Juggler's World: Vol. 39, No. 2

Our Magical Heritage

A Tip of the Hat to Juggling Magicians

Of the several branches of the magic family, our direct ancestor is sleight of hand.

Imagine, if you will, an art form where the audience encourages you to chop, slice and run swords through caged, scantily clad young women. You are urged to decapitate them, vanish them, produce them and hypnotize them to your will - all with no apparent feminist outcry.

And, if it's your fantasy, this art form will let you be bound tightly in leather, locks, and chains while strangers applaud. And imagine being able to take small animals and... but you don't want to know!

This is magic, the world of illusion from which juggling sprang and with which juggling has shared centuries of cohabitation in the family of entertainment arts. This is magic, the ritual of prestidigitation that grew alongside man's earliest inquiries into the mysteries of nature, that parted ways with the voodoo religions of shamans, wizards, alchemists and sorcerers, and that finally gave birth to modern juggling.

In all fairness, juggling has retained some of the "worst" traits of its predecessor. What juggling team doesn't select a lovely "volunteer" from the audience to stand in the middle of a terrifying club passing routine? Anyway...

Of the several branches of the magic family, our direct ancestor is sleight of hand. Prestidigitation means "nimble, quick fingers," and legerdemain means "light of hand." From the European tradition of object manipulation sprang toss manipulation - juggling.

Although true juggling has been around for 4,000 years, it was until about 100 years ago an adjunct to magic. The most prominent "jugglers" of the early vaudeville era were object manipulators, balancers and club swingers. As more performers began turning to true toss juggling, they began distancing themselves from the magic family. But slowly.

In 1902, magicians formed their first modern guild, the Society of American Magicians, a tightly wrapped organization dedicated to promoting magic and maintaining the secrecy of the art. This fraternity reigned for 20 years until a rebellious group, dissatisfied with the elitist, big-city oriented structure of SAM broke off to form the International Brotherhood of Magicians. The rebels have become, in numbers, the world's largest magic organization.

Although both SAM and IBM are now amicable, with presidents of one often becoming presidents of the other and magicians holding dual membership, the split in 1922 was dramatic. Houdini, the president of SAM, was reportedly furious at the split and vowed revenge.

It was fitting, therefore, that the IJA should be formed of the rebel group. Juggling had become an art independent of magic almost 70 years before the 1947 formation of the IJA. Even the magicians who juggled recognized a need to separate the two. The IBM had become too large. Juggling needed room to grow on its own.

There were other reasons, too. There was a growing body of non-magician jugglers on the scene that would lend substance to an independent group. Jugglers within the IBM and SAM often looked down on magicians. Except for the well-respected sleight of hand artists, they considered magicians as tricksters rather than athletes.

Magicians convened in a heavy party atmosphere primarily to show each other tricks. Jugglers, on the other hand, wanted a picnic atmosphere and informal conventions - celebrations rather than meetings. And the magicians' continued tradition of secrecy was stifling the growth of juggling.

Where the schism of SAM and IBM had been something of a loud bang, the formation of the IJA from the IBM didn't even amount to a pin drop. The giant IBM never felt it, and to this day relations between magicians and jugglers are like those of old family members who merely live in separate towns. No magic convention show is complete without at least one juggling act, and a good many jugglers include a little magic in their acts.

With the happy success of the IJA and juggling in general, it has become difficult to keep the magnitude of our big brother in perspective. The sweep of magic can be grasped in a few facts: the IBM alone has 11,000 members, with conventions the size of the IJA's membership roll; they have more regional conventions and "conclaves" than we have clubs; their clubs are spread across the nation sometimes two or three to a city.

Their structure is perfect for fostering growth. As fraternal organizations along the line of Elks, Moose and Lions, they draw the joiners. As guilds, they virtually require membership of working magicians. Unlike jugglers, the top cream of magic professionals invariably belong to one or more magic associations.

Despite their insistence on secrecy, magic literature dwarfs the body of juggling literature as a library does a single shelf. Dozens of books and periodicals are published monthly, many for the bookstore and library trade. The IBM's monthly publication, "The Linking Ring," runs to nearly 160 pages, crammed with prop advertisers, announcements of get-togethers and reports on meetings. Magicians have even had a weekly publication, "Abracadabra," published continuously since 1946, before the IJA was born.

Although the IBM has shed some of the hocus-pocus that characterized the early SAM, it still insists on absolute adherence to an ethic of secrecy. Without being terribly inaccurate, this can be summed up in the dictum that it's fine to sell a secret but not to give it away - just about the reverse of the jugglers ethic.

Admission into the parent body requires the signatures of two members, a requirement the IJA long ago dropped. And admission to local clubs requires an audition and a monthly demonstration of a new trick - requirements that would kill juggling, which places great emphasis on encouraging beginners.

The hide-bound nature of the formal magic organizations may be contributing to a general staleness. Two writers in a recent issue of "Second Sight" called for changes in the way magicians approach magic, pointing out that the last major revolution in magic was 120 years ago.

In 1868 magicians began discarding their sorcerer's apprentice persona to dress as their audience did, the better to set off their miraculous powers. Unfortunately, they have been dressing and performing like it was 1868 ever since. There has been less emphasis on presentation than on technical skill - a discussion that jugglers have conducted for some time.

The appearance of punk magicians Penn and Teller has stirred controversy in the magic world. They sometimes explain tricks, mingle with their audience during intermission and perform both high- and low-tech mysteries with a toga party atmosphere. The demands of the new vaudeville style are just beginning to make an impression on established magicians, and a long overdue second revolution may be at hand. Ironically, juggling will be leading the way.

The application pledge of the IBM

These folks are serious:

"...I further pledge specifically that I will not be guilty of exposing as defined by the Code of Ethics, to wit: Exposing shall consist in offering for public consumption any of the secrets of principles of the magician's art excepting 1) that in recognition of the necessity for providing and assisting in the propagation of conjuring, books and manuscripts explaining the secrets of magic may be offered for distribution to or through any and all reputable established dealers in magic goods; and 2) that in recognition of the necessity for the creation of new interest in and the bringing of new proselytes to the art of magic, any book may be offered for sale to the general public through any reputable established publisher provided the book may be construed as creating and promoting interest in magic and provided that the said book shall not be sold for less than the sum of two dollars retail.

"I further pledge that I shall never offer my services as an entertainer without proper compensation, understanding that offering my services as an entertainer strictly for charitable purposes shall not be considered a violation of my pledge.

"I agree that should I be found and adjudged guilty of violating any of the foregoing pledges, I shall be expelled from membership, not only from membership of the IBM, but also from any or all affiliated Rings of this organization of which I am a member for such period as may be fixed thereafter by the Brotherhood, in which event I shall surrender my membership card in both the IBM and any affiliated Ring or Rings of which I may be a member upon request and without recourse.

"To all the foregoing I hereby pledge upon my honor and subscribe my name:"

Our Magical Heritage / Index, Vol. 39, No. 2 / jis@juggling.org
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