On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Shakespeare and the Mysterious Origins of 007

prospero 4

‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on’

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s best known plays and has mesmerised audiences since the early seventeenth century. Like all of the great Bard’s works, it can be analysed on many levels, but the themes of magic, power and the occult are dominant.

prospero 6

Prospero in Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki’s Tarot Deck

On reading the play, few are aware that the main protagonist – Prospero – was based on a real man who held an esteemed position in the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Dr John Dee was respected as one of the most learned men of his age. His knowledge of science, mathematics, astronomy and geography was astounding, and his formidable intellect was celebrated throughout Europe.

prospero 2

Dr John Dee

However, Dee also harboured a deep interest in astrology and the occult. In the late sixteenth century, science and the supernatural were in fact closely interwoven. Frequent references to magic and superstition throughout Shakespearian literature are testimony to the mind-set of the Elizabethan world. Indeed, few eyebrows were raised when Dee claimed to be able to commune with spirits, and to be close to discovering the fabled ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ which granted the privilege to transmutate base metals into gold.

Acting as an adviser to the Royal Court, Dee decided upon the most auspicious date for the Queen’s coronation using astrology, and predicted the coming of the British Empire. He also travelled far and wide on the continent, functioning as a spy for the Crown. Using the code number of 007, Dee communicated intelligence back to England via a complex network of secret agents and covert ciphers.

prospero 3

Dee and Kelly communing with a spirit

It was during this period that Dee befriended the psychic Edward Kelly and undertook a dangerous series of magical operations. These involved communicating with spirits and angelic entities. The two men began to decipher a mysterious language known as Enochian which permitted them deeper discussion with preternatural beings. Some say that the language is a genuine medium of communication for those inclined to study the occult, whilst sceptics argue that Enochian is merely an ingenious cypher developed by Dee himself to transmit intelligence to the Royal Court in London.

prospero 1

‘this rough magic I here abjure… I’ll break my staff…’

Like all great artists, Shakespeare himself seemed to sense a spiritual, academic and cultural shift taking place during the Elizabethan era. The ascent of James I to the throne in 1603 heralded the dawning of a new age. The King was no friend of witches and soothsayers – having remorselessly persecuted them prior to the Union of The Crowns. The Tempest would be the Bard’s final play, and Prospero’s symbolic act of breaking his magical staff after the climax seems to portend the coming of an age of reason when mainstream science would completely divorce itself from magic, spirituality and the occult.

prospero 5

Ian Fleming took the number 007 for his fictional secret agent Bond

Nonetheless, Dr John Dee continues to be a figure of interest for many contemporary scholars and academics. The instruments Dee and Kelly used to communicate with the angels are now on display in the British Museum, and scores of books have been written about his mysterious exploits. Ian Fleming drew upon the Queen’s conjurer’s exceptional life story and took his secret number when creating the iconic James Bond character. Daniel Craig may not sport a flowing beard and communicate with spirits during his outings as 007 – relying instead upon intelligence, vulpine instinct, and the magical genius of Q’s gadgetry to outwit adversaries.

ouija john dee

Instruments used by Dee and Kelly to communicate with angels and spirits on display in the British Museum.

The author of the article is David Fox, a professional entertainer and freelance writer based in the UK. Visit David’s website for more details about him: David Fox Magician

Feel free to contact us on: email@magician-midlands.co.uk

Superstition and Football – Bizarre Beliefs of the Beautiful Game

zidane

Zidane is well-known for his curious pre-match rituals

The great Bill Shankly famously stated that football is ‘much more serious’ than a matter of life and death. Perhaps this is the reason why superstition abounds within the realms of the beautiful game. From Zidane and Maradona’s much publicised pre-match rituals, to Johan Cruyff’s charmed chewing gum, footballers the world over are well known for embracing the weird and the wonderful in the hope it will ensure good fortune once the white line is traversed.

elland

Elland Road was said to be cursed.

Leeds United’s legendary manager Don Revie was renowned for his lucky blue suit and superstitious nature. However, on receiving a letter from a gypsy in 1971, Revie decided to take things a stage further. The author insisted that Elland Road (Leeds’ stadium) was cursed as a group of gypsies had been forced off the land prior to its construction. Suffering from an unexpected loss of form at the time and dropping points, the manager duly invited a gypsy to the stadium in order to remove the curse. ‘Now you’ll start winning things’ she said after conducting a peculiar ritual on the pitch. Leeds would subsequently go on to produce some of the finest displays of Revie’s tenure and secure three more major trophies. Did the gypsy work her magic, or was it merely coincidental?

bela g

Bela Gutman. Did he curse Benfica?

Perhaps Portuguese giants Benfica should take note of Revie’s faith in the supernatural. In the early 1960s the club was a major superpower and won the European Cup twice under the management of the mythical Bela Guttman. However, after achieving such incredible success, the Hungarian impresario was incandescent when the board denied him a pay rise. On leaving the club, he angrily proclaimed that Benfica would not win another European trophy for one hundred years. To date, the Portuguese side have been losers in eight major finals. Many Benfica fans now firmly believe that their club has been cursed.

pele

The great Pelé insisted his lucky shirt be found and returned

Even items of clothing take on mystical properties in the high pressure world of professional football. The sensational Pelé’s dramatic decline in form over several matches during the mid 1960s was attributed to the loss of his ‘lucky shirt’. The Brazilian master had kindly presented this to an adoring Santos supporter after a match. A close friend was hastily called upon to track down the special jersey. On its return, Pelé felt rejuvenated and his genius swiftly reappeared. Little did he know that his concerned companion had committed an act of chicanery by procuring another used shirt and pretending it was the lucky one!

bobby

England Captain Bobby Moore

England’s World Cup winning captain Bobby Moore always insisted on being the last player in the changing room to put on his shorts, whilst striker Gary Lineker requested a shirt change at half time if he had yet to find the net. Both players boast a combined total of 188 international caps between them, so perhaps there really is a mysterious link between superstition and success?

domenech

Raymond Domenech openly declared his belief in astrology.

Nonetheless, no matter how much footballers may be willing to embrace the irrational to win matches, they clearly do have their boundaries, as French international manager Raymond Domenech discovered. His reliance on astrology when selecting which players to include in his squad frequently attracted ridicule. The dramatic fall out between Domenech and his team at the 2010 World Cup finals ultimately lost him his job. Another international manager who would fall foul to sceptics was Glenn Hoddle. His policy of calling upon the services of faith-healer Eileen Drewery (who had assisted him with a knee injury as a young player) left him open to scathing criticism.

toure

Kolo Touré insisted on being the last man out.

Touching wood, putting a right boot on first and sporting a lucky charm are all common-place superstitions. Indeed, the same habits will be repeated in dressing rooms across the land throughout the highs and lows of the footballing season. One such belief, strangely held by many players, is that they will have a good game if they are the last man out of the dressing room. Arsenal defender Kolo Touré took this to the extreme during his side’s 2009 Champions League clash with Roma. Team-mate William Gallas was receiving treatment at half time and Touré insisted on waiting until this was finished. His obstinance resulted in Arsenal starting the second half with nine men and him receiving a yellow card for entering the field of play late without the referee’s permission. Fortunately for Touré, Arsenal finished 1 – 0 winners.

Do you have any strange superstitions or unusual stories you would like to share? Why not email them to us at: email@magician-midlands.co.uk

The author of the article is David Fox a professional entertainer and freelance writer based in the UK. For more about David, visit his website at:

www.magician-midlands.co.uk

Follow and ‘like’ us on Facebook too at:

www.facebook.com/MagicianMidlands

Twitter feed:

https://twitter.com/DavidFoxMagic

Voodoo – Priests, Potions and Papa Doc

voodoo1

‘There is not a shred of doubt in my mind today that the African, in his own mysterious ways, has harnessed one of the strangest powers of all — the thing they call Ju-ju.’

James H. Neal

Thousands of men were at work constructing the new harbour at Tema Port, Ghana. The colossal project involved the clearance of vast swathes of land with state-of-the-art bulldozers and machinery. However, in the midst of the bustling industry, one solitary tree trunk refused to budge. Despite being subjected to numerous attempts to uproot it from the ground, it appeared to defy all logic, and stood obstinately intact in the centre of the barren landscape.

‘This tree be Fetish’ explained a local tribesman to a government official who had been assigned to oversee the work. The civil servant was bemused and clearly did not understand this curious statement.

voodoo3

A Fetish is said to represent a powerful spirit (loa).

Essentially, the man was suggesting that a powerful spirit (loa) dwelled within the tree. In Voodoo tradition if an object is said to be ‘Fetish’ it is effectively the host of such an entity. The only way that the tree could be removed successfully would be if a Fetish Priest was called in order to conduct an appropriate ceremony. Such a Holy Man was duly summoned. On arrival, the Priest explained that he would speak to the spirit and see if he could persuade it to move to another tree.

After entering a trance-like state, the Priest concluded that the ceremony had been a success, the spirit believed that the new harbour would bring many benefits to the local people and agreed to move on. Then, amazingly with minimal effort, the workmen were able to perform what was unthinkable a few hours before. The tree yielded obediently in the baked solid soil revealing a massive lattice of jagged roots for all to see.

voodoo2

Baron Samedi the loa of the dead. Mainstream representations of Voodoo are much distorted.

There are many such incredible anecdotes regarding the mysterious religion most commonly known as ‘Voodoo’. In West Africa (where it originated) it is often called Vodun. As Alfred Metraux has noted, the peoples of this region have ‘kept alive beliefs and rituals inherited from the ancient religions of the classical East and the Aegean world.’ Voodooists identify with a sophisticated pantheon of Gods and spirits. Indeed, the religion may have evolved in the New World in countries such as Haiti, Brazil and the USA, but there remain clear similarities with the root practices. Christianity has been synthesised with Voodoo and particular saints have come to be associated with the loa (spirits) of Voodooism. For example Saint Patrick often represents Damballah-Wedo (the snake God) on account of his affinity with the reptiles.

Ceremony, ritual and trance are vital components of Voodoo, and the hunsi (initiates) meet at hunfort (a secluded place) to pay homage to the spirits. A clear hierarchy exists, and the hungan (priest) and/or mambo (priestess) will oversee the proceedings. Indeed, the sacrifice of animals, lively music and often frenzied dancing, led many westerners in the past to look down upon the religion and dismiss it as mere ‘sorcery’ or ‘black magic’. However, with an estimated half a billion followers throughout the world, Voodoo is clearly a vital aspect of daily existence for many.

voodoo4

Papa Doc who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971 used Voodoo to exert his control over the masses.

Many may view Voodoo with suspicion and disdain on account of its distorted mainstream image. Popular media representations such as Ian Fleming’s Bond novel ‘Live and Let Die’ have fuelled both intrigue and fear. The infamous Voodoo Doll, amulets, potions and the casting of spells represent a belief system which appears to be the complete antithesis of Christianity. Nonetheless, it must be understood that a true Voodooist is  aware and respectful of the subtle forces which exist in nature. The axiom of ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’ should always apply.

Clearly more serious study is required regarding the origins, evolution and influence of Voodoo throughout the world. Alfred Metraux’s research on Haitian practices throughout the 1940s and 1950s is most illuminating. However, it is understandable that practitioners may choose to be less than forthcoming to academics when Voodoo is often regarded with such suspicion and contempt. In nations which ostensibly champion Christianity as the official religion, Voodoo is frequently dismissed as a cult and deliberately marginalised from mainstream consciousness.

The author of the article is David Fox, a professional entertainer and freelance writer based in the UK. Visit David’s website for more information: www.magician-midlands.co.uk.

Wolf Messing: The Man Who Mesmerised Stalin. Clairvoyant or Conjurer?

wolf-1

‘The future shapes itself from the past and the present, and there are certain models or bonds between.’

Adolf Hitler placed a 200,000 Reichsmark bounty upon his head, Josef Stalin was mesmerised by his extraordinary talents, and Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein were baffled by his telepathic abilities. He gained an international reputation as a psychic entertainer par excellence and enjoyed celebrity status in the former Soviet Union. The legend of Wolf Messing continues to mystify and astound, but why are so few people in the West aware of this incredible individual?

wolf-2

Messing’s performances were legendary in both pre-war Europe and Soviet Russia

Messing was born in Poland in 1899 into a respectable middle class Jewish family, and from an early age he exhibited extraordinary talents: an uncanny ability to predict future events, divine the thoughts of others, and find concealed items. But it was Messing’s curious capability to inexplicably influence the actions of friends, relatives and neighbours which caused the most amazement. The eccentric young man eventually defied his parent’s wishes to become a rabbi and travelled west to Berlin to seek his fortune.

wolf-3

Messing is said to have amazed both Einstein and Freud with telepathy.

Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Messing toured extensively with a circus and quickly established himself as a sensational showman. Audiences throughout Europe marvelled at what appeared to be genuine feats of telepathy, psychic ability and clairvoyance. His act was unique and clearly very different from that of a classic conjurer or illusionist. Indeed, Messing’s famous meeting with Freud and Einstein illustrates this fact. Both men were extremely curious about his purported ability to read minds and they set him a task. Freud would attempt to transmit a thought to Messing and he would then have to reveal this. The Polish man of mystery successfully completed the task by leaving the room, collecting a pair of tweezers, and returning to pluck a hair from Einstein’s moustache – which was exactly what Freud had ‘willed’ him to do! However, as Messing’s star was rising, so too was the tyranny of the Third Reich, and he was forced to return to his homeland.

wolf-4

Hitler was said to be wary of Messing and the Nazis placed a bounty upon his head.

 ‘If Hitler declares war in the east, his death awaits him.’

Messing’s potent prediction did not endear him to the Fuhrer and, after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, he was hunted down by the Gestapo. Nonetheless, sanctuary would be found to the east and, after crossing the Russian border, Messing received a summons from the Man of Steel himself. Having escaped the brutality of Hitler, he was now faced with the prospect of a precarious meeting in Moscow with Josef Stalin. Mercifully, the Russian leader was deeply impressed and intrigued by his now legendary status – not to mention his captivating performances. He decided to set the Pole a task to prove he truly had the ability to influence the thoughts of others…

wolf-5

Stalin was amazed by Messing’s extraordinary feats and apparent psychic abilities.

On a typically bitter Moscow morning, Messing answered a brusque knock on his apartment door to be greeted by the ominous figures of two secret police officers. He was then tersely ordered to rob 100,000 roubles from a bank using only his powers of suggestion and influence. Stalin had devised a seemingly impossible test. Nonetheless, never a man to shirk from a challenge, Messing accepted the task and promptly proceeded to relieve the bank of this massive sum. Somehow he managed to convince the teller that the blank piece of paper he presented was in fact an ‘official document’ which authorised the gargantuan transaction. Stalin was amazed and invited Messing to visit him at his dacha (country retreat) on the outskirts of Moscow.

wolf-6

Stalin’s dacha was heavily fortified but Messing defied the odds and mysteriously appeared in the Soviet leader’s study.

One of the most heavily fortified places on the face of the planet during this period, and until his death in 1953 – Stalin’s dacha was an impregnable citadel. A perimeter fence was manned constantly, and no fewer than 300 agents of the NKVD (later to be the KGB) prowled the compound ensuring maximum safety for their leader. Indeed, Stalin seldom left his office in the heart of the complex and was profoundly bewildered when Wolf Messing mysteriously materialised in his study unannounced. The Soviet leader was in awe of the Polish wizard and demanded to know how he had achieved the unachievable. Messing calmly explained how he had used his powers of suggestion to convince Stalin’s guards that he was in fact Bera (the head of the secret police). Clearly they had believed him and some accounts state that this sensational feat would earn Messing a commission working for the NKVD. However, he would refute this claim in his biography in later life. Legend has it that he taught the officers of the Soviet secret police the dark arts of telepathy, mind-reading and psychological influence, but Messing dismissed this forcefully as nonsense to his biographer Tatiana Lungin.

wolf-7

Messing had visions of Russian tanks entering Berlin during the early years of conflict and successfully predicted the date the war ended.

 ‘The war will end on 9th May 1945’

Messing was famous for his predictions, but the one he made in Novosibirsk on 7th March 1944 would cement this reputation. The war did indeed end on the day he said after the cessation of German military operations at 23.01 on 8th May 1945. He had also spoken of having visions of Russian tanks in Berlin throughout the early years of Operation Barbarossa. Messing was now celebrated as a national icon, and would also gain a reputation beyond the Iron Curtain, proudly claiming prominent post-war admirers such as Mahatma Ghandi and Marilyn Monroe. Stalin’s favourite psychic continued to tour and amaze audiences until his death in 1974.

wolf-8

Wolf Messing claimed to have the ability to see the future and that science could not currently explain this.

Messing’s phenomenal life-story is surely just as astonishing as the incredible feats he is reported to have performed on-stage. There are many Russians today who still believe that he was a true mystic who was blessed with some sort of preternatural power. However, sceptics would argue that his act consisted of effects which are very much the stock-in-trade of mentalists and magicians. Indeed, contemporary entertainers readily convince audiences that they can predict future events, read minds and influence actions. Was Wolf Messing genuinely a man with a wonderful psychic capability? Or was he merely a highly talented magician/mentalist who managed to dupe one of the most powerful dictators the world has ever known? To this day much of his life remains a mystery and there are said to be secret KGB files concerning his famous talents which have yet to be disclosed to the public…

For a documentary click the link: Wolf Messing Psychically Robs a Bank.

The author of the article is David Fox. A professional magician and freelance writer who is based in the UK. For more details, visit his website at: http://www.magician-midlands.co.uk

‘Wolf Messing: The True Story of Russia’s Greatest Psychic’ by Tatiana Lungin is available from Glagoslav Publications

Harry Price: Dweller on the Threshold

harry-price

‘Harry fought a long, lone battle against, on the one hand, the Victorian educated scientists who derided the occult and, on the other, fanatical believers in spiritualism whose favourite mediums he exposed as frauds.’

Dennis Wheatley

Harry Price (1881 to 1948) is remembered today as perhaps the most famous ghost hunter and psychical investigator of all time. The intrepid scientist’s study of Borley Rectory in Suffolk, purported to be ‘The Most Haunted House in England’, from 1929 until his death brought him international recognition and cemented his reputation as a colossus within the field of occult research. Nonetheless, this extraordinary figure became an object of both acclaim and disdain during his lifetime. Some commentators viewed Price merely as a sensationalist who sought publicity by courting the supernatural, whilst others championed him as a genuine truth seeker – selflessly dedicated to unlocking the mysteries of the universe.

Indeed, Price’s commitment and dedication to the investigation of preternatural phenomena cannot be understated. He founded The National Laboratory for Psychical Research, compiled one of the largest libraries of the occult in the world, and was one of the first scientists to apply a rigorous and methodical approach when testing the authenticity of psychics and hauntings. Price utilised state-of-the-art technologies such as pressure sensors and infra red photography in his quest into the unpredictable and inhospitable shadow realm of spirits, poltergeists and demons. His capacity and appetite for conducting painstaking research – in often freezing and isolated locations in the dead of night – has set the bench mark exceptionally high for all psychical explorers. In Borley Rectory alone Price recorded no fewer than sixty different types of supernatural occurrence.

borley-rectory

Borley Rectory in Suffolk – The Most Haunted House in England.

 

Contemporary ‘ghost hunters’ frequently pay homage to Price’s considerable influence and achievements, but few are actually aware of his background in the art of conjuring and legerdemain. A lifelong member of the prestigious Magic Circle, his interest in this amazing art form began at an early age when he witnessed a performance of The Great Sequah in Shrewsbury market place. The young Price was mesmerised by the magician and this profound experience clearly catalysed an inner yearning for the mysterious.

the-conjurer

‘The Conjurer’ by Bosch. Magic and the Occult have always been closely linked.

 

Thus, like the great Harry Houdini (who successfully debunked numerous fraudulent psychics in the US), an understanding of the art of magic allowed Price to deduce what secret artifices or methods, if any, were being deployed by supposed soothsayers and mediums during his research. The story of the famous ‘spirit photographer’ William Hope is well documented and is an example of one of Price’s many skirmishes with Spiritualists who normally felt threatened by his research. The scientist was more than aware of how accomplished magicians can surreptitiously ‘switch’ objects, undetected by audiences, in order to achieve startling outcomes. This was precisely what Hope was doing with the photographic plates, and Price quickly concluded that his ‘spirit images’ were actually frauds. Indeed, this damning revelation set the tone for most of Price’s investigations into Spiritualists and clairvoyants. He attended hundreds of séances and was rarely convinced by the authenticity of the spectacle. Lifelong friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes – but himself an ardent Spiritualist) frequently expressed his anger at Price’s findings and urged him to be more sympathetic towards individuals of a psychical disposition.

houdini-price

Like the Great Houdini, Price’s knowledge of magic helped him ‘debunk’ fraudulent mediums.

Nonetheless, in the midst of a seemingly incessant tide of fraudulence and deceit, Price did encounter some incredible individuals who genuinely appeared to possess exceptional extra sensory talents. The most notable is perhaps Ms Stella C who, unlike the majority of clairvoyants and mediums, did not accept money for conducting séances and was not interested in forging a career in this field. Price and others observed the occurrence of genuine telekinetic phenomena in her presence, and she also incredibly predicted (with an uncanny accuracy which startled even Price) what would appear on the front page of The Daily Mail several weeks in advance.

Price was further led to speculate that it may be ‘highly probable’ that some individuals actually can communicate with the deceased. A séance in 1930 with the clairvoyant Mrs Eileen Garrett, who was not a Spiritualist, provided some of the most extraordinary results ever obtained in the field of psychical exploration. Garrett claimed to be in communion with Flight-Lieutenant H Carmichael Irwin, the captain of the doomed R101 Airship which had tragically crashed in France two days earlier. All the crew and passengers had been killed, but the psychic was accurately able to relay intricate details about the sequence of events which led to the fatal accident. Specialised technological information about the airship itself, of which Garrett could not possibly have known, were also provided. Price contacted the RAF with his findings and they concluded that 70% of Eileen Garrett’s account was exactly precise, 20% was ‘most likely’ and the remainder was rather confused.

r101

The medium Eileen Garrett recounted intricate details of the R101 disaster.

Such examples of Price’s work reveal that as well as earning a reputation as a sceptical man of science, he did have a sensitivity towards psychics and was prepared to reveal instances of what appeared to be genuine ‘supernatural’ phenomena. Indeed, his feud with fellow magicians the Maskelynes would reveal how he was often prepared to defend psychics who he believed were genuine. Nevil Maskelyne had long claimed that his brother Clive could duplicate all types of ‘supposed spiritual phenomena’ a medium could create in a séance. However, Price challenged this statement and alleged that he had witnessed events in séance rooms which even the most accomplished of conjurers would struggle to produce.

maskelyne

Magicians can amaze audiences with seemingly ‘psychical phenomena’.

Enigmatic and complex, the life of Harry Price is arguably even more perplexing than the mediums, spirits and poltergeists he documented along the way. It is intensely intriguing when a talented and highly intelligent individual is drawn to devote his entire life to the study of a fringe subject such as the occult. They run the risk of being ostracised, condemned and ridiculed by their peers. So why did Harry Price decide to embark upon such an atypical and arduous journey which would ultimately lead him to the bowels of desolate dilapidated mansions, the icy spectral solitude of cemeteries, and the sinister sultry environs of fraudulent medium’s séance parlours? Was he merely a deluded moonstruck eccentric shying away from the harsh realities of life? Or should we celebrate him as a heroic pioneer who conducted invaluable research into an area which has been largely ignored or overlooked by many of the greatest minds over the centuries?

 

price-end

Psychical researchers can easily become objects of ridicule. Why did Price choose this path?

For an interview with Harry Price click the link: Harry Price Interview YouTube.

A radio production about Price’s life: Are You There Harry Price?

The author of the article is David Fox, a professional magician and freelance writer.

www.magician-midlands.co.uk

Harry Houdini – Spiritualism or Swindle?

Magician David Fox explores…

Houdini 1

‘What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes’

Harry Houdini, 1874 – 1926

It was a dark and dreary mid-winter evening several years ago in Derbyshire. I had been invited to entertain guests at a corporate function in the distinguished setting of Breadsall Priory. The evening was going very well, and my repertoire of card magic, illusion, and sleight-of-hand was clearly having a positive impact on the proceedings. An opportunity soon presented itself for me to conduct some mind-reading and psychological routines (known as ‘Mentalism’ in magical parlance).

In one such effect I invite an audience member to think of someone they know well. It could be a family member, friend or work colleague. In this instance the lady in question happened to think of someone who had recently passed on. Needless to say, when I later revealed the person’s identity, the participant thought something supernatural had taken place.

As magicians we are well aware of the possibility of creating powerful effects which will leave a profound and lasting impression upon an audience. Indeed, magic and the supernatural have long been inextricably intertwined. The priests of ancient Egypt often used the art to mesmerise and frighten their subjects. In more recent times the case of the great French magician Robert Houdin (from whom Harry Houdini took his name) is well documented. Houdin managed to scare a group of tribal insurgents in Africa by using a simple magical effect in order to quell colonial insurrection. It is for this reason that the contemporary prestidigitator must be responsible and respectful when entertaining any audience.

Houdini 2

On hearing the word ‘magic’ we automatically think of Harry Houdini. This sensational individual needs little introduction and, almost a century since his death, he continues to amaze and inspire both magicians and lay persons the world over. Houdini helped to raise the profile of magic considerably throughout the early twentieth century with his wonderful stage performances and death defying stunts. His boundless charisma, formidable work ethic, and strength of personality, all combined to create one of the world’s first international superstars. However, most people are unaware of Houdini’s close association with spiritualism during the latter stages of his life.

On losing his beloved mother, Houdini began to ponder the possibility of an after life throughout the 1920s. Like many vulnerable souls who find themselves in such a time of emotional turmoil, he sought solace in mediums who had become more prevalent around the industrialised American towns since the ‘Occult Renaissance’ of the late nineteenth century.

Sadly, Houdini was bitterly disappointed by the séances he attended, and quickly developed the point-of-view that spiritualists, and those that claimed to be in league with the dearly departed, were merely charlatans. Thus, he set out on a moral crusade to disclose, or ‘debunk’, the fraudulent activities of such persons. Houdini’s revelations are masterfully presented in his 1924 work entitled ‘A Magician Among The Spirits’. The great magician demonstrates much of the chicanery utilised by purported spiritualists in order to extract hard-earned cash from the unwary.

Houdini 3

Spiritualism grew in popularity from the mid nineteenth century onwards.

But what of Spiritualism? Can we fully accept Houdini’s warnings, or is there really some kernel of truth in the possibility of communicating with the deceased? Adherents of the multitude of contemporary Spiritualist churches which exist throughout the world would refute his accusations. Indeed, one commentator has calculated that there are currently over thirteen million followers of this faith throughout Europe and North America alone. Perhaps like many belief systems Spiritualism has attracted its share of charlatans over the years, but are there mediums amongst its ranks who possess a genuine ability to contact the dead?

The eminent philosopher Carl Jung appreciated that human beings possess a subconscious desire to believe in some form of higher force, or divine purpose, to life. The prospect of living a meaningless existence with no prospect of an afterlife is, to say the least, frightful. Many magicians often scoff at those who readily accept the existence of spirits, but in my humble opinion this is a rather arrogant stand-point to assume. Granted, given a sympathetic enough context, we can create effects which may appear to defy reality.

A variety of elements combined that wintry evening all those years ago in Derbyshire such as the gloomy weather, dim lighting, and the fact that we were on the site of a medieval abbey which is rumoured to be haunted, to create an effect of almost supernatural proportions. However,  there are indeed many things which contemporary science in all its wisdom still cannot fully explain such as: premonitions, photographs and recordings of unusual phenomenon, and telepathy.

As for Houdini, he promised to send a coded message to friends and family after he shed this mortal coil. To date, we are still waiting to hear from the master…

David Fox is a professional award winning magician who performs his unique brand of magic throughout the world.

Visit David’s new Corporate website at: www.davidfoxcorporatemagic.com

Telephone number: 07946 686 258

Tarot Reading – The 78 Keys to Wisdom

Magician David Fox explores the origins and significance of the Tarot Deck…

‘it is a complete symbolic map of all the transformative processes in the universe’

Dr. David Shoemaker, Chancellor of the International College of Thelema

The Mystery of the 78

The origins of the Tarot deck are as mysterious as the cards themselves.

The origins of the Tarot deck are as mysterious as the cards themselves.

As a professional magician, I owe an incalculable debt to the 52 pieces of laminated cardboard popularly known as the humble deck of playing cards. However, I am fully aware that the origins of the four suits are far more mysterious and profound than even the most mystifying card trick in the conjurer’s repertoire. It is widely accepted that the contemporary deck originates from the Tarot cards: that peculiar collection of colourfully illustrated rectangular pictograms which are most commonly utilised for divinatory purposes.

The origins of the Tarot

The Tarot of the Witches. Popularised in the James Bond movie 'Live and Let Die'

The Tarot of the Witches. Popularised in the James Bond movie ‘Live and Let Die’

Some Occult historians claim that the Tarot originates from the times of the ancient Babylonians and the Egyptians. There may be a grain of truth in this somewhat Romantic theory, but the earliest recorded proof we have of such cards being used (primarily for parlour games) dates from late Medieval times. The wealthier inhabitants of Milan and present day northern Italy could afford to have such cards produced and ‘the game of trumps’ became a popular pass-time for the upper classes. Nonetheless, those with a deeper awareness of the arcane would always maintain that the cards were more than mere accoutrements for frivolous flights of aristocratic fancy. The rich symbolism evident within the Tarot clearly illustrated something much more profound, enduring and mystical. The ancient mystery schools had long since communicated Truth in such a manner: through the use of signs, symbols and codes which could only be discerned by those of the appropriate spiritual disposition and awareness.

Designs of Tarot

A Shakespearian Tarot Deck. There are many designs of Tarot.

A Shakespearian Tarot Deck. There are many designs of Tarot.

There is a multitudinous array of Tarot decks currently available for those who wish to explore the intriguing art of Cartomancy (the practice of using cards for divinatory or fortune-telling purposes). The enduring aesthetic appeal of the Tarot is a fitting testimony to the skill and talents of the artists who have sought to recreate, and offer their own unique interpretations of the Major and Minor Arcana, throughout the aeons. One of the most widely celebrated and used of decks is the Tarot de Marseille. This vibrant collection of pictograms dates from the late 16th century and is favoured by contemporary cartomancers the world over. However, it must be noted that the choice of deck is entirely a matter of personal preference. In Occult circles it is commonly accepted that for those who are so inclined to explore the world of the Tarot, the deck will choose them…

The Book of Thoth

The Thoth Tarot deck is one of the most beautiful ever created.

The Thoth Tarot deck is one of the most beautiful ever created.

Aleister Crowley has bequeathed to posterity an incredible text entitled ‘The Book of Thoth’. This is a profound and engaging treatise on both the origins and significance of the Tarot. The Thoth Tarot Deck (which accompanies the book) is truly an exceptional work of art, and was finalised, after several years of toil, by both Crowley and Lady Emma Harris, who carefully painted each card to Crowley’s precise specifications. Indeed, her instructor often insisted that a deisgn be painted several times in order to capture the True essence of the particular pictogram.

The Book of Thoth is an outstanding demonstration of Crowley’s awareness and profound understanding of the Occult arts. Well versed in the philosophies of Qabalah, Astrology, Alchemy, Geomancy, I-Ching and Numerology, Crowley appreciated that the symbolism contained within the Tarot is essentially a synthesis of the ancient spiritual traditions of the human race. He sought to demonstrate this through the unique design of each and every card. Fundamentally, he understood the following principles:

The four suits of the Tarot correspond to the four ancient elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water:

Coins are associated with Earth and mundane matters (money, material transactions)

Swords are associated with Air and thus the realm of the intellect (education, decisions)

Wands are associated with Fire: spiritual energy and vitality (masculine)

Cups represent Water and the realm of the emotions (feminine)

The Twenty Two Tarot trumps correspond with the paths on the Qabalistic Tree of Life, and the ten spot cards of each suit can be linked to the Sephiroth of the Qabalah in their corresponding element. Indeed, students with even a rudimentary awareness of the Western Mystery Tradition will glean much from working with this unique deck.

Methods of divination

Consultation of the Tarot permits us to view the 'bigger picture'.

Consultation of the Tarot permits us to view the ‘bigger picture’.

There are a variety of intriguing methods one can use in order to ‘divine’, or ask questions, with the Tarot. Some ‘spreads’ use several cards, whilst others may utilise the entire deck. I have personally found the well-known Celtic Cross method to be as effective as it is practical.

The following website by James Reeducks provides excellent instruction in conducting this spread, as well as an illuminating commentary on each particular card in the Thoth deck:

The Thoth Tarot Deck by James Reeducks

 It must be borne in mind that the Tarot provides one with a valuable opportunity to assess a situation, or problem, from a new, and often refreshing, stand-point. Consultation of the cards should not be regarded as a crutch to disregard responsibility and passively accept a particular outcome. The curious harmony of will and fate may be perennial, but human beings can take more control over their destinies if they have the courage and conviction to do so. Indeed, the Tarot affords us with a startling insight into the curious forces which incessantly influence the lives of men and women upon this planet for better or for worse…