “Zauberer und Täuschungskunst im Krieg” kann man auch noch ein paar gedankliche Verbindungen herstellen. Ich denke da vor allem an das großartige Buch The Secret Art of Magic von Eric Evans und Nowlin Craver, das die Prinzipien alter chinesischer Kriegskunst auf die Zauberkunst (vor allem, aber nicht nur auf die Straßenzauberei) zu übertragen versucht. Ein Kernbegriff dabei ist self-control. Ein spannender Ansatz könnte m.E. das dort beschriebene Prinzip von Cheng und Ch’i sein – also direkte und indirekte Ansätze zum Erfolg, die aber ineinander greifen. Diese Begrifflichkeiten sind sehr vielfältig zu übersetzen bzw. zu interpretieren, hier z.B. als aktiv/passiv oder Angriffs- und Umgehungs- bzw. Überraschungsstrategien.

Als Zauberkünstler, der – beruflich wie dramaturgisch – selbst eine Brücke zur Kampfkunst schlägt, ist mir bisher nur der oben genannte Hayashi begegnet; vielleicht sollte ich ihn mal zum Thema interviewen?!

Schließlich: Auch bei Harry Potter gibt es das Thema “Zaubern zur Selbstverteidigung”!




Well Said: Roberto Giobbi on “Getting Better”


In his latest “Secret Newsletter”, Roberto states:

I think it is one of the big frauds of our time to believe that one could get better at something by buying things. In my opinion one gets better by doing something differently.

Well said!

By the way, you may want to subscribe to his newsletter here.


Cups & Balls: A Revelation from 1634


Looking for something else on the World Wide Wonderweb, I came about this interesting image of Hocus Pocus Junior and his famous revelatory book, The Anatomy of Legerdemain, or, The Art of Jugling, first published in 1634. Across the title page, there is a depiction of the artist in action and with his props (see above).

Now have a closer look at the hands and at the cups on the table:


It seems that this image is much more than just an arbitrary illustration for any magic book. First, I think, it’s a surprisingly accurate “freeze shot” of the very moment before the magic is going to happen: The right hand with the wand will tap the closed left hand, that hand will open and display – nothing! The ball that was supposed to be in the fist will be seen to have disappeared.

Where to? Well, the image also tells us this “clearly”: By displaying the top cup as if it were transparent (they didn’t use drinking glasses for magic back then), we can see where the ball is actually hidden and where it may reappear any moment now!

Could this be the first very accurate magic illustration and how-to instruction on a book’s cover (or frontispiece), I wonder?


A Rant on Exposure and Saving Magic from Extinction


Further thoughts on the current debate on the Genii Forum, passionately started and fought by Mahdi Gilbert, about the evils of exposure and thieves in magic and how to react to them:


I respect you as a performer and your dedication, and I think I fully understand your concerns. You deeply care for magic, you see our beloved art in extreme danger through exposure and theft and you want (us) to fight back. I subscribe to all of that. However, we seem to differ significantly on the judgement of the degree of urgency and on reasonable paths to solutions. We may also disagree on what the “real” secret of magic worth protecting is. I will go into that in a minute.

But first, let me state that I feel a bit insulted by your undifferentiated claims that magicians would do nothing against stealing and exposure. Like many others, I am also a magician who does care and act (at least a bit, as you can read here). And I don’t want to be driven out of magic by you for not fully sharing your beliefs about the importance of secrets. I could respond with the well-known quote that the definition of insanity (or foolishness) is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” But unlike you in your rage, I am willing to accept dissenting views and concepts.

So what do you suggest?

Okay, here’s my take on what’s probably helpful and what isn’t. To me, it’s morally right and understandable, but finally useless and pointless

  • to whine and complain about the world of exposure, copycats and thieves we are living in
  • to set up alliances
  • to write letters to media platforms, advertisers, politicians, regulators, trick pirates, and others
  • to involve lawyers and waste money.

Don’t get me wrong. It is an important and worthy cause, and we shouldn’t let all of this happen without caring and speaking out against it. But I simply believe these noble actions won’t change a thing about theft or exposure. Zero. Nada. None of these bastards will stop their actions, change their mindset, or question their business model. They won’t even listen or respond. Thus, this path is a waste of time and energy, and a constant downer. I would rather stay positive and work on a new trick or develop my skill set further in that time and pursue other paths. Sadly, the world’s not fair. Fame and money rule. Many people are crooks or trolls or idiots, outside and inside of magic. So be it. Yet life is great and full of opportunities. The same goes for magic.

So what might help instead?

My first point is this: Without taking any blame away from the crooks, we as magicians are partly responsible, too, for the mess we’re in. So the problem is not only caused by “them,” but also by “us.” We need to understand that.

Think about it: For each secret to be exposed, shared, copied or even sold there needs to be a published trick, method, or presentation out there. It’s that simple to me. The less magic we as magicians unload into the visible world of YouBurp and other platforms and media, the less can be stolen from us. Granted, this will never bring the damage down to zero, but it could reduce the scale in the future.

By publishing and selling tricks, we are not exactly protecting secrets, are we? No, we are willing to sell them to anybody for a profit (which is legitimate). We have every right to complain about the trick pirates stealing our products and our potential income, but we cannot blame them for uncovering the secret which we published. They don’t care for the secret anyway; they care for the business model of selling stolen products cheaper than the originator.

So we may consider publishing less and less tricks and, in particular, videos, be it for free or as a download for a few dollars, it doesn’t matter. How about learning to shut up and to share our best stuff, like in the past, only among the worthy, in private sessions or in small pamphlets or obscure offline magazines, but not on YouBurp, Fakebook and Instaharm?!

Another thought: The better the video performance, the bigger the artist’s name and the alleged secret (= the challenge!), the more likely it is that you will find a number of (maybe false) explanations a few lines down in the comments. Sad, but probably true!

What else have you got?

Along these lines, here are some more things we can do proactively, instead of whining and pointing fingers:

  • Let’s stop performing all the popular standard tricks that everyone else is also doing. It doesn’t set you apart from the herd anyway. And you simply are more endangered through exposure the better the tricks are known.
  • When you do use a classic trick, at least make it your own in presentation. The more you personalize it, the more you will disguise it and make it harder to identify the original trick and its secret.
  • Go the extra mile. For example, don’t use the dealers’ standard magic coloring book that says “Magic Coloring Book” on the title when you are living and performing in a non-English speaking country, for God’s sake. If you do, you simply deserve being chased by the rugrats and other debunkers!
  • Even better: Try to come up with and perform your own material. If a trick has no name, no legacy, and no visibility on social media, it does not exist for exposure! (Except among your live audiences, but that challenge has always been there.) I think you can still fool enough people with a DL, just don’t call it your “personal rendition of the time-honored Ambitious Card Trick”.
  • Which leads straight into the next point: Never ever mention the name of a trick or its creator in public. And if you do, make it all up. The fancier, the better!
  • Reduce the challenge aspect in your performance. It’s an old saying, but I think it still holds true: The better you are as a performer–likeable, entertaining, on the same side with your audience–, the more personal, poetic or edgy your shtick, the more the audience gets involved and wants you to succeed, and the more the secret/solution dilemma will be pushed into the background. (Yes, this will likely work better with your live audience than with online viewers.)
  • Along these lines, stop pretending you have super-psychic powers and other crap like that. Most intelligent people won’t believe you anyway, instead they’ll think you’re a jerk, and you will only nurture their effort to debunk you. And how right they are!
  • Bring magic back to one on one, performer and spectator, teacher and pupil. Back into real life, the offline world and private sphere.
  • Take a light Penn & Teller approach and do the “overall exposure” yourself in a clever way and profit from it:
    “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen! My name is Fakalini the Minor (insert your name here.) Honestly, I wished I could do magic. But I can’t, like everyone else. So, yes, I’m relying on all sorts of secrets and tricks. Some are dirty and cheap, like the proverbial mirrors and trapdoors, and other gimmicks. I may even stuff something inside my sleeve later on. Some others are pretty sneaky, cutting-edge technological stuff or mathmatical and psychological principles you most likely have never heard of.
    I know it bothers some of you that I know and you don’t. That’s why it’s tempting for you to try to catch me “do something”. I understand that, and it’s okay for me. I wish you luck. But I can tell you from my heart: The real secret of magic is not in the secret or in the sneaky gimmick. It goes much deeper. It’s a huge effort, like bringing together an orchestra. I therefore invite you to sit back and enjoy some moments of wonder.
    There’s not much magic left in our lives today. So let’s pretend there is, and enjoy some sensations of wonder and limitless opportunities tonight. I look forward to our joint magical journey!”
    (I just made this up as I wrote along. You can certainly do better, but you get the idea.)
  • The most important point: Shun all people who disrespect magic and its creators, who expose, steal, copy and sell other people’s intellectual properties and their secrets. Do not click or like or comment on their stuff or link to or forward their wrong doings. Do not encourage them. Do not interact. Do not even mention their sites or their names. And, of course, do not buy from them. If they pretend to be insiders, excommunicate them from your magic community. They are not part of it anyway. They are not worthy. Ignore them and forget them.

OK, cool. But most secrets are already out there and available, if you want to find out. Won’t this kill magic in the end?

Now here’s a big point I feel we need to understand better. Yes, magic is a secret art. Painting isn’t. Music isn’t. Drama isn’t. Literature isn’t. Juggling isn’t. Usually, you pretty much get what you see and hear before you. Not in magic. You get something, but to no small part from what you don’t know and don’t see. Without secrets, no magic performance and no magic experience. Maybe a scientific demonstration or a Show & Tell (“There’s a funny toy company called Tenyo, and they produce pretty sneaky magic stuff for kids. I’ll do it for you.  Look how clever this little box works!”), but no magic. Agreed!


Jim Steinmeyer once wrote the great line, “Magicians are guarding an empty safe.” I interpret its meaning like this: We are jealously guarding our oh so precious secrets. Because we feel important and become “insiders”, the more secrets we know. We brag about the other guy’s secrets and use them as a currency and a signifier of our level of hierarchy in magic. But, in fact, that safe is pretty empty. Because there are hardly any real secrets left. Or because they are not even worth storing. (Fake Fingers? Mirror boxes? Trick decks? Threads? Come on!) Or because the true core of magic is not that mostly shabby, deplorable feke or fake prop.

But if it’s not all about the secret–what is it?

Here’s my take: Yes, magic is a secret art. But the secret is not the secret gaff or gimmick or move. To me, the core of magic–the real secret–is deception. And deception is multi-layered. It’s a concept, not a tool. It’s a painting, not a brush. It’s an orchestration. A gaff isn’t. Deception creates magic and wonder. The gaff is just one part of the deception, quite often a pretty small one, I’d say. Other parts are routining, presentational frame, performer’s style and demeanor, script, stage action, music, lighting, audience interaction, and what not. And people will never grasp that fully by googling a trick or reading someone else’s commentary on how it’s done in the video. That’s why knowing the secret gaff does not equal knowing the magic, neither on the magicians’ nor on the spectators’ side. Yet more magi seem obsessed with hoarding and guarding secrets than laymen would care to uncover them.

But that infinite number of exposure videos, available globally…?

In effect, I think exposure was much worse in Pinetti’s time (remember Decremps!) when a street or stage performer’s repertoire probably consisted of three to ten tricks in total–and they were all exposed! Yet they survived and marched on (remember Geller?), they reinvented and developed further. Today, the equation seems much more balanced to me. Yes, almost anything is available online, but everything else as well, and our attention spans and time budgets are very limited. Who would spend hours and hours over days and weeks, as a nonmagician, just to hunt down secret after secret? Maybe 1 in 10,000? 1 in a million? That ratio would not worry me.

Plus: People forget. We know that. The tricks, the urge to find out later, the secret. Hey, most of us can be fooled by tricks from books we thought we had studied. Because we forget. Because we don’t pay attention. Because we don’t recognize the same old trick in a new dress. I’ve forgotten the name, but once there was a pro who demonstrated with a golden TT that you could well be fooled even if you were “in on it”!

(Interlude: Speaking of TTs, I love envisioning this small scene: You are doing a TT vanish of a silk. A heckler shouts, “I know that one. You have one of those fake Ts!” You grab a handful of other TTs from your pocket, throw them at the spectator and shout, “I know, I’m actually using half a dozen of them, but guess what, they are all EMPTY. Eat this, dimwit! Nee-ne-ne-nee-nee!”)

So magic is not in immediate danger of dying?

Not for me. Magic won’t die from today’s level of exposure. Bad tricks and overexposed tricks may die one day. I think that would actually be a good thing, or at least an adequate price to pay. But I feel even that won’t happen. Why? Because there are just too many people out there, too many tricks and performers. Yes, there’s a sucker born every minute and probably a coming thief, but at the same time there are also ten or a hundred or a thousand new spectators on the block. Believe me, not all of them will go hunting for the secret of each and every trick they will ever see in their lives. Not even half of them. Which comes to show again that we take that secret/exposure thing much more seriously than probably 95 or 99% of our audience. (But that’s okay, because it shows that we think and care!)

Hell, religion hasn’t died and won’t die just because of advances in science or growing skepticism. Same with superstition. I guess at least 30% of all supposedly educated, enlightened, intelligent people today believe in one sort of crap or the other. Sometimes even 60 or 70%. (Welcome to America!) Lucky numbers, psychic abilities, angels, moon water, witchcraft, flat earth, U.F.O.s, predetermination–you name it. How ridiculous is it that most airlines and most hotels in 2019 won’t have a 13th floor or a 13th row of seating? And just the other day, a Catholic school in Nashville, Tennessee has banned the “Harry Potter” series because a reverend at the school claims that the “curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits.” Yeah, right!

I find that utterly amazing. And yet, our magic thrives on the same human flaws and inconsistencies, only in an agreeable and hazard-free way!

That sounds about right. But what about the lack of wonder once you learn how the trick was done?

Learning a secret afterwards may change in retrospect your rational assessment of the performance you have attended, when in fact, without knowing the secret, without seeing through the layers of deception, you had experienced awe and surprise, a rush of blood, a racing mind, a beating heart, and a precious moment of childlike astonishment.

When I watched David Copperfield’s game-changing “Flying” illusion, I had no idea how it was done (without camera tricks or CGI). I shrieked when the curtain fell and the Statue of Liberty was gone. I gasped in awe and wonder on many other magic occasions, and I am grateful for all these moments. Having learned many secrets much later has not–and logically, it simply cannot have–altered my initial magic experience. The ex post exposure may kill the warm shudder we would get when we think back on that special moment, but it can never extinguish the initial emotional response.

Your point in a nutshell?

Let’s relax, examine our own responsibilities and choose our actions wisely. Let’s not waste time and energy on fighting windmills. It’s futile and frustrating. Let’s take up the challenge, transform it into positive energy and try harder and do better. Our magic deserves it. And she will pay back amply, both to ourselves and our audiences. Thank you, all you thieves and copycats and whistleblowers out there, for pushing us further! (Yet you remain despicable scum.)


Sorry for the long rant, by this felt very important to me, and I wanted to embed my reaction to Mahdi’s points into a broader context. As always, feel free to agree or disagree, but be invited to mull over this important matter, too, and decide what YOU will actually DO!


Wishful Thinking and Automatic Rejections: Erdnase and Voynich

An early quest in Genii Magazine

This fascinating article by medieval scholar Lisa Fagin Davis published in The Washington Post was brought to my attention the other day via a post over at the Genii Forum.

Dealing with the annoying recurrent and premature claims by various authors for having solved the riddle of the legendary Voynich manuscript, Davis shares a number of critical observations and very reasonable recommendations. With striking similarity they also match the proceedings and the heated discussions over new “findings” about the Erdnase authorship in our field of interest.

Thus, I have extracted the relevant paragraphs from the article below and added the corresponding Erdnase references, so ((double brackets)) around original text and bold additions are mine:

Why do people keep convincing themselves they’ve solved this ((medieval)) mystery?

For ((centuries)) decades, the ((Voynich Manuscript)) Erdnase authorship has resisted ((interpretation)) discovery, which hasn’t stopped a host of would-be readers from claiming they’ve solved it.

Every few months, it seems, a new theory is trumpeted ((by the new media)) beneath a breathless headline.

But most would-be interpreters make the same mistake ((as Newbold)): By beginning with their own preconceptions of ((what)) whom they want ((the Voynich)) Erdnase to be, their conclusions take them further from the truth.

Like others before them, ((these)) authors tend to go public prematurely–and without proper review by the real experts. Word of each new solution spreads across the ((globe)) Genii Forum in minutes.

Almost Dozens of solutions have been proposed in the past ((century)) decades alone, most of them more aspirational than they are substantive.

I recently received an ugly and threatening direct message . . . referring in detail to my critique . . . For some, apparently, the stakes appear to be irrationally high.

. . . undercooked solutions presented without context lead readers down a rabbit hole of misinformation . . .

Every new ((Voynich)) Erdnase theory offers an opportunity for readers to exercise healthy, critical skepticism . . . Proposed solutions shouldn’t automatically be rejected (the default reaction of most ((medievalists)) Erdnasians), but they should be approached with caution. Seek out expert opinions, and do some follow-up reading. It shouldn’t take ((a Voynichologist)) an Expert expert to spot a leap of logic or an argument based on wishful thinking instead of solid facts.

. . . we tend to bring our preconceptions with us to the table. The more we burden the manuscript with what we want it to be, the more buried the truth becomes.

To truly understand the past, we have to let it speak for itself. The ((Voynich)) Erdnase Manuscript has a voice–we just need to listen.

Chapeau, Ms Davis, I’d say you’ve nailed it! For Voynich, Erdnase, and beyond.

I think it would be fun and revealing to browse through the Erdnase thread over at the Genii Forum again with this checklist in hand.

This brief text should be required reading for all (amateur) historians and over-enthusiastic secret-solvers, don’t you think? Please help spread the word!


Here’s a related article by the same author. It ends with this plea:

To those of you out there in Voynich-land who are even now working on decrypting or deciphering this “elegant enigma,” please take heed of Manly and Mendelsohn’s words of caution: in order to be accepted as legitimate, your solution must be logical, repeatable, take into account the verifiable published scientific analyses, and result in a reading that makes sense both intellectually and chronologically.

Solid advice!

Ah, were it not for the chronological discrepancy, I might have solved the Erdnase puzzle back here… 😉