Skepticism In Magic

Last Saturday Ken and I were treated to something very special. We had been in Washington state visiting our youngest son and his girlfriend. Since we were on the west coast anyway, Ken wanted to go to Anaheim, CA since he had never been to Disneyland.

It just so happens that DJ Grothe, the president of the James Randi Educational Foundation and his husband, Thomas had just moved out to the LA area. I saw that Thomas had mentioned the move on Facebook and I suggested that he, DJ, Ken and I get together for lunch or something while we were in the area.

Well Thomas took the idea and ran with it, suggesting that the four of us, instead, go to The Magic Castle. If any of you ever watched David Copperfield specials or other magicians specials on TV as a kid, you know about the Magic Castle. For those who don’t, it’s the place where professional magicians go to hang out, talk to each other, refine their art and give short performances for small audiences.

Entry into the Magic Castle is by invitation only. So as a kid I never thought I would be able to walk those hallowed halls. This is the place where master magicians from my childhood walked, talked and crafted their arts. For me it was a once in a lifetime experience.

If you are at all familiar with the Magic Castle then you know that there is only one way in and you have to know the secret password to get past the entry way. I will, of course, not be sharing that secret here.

DJ also treated us to a bit of Castle lore. In the bar area just past the entry sits a pair of red velvet couches next to a window. Unfortunately I cannot recall the name of the gentleman. Hopefully someone will know who it was. He could be found in that seat every night. As I recall from DJ’s story, he spent hours talking to young magicians sharing information.

One of the performances we saw was Jamy Ian Swiss. He did what I would describe as mentalism with playing cards. His act was fantastic and I enjoyed it greatly. What I loved even more was what he said at the end. He spoke about how what he did might seem mystical or magical. It might seem like he was reading people’s minds. But in fact he was not. He even said that he wasn’t reading body language but stressed that there was nothing “psychic” or “precognitivie” about his act.

“I cannot read minds or see the future or your past. No one can do these things.”, he stressed adamantly.

As someone who once believed in psychics, I could not have agreed with him more wholeheartedly. What “psychics” do may seem as if they have some sort of foreknowledge or mind-reading ability. But Mr. Swiss was right. No one has been able to prove that psychic or paranormal abilities exist. People like Uri Gellar and John Edward may have fooled some scientists for a time but no one has been able to show definitive, testable evidence of paranormal or psychic abilities.

After Jamy’s act we had the pleasure of sitting down with him and having a drink while we talked. DJ was kind enough to mention that my blog and my previous life as a Woo Goddess had been spoken about at Nexus. According to DJ, I seem to have become the “Object Lesson” for the JREF and Randi. If you haven’t heard that episode of the Scientific American podcast, you can listen to that

It was just so refreshing to see a stage magician talk about the non-existence of metaphysical powers. The ONLY other stage magician I have seen do that are Penn & Teller. While I understand that people go to magic shows to be dazzled and mystified, I think it’s a waste of a teaching opportunity when other magicians say that what they have done is mystical, mysterious or unexplained.

While we were on the cruise we saw a video of James Randi and astronaut Ed Lu performing the first magic trick in space. After it was over Randi told a story of how he had been talking to someone who asked him, “What do you think the odds are of you both finding the same card that far apart?” To which Randi just grinned and replied “”100 %. It’s a trick.”.



  1. sgerbic said,

    August 15, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Mark Edward took me to the magic castle in January for my first visit. Amazing place isn’t it. Mark worked there for many many years and knew all kinds of history also, which I found fascinating. Mark hadn’t been there for several years so we kept getting hung up with people seeing him and wanting to sit and catch up with him, that was extremely interesting as these are all very talented people with long histories.

    What really bothered me was that you can’t take pictures anywhere inside. I’m a picture nut and not being able to record that night was frustrating. I understand that they need to maintain the mystic of the place, so poor me.

    In fact I think Mark is taking me again this weekend to see an old mentalist friend named Cassidy.

    BTW the “first magic trick in space” isn’t by Randi. I recorded all that video from the cruise and wanted to put it up on Wikipedia I was challenged by someone for some proof that it was indeed the “first”. So I researched it and found out that he was not. An astronaut had done a similar card trick with someone at mission control years before. BooHoo. But it is still amazing.

    NOTE: Wikipedia is awesome, and more factual than you would think.

  2. Nance said,

    August 15, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Years ago, when I was still reading novels, I read Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Apprentice. She gave the history of The Magic Castle in that book and names the magician you’re trying to think of. Was it Dai Vernon?

    I’m so envious! Nobody ever made me an object lesson with such pleasant results.

  3. chase said,

    August 16, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    The name of the magician who sat by the door is Dai Vernon. They called him the professor. A lot of great magicians honed their craft with him. Glad you enjoyed your visit to the Castle.

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