Magic in Ancient Pop-Culture

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by MohanaMisra, Sep 12, 2020.

  1. I instantly fall in love with ancient material that reference magic or sleight of hand or anything at all related to magic in any way. Here are some examples to show you what I mean:-


    I love this particular painting!


    I also find the story of Dedi pretty fascinating. It was written on old papyrus and is the oldest written account of the magic we recognise as an art form today.

    I've read plenty of interesting anecdotes about magic and magicians from the medieval period, and we are living in the modern period right now. That's why I was looking for more references to magic in the ancient world. Maybe specific stories (even folk) about a particular crystal-ball reader? A skeptic getting punished?

    If any of you know things of that nature, please do post them here! I'd love going through them.

    Luis Vega and Kumemo like this.
  2. I don't know of any particular stories regarding crystal gazing but I know it originates from extremely ancient practices. Shamans, originally, from what I can tell. They would use standing water, shiny stones (clear or black), or anything else that allowed a single point of focus. That focus develops into a trance state in which they could travel to one of the other realms (either 7, 5, or 3, depending on the system in use).

    Solomonic ceremonial magic used a mirror, two candles, and chanting, along with mystical symbols, to achieve the same state.
    Kumemo and MohanaMisra like this.
  3. That's interesting...
    Was it debunked/challenged at that time or is it only now that we are debunking these 'psychic' practices?
    Kumemo likes this.
  4. Define 'debunk'.

    Shamanic practices go back as far as anything resembling humans have existed, and is still practiced today in several parts of the world. So while "skeptics" (who are usually cynical, not skeptical) have probably debunked various instances and would say it's all hooey, it persists regardless. It's a spiritual path, one that I personally feel is quite well grounded in reality. If examined without bias, one will likely realize that most ceremonial magic(k) practices are basically a form of psychology in which one develops the ability to use the mind to a greater potential. But that's a discussion for a different forum.
    MohanaMisra and Kumemo like this.
  5. Djedi (Dedi) was not any more a magician than was Moses. Modern magicians have reinterpreted his miracles and reverse engineered some of his feats. It was said that Djedi was 110 years old, That he could eat 500 loaves of bread, half an ox, and 100 jugs of beer. He could also control the weather. The tail off Dedi was probably a story, not a real person.

    One myth concerning magic is the idea that in the past people were so stupid as to believe that magic was real and that magicians were constantly being burned at the stake. This just isn't true.

    Minstral shows of the past included magic. Jugglers and acrobats performed various magic tricks throughout the Middle ages.

    A few anecdotes we have where magicians have gotten in trouble or killed have to deal with thieves pick pockets and charlatans.

    Seneca, around the time of Christ, talks about the cups and balls as being a silly diversion. He didn't think these tricks were created by wizards.

    Napeus tells the story of a magician performing the cups and balls near a river. He talks about how he was speechless with astonishment but it is clear that he does not think that it is supernatural. He talks about the trick as if it is an illusion, performed by a juggler.

    Plato writes about magic as if it is an illusion. He relates magic tricks to a deceptive argument, or an illusion painting.

    Even the ancients knew the difference between deception and miracle.

    If ancient priests and shaman used deception in their work that is very different from a performer using deception to entertain.
    MohanaMisra and Al e Cat Dabra like this.
  6. This, is exactly what I was looking for, thanks a lot!

    Dedi being fictional is sad though. I sort of looked up to him as this really clever, business-savvy magician (a Malini of the Ancient times, if you will).
  7. Eh. Worrying about which historic figures existed, let alone existed exactly as written, is a tricky path to go down.

    Many of the people in pop culture history have no historic evidence of existing, or if they did exist rarely have any real evidence of doing what they are said to have done. While I have no desire to go down this particular path on this particular forum, the easiest examples are religious figures - most of those stories are wildly exaggerated.

    What is more likely is that the tale is a conglomeration of many other magician-types who got squished into one person, due to the story being told to people who were not in the physical area where said magicians were performing, and the similarity of stories. "That sounds like this guy I heard about from this other place, so they must be the same person."

    As for people not believing the performances were real magic - that's wildly optimistic in my opinion. People today think that certain performers are genuinely doing supernatural things, let alone back during a time when the supernatural was a part of every day life.

    Sure, some people didn't believe them - most likely the ones that were more educated and rational thinkers. Coincidentally, those end up being the people who could write, so they are the ones who's opinions were recorded. That in no way can be considered popular opinion, though. It's what? A dozen people? Out of millions?

    That being said, I don't think it really matters whether Dedi or any of the other (semi)mythological figures truly existed. The point is that their stories are what is in the popular unconscious. These are the societal archetypes that people unconsciously have floating around in the back of their head when they hear certain terms or stories or see certain imagery.

    That has value.

    Understanding where these archetypes come from, and understanding the culture(s) and motivation behind those stories and why they have endured, can be very helpful in creating truly powerful performances that connect with an audience on an almost ancestral level.

    In two thousand years, no one is going to remember a performer doing a Princess Card trick on Facebook. But they'll probably still be telling the stories of Dedi and Merlin. Maybe even John Dee, Aleister Crowley, Agrippa, and so on. Those figures have been etched into a cultural mythology that will endure for a very long time, even if people don't actively know about them.
  8. Please expand on that. Do you suggest doing routines that are reminiscent of what these persons are said to have done, or blatantly saying up-front, "This has been done since [archetypal figure xy]", or am I missing the meaning in your statement completely?
  9. Most of the magic you see performed today is "impossible". Magicians seem to have forgotten that "impossible" is not the same thing as "magical". Sometimes they overlap, but usually not. Impossible is just a puzzle, and puzzles are not magical.

    The reason stories like Dedi survive is because they strike a chord that is on an emotional, and consistently culturally relevant, level.

    Mystery performers who take the time to make their work resonate in such a manner are going to be remembered far longer than those who simply "do the impossible".

    Some of the best reactions I've received from performances, and the things people talk about the longest and most excitedly, are generally very simple routines that strike an emotionally based chord, rather than the things I do that are clearly just clever tricks.

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