Read an Excerpt
Easy-to-Master Mental Magic
By James L. Clark
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2009 James L. Clark
All rights reserved.
Welcome to the wonderful world of mentalism. If you skipped the Preface, which most modern readers do these days, I'd encourage you to hit the back button and knock it out; in other words, let your fingers do the walk'n, and turn the page back. It's a quick read that sets up why I authored this book in the first place. But if you insist on continuing to read this, fine. Let's just move on then, and I'll repeat myself a little to bring you up to speed with my rather cheeky motivations, albeit, not entirely.
Here's what I promise. For the next day or so as you pilot your way through the pages of this book, I'll serve as your navigator. With a map and strategic plan in hand, I'll tell you when to put your finger on the button and drop massive mental bombs on unsuspecting members of the public, shaking their foundations and crumbling any preconceived notions they've ever held about what is, and was is not reality.
Prior to his untimely death in 1942, Theodore Annemann often said that mentalism was the grown up form of magic—a view now held almost universally by those of us who practice this, what used to be seen as the stepchild of the conjuring arts. I agree with Annemann and my contemporaries who have come to embrace this concept, for more reasons than I can possibly articulate in a single tome; I've calculated it, and it would actually take some 1327 pages to properly initiate you into the intricacies of why mentalism is so much better than your standard run of the mill visual magic—such as the kind performed by that strange old dude with a gimmicked deck of cards down at the local pub, who smells of moldy cheese, and seems heck bent on mixing blue humor with a shoddy presentation of pick a card. But fear not, what I can do is get you started down an exciting path full of wonder, amazement, and immeasurable joy—if you want to continue that is ...
You do? Great!
Well, the first thing I guess I should do is actually define just what mentalism is, and just what it is not.
Some associate the term with George du Maurier's 1984 character Svenhali from the novel Trilby—they think mentalists are sinister men dressed in all black, with jet-black hair, an pronounced widow's peak that's reminiscent of Anton LaVey meets 1930s Mickey Mouse, who with evil intent manipulate others—especially young attractive women—for personal benefit. Okay, in fairness, that properly describes at least two fraternal brothers I can think of in our loose knit collective of magic misfits, but certainly not all of us. Of course, how you choose to dress and wear your own hair, is entirely up to you. I'll forgive you if you feel it's necessary to perpetuate this totally unfounded stereotype as a cry for help, to get attention, or bookings. At least the latter makes sense.
Mentalism is the art of using natural means to create the illusion of having supernatural abilities. I'm not talking about leaping over a tall building with a single bound, stopping bullets with your chest (though mentalists do perform the classic bullet catch—twelve of whom didn't recover from the effect of a real bullet smashing into their body), or shooting a heat ray from your yokes. What I'm referring to is feigning of what paranormal researcher Rudolf Tischner called Extra Sensory Perception (ESP)—or a sixth sense. J.B. Rhine of Duke University later adopted it and defined it to include psychic abilities such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and so on.
To put it in perspective, we mentalists are nothing more than magicians who use our five senses to create the illusion of a sixth. Also called mental magic, and more recently, psychological illusions, we fool people into thinking that we can read their minds, tell the future, or even move things without touching them. And it is that ability that makes us unique.
What mentalism it is not, is real. To put it bluntly, we're liars incarnate. Charlatans. Frauds. Deceivers. We are actors playing the role of a psychic. We are entertainers who fake mind reading, precognition, telekinesis, pyrokinesis, and other such nonsense for friends, family, and even groups of corporate executives at a party for some serious coin. That's right, some of us get paid, and some of us don't. But all of us are full of it the same, and we do it because we love it—and the people we do it for, well they love it too.
Unlike visual magic—such as producing a rabbit from a hat or finding a chosen card that's been lost into the pack—we mess with the minds of our victims. Yes, victims. After all, we slay people—and we don't need a sword or fancy props to do it either. You really can do mentalism anytime, anywhere, and with pretty much anybody. And it's how it impacts people that makes mentalism so absolutely amazing. There's really nothing like having someone seemingly invade the dark and uncharted recesses of your own brain, pluck a thought right out, and then parade it around for others to see. People forget coin tricks, sponge balls, thimble routines, and a dancing hanky because they know—in every way—that it's not remotely real. It's amusing. It's a trick. That's just not the case with a mentalist effect.
Anyone who's ever performed a mind reading effect can attest to this: when you appear connect with them and then reveal what they're focusing on, they're not sure if it's real or not. What's funny, is they don't start with the premise that it is fake—as is natural with visual magic—instead, they try, at worst, to argue against their first assumption that it is real. Even when you tell people you're using tricks, they still look at you with that look—as if to say, "Sure it is."
One of the things I love about mentalism is that what I perform lingers in their imagination for weeks, months, and even years. What they remember is what happened to them, not what they saw. It's what they felt. It's the visceral feeling it gave them. Visual magic can't contend with that kind of power. Their are few magicians I've ever seen impact people on that level with visual magic. Cyril Takayama, one of my good friends, and a person I immensely respect, is only one of a handful of people I've ever witnessed shake people like that with visual magic. Another was David Blaine. We were in Las Vegas relaxing in his cabana, eating chips and salsa, and he did a coin bend for the cocktail waitress. Really, a coin bend is what I would call visual mentalism, and the girl started shaking. She really didn't know what hit her; she was honestly on the verge of crying. You can't do that with a card trick—it will never have the same effect on a person's psyche. Mentalism plays to our primal instincts; it plays to our need for there to be something bigger in the universe than ourselves. David's learned how to tap into that emotion by how he presents himself and how he communicates with people. That's important. Presentation plays a major role in how magic, of any kind, comes across to those we share it with. Derren Brown is one of the best modern examples I've seen of a performer who knows how to harness what I'm talking about here. His personality, coupled with his understanding of mentalism and how to share it, has resulted in a unique combination that has made him one of the hottest mentalists in the last 50 years.
Now I will concede that mind magic may not "look" as good on television as something like a levitation will, but that doesn't matter because visual magic's one consistent attribute is that it's forgettable; plucking coins off imaginary invisible hooks that are supposedly floating in the air as the premise to a coin production, is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever witnessed. Do you really think people take that seriously? Likewise, cutting and restoring a pure white rope that nobody has ever seen on the shelves of their local hardware store (screams gimmick or prop), putting a cell phone in a balloon for a drunk tourist on the Strip in Las Vegas, or making a card appear over, and over, and over, and over Ad nauseam to the top of the deck is cute at best; these tricks are a novel punctuation in a person's day as they make their way on to more important events. Up close and personal, tricks of the mind can't be beat—believe me. Closeup and stage magic is entertaining, but nobody runs after the magician when they see an ambitious card routine and seek to start up a religion—much to the dismay of many magicians who love to utter the phrase, "This trick is a real reputation maker. You could start a religion with it." In the West, that's not going to happen. If you're a visual magician and that's your goal, you might want to move somewhere where people still worship rocks and think photography steals their soul.
My point is, I perform mentalism because I appreciate the impact that the art I practice has on those around me. Mentalism moves people. Very few magicians I know have that as their goal; as I noted, Cyril is one of the few exceptions I've seen, and I deeply value how he represents our art to the world. As you mature as an artist, you learn that magic and mentalism shouldn't be about you at all, it should be all about the people you're sharing with. Magic, especially card tricks and the like, tend to be all about the magician himself (some more narcissistic and egotistical than others); he might as well have "Look at me, look at me, look at me ..." tattooed on his forehead. Most mentalists, even the ones with egos the size of the Titanic, still make their performances about the people they've involved—and I respect that. So should you.
Another downside for the average magician is, everybody knows a magician when they see him coming, and most people walk the other direction when they do; magicians aren't afforded the same level of respect as they used to be in the days of Houdini, Blackstone, and Merlin. Well, Merlin was fictional. Him and characters like Harry Potter are given more respect than magicians are these days. Sadly. But for the mentalist, that's a good thing. The more hokey and boring magicians are around us, the more poorly produced magic shows get air time on television featuring little blond teen girls doing linking rings on the street, the more the general public will respect strong mental magic when they experience it. The more magicians perform in restaurants with little red sponge balls, or randomly accost people to show them one handed cuts, the better we mentalist look. Hooray for us! More about that later.
Therein is the upside of mentalism—people are amazed. Sometimes they're shaken to their very core. The down side is that your life will never be the same again. Mentalism is addicting. It's not the effects that change you from within, it's the way people react to the effects. It's the power they posses. Reactions are like a drug, and that sensation, that feeling, takes over. Pretty soon, you'll be doing one, two, maybe up to fourteen tricks a day for total strangers you meet at the coffee shop. And, they'll want you to. You'll be in line at the grocery store and feel compelled to enter into deep conversations with the woman in front of you buying cantaloupes. And she'll want you to. Your pastor, priest, or spiritual leader will begin to ask you for advice or suspect you're in league with the devil. Some people will even run away from you, and crowds will gather with pitchforks, clubs, and torches to burn effigies of your likeness, chanting, "Kill the witch, kill the witch." And that's just on Tuesday. It's just what happens. Once you make the leap to mentalism, even if you've done magic before, it changes you and how others see you.
I started performing mentalism over 20 years ago, and I've never successfully completed a rehab program—ever. Like a street pharmaceutical, it infiltrated my life and consumed me. All semblance of a normal life ceased to exist the moment I first made a cigarette burst into flames without touching it. When I was able to pluck a young woman's phone number right out of her mind, and she then game me permission to call her, I knew it was for me. I still shiver when I think about the power mentalism has. If you're not careful, you'll start to neglect other things in your life though. I've considered quitting, but I never can seem to muster it. Every time I've tried to drop it cold turkey, I fall right off the wagon and onto the business end of a felt tip marker (we use those a lot; if the reference doesn't yet click, it soon will). It's pretty ugly. It's messy. It's even harder to get out of a white dress shirt. So I'm warning you now, don't turn the page and continue reading this book unless you are willing to accept full responsibility for what happens to you next. Because once you do, I refuse to be held accountable for your new found addiction.
But if you're ready ... You're going to learn some of the most powerful and closely guarded secrets known to man. Kneel now and face due North. Begin chanting "I can read your mind, I can read your mind, I can read your mind ..." Because in a moment my friend, that statement will become a reality.
Here we go.
—James L. Clark Las Vegas, NVCHAPTER 2
THINGS TO THINK ON
Do you know what you have in your hands right now? Think about it my friend, it's not a trick question—though, that would be both apropos and amusing to me. You may feel the need to jump back with the obvious answer, "Well, a book stupid. You wrote it James, so why are you asking me questions like that?" Because there's more to it than that. You don't just hold compressed wood pulp formed into paper, stamped with black ink, forming words, that weighs about as much as a fat diabetic hamster with a proclivity to eat cheesy poofs and chocolate doughnut covered pancakes. The correct answer is—secrets. Yes sir, you heard me right. It's a collection of some incredible secrets—some really good ones, some devilish ones, some so clever that you'll not believe it once you dig in, read them, and then finally put them to use. That's what you really hold in your hands. Oh, yeah, and it's a real book.
There's a reason I make fun of the so-called mentalism books shoveled out each year by hack performers—it's because most of them are just looking to make a buck off people like you and me. You'll see, I'll rant more on it in a moment. And I suppose I'm a little arrogant about books—I like real ones. The kind you hold in your hand. I don't think an electronic file is a "book", unless it's written as a book first. The only thing an ebook has in common with a real book that can sit on shelves in our homes to collect dust, or be sold at book stores with coffee, is the fact that words are technically involved in making both of them—I say technically, because some of the people writing ebooks can hardly string together coherent sentences. Maybe that's the genesis of my ire—I'm not impressed that anyone with a computer and too much free time on their hands, can pretend to be an author by installing free blog soft ware, and then hock their wares to the unsuspecting public online. The "information age" sucks. Trying to find valuable information on the Internet about mentalism (indeed about anything) these days is tantamount to trying to take a sip of water from a firehouse blasting full bore at your face—it's not impossible, but damn near close to it. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone is dying to be seen as an expert. I guess knowing that I've been hoodwinked into buying much of that information, could also be why I complain so loudly about it. All I want is value for money man, is that too much to ask? Put it in a book and hand it to me.
Make no mistake about it, there are tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of mental magic tricks in existence, in as many volumes, by as many pontificators, hidden away in as many dark and damp back rooms of dirty little magic shops on every continent. Some are of value, and some are not. I know, I've been to most of those stores, and the vast majority smell like a combination of musty locker-rooms, sweat socks, and two-month old wheat bread that's been left in the rain, and then stored in a plastic bag for several days to dry—twice, so it's properly aged.
The secrets in this book have been kept protected for time immemorial. In part because nobody wants to go in those shops—no, seriously, nobody does. But more importantly, before now, even if you did go into the shop, they'd not let you have access to them. Only the most worthy and brave souls would be initiated into the inner sanctum. I remember back in my day, if you wanted these secrets, you'd be instructed to go on a vision quest and you'd have to overcome nearly insurmountable obstacles. Only the strongest of heart made it. I personally had to kill 41 mythical beasts along the way, including a Liger. It's pretty much my favourite animal ever. It's a mix between a lion and a tiger ... They're bred for their skills in magic.
Then, I successfully navigated a massive labyrinth filled with all manner of danger. Even after all of that, when I finally did drag my half-dead butt out of the biting cold, I had to deliver large bags of gold coins to the shop-keep in exchange for what you now hold in your hands. Oh fine, laugh. Be that way. Listen, this isn't a flash back to my Dungeons and Dragons days here. I know you think that I'm kidding—I'm not. This is real.
Here's the truth. You're getting the cream of the crop. What potentially could have costs you three goats, a sacrificial lamb, two partridges in a pear tree, some hard cold cash, and an awkward moment with some loser online—you stole for less than the cost of a couple cups of gourmet coffee at that shop on the corner, across from that other shop, on that other corner.
Excerpted from Easy-to-Master Mental Magic by James L. Clark. Copyright © 2009 James L. Clark. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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