Wait a minute! You’re probably saying: Did I just read that correctly? Magic versus truth? Is there even a contest between the two? Magic is about fooling people, deceiving them, making them believe in something that’s not real. And the truth is… well, reality, facts and figures… Isn’t it? What’s the connection?
Let’s face it, magic has a very long and checkered relationship with the truth. It’s a fascinating piece of history that long ago, Roman priests would use conjuring tricks to amaze royalty and acquire status among the people. Mysterious trumpets would sound inside temples, doors would open by themselves, and stone statues would speak. All these tricks were presented as real and truthful.
This sort of thing didn’t happen only in Rome, either. Alexander of Abonouteichos brought a crowd one early morning to a muddy pool at a temple to have them witness a sign proving he was a favorite of the gods. After digging through the muck a bit, he uncovered a large egg that when cracked open, produced a live snake! It went over big-time. Many others also intertwined conjuring tricks with the truth. Seneca the Younger, born in Spain in 3 B.C., compared magicians’ sleights to the tricks of speech used by orators in his writings. (Hmm… reminds me of some politicians today!)
Of course in modern times it is rare that a performer will actually declare that the tricks he is doing are reality. (Believe it or not there are still some who pull these shenanigans, but I won’t give them any free publicity here.) Instead of putting it out as the absolute truth, many showmen demonstrate their displays of impossibility, and then leave it up to you their audience to decide for yourself. Others outright declare all their miracles are false, that they are for entertainment purposes only.
But here is want I want to say. I have witnessed some magic shows where the star is performing his/her sleights, and we the audience experience something special created in front of our very eyes. Even though there are tricks and illusions, through them we encounter certain truths of life: The beauty of being in the moment, the realization that nothing lasts forever, the knowledge that wonder is always within you… I don’t want to get too esoteric, but this is where I feel the real source of amazement comes from. We see these wonderful things, and we get a flash of the bigger picture. This concept is so artfully illustrated in many of the stage illusions of David Copperfield. He has some fantastic set pieces that amaze and also share something a little deeper at the same time. To me it succeeds on more than one level. It’s no wonder he still draws huge crowds to see his shows around the world.
I must admit that I’m a little biased here. From my earliest memories, this has always been the type of magic that appeals to me the most. It’s what I aspire to and try to create. Whether you are doing a card trick for one person or a giant illusion onstage for hundreds of people, it is so great when you actually connect with them, and make them think about something in their life experiences. For me, it isn’t so much about magic versus truth as it is magic as a way to touch the truth.