The Magician’s Mind

August 4, 2007 § 1 Comment

Last week I watched a fascinating documentary on the History Channel about Harry Houdini. During the 2-hour programme, I was reminded time and time again of the tarot Magician. Obvious, huh? Well, yes. But there’s a common tendency amongst tarotists to ignore or dismiss simple connections like Magician = magician. We see representations such as the familiar red-robed Magician of the Rider-Waite, performing an elaborate ritual, and it’s far removed from our everyday concept of a magician. We speak about the tarot Magician’s abilities and tools – in the form of his wand, cup, sword and pentacle – and the card’s esoteric association of “as above, so below”. We sometimes struggle to relate these concepts to readings about ordinary matters – choices, quarrels, family and money.

The Houdini documentary portrayed a more down-to-earth version of the Magician. Houdini was charismatic and charming; a great performer and showman. Across the US and Europe, he kept audiences enthralled for years, despite the fact that for many of his routines he was hidden behind a curtain. He would take his act onto the streets, challenging members of the public and police officials to lock him up any way they chose, only to escape from their most elaborate restraints. These publicity stunts – often performed right outside newspaper offices – ensured he was constantly in the public eye.

Ultimately, the secret to Houdini’s success wasn’t showmanship – although undoubtedly that is what allowed his fame to grow so fast. His real secret was knowledge. Throughout his career, he familiarised himself with all kinds of locks and restraints so that no matter what challenge was thrown at him, he knew how to beat it. He rehearsed every illusion over and over again to prepare for every eventuality. He amassed an extensive library on the history of magic and past performers and studied their tricks to better enhance his own. In any situation – some of which were potentially life-threatening – it was his knowledge that allowed him to think on his feet and never disappoint his audience.

Knowledge – the element of air – is the tarot Magician’s secret too. I’m reminded of the Magician from the oh-so-delectable Sakki-Sakki Tarot. When I first got the deck (sadly, no longer in my possession) I commented about the chess-board-like patterns floating above the Magician’s head, and I quote: “This makes me think that he’s like one of those really clever chess players who can “see” several moves ahead, all the different permutations – if I move this, then my opponent will move that, then I’ll move this…or he might move that, in which case I’ll do this, then he’ll do that – etc. etc. This backs up one of the main things I’ve always believed about the Magician, which is that while the rest of us are looking at the building, he can see the blueprints. While the rest of us are looking at the puppet, he can see the strings.”

Harry Houdini         The Magician

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