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

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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

Harry Houdini – Spiritualism or Swindle?

Magician David Fox explores…

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‘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.

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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.

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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

Colin Wilson – The Outsider

Magician David Fox pays tribute to a genuis.

‘From a fairly early age, I developed the conviction that most people waste their lives because they see the world falsely… such a person accepts a set of social values without question, like a sheep that never feels curious about what lies on the other side of the hedge.’

Colin Wilson

The great Oscar Wilde once stated that ‘we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars’. Such a profound aphorism readily defines the intriguing personality of one of Britain’s most prolific writers: Colin Wilson. A man who dedicated his life to the pursuit of greater understanding and knowledge; Wilson sought to push the boundaries and venture into areas of study which many (even in the 21st century) would view with scepticism, disdain, and even disgust. Wilson addressed a variety of subjects, from the 1950s onwards, which resided on the hinterland of modern rational twentieth century society. These included: the occult, true crime, sexuality and the psychology of serial killers. Indeed, Wilson seemed naturally motivated to venture into hitherto unexplored realms of  the human psyche, and articulated his findings masterfully and insightfully to his readership.

The publication of ‘The Outsider’ in 1956 quickly brought Wilson much acclaim. His analysis of  famous individuals throughout history who had been predisposed to rebel in one way or another against the prevailing social axioms of their ages, clearly tapped into the prevailing post-second world war zeitgeist. Wilson identified a tremendous sense of social alienation in all of these outsiders, from Vincent Van Gough to Albert Camus, and throughout his life he would remain a champion of existentialist thought and philosophy.

‘Civilisation cannot evolve further until ‘the occult’ is taken for granted on the same level as atomic energy.’

However, it was when Wilson was commissioned to produce an in-depth study of the occult that the focus of his work shifted onto what some would describe as ‘supernatural’. An extensive period of research spawned three seminal works in this area: ‘The Occult’ (1971), ‘Mysteries’ (1978) and ‘Beyond the Occult’  (1988). What is intriguing is that Wilson initially approached this vast subject as a sceptic, but quickly realised that it warranted serious consideration and analysis. The so-called ‘Occult Explosion’ of the 1960s demonstrated the perpetual human urge for deeper self-awareness and spiritual development. The Occident may have created the first nuclear weapons and sent rockets into space, but there appeared to be a spiritual void in the lives of many. Modern science and technology had without doubt alleviated much of life’s immediate problems, but the curious spirit of man knows no boundaries.

‘I believe that the human mind has reached a point in evolution where it is about to develop new powers – powers that would once have been considered magical.’

‘The Occult’ is a wonderful analysis of what some would define as the ‘magical arts’ through the ages. From the ancient Egyptians, to the Kabbalists and modern magicians such as Crowley and Gurdieff, Wilson provides an engaging thesis on an alternative viewpoint of human evolution. He clearly appreciates that from the late 17th Century onwards, cold rationalism began to stifle much of Western man’s potentialities: ‘The science of men like Albertus Magnus, Cornelius Agrippa and Paracelsus may have been crude and defective but it was based on this instinctive recognition of the psychic links between man and nature. The science of Newton, Huygens and Priestley was incomparably more accurate, but it had lost belief in the invisible links.’ Indeed, much of the evidence that Wilson presents in his studies on the occult surely demonstrates that modern science simply cannot provide satisfactory solutions for much of the phenomena we experience throughout our mortal existence.

‘Magic was not the ‘science’ of the past. It is the science of the future.’

Wilson essentially understood that a human being is far more complex (and potentially infinitely more powerful) than is fully appreciated in the modern technological era. We live most of our lives effectively ensconced within a bubble of accepted ‘facts’, rules, regulations, prejudices and misconceptions about our very existence and place in the universe. If only there was a way out? If only human beings could learn how to emancipate themselves from the often painful existence of mundane life? Wilson defines our largely latent potentialities as ‘Faculty X’ and appreciates that the human mind ‘has always possessed greater powers than we now realise: of telepathy, premonition of danger, second sight, thaumaturgy (the power to heal).’

‘…it is almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that the human mind is a vaster and stranger realm than we ever supposed.’

Wilson explored a myriad of fascinating subjects within the domain of the occult, these include: poltergeist activity, dowsing, spiritualism, ritual magic, life after death and astrology, to name but a few. His written style is highly engaging and he did confess that he saw himself as an author as opposed to a researcher (he was also a prolific novelist). Nonetheless, they do raise serious questions about modern science’s current uneasy relationship with these matters. Wilson has collected a wealth of data from a variety of sources throughout the world which does suggest that there are truly ‘more things in heaven and earth’. Approaching Wilson’s work with an open mind will most certainly provide the inquirer with much food for thought.

Clifton Hall: A Site of Supernatural Phenomena?

An Idyllic Country Manor…

Nestled away in the picturesque environs of Clifton Conservation Village to the south west of Nottingham city centre, the imposing Georgian architecture of Clifton Hall boasts a certain majestic charm. A striking reminder of a bygone age when the Lords of the Manor of Clifton celebrated their wealth and influence throughout Nottinghamshire and beyond. The hall has a colourful history, and in 1631 King Charles I resided there at the behest of Sir Gervase Clifton. Indeed, since the estate was sold off by the Clifton family in 1958, it has been utilised by several owners for much different purposes. Firstly as a girls’ grammar school until the 1970s, then by Nottingham Trent University, and later as private luxury accommodation. However, it was under its most recent ownership that Clifton Hall sprang to the attention of both local and national media outlets.

Haunted Hall?

Reports of Clifton Hall being a site of unusual and inexplicable phenomena would appear to date from the time when it was used as a grammar school from 1958 to 1976. There are accounts of strange eerie noises and an unsettling atmosphere in specific locations around the main building. An eye-witness account of the ghost of a young woman in the vicinity is also most revealing, and there appears to have been speculation about supernatural activity within rooms which had been sealed off. Sceptics would argue that such locations are ripe for curious tales of intrigue which are often intended to scare younger boarders and are the mere products of vivid adolescent imaginations. Nonetheless, it is the sensational experiences of the Rashid family, who moved into the hall in 2007, which have attracted much attention and speculation.

A Tormented Family…

In 2007 businessman Anwar Rashid acquired Clifton Hall for the sum of £3.6 million and moved into the property with his wife and four children. Within eight months the family would have left their new home, driven away by seemingly disturbing and unsettling forces from another dimension. An intriguing cavalcade of psychic phenomena contributed to the family’s hasty decision to quit their stately accommodation. Eerie events included: sinister spectral voices, ghostly sightings, and, perhaps most upsetting of all, the manifestation of blood stains upon one of the children’s bed sheets. Mr Rashid even went so far as to invite psychic investigators to Clifton Hall to reckon with its demonic denizens. The coordinator of this metaphysical inquiry curiously concluded that the venue was one of the most unsettling places he had ever visited, even throughout the hours of daylight. The family ceased mortgage payments in 2008 and since then it has been on the market awaiting a new buyer to negotiate with its supposedly supernatural tenants…

Illusion or Reality?

Did ghosts and supernatural phenomena really drive a family away from their new home? Is Clifton Hall truly an unholy lair of queer and unnatural events? Or perhaps there is a more logical explanation for the strange occurrences which would appear to have been experienced by a variety of individuals since its days as a grammar school? Last week I happened to be in Clifton meeting a client in order to prepare for a performance of magic at a function he is currently organising. On the way home, I decided to visit the hall and took some photographs around the area. The photograph below was taken at the main gate. Strangely a friend of mine (who is a psychic) examined my handiwork and felt a curious ‘presence’ at the central upper window in the shot. On a closer analysis of the picture, it is possible to see some unusual whispy ‘faces’ on both the central panes of the window. What do you think? Could this be evidence of some sort of weird supernatural manifestation, or is it simply the reflections of the trees in the sunlight?


Below is a close-up shot of the window. It does look rather strange and no other window in any of the other photographs looks like this. I prefer to keep an open mind and reserve judgement.  The red and blue circles mark the possible outlines of spectral ‘faces’.

Clifton Ghosts