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Magic and Magick

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.magick,alt.occult,alt.magic,talk.religion.misc
From: (nagasiva)
Subject: Magic and Magick (LONG quotes from _Net of Magic_, by Lee Siegel)
Date: 28 Feb 1998 19:15:54 -0800

49980129 aa2 Hail Satan!

excerpts from _Net of Magic_:

	Make obeisance to the feet of Indra, whose name
	is one with magic, and to the feet of Shambara,
	whose glory was firmly established in illusions.

That is how the magic show begins.  It is the invocatory
stanza recited with uncanny laughter and the mannered 
flourish of a peacock-feather wand by the magician
Sarvasiddhi as he appears in the court of the king of
Kausambi in the *Ratnavali*, a Sanskrit romanic melodrama
by Harshavardhana (seventh century).  Asking the monarch
what effect, trick, or illusion would be his pleasure to
witness -- "the moon on earth?  a mountain in the sky?
fire in water?  darkness at noon?" -- the magician boasts
of a power to conjure up any world the king might wish
to behold: "I shall cause Indra, the ruler of the gods,
to be seen in the sky.  You'll see the other gods too,
headed by Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.  And that's not all
-- you'll have a vision of heavenly magicians, celestial
singers, and nymphs of paradise, all dancing around you." (Act 4)


In his incarnation as the street conjurer, the ethereal
*escamoteur* wanders, as he has done for centuries, from
village to village, stopping here and there to lure a
circle of people, hungry for diversion, with the curious
call of his flute and damaru drum, hourglass-shaped like
the one the god plays.  The magic has hardly changed at
all: a cloth ball, red or yellow, under this coconut-shell
cup disappears only to reappear under that one; stones,
one after another after another, larger and larger, appear
from the magician's mouth, and then there are thorns and
nettles, then meters of brightly colored thread, and then
more dark and heavy stones; a borrowed shawl, visibly torn
into shreds before the wide eyes of its dismayed owner, is
suddenly, after the wave of a magic wand, a puff of magic
breath, the muttering of magic words -- *gilli-gilli-gilli*
or *yantru-mantru-jalajala-tantru* -- made whole again
before the even wider eyes of the amazed, laughing, or
grimacing gathering; a mango seed, in a matter of miraculous
moments, grows into a green, burgeoning bush that, to the
astonishment of all, puts forth sweet, swollen fruit;
a scruffy boy, the magician's son, is decapitated, or
dismembered, or perhaps his tongue is cut from his mouth,
and his blood, rich red with life, seeps into the earth
they know, and then -- how is it possible? -- the child
is healed, made whole, and there is genuine awe.  Wonder-
struck by the powers of the magician, the villagers,
with their own secret hopes, fears, and desires, buy his
rings and amulets, momentos of his magic, pieces of
strange power.  Two rupees, five rupees, eight rupees.


"*Jadugar*!  *Jadugar*!" someone calls out, "Magician!
Magician!  Come!  Watch!"  "*Jagu*!" they shout or
whisper -- "Magic!  *Jadu*!"  The Hindi word for that
entertainment is tinged with the dark meanings of the
Sanskrit term from which it comes: *yatu*, "sorcery,
witchcraft, black magic, the powers and practices of
evil spirits."  The magician calmly capitalizes on the
associations -- a touch of fear might prod the astounded
to reach into their pockets if there's money there.


They are born to what they do.  As blood members of a
Muslim low caste, Maslets, bound together by a secret
language and secrecy itself, they are trained in magic
from infancy.  The boys perform with their fathers 
until they are old enough to go out on their own, taking
a little brother or cousin along -- no one plays the
magic show alone.  The girls perform -- handle the snakes,
are stuffed into baskets, have swords passed through 
their necks -- until they are women; then they are
expected to bear new conjurers, nourish them, and teach
them ancient secrets.


The modern stage magician, his court a theater, his patron
anyone with a few rupees for a ticket, calls his magic
*Maya*, *Mayajal*, or *Indrajal*: "Illusion," "Illusion's
Net," or "Indra's Net" -- ancient terms for magic in India
meant to distinguish it from the *jadu* of the streets....
The Net of Magic now seems tattered in his hands.  "Now
people want to go to films or watch television," the
magician sadly said to me.  "We're something from the past."
In him the past yearns to be present, glorious and potent.
He remembers when the magician was a priest and magic a
sacred rite.  "The magician was a god on earth," the
illusionist told me in his dressing room, "and God was a
magician in heaven.  That is what our scriptures say."

The wise Shvetashvatara told it to ascetics in a forest
retreat: "A magician creates this world by magic. ...
Nature is an illusion and the Lord is the illusionist;
the things of this world are but elements of him"
(*Svetasvatara Upanisad* 4.9-10).  That magician, whose
magic show is this whole world, works with five elements
-- fire, air, water, earth, and pervading ether -- 
combining them in a certain way so that things appear
to appear, isolating them in another way so that things
seem to vanish, remixing and reseparating them in still
other ways to create endless metamorphoses, astonishing
to behold.

_Net of Magic: Wonders and Deceptions in India_, by 
     Lee Siegel, Univ. of Chicago Press; 1991; pp. 1-5

Magic's connection with fertility rites is ... strong.
Magic celebrates tumescence and erection, fecundity and
growth, attraction and breeding, birth and resurrection:
a rope stiffens when enchanted by magic words, eggs are
produced one after another from an empty pouch that has
been touched by a magic wand; after a few magic gestures,
a womb-shaped pot flows with water again and again,
seemingly unemptiable; that which is cut apart - cloth or
paper, a woman or a child -- is put back together.  Magic
reiterates the mystery of regeneration.  It serves to
remind us of the miraculousness of the creation's continuity.
Ibid., p. 29.

I repeatedly heard stories in which magic was used to gain
converts to one religion or another.  "The Nambudiri brahmins
of Kerala," a South Indian amateur magician told me...,
"after their bath, always throw the bathing water into the
air as an offering to god.  Saint Thomas pointed out to them
that the offering always fell back to earth, that the ground
was wet with that water.  He did a trick for them.  He threw
water into the air and it didn't come down.  I do this same
trick in my own excellent stage show.  That tick, in former
times, so impressed the brahmins that many of them became

"While all the street magicians are Muslim," an aspiring
stage magician, The Incredible Mayadhar, later explained to
me, "all of the theatrical magicians are Hindu....  In the
nineteenth century many low-caste Hindu groups converted to
Islam.  Not only the magicians, but the mahouts -- the
elephant drivers -- as well...."


Dayanand, the secretary of the Indian Ring of the Interna-
tional Brotherhood of Magicians, offered me [an] explanation
of the conversion...: "The magicians were itinerant.  Always
traveling, traveling, traveling.  That is why they converted
to Islam.  Islam, you see, allows a man to have four wives.
The street magicians became Muslims so that they could have
one wife in each place where they frequently performed."

Chand Baba's understanding of the conversion to Islam was
the clearest: the magicians became Muslims simply and
obviously because they realized the truth, that there is no
god but God and Muhammad is His Prophet.

"What's the difference?" Kareem Baksh scowled: "One religion
or another, it's all the same.  The same truths, the same lies."

The magicians can quote with equal ease and feeling from the
Qur'an, the *Ramayana*, and the *Puranas*, from Sufi saints
and Hindu devotional poets.  Religion is grist for the mills
of their imaginations; their patter is spiced with sacred 
images, names, and notions.  They use religion to tap into 
the fears and desires, the superstitions and deep beliefs,
of the crowd.  If their audience is Muslim, the patter might
invoke Nizam-ud-din; for Hindus there might be quotes from
Surdas.  For both, Kabir would be recited:

	I am a spectator at god's uncanny magic show:
		Playing his drum, he sets it up, performs,
	And spins the wheel!
		The magic may be false
	(We do not know what we do know),
		But the magician is true --
	He and he alone is real.


When the traveling magician finds the performing magician
at work he greets him, "*Salaam aleichem*!"  And then these
men, though they may well be complete strangers to each
other, from diferent parts of the land, can communicate in
a secret language, a *jadubhasa*, a code parlance known
only by the street magicians.  In it they reveal, each to 
the other, that they are Maslets; in it they make plans: 
the new arrival can act as a confederate for the performer;
in it they boast or joke, delineate their lineage, or
confess their misfortunes.  After the show, the performer
will give the visiting magician half of his earnings and
and take him to wherever he is staying.  Over a meal he
informs his fellow magician where he might perform and
suggests what knds of tricks will pay off.  The traveler
goes on his way.


Shankar had initially presented me to the magicians as a
magician.  They were completely unimpressed by the tricks
I could do, thoroughly unamazed by my ability to instantly
locate the card that I asked them to freely choose and 
return to my deck.  They could not distinguish the suits.
When I multiplied cigarettes in a box, one of the unbaffled
magicians remarked that it was not magic.  "Anyone who
purchases the gimmick can perform the trick.  Magic 
requires skill.  Each trick takes many years to learn and
many generations to perfect."....


[after performing a trick whereby a needle is passed through
the arm and then the arm is healed 'through the power of
Shiva, having obtained the power by celibacy:] When I
displayed my arm, clearly showing that it was completely
healed, they nodded in approval. This was their kind of
trick -- harrowing, menacing, distasteful, and evocative
of religious associations.  When I offered to show them
how it was done, they insisted that several people leave
the room.  This was for family only.

Magicians are, of course, by nature and necessity, secretive
and private.  The ancient tradition of the *mantragupta*
vow preserves and binds the group together.  The way a trick
works is a commodity, and the more people who know how it
is done, the less its cash value.  Secrets are the currency
intimacy and equality; secrecy is power, and its binds
magicians together to form the confederacy of magic....
Ibid., pp. 32-9.

"Are there people with real power?" I asked.  "Is there
real magic?"  And both Shankar and Naseeb were eager to
answer.  Naseeb said no: "No, but I shouldn't ever say
it.  I earn a living only if people believe these things,
only if they believe at least in the possibility of
miracles.  But there are no real miracles, and all the
holy men and god-men, Sai-Baba and Jesus and other men
like them, are just doing tricks, tricks that I can do,
that I can teach you to do, tricks that all the street
magicians can do.  Those miracles described in the
Qur'an, the *Ramayana*, and the Bible -- those were all
just tricks."


I asked if he believed [that another had powers].

"Naseeb says," Shankar said, "that when you ask people
that question, they always answer, 'I'm not sure, but
anything is possible.'  They neither completely believe
nor disbelieve.  'Anything's possible,' they think, and
they take pride in being open-minded.  That's gullibility."
It became apparent that Naseeb's answer had faded into
Shankar's: "Most people are gullible.  Especially in India.
People are easily duped by Tantric con men, bogus god men,
and corrupt priests....  There are priests in temples
throughout India who cheat people in the same way [through
a particular trick he described], using magic tricks in the
name of religion...."

The things that troubled Shankar merely amused Naseeb.
For the street magician, it seemed, it was only possible
to deceive someone who wanted or deserved to be deceived.
Shankar was more compassionate.  He knew that anyone can
be tricked, that the quicker and more intelligent a
person is, the more easily he can be fooled.  "It is 
easier to dupe a clever man than an ignorant one,"
Robert-Houdin noted in _Confidences d'un prestidigitateur_:
"The more he is deceived the more he is pleased, for that
is what he paid for."

One of the grandest functions of magic is that it demon-
strates that all human beings are fools, that our faculties
of perception and reasoning can do so often lead us astray.
Magic reminds us that we cannot trust that anything is so,
real, or true.  That reminder would be disturbing if it 
were not so entertaining.  And magic, Naseeb had said, is
above all else, "just entertainment."  Being a magician,
I fancied, meant living a life in which the world, every
delight and terror, every birth and death, every clash
and caress, every moment and eon, was entertainment.
pp. 43-5.

The philosopher and the child magician both teach that
we cannot trust our senses to reveal what is real, to know
the truth.  Every magic trick reiterates the metaphysic.


[Professor Bannerji] turned toward the men and spoke with
the same histrionic grandeur that infomed his father's
oratory.  "I love children, all children.  I love their
innocence.  I love their sense of wonder.  All magicians
are children at heart.  It is the magician's mission and
obligation to remind a world that is bleak and busy,
rationalistic and moralistic, weary and woebegone, of the
child within each adult's heart -- isn't it so?  For the
child all is magic -- everything is amazing, stupendous,
and miraculous.  'Be as a child!' our beloved Ramakrishna
taught, and Muhammad and Jesus concur.  Adulthood is a
loss.  It is the death of a child!  Magic is the promise
of resurrection -- isn't it so?  And why not?  Anything
can happen in the Net of Magic."

pp. 47, 65.

... the host of the meeting in Delhi that night -- was,
no doubt, meant to convince me that he, The Incredible
Mayadhar, really knew about magic and magicians.  And
when he learned that I was writing a history of Indian
magic in particular and that I was interested in its
connections with religion, he set out to convince me
that he was the willing source for everything that I
could possibly need to know.  This was not, I am 
convinced, pretension or pedantry on his part; it was,
rather, his way of being gracious.  He sincerely wanted
to assure me that my travels would not be in vain, that
I could always turn to him for any information on anything
connected with either India or magic.  "Hinduism is the
oldest religion in the world.  Isn't it?  Therefore it
follows, if one is willing to be objective, that all
other religions evolved, to use Professor Darwin's fine
word, from Hinduism.  Magic always evolves out of religion.
Isn't it?  Therefore it follows, by pure logic, whether
we are using the logic of our Akshapada or that of your
Aristotle -- what difference? -- that all magic, all over
the world, evolved out of Indian magic.  There it is --
isn't it? -- all that you need to know!  Simple!"
pp. 73-4.

The prelude is performed by the boy, who, dressed like his
father in a kurta and pajama pants (his earth brown, the
father's coal black), sets out the dusty, lethargic
serpents and plays the snake charmer's gourd-flute to
conjure up individual fears and collective memories: the
serpent in Eden, intimating temptation, or the Naga King,
Ananta, emblematizing eternity.  The snakes both lure the
people forward, close enough to see, and keep them at a
distance, far enough away not to see too much.  The natural
balancing of curiosity and fear within those who happen to
pass by establishes the perimeters of the stage.  With a
stick the boy then circles in front of them, engraving a
line in the earth to make clear and explicit the demar-
cation between the two realities, the one in which the
spectators live each day, and the magic one into which they
are going to be given a glimpse.  In that reality, with its
own set of unnatural laws, within the mandala that the boy
has drawn, the magician constructs his altar, arranges the
bones and stones, limes and daggers, amulets and rings,
and the tattered bundles of documents, the certificates
and letters that prove that he is indeed the great
magician Nasseb Shah.


...Naseeb, taking his audience right up to the edge, to 
the line between amusement and fear, readies them for more
serious magic.  The transition will be made when they watch
the pile of bones -- the jaw bone of a dog or goat, the
skull of a monkey, and bits of bone that we fear are human
-- spark, burst into flames, and issue dark, sulphurous
at a word and gesture from the magician....  Comedy is but
the seduction.  It opens the soul wherein terrors will be
confronted and mysterious explored.  To establish himself
as a guide into the labyrinth of mysteries, the magician
shows his uncanny powers, his *siddhis*: just as Sai Baba
and other god-men produce stone or metal lingas from their
mouths, he draws larger, and larger still, and meter upon
meter of colored cord -- red, yellow, green, black -- and
handful after handful of sharply pointed thorns.  The
manacing barbs are placed in a pile amidst the stones,
globes, and tangled cord.  Perhaps one of the snakes will
slither under the ominous pile.  Urgent words, a voice of
fire, commands the audience to be silent, to spread their
hands apart.  Blood oozes from a lime that the magician
has pierced with his knife.  "Clap your hands!"  They obey.
"Stop!"  They acquiesce.  Invisible threads are hooked into
each soul and the magician, holding those threads in his
hand, tugs the audience forward, eases up, gives them 
slack, then pulls them in again, closer still.
pp. 85-9.

My guru [Naseeb] revealed the timeless secret of the magic
to me.  He would show the man a piece of paper on which
was a name invisibly written in the lime juice, a name
that would become visible when the paper was held over a
flame in a demonstration of the magic.  Then, giving the
man a blank piece of paper, selling him a locket, and
instructing him to place the paper in the locket, Naseeb
would inform the man that he must wear the locket for
three days.  At midnight on the third day, when he removed
the paper, unfolded it, and held it over a flame, the
name of the man who stole his shikhara would be clearly

"But what happens when he does it, when he sees the paper
is blank?"

Naseeb seemed surprised that his disciple was so slow in
catching on, that I had learned so littel about how Indian
magic, the ancient as well as the modern, the hieratic as
well as the folk, was done.  After collecting the money
for the locket, the magician would explain that if the man
had any selfish thoughts, uttered any false words, or 
committed any malicious deeds during the three days that
he wore the locket, the paper would be blank.  If a man
struck Naseeb as particularly honest or unusually virtuous,
he would tell him to wear the locket for a week.  Not a
single person had ever asked Naseeb for a refund.
Ibid., p. 113.

The confusion, Indian as well as European, of magician-
entertainers with magician-yogis was natural and inten-
tionally precipitated.  Street performers earned their
livelihood by capitalizing on the association, by
imitating or impersonating those mendicant ascetics who,
for over two thousand years in India, having renounced
their domestic and social roles and having severed all
attachments to the world to wander here and there in a
penance for their birth, have been supported with the 
alms of pious members of society wanting, through their
offerings, to have some redemptive share in the vagabond
renouncer's holiness.  Through ascetic practices,
wandering sannyasis were (and are) believed to attain
supernatural powers, the powers of Shiva, *siddhis*,
which, like every other aspect of life and death in
India, have been systematically catalogued and norma-
tively categorized: *animan* (the power to become minute
or, for the mgician, disappearance,) and *mahiman* (the
power to become large); *laghiman* (the ability to become 
light, to levitate) and *gariman* (the ability to become
heavy); *prapti* (the skill of obtaining things, 
effecting materializations, or, as explained by the tradi-
tional commentators on the _Yogasutras_ of Patanjali {3, 45},
having the ability to touch the moon with one's fingertip);
*prakamya* (the power to will things so -- telekinesis);
*isitva* (a power over the will of others -- hypnosis) and
*vasitva* (a power to subdue one's own will -- self-hypnosis).
Demonstrations of any of these skills are proof of holy
perfection and perfect holiness.  The Buddha, that son of
Maya, Queen Magic, is frequently referred to and depicted
as a magician, a *mayavin*: "Being one, he becomes many;
or having become many, becomes one again; he becomes
invisible or visible; unobstructed, he passes through a
wall, hill, or some other such barrier as if it were made
of air; and, as through the air, he moves through solid
ground; he walks on water... and travels cross-legged
through the sky" (_Samannaphalasutta_ of the *Digha Nikaya*).
Returning to his home in Kapilavastu after his great
awakening, the Buddha, in hopes of getting converts, staged
a grand magic show: "After levitating, the Blessed One
walked through the air as if on solid ground, then stopped
in midair, first sat down, then lay down.  He cut himself
in many pieces, and then he put himself back together.  He
walked on water as if it were land and then dove into the
land as if it were water.  He produced water as if he were
a cloud, and fire as if he were the sun" (_Saundarananda_
of Ashvaghosha, 3.21-23).


The _Bodhisattvabhumi_ of Asanga lists the *rddhis* or 
magical proficiences of bodhisattvas within a binary
classification: *parinamiki*, the power of transformation
(the bodhisattva changes the nature of an existing thing
just as a magician turns a mosquito into a pigeon, the
pigeon into a child); and *nairmaniki*, the power of
creation (the conjurer, like the bodhisattva or a god,
produces an egg from an empty bag, a lotus from an empty
pond, plenum from void).

The magical potencies of the Buddha, *abhijnas* and *rddhis*
-- telepathy and telekinesis, clairvoyance, clairaudience,
and clairsentience -- were, it was postulated, acquired or
realized in advanced meditation.  Miraculous aptitudes,
according to tradition, could also be attained through
both devotional and Tantric ritual.  A human being might
achieve an identification with the god, not communion
with the deity, but an actual incorporation of the divinity's
essential energy.  In devotional *puja* the officiating priest
might identify himself with the god for the devotees, while
in Tantric *puja*, the initiate himself could become the
deity.  Through such sacramental processes the human being
was thought to assimilate the divine *maya*.

Because there was money to be made, alms for ascetics and
offerings for incarnate gods, money given in exchange for
a participation in the holiness that supernatural feats
were thought to express or represent, every street magician
had a version of the *siddhis*, *rddhis*, and *abhijnas*.
As the wandering holy man seemed to be a magician, so the
wandering magician seemed to be a holy man.  And there was
(and is) power, cash or esteem, in holiness.  "The citizens
of the town, gullible as they are, attribute divine powers
to him -- he's tricked them by means of his skill in the
arts of deception" (_Dasakumaracarita_ of Dandin, 2).

Perhaps it's because magic tricks that pass for miracles
-- producing holy ash, eggs, or Seiko watches from thin
air, making a mango tree grow, turning a rope or staff
into a snake, surviving a burial, reading the minds of 
others, levitating, and other popular items -- are, if
one only knows the trick, so very easy to do that the
Buddha, at least as he is represented within one trend
in Buddhist literature, censured or made light of
thaumaturgical practices and displays of marvelous powers.
"In order to underline the inadequacy of such attainments
{as the abilities to become many, pass through walls, fly,
walk on water and read minds} the Buddha recounted the story
of a *bhikkhu* who possessed these magical powers, and how
they served him nothing in his search for an escape from
suffering (*Digha Nikaya*).  Apparently conscious of the
close connection between tricks and miracles, the perfor-
mances of jugglers and the activities of renouncers, the
Buddha spoke of a magician who "upon the stage deceived
people with his tricks."  But, since death cannot be 
tricked, the Buddha explained, he himself, with nothing
up his sleeve and nothing planned, chose the holy path,
the way of truth over the way of magic and deception
(*Ayoghara-Jataka*).  He taught with an open hand.

Like the Buddhist arhat or bodhisattva, so the Hindu yogi,
sadhu, or siddha, and, more recently, the Muslim fakir or
pir, have been customarily and popularly believed to 
possess magial resources.  Magicians within each religion
formed an extramural, syncretic, and complicitous caste
of their own: "The caste which is particularly devoted to
magic as a vocation is that of the Yogi, which is primarily
Hinu but has Mohammadan elements affiliated to it.  The
Yogi claims to hold the material world in fee by the
magical powers which he has acquired through the perfor-
mances of religious austerities, but this claim soon
degenerates into superstition of the worst type, and the
Yogi in reality is little better than a common swindler,
posing as a faqir" (H.A. Rose, _Magick {Indian}_).

Since the magical powers of yogis were thought to have
been attained through mortifications, self-crucifications,
punishing the flesh for being flesh, spectacularly
masochistic public demonstrations of painful austerities
were in order: "At certain periods of the year, parti-
cularly in the month of April, many men of the lower
castes observe temporarily the discipline of the ascetic
sects, and may then be seen to cheerfully undergo self-
inflicted tortures of a cruel kind, as, for example,
passing thick metal skewers through the tongue, the
cheeks, or the skin of the arms, the neck and the sides,
walking upon live charcoal, and rolling upon thorns.
Amongst the motives commonly ascribed to these temporary
low-caste ascetics are the gratification of vanity and
the desire for the pecuniary gain which their perfor-
mance usually brings them; but there can be no doubt
that many of them hope, and look for, other and less
obvious rewards for their self-inflicted sufferings"
(John Campbell Oman, _The Mystics, Ascetics, and Saints
of India_).


As the Indian court magician-entertainer represents a
profanation over time of the Indian court magician-
priest, one who imitated with tricks what the priest
had been thought able to accomplish in reality, so the
itinerant Indian street magician-entertainer represents
an evolutionary banalization of the mendicant samana,
siddha, yogi, sannyasi, or sadhu, simulating the powers
attributed to them with an imitation that is either,
depending on what you know or want, entertainment or 

Prestidigitational techniques for close-up magic and
parlor conjuring had been cultivated into skills by the
time of the *Kamasutra* (c. third century c.e.), wherein
various sorts of legerdemain are enumerated among the
sixty-four arts that were de rigueur for sophisticated
ladies and gentlemen in ancient India (1.3).  Sleight
of hand with dice, as well as the art of gimmicking the
dice, became essential tricks of the gambler's trade.
"Entering the casino to join the gamblers there, I
witnessed their skill at the twenty-five gaming arts --
at such tricks as loading the dice and moving a piece,
unnoticed, from one place to another."  (_Dasakumara-
carita_ of Dandin, 2).  The conjurer was a swindler with
bunko as his dharma.  But trickery made him no less
godlike than the sadhu or sannyasi, for the gods, after
all, are and always have been tricksters themselves:
like crooked gamblers, "the gods trick the demons out
of their winnings, this world, the sacrifice (_Satapatha

At some point the Hindu street magicians, protected by
Indra and Shambara, Skanda and Vishnu, converted en
masse to Islam, to faith in a god who is neither amused
by jugglery nor tolerant of fraud.  While it's difficult
to determine either the period of or reason for that
conversion, my suspicion is that the collective submission
of the magician's wills to the will of Allah occurred in
the nineteenth century (much later than the conversion of
such cognate groups as the bangle makers, who became
Muslims in the thirteenth century): the magicians who
perofmred in Jahangir's court in the seventeenth century
were Hindus from Bengal; eighteenth- and nineteenth-century
European travel accounts mention magicians with such Hindu
names as "Covindsamy" (Govindaswami) and "Seshal" (Sushila);
in a several-hundred-year-old series of visual depictions
of Indian daily life, the magician, performing with cups 
and balls (using two cups and three balls just as in 
Naseeb's rendition of the ancient trick), is adorned with
the sectarian markings that signal one who has renounced
his own identity to emulate, and ultimately become, Shiva,
lord of yoga, divine exemplar of the magic powers that are
attained through austerieies.  The show's a con job (if
the audience believes the methods for the effects are
supernatural), or a parody (if the audience knows the
methods are sleights), or a bit of both -- in the shows
I've seen there's always that ambivalence: to the degree
that I know I'm seeing a magic trick, accomplished through
human skill, I can't accuse the magician of fraud; but to
the degree that I wonder if what I'm seeing might be real
magic, a miracle accomplished through divine power, I'm
tempted to buy a ring, amulet, or spell.


Perhaps the conversion and simultaneous consolidation
of street conjurers into a discreet group, the Maslets,
a professional Muslim subcaste that identified themselves
as entertainers, was meant to distinguish them, at least
in the eyes of the law, from another group -- the non-
Muslim Jaduas, whose training in magic and conjuring
was purely for the sake of criminal activities....
Ibid., pp. 150-4.

Naseeb proudly calls himself a Madari, in popular usage
the general name for various Muslim castes of street
performers, including not only the Maslets, but also
Kalakars, Qalandars, and others, names that suggest an
alliance with, or origin in, Sufi orders.  Ja'far Sharif's
early nineteenth-century attempt to explain India to
Europeans includes a discussion of Madaris: "The term is
usually applied to any 'unattached' religious beggar who
smokes drugs to excess. ... They are by religion half
Hindus and half Musalmans. ... Some of them are jugglers.
... {They} place an earthen pot without a bottom on their
heads and put fir in it, on which they lay a frying-pan
and cook cakes.  They are one of the disreputable Orders
of begging Faqirs" (_Islam in India_)....


A nineteenth-century survey of North Indian castes
identified the Madaris as "one of the Beshara or unorthdox
orders of Muhammadan Faqirs who take their name from the
famous saint of Zinda Shah Madar of Makanpur. ... The
Madaris of Northern India have no real connection with the
genuine Sufi sects. ... The fact seems to be that the
Indian Madaris were established in imitation of the Hindu
Jogis and Sannyasis. ... They seldom pray or keep fasts,
and use *bhang* freely as a beverage."
Ibid., pp. 155-6.

The Maslets with whom I spoke distinguished themselves
from the bear and monkey trainers who are seen, by them-
selves and others, as pariahs; they aligned themselves
with the puppeteers and bards.  "We're artists.  We're
actors.  The magic show is a dramatic performance."

That drama, whether it is performed for aesthetic or
criminal ends, was presumably once liturgical.  The
apotropaic function of the rite that the drama imitated
gave way to a new social function -- entertainment.
And in the entertainment, the parody of religious
activity, enough of the images and actions of the rite
have been maintained to create the ambivalence in the
mind of the audience which, for the magician, is the
source of that audience's willingness or eagerness to
pay.  Passing the hat or basket-top does not bring in
the kind of money that is made by the sale of magic
rins, amulets, and spells.  So, while the conjurer-
entertainer lampoons the magician-sorcerer (and so his
audience laughs at the parody of the mantra recitation,
"*yantru-tantru-jalajala-mantru*"), he also makes sure
the observers suspect the magic might be real (and so
there is silence and terror when, with his son lying
on the ground, tongueless and vomiting blood, the
magician demands two rupees from each of the onlookers).
The crucial suspicion is generated through symbols
-- the props of the magician, his costume, his language,
and his tricks.

While previously, as attested by literary and pictorial
sources, the magician dressed as a renouncer, a yogi
or sadhu, and his son as the chela, now, since the
conversion to Islam, the magician wears a kurta, pajama,
or lungi.  Now he disguises himself as a sorcerer who 
is disguising himself as an ordinary person.  "Some of
the people think," Naseeb laughed, "that, after the
magic show, I change out of my clothes and into a loin-
cloth, so that I can return to the cremation grounds.
They suspect I'm a fakir-baba or yogi-baba and that I've
put on these clothes so that I can mix unnoticed with
everyday people."  To maintain that suspicion, there is
always some symbol present -- the rosary of *rudraksa*
beads around his neck or the ashes on his forehead
for a Hindu audience, for his Muslim onlookers, the
lace skullcap that implies that he has made the 
pilgrimmage to Mecca.

The magician's peacock feathers, as carried by conjurers
for centuries, are Skanda's, the patron deity of thieves
and conjurers, associated with exorcisms and other
magical practices; the flute that the magician plays is
Krishna's; and the hourglass damaru with which, like the
bear handlers, monkey trainers, and snake charmers, he
calls his crowd, is Shiva's.  And because it's the
magician's drum, Kabir says, Shiva plays it, "beats his
drum to roll out the show," to show with that show that
he, the god, is a magician, "duping gods and men and
sages, baffling everyone in the house. ... The magic is
false, the magician true" (*Bijak*).  Establishing the
drum as a magical object, Naseeb moves it spellbindingly
arounda  volunteer's clasped hands, and they can't be
pulled apart, waves it ceremonially over a decapitated
body to effect the recapitation, beats it liturgically
before producing some startling, wonderful metamorphosis.
"This is Mahadeo's drum!"  The magic drum is an ancient
image: "If you beat upon this side of the drum your
enemies will run away from you; but if you strike the
other side they will become your constant friends"

In the same *Jataka* there is a magic gem that enables
its owner to levitate, and just as the magic show always
begins with the beating of the drum, so it always ends
with the sale of such gems, blessed by the magician and
set in rings or amulets.  Attributing the restoration
of a severed head to a body to the power of the jewel
in the ring, the magician announces: "Ten rupees!  Only
ten rupees and it will keep all your troubles far away."
The pitch works by playing on the notion of a
"ring-*sakti*" that is firmly established in that aspect
of consciousness which is fashioned by tradition....


"This power," Naseeb and the other magicians say, "I 
gained at the cremation grounds."  The macabre claim
associates the magicians with the vanishing Aghoris and
vanished Kapalikas, those Tantric ascetics reputedly
versed in dark magic, in whose rites blood, alcohol,
and flesh are necessary.  The association and implied
affinity is amplified by the use and presence of bones
and skulls in any demonstration of street magic.  The
power of magic is a grace attained by one who knows death,
who has confronted horror, and gone beyond terror and
disgust by inverting those vulnerabilities into ecstasy
and dispassion.  Naseeb, his eyes like burning coals,
his laugh full of an ecstatic scorn, anoints his monkey
skull with blood, and when he squeezes a lime over it,
the ground beneath the skull bursts into flames.  The
horror is exquisite misdirection, delectably grisly and
gruesome, and it's a convention that was well established
at the beginning of the century....

One of the magicians from Ludhiana, performing in Kashmir,
had fixed a monkey skull on top of a pole that was planted
in the ground both as a sign to attract an audiance and
a focal point around which to arrange that crowd.  The
image was redolent of the *khatvanga*, the skull-crested
club or staff that is carried by Shiva, the Kapalika
yogis who have emulated the god, and the sorcerers who
claim to have the god's terrible power.  The club or
staff, like the damaru drum and water-bearing *kamandalu*,
are religious accoutrements that have been profaned
into the standard props of the magic show.  The street
conjurer uses the wand to turn over the cups in the
traditional Cups and Balls routine, to secure and cover
objects palmed in his hand, and to point at things and
thereby misdirect the attention of his audience.  The
staff or wand traditionally held by the magician
symbolizes, according to the *Kausikasutras* (47.12-22),
the weapon of Indra, the prototypical magician -- his
*vajra*, or thunderbolt, the instrument that could be
used to kill an enemy or bring the fecundating rains.
Through symbolization, the earthly holy man and, in
emulation of him, the performing conjurer absorb the
divine power of the heavenly magician....
Ibid., pp. 157-9.

Just as the magician's props are meant to suggest an
apotheosis, so his language, incomprehensible and
mysterious, establishes his esoteric power.  *Omne
obscurum pro magnifico*.  With sounds the magician-
performer further imitates, parodies, or poses as the
real magician, that knower of the *mantra-sastra*,
the formulae, phrases, and syllables that people believe
have a real power to effect or to attain things, worldly
things or even liberation from the world.  These
utterances, devoid of all semantic meaning or power,
are thought to have meaning and power to the degree to
which they contain and activate the essence of the deity.
The dynamic is understood in terms of a conviction that
all correspondences in the cosmos are actual and ultimate,
and that all phenomena represent merely the temporal and 
spatial manifestation within a particular of some more
fundamental reality.  A god can be a god or a person,
an image or a sound.  Magic in India involves the mani-
pulation of these images and repetitions of these sounds.
The magician-entertainer says "*gilli-gilli-gilli*" or
"*yantru-mantru-jalajala-tantru*," both to invoke the
mystique of *mantra-sastra* and to parody the tradition,
in the same way that the Western magician's "hocus-pocus,"
a profanation of "hoc est corpus {meum}," is both serious
and not, simultaneously mocking the Eucharist and drawing
upon its psychologically established powers.  The word
*jadu* can mean hocus-pocus or mumbo-jumbo: "Pray sir,"
asks a barber in the nineteenth-century *Panduranga Hari
or Memoires of a Hindu* of William Browne Hockley, "is
that Sanscrit or what language?"  And the narrator's
reply is: "May be it is jadoo."

While *yantru-mantru-tantru* evokes a fear of Tantric
forces, so *Bismillah*, the sound that begins all but
one of the *suras* of the Qur'an ("In the name of God,
the Merciful, the Compassionate"), shouted or whispered
by the magician, provokes awe to no less a degree as it
suggests the powers of *simiya*, Islamic natural magic,
a tradition that, despite condemnation by Islamic law,
flourishes and includes both high, white magic and low,
black magic -- *jadu*.  The Muslim magician in India is
traditionally an exorcist and fortune-teller, a source
for magic charms, amulets, and rings; he has the ability
to detect a thief and retrieve stolen goods, to procure
revenge on an enemy and influence decisions at court.
Naseeb and the other magicians of Shadipur imply, with
their props, amulets, and language, that they are real
magicians.  Naseeb will swear by any god that he has
gleaned knowledge from Muslim *murshids* and Tantric
sadhus, gained his powers from both the tombs of Islamic
saints and the burning grounds of the Hindus.

The power of the god that the magician has earned or
stolen from the places of death to display in the streets
and bazaars is essentially a cosmogonic power.  Many of
the traditional, conventional, and most ancient of the
tricks in the street magician's repertoire recapitulate
Indian cosmogonies.  The world itself is created by magic:
"The Magician creates the whole universe and by the same
magic beings re captivated within it" (*Svetasvatara
Upanisad* 4.9).  The magician recreates images of what
the Magician creates.  Thus the dramaturgist Bharata
explains that Brahma, the creator, is the deity who 
presides over the aesthetic sentiment of wonder, the
*adbhuta-rasa*.  "Wondrous indeed is the creation of the
world," cries the voice in an anonymous stanza cited as
an example of that sentiment: "This is so very bizarre!
Amazing! ... The creation of the world is out of this
world!"  (_Kavyaprakasa_ of Manmatta, citation 43, 
afer 4.29).
Ibid., pp. 161-2.

"When the baby is born everything is magic.  Then, when
he gets older, his parents confine him.  'Don't wet the
bed,' they say.  'This is right and this is wrong.'
And the magick is, thus, taken from his world."  I was
startled to hear him utter the exact same words that
Tayade had used in Bombay, that Shyamal Kumar had used
the day before, and I wondered who got them from whom.
"To watch a child is to see magic; to watch magic is to
be a child....  Well, so much for evolution of magic in
a individual person.  Now, evolution of magic in the
society.  This is greatest.  A few thousand years ago
and more {"*Or* more," said the son.}, it was king
against king -- they were cruel, raping the women and
killing the children, and this sort of funny business
and evil.  They thought that they were all all-powerful,
and they abused the power.  Only power that they were
afraid of was the magic power, and so the *dharma-guru*
said he had that *sakti*.  This self-made magician used
ventriloquy to get *murti* to speak, and he had under-
ground passages to get water or fire to come out of
*murti* as he commanded.  You have every word I speak?
Good.  Okay, he had the servantds down underground to
work his apparatus.  These slaves were angry.  They
said to the *dharma-guru*, 'Hey, you damn guy, bloody
*dharma-guru*, give us the freedom, or we are telling
everybody how you do your tricks.  We'll tell about
secret passages, about voice-throwing, hidden wires,
and secret mirrors.'  The court magician gave the
freedom to the slaves, making them promise not to
divulge secrets.  They kept their word, and they became
the first street magicians.  These are wandering

...the son, despite my assertions that I had studied
Sanskrit and understood the technical terms, supplied
translations of them: "'*Dharma-guru*' is king's teacher;
'*sakti*' is god-power; '*murti*' is idol."


... Magic in the old {"olden," according to the son}
days was always used for war and for the killing.  What
is the *indrajalam*? -- it is Indra's weapon: nuclear
missile!  Magic!  And still magic is used for the bad
purposes.  There are three magicians {"Types of,"
inserted the son} in India: the street magician, as
described above; the gorgeous stage magician, like the
Great K. Lal [the speaker]; and the Tantric magician,
practioner of Bhanumati-*khel*.  The Tantric magician
still uses magic for killing and killing for the magic.
He gets power by taking the head of boy, a Brahmin boy
or own son, or he cuts out the tongue of boy -- blood
from his own tongue is very powrful for magic.  Or they
get the blood by putting some holes in fingers.

... The father patiently waited while the son explained
that Tantra was "black magic" and that Queen Bhanumati
was a sort of patron saint of magic....


Lal's "theory of magic" consisted of an explanation that
"there are in whole world only six tricks, three doubles:
one -- creation and destruction, *sambhava* and *pralaya*;
two -- exchange, change one way and other, sea into
mountain, mountain into sea; three - cut apart and restore."
These tricks, he said, were the "*mahamaya* of Mahadeva
{"Great magic of great god," Junior said}, and the earth
magician only performs the little versions of the great
show."  He smiled, sighed, and went on.  "That is my job,
to be on this earth what the god is in the universe.  If
you could have a video of this whole cycle of *samsar*
{"Creation to destruction, destruction to creation," said
the son} in fastest motion, you would realize it is only
magic show through and through.  Since such video is not
available, it is my duty as magician to remind all people
of the miracle of the life, to help them to remember.  Life
is the magic show.  We should feel the amazement each day.
We should be amazed all the time...."
Ibid., pp. 268-271.

[P.C. Sorcar Junior:]

"Then [magic] is, in its essence," I interrupted, 
"connected with religion, even when it's just

..."Yes, religion is magic, magic is religion.
Everywhere.  In India too.  Here the *Atharvaveda* is the
source of Tantra, and Tantra is the source of magic.
Here, as in the West, there is both white magic and
black magic.  Magic is neutral -- the power can be used
for either good or evil...."...


"... The magician is the greatest of all artists.  Let me
illustrate.  When an artest is truly great we say, 'Your
song was magic,' 'Your dance was magic,' 'Your painting
(or whatever) was magic.'  This shows that magic is the
essence of all the arts.  Some speak of magic aspiring
to be art, but it is really art that aspires to be magic.
Magic is the highest art, pure art, art's ultimate
accomplishment.  In ancient India it was classified into
thirteen *rasas*: production, evaporation, transformation,
transportation, penetration, flotation, restoration after
destruction, acceleration or retardation of nature's
speed, animation, escape, spectral demonstration of ESP,
an ventriloquism.  I have mastered all of these, but the
mechanics of magic are not important -- anyone can learn
the mechanics.  The great magician is a psychologist as
well as an artist.  I hold a degree with honors in
psychology from Calcutta University."
Ibid., p. 278.

...he reached into his pockets to find a piece of paper
upon which he wrote: "She who comes in the name of the
guru will pick the number on the other side of this
piece of paper."


Producing another piece of paper from his pocket and
setting it on the low table by the red chair, he asked
her to pick any one of the sixteen numbers on it:


    		        1	2	3	4	
		A	5	6	7	8	A
		I					R
		R	9	10	11	12	T
			13	14	15	16


Prompted by curiosity, she selected the number thirteen,
and the magician drew a circle around that number and
arrows from it to the borders where four elements were
indicated.  The fifth, ether, he said, beginning his
interpretation, permeated the whole: "Yes, thirteen,
close to air and water, far from fire and earth --
this is your basic being, your essence.  You are a cool
and aerial person, up in the clouds, fundamentally
spiritual and detached from the fire of passions and
from the earthly flesh."

"Wow," Alice said with a nervous smile.  "That's true,
really true, and it's amazing that you say that, because
nobody would ever think that about me; it's not the way
I appear to others, but it's true, that's me, deep inside

"Of course, Miss Alice, that is why you picked the number,
but please say no more, just concentrate.  Pick another
number, one that remains."  She selected the number seven,
and as he made the marks on the square, spoke to the
earnest girl.

"You are seeking balance -- seven balances thirteen, the
lucky balances the unlucky.  This is your external self,
the person you present to the world, close to earth and
fire, a woman of the passions, but that appearance
contradicts your esential, innermost thirteen.  Inner
and outer determine the numbers that remain [those four
not crossed off by the lines extending from 13 and 7].  
To which number does your heart guide you?  Do not let
the mind confuse you.  Let your soul [choose] -- two,
four, ten, twelve?"  "Two," she said, and he smiled,
nodded meaningfully, muttered a soft "Of course" to
himself, and continued the explanation of the deep
mystery of the numbers.  "That is your future, close
to fire, but not so close to earth.  It suggests
passion, but the passion is more spiritual than physical.
Through it, once discovered and fulfilled, there will
be release."

"That's right," Alice nodded incredulously.  "I mean,
that's what I'd like to find.  That's why I joined
the Sathya Sai Baba Center, and that's why I..."

"Please," the magician interrupted.  "Do not tell me
things about yourself -- I now you well, deep within
my conscousness.  Only one number remains, number
twelve, like the months and the signs of the zodiac,
the number which suggests wholeness and completeness,
that which will be experienced by you if you find that
spiritual passion indicated by the number two."

"Now, to determine your signature number, you must add 
up the numbers that you have freely, following the
impulses of your inner being, selected: two, seven,
twelve, and thirteen.  Do so and then turn over the
piece of paper before you."

"Thirty-three.  No, that's not right.  Thirty-four!
Yes, thirty-four!" she said anxiously, nervously,
now wanting it to be so, to convince herself and this
mysterious man from India that it was indeed she who
had been chosen for something unclear, but something
important to be sure.  And, "Thirty-four," she said
again (the sum that would have resulted no matter
which numbers she had chosen in the old and easy,
self-working force), and slowly she turned over the
piece of paper, and there was the number thirty-four,
proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Alice, though
she had not known it before, had a mission in this
life and a spiritual path to follow.

"God," she sighed.  "What does it mean?  I mean, what's
going on?  Who are you, and what's this all about?"

"You mean you really don't know yet?" the magician
gently laughed.  "You do know, yes, you do, but your
intellect is, once again, clouding your consciousness.
Within yourself you know.  You know that Baba has
chosen Las Vegas [their present location] as the
spiritual center of the twenty-first century.  We have
only thirteen years -- thirteen, the number you
selected first -- to prepare."

"God, I don't believe this is happening," the girl
laughed with slight discomfort.  "Is this some sort
of crazy joke?"

"Everything has a purpose," the magician said, looking
deeply into her eyes.  "When you first came to Las
Vegas, though you did not know it and thought it was
for other reasons, it was to take the class on Indian
philosophy and to join Baba's center.  The heights,
as the Veda notes, are accessed through the depths.
All has been but preparation for this moment."
Ibid., pp. 304-7.

-- (emailed replies may be posted); 408/2-666-SLUG       FUCK

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