Entire Picture Source: Public Domain Disk
Today when we watch a magic act we can sit and enjoy it without worrying about such things as devil worship, Satan and evil spirits. But it wasn't always this way. You wouldn't have wanted to be a magician in the fourth century AD, for example. The Christian church turned against all magicians then and classified them as devil worshipers. They were branded as evil and it became against the law to perform magic acts. Magic was thought of as witchcraft, which was usually wnot the case. One of the problems with ancient magic was that it wasn't performed for entertainment but for influence and power. If a magician could perform unexplainable feats he might come to the attention of some noblemen and become the "house" magician being asked to predict the outcome of battles and influence events.
Se Osins was the grandson of Ramses the Great, Pharaoh of Egypt. It was said he was a wonder child who, when he attained the age of 12 years, had become the greatest magician ever known. The story goes, that one day an Ethiopian came to the Pharaoh.'s court and claimed he was the greatest magician, but worse, he stated that Egyptian magic was nothing compared to Ethiopian magic. Ramses invited the Ethiopian in. The Ethiopian immediately issued a challenge. He said he had a scroll with a seal on it. He challenged anyone to read it without breaking the seal. But he went further and infuriated the Pharaoh by saying that if no one in Egypt can accomplish reading the scroll, he will go back to Ethiopia where he will tell his king that the Egyptians have weak magic. Pharaoh went to his wise son Setna who in turn spoke to his son Se Osins. When Se Osins heard of the challenge. he laughed and said he was laughing because he was about to bring great glory to Egypt by reading the scroll. Setna found this hard to believe so Se Osins said to his father, go to where the scrolls are kept and get anyone and keep it in your had and I will read it without unrolling it. His son did it. Ramses assembled all in the great hall. The Ethiopian was very confident that no one could read the scroll. Out from behind the throne came Se Osins. He read the scroll. The Ethiopian fell to his knees answering that all the words read were true and called Se Osins a mighty magician and asked to be allowed to leave. Se Osins asked Ramses to allow a magical match to finish this once and for all, he agreed. The Ethiopian called up a poisonous snake. The boy turned the snake into a worm while laughing. The Ethiopian summoned dark clouds which filled the great hall, but again the boy intervened laughing and had all the dark clouds come into his hands where he crushed them all into a ball and threw it out the window. The Ethiopian then sent a wall of flame toward the Pharaoh. Se Osins laughed again and sent the flame back to the Ethiopian who was now wrapped in it. The Ethiopian screamed and the flame went out. The Ethiopian was now just a pile of ashes.
There is a papyrus drawing from 1700 BC showing DEDI, a magician from the time, doing his then famous cup and balls act for royalty. The story on the papyrus goes further. The king cut the head off an Ox and asked DEDI to make it alive again. He joined the head with the body and the Ox stood up.
Brandon was a magician that performed for Henry VIII. A Pigeon was sitting on a window sill in the throne room where Brandon was preparing to perform his act. He took some chalk and drew a picture of the Pigeon Next he took a knife and stuck it into the picture. The Pigeon fell off the window sill dead. This did not produce the desired result for Brandon. The king had him jailed because he felt if he could kill a Pigeon this way, he could also do the same to the king. Lucky for him he was let out a few days later with a warning not to repeat this trick.
Some magic trick are much older than we suspect. I think everyone knows the trick where the lady is sawed in half. But there was a trick that goes back to the Middle Ages called "La decollation de Saint Jean-Baptiste" and this was a decapitation trick.
Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen was a famous 18th century illusionist. He was most famous for The Turk, a chess machine that featured a mannequin of a Turk in a small box that was constructed in 1769 and appeared to be run by a clock work mechanism. Ben Franklin was beaten by this machine in a chess match. If he only would have known that there was a small man hidden within the box! It was constructed in such a way as to fool anyone looking inside.
Magicians began to get their art into print around the 16th century. The first book on magic is thought to be one published in France in 1584 entitled, "First Part of Subtle and Pleasant Tricks" by Jean Prevost. I believe that this might be wrong because the western world has never admitted that they didn't invent printing. The Chinese were printing books a thousand year before that and I bet that somewhere in that time a book on magic was published. Well, be that as it may, the French book is recognized as the first. In early America, Dutch New Amsterdam or what is now New York City, allowed magicians to appear for entertainment purposes while the rest of the colonies forbad them. Jacob Philadelphia traveled Europe in the 18th century and became a very famous magician. He was born in Philadelphia and adopted the name. He wrote the first American magic book in 1774. The book was entitled,"Little Treatise on Strange and Suitable Feats". By 1776 magicians were better accepted in this country.
It amazing in a way, the art of magic has evolved form one that tries to invoke paranormal acts to that of tricks and illusions used for entertainment purposes. I guess when you really got down to it, it must not have been too successful originally. Can you imagine the king asking you, the magician, to cure his wife's warts and you don't succeed. The next think you know you head is being cut off.