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Into the Weird - Demon Magicians
For some people out there superstition colors their entire perception of the world in which we live. Unseen forces and spiritual principalities fritter about to and fro on the Earth wreaking havoc here, tempting people there and constantly leading people astray from the truth. Some see the leaders of governments as in league with demons, aliens, spirits, or forces from another dimension. Some see those same forces as in league with the entertainment industry with rock stars, pop stars and celebrities.
But this series, Into the Weird, focuses only on the far-out beliefs that are on the very fringes of the fringe. So what is the one place the forces of darkness might lurk that no one would ever think to look? A place of innocent entertaining tricks that masquerade as supernatural deeds but which are ultimately harmless illusions, sleight of hand and camera tricks - smoke and mirrors. I am talking, of course, of the world of professional MAGIC.
The dark arts of demonic chalk circles and human sacrifices pictured by paranoid Christians are far removed from the reality of modern day magic tricks... or are they? In this hub I will explore the belief of some that modern day magicians aren't merely performing cleverly designed illusions but that they are really assisted in their illusions by demons who seek to perform false miracles and lead millions astray. Join me once again as we delve into the weird.
Chinese Face Changing
Magic is Real
It surprised me to discover that a growing number of believers on the internet have latched on to this rather ludicrous sounding idea, that mainstream magicians making their living doing magic tricks aren't merely performing impressive acts of misdirection and sleight of hand. Rather the belief is that, as the magicians of old supposedly did, modern day magicians have made pacts with spirits to help assist them in their tricks.
They're not all tricks either, according to believers of the Demon Magician Hypothesis (as I will refer to it), but actual supernatural manipulation of time and space done with the help of demonic entities.
Some of the worlds most famous magicians, from Copperfield to Criss Angel to Penn and Teller to the famed Chinese face changers – all are supposedly aided by the supernatural. The evidence, believers claim, is in plain site, after all how else do you explain these “tricks”. What other explanation could their possibly be to some of these impressive feats? And how would we ever tell real magic from what is merely an illusion, especially when the magicians themselves could mix in tricks that aren't supernatural.
The Devil on your Shoulder
One of the points of evidence often brought up by believers in the Demon Magician Hypothesis is the use of demonic imagery in promotional material used by famous magicians. Everyone, from Houdini right on down to today, seemed content to use images of devils and demons in their act. Often the demon is sat on the sorcerer's shoulder whispering secrets into his ear, no doubt revealing the secrets to manipulating matter and energy to bend the world to his will.
Naturally the magician uses these amazing supernatural secrets, passed on from some hidden realm, to perform parlor tricks at a sold out Vegas theater. Like musicians selling their soul for the ability to play a rocking guitar solo magicians make pacts with demons to gain talent at pulling rabbits out of hats or making a playing card appear in your back pocket.
Jesus Used a Wand???
Jesus the Magician
One of the fears expressed by believers in the Demon Magician Hypothesis is that these conjurers are stealing Christ's thunder and can often be found doing some of Jesus' most famous miracles. For example many magicians attempt to turn water into wine in front of people recreating one of Jesus' most famous miracles with no explanation as to how they are doing it. This looks, to this small fringe of believers, like a dark miracle meant to lead people away from Jesus Christ and perhaps even to foster the belief that Jesus was a magician himself.
The ironic thing is that centuries ago defenders of the faith had to combat the claim that Jesus was a magician. Often times in artwork from the early Christians Christ is depicted wielding what looks suspiciously like a magic wand. Logically if Christ was shown to be just a magician we might find ourselves rejecting his status as the Messiah. Those who fully believe that Christ is the Messiah and the only way to avoid Hell see magicians performing “miracles” as cutting in on Christ's action because they're not always Christians.
Now no magician has ever had proven supernatural abilities or gone around genuinely healing the blind or raising the dead, unless we're counting Jesus, but Jesus says that his followers should be able to do all of this AND MORE. According to Jesus we are meant to know Christians by their fruits so if anyone should be going around turning water into wine it should be Christians. Perhaps instead of hating on magicians who are just doing tricks Christians should work on their own genuine miracles, just a thought.
Speak of the Devil and He Shall Appear
What's really going on here? Obviously if you follow this series you know that I am a skeptic who reports on these sorts of beliefs from that perspective. So why are magicians using demonic imagery? Why are some of them even claiming themselves to be in league with spirits? Why are stories spread about how some of them went into the woods and came back well versed in magic?
The answer is quite simple – because the supernatural SELLS. Part of the mystique in magic and the reason why it works is because most of us in the audience have no idea how the tricks are done. We are flabbergasted to see these sorts of things and the fact that the magician tricks us while we are sitting right there observing carefully makes it that much more mystifying and fun. But this ignorance, this mystery it leaves for us, leaves room for us to fill in the gaps without any education on the subject.
Magic isn't like other subjects, it's difficult to learn and often every magician has some guarded secret, some signature trick that they will never explain. Like with any gap in our knowledge the superstitious and paranoid stand ready to insert an easy answer, one that, given the nature of how amazing some magic tricks seem, carries with it an air of quasi-plausibility.
Speak of the Devil and he shall appear, the old phrase goes. Once you invoke something unexplainable, like demonic forces, spirits, gods, angels or any supernatural forces you will see them everywhere. Suddenly every coincidence is psychic and every bit of misfortune becomes suspect.
And of course the magicians themselves sometimes fan these flames. While folks like James Randi, Derren Brown, Penn and Teller and the great Harry Houdini were all skeptics who opposed Mediums and other frauds as the con artists they are other magicians are open to pretending that they do actually have supernatural powers.
Houdini, famously, went around debunking spiritualists and mediums proving that it was all a trick, hardly the sort of action a man in league with the devil would engage in. But people like David Blaine, Dynamo and Criss Angel, on the other hand, are more open to the claims made about them that they are actually assisted supernaturally. When someone that is the subject of one of their tricks exclaims in astonishment "you're the devil" or "you really are magic!" they might wear a smile on their face and go along with that claim.
Arguments from Ignorance
Probably the most seductive thing about the Demon Magician Hypothesis is that magic tricks are so often left unexplained. It is very rare to see the secrets to a trick laid out by a magician especially one who is still making their living off of magic. So there are no easy skeptical explanations for those of us who accept that such tricks are just that, tricks, illusions. Things on film or up on stage can be staged, faked or manipulated with ease and even so-called “Street Magic” isn't immune to this issue.
Despite what believers might think simply because we lack a complete diagram on how a trick is done doesn't mean we get to assume demons did it. Things that are unexplained do no automatically get put into the supernatural category, that's not how proper logic and reason operate when we're trying to find an explanation for something. Rather what believers are engaged in is an Argument from Ignorance in which they appeal to the mysterious and seemingly supernatural nature of magic tricks in order to claim that they are in fact legitimately supernatural.
If any one of these magicians had genuine supernatural abilities they could prove this to the James Randi Foundation and earn the famed million dollar prize. They could scientifically demonstrate some genuinely supernatural phenomenon and earn themselves untold publicity in the process by submitting to rigorous scientific testing. The problem is such testing doesn't work on most tricks because they are designed to entertain and astound, because they are TRICKS.
Using Actual Magic to Do Fake Magic?
If I could gain demonically assisted supernatural powers the last thing I would do is become a magician. Suddenly possessing the power to bend time and space to my will wouldn't cause me to seek out the nearest stage to perform. Actual supernatural powers, like transmuting physical objects into other objects, could make me rich in an afternoon. Why would I then struggle to become an excellent showman and entertainer and work my ass off with hundreds of staff members to spend my entire life putting on shows for people?
David Copperfield is massively rich, he has a net worth of nearly a billion dollars, but he's been performing magic tricks for decades and decades, selling out venues and working hard. Why on Earth would he do this if his “powers” were genuine? To prop himself up as a false idol? To my knowledge Copperfield doesn't claim he has any real supernatural powers, he doesn't claim to be any kind of god. Magicians may have massive egos in some cases but at the end of the day why would anyone with legitimate supernatural abilities do so many shows and work so hard rather than accruing wealth and power with ease using their powers?
It'd be like if I woke up tomorrow with Jedi powers and decided to become a magician. Why? It makes no sense to me. I have the power to manipulate time and space, maybe even to hypnotize people, to levitate, to do all these things... and I use it to put someone's playing card in their back pocket? That makes literally zero sense.
The True Believers from the Dark Side
It's not just conspiracy happy Christians propagating this view, however, I've found at least one occultist who readily admits to making pacts with spirits in order to gain powers. Ladies and gentlemen, meet E.A. Koetting, someone who claims that he can tell the secrets to becoming a “living god” by making pacts with spirits. Here's a preview of what it looks like to be possessed by one of Mr. Koetting's spirits:
The JUICY Pact?
As a former Pentecostal Christian this writhing trance-like ceremony looks no different than when people in my Church would be “slain in the spirit”. When a laying on of hands would turn into a bizarre trance state full of chanting in “tongues”. I say that not to lend any credence to a supernatural aspect of this but to say that it looks every bit as pointless as all that writhing about in Church was. Trances like this are present in many religions but what they aren't is evidence of the supernatural. Instead this guy just looks like a crazy guy convulsing in the sand while pretending to be possessed by some undetectable power “from beyond”.
In one video he shows the pacts he's made with various demons and what looks like the word JUICY appears at the bottom. Now personally I don't see this guy as all that different from the many Christian evangelists spreading what they believe but, as a skeptic, I don't see such beliefs as having any merit or evidence behind them and any false belief is more likely to lead to negative results. But at least this guy isn't begging for money in every video rather offering these “secrets” for free.
What Do You Believe?
How Do Magicians Do Such Amazing Tricks?
As I said earlier the entire argument of those who believe that magic is real is an Argument from Ignorance. They watch the tricks and can't figure out how they could possibly be done – so the answer must be ACTUAL MAGIC. When coupled with the belief that the Bible is literally accurate in every aspect it's an easy answer to settle on. After all the book of Revelations clearly states that all magicians will end up in the Lake of Fire and the Bible claims that witches and Mediums both exist and are deserving of death.
So for some Christians it's easy to believe that magic is real and is at work in the world today and separating the claims of someone like E.A. Koetting from someone like David Blaine might be difficult. They are both claiming to do a form of magic – though the difference seems to be that Blaine's magic is more impressive than some guy writhing in the desert. One may use a colorful cartoon devil whispering in his ear on his poster, while the other claims to be genuinely in league with Lucifer himself.
For those of us who are skeptics we have doubts especially because of the nature of what a magic trick is. It's supposed to remain unexplained, that's the fun of it. Those who claim that magic and the supernatural are real have not yet met their burden of proof or provided any empirical evidence. If these unseen forces are at work in the world they seem indistinguishable from the workings of coincidence, natural laws, and tricks that take advantage of the limitations of our senses.
Thanks for reading!