Have you ever seen an illusion that created a mystery, but you weren’t sure exactly what the mystery was? Sometimes the performer isn’t sure either.  

I once attended a Bob Cassidy lecture. For those of you who may not be familiar with Bob he was one of the great mentalists of our generation. During the lecture he said that performers need to know exactly what the effect is that they are trying to create in the minds of their audience. He said that the effect does not need to be explicitly stated. It can be silent, known only to the performer and therefore a “silent script,” however if the effect is not known to the performer then it cannot be experienced by the audience.

The Silent Script is about the intent of the performer. Are you, for instance, trying to create the illusion of ESP or are you trying to suggest that an outside entity is influencing events?

In his monumental book The Trick Brain, Darriel Fitzkee suggested a list of possible effects. Many years later Derren Brown explored the same theme in his great work Absolute Magic. The best of the best work with scripts and they fully understand the effects they work to create in the minds of their audience.

As a writer, the adage, “Show don’t tell” has been engrained in my mind. I prefer to know exactly what it is I am trying to create but I rarely explicitly state it. For instance, if I am trying to make a ball disappear, I might take that ball into my hand, make a kneading motion with the fingers that hold it, perhaps make a magical gesture with my free hand, and then slowly open my hand to show that the ball has vanished. I likely won’t say, “I will now vanish a ball from my hand.” I don’t need to state that I am going to cause a ball to vanish because that fact should be obvious from my actions.

Every magical entertainer whether a mentalist or magician needs to know what the “effect” is, but this more often than not should remain a silent script in order to create wonder. Theatrical films of the 30s and 40s, both horror and film noir used suggestion and shadow to create suspense and mystery – the human mind will create so much more if you suggest instead of explicitly state. Our silent script is our suggestion to our audience telling them in subliminal ways what they should believe about what they are seeing demonstrated.

“Effects” may be accomplished in several ways. As well as a silent script for the effect performers should consider also the silent script for how they want their audiences to perceive the effect is being accomplished.

Effects may be accomplished:

By deceptive means, that is, by manipulation of natural events so as to create the illusion of a supernatural or metaphysical phenomenon. This is what is commonly referred to as modern magic.

By the power of the human mind. This is referred to as psychic phenomena.

By the agency of a third party, supernatural being acting in conjunction with or independent of a natural host.

By the manipulation or coercion of a third party, supernatural being by a human being. 

So, based on the lists suggested by Derren Brown and Darriel Fitzkee, the following are some of the possibilities when it comes to the creation of magical effects: 

Mental Effects: 

Psychic Phenomena – Supernatural occurrences that are most commonly associated with the abilities of the well disciplined or highly developed natural mind.

Teleportation – the ability to pass matter through space by converting it to energy and then reestablishing it at a terminal or predetermined point.

Telekinesis or psychokinesis – the ability to move, disturb, heat, or otherwise affect an object with the force of mental concentration.

Hypnotic control – to influence the actions or choices of another or others via psychological suggestion.

Sympathetic response – to be in sympathy is to agree.  This is the ability to enter into another person’s mental state and thereby influence their choices or actions such that the two operate in perfect unity.

Clairvoyance – to see that which is beyond the normal range of vision.

Clairaudience – to hear that which is beyond the normal range of hearing.

Precognition – the ability to accurately foresee a future outcome.

I personally dislike precognitive effects. I find it unbelievable. I prefer to see it as thought transference, the spectator is reading my mind.   

Telepathy – the ability to transfer thought from one mind to another, to transmit or receive thought.

Psychometry – the ability to obtain knowledge about an object or about a person connected with an object through contact with the object. 

Divination – to detect or to discover by intuitive means.

Rapid Calculation – the computation of mathematical equations beyond the normal range of human intelligence.

Phenomenal Memory – to retain and recall a series or sequence beyond the normal range of human intelligence.

Biological Anomalies include the following:

Vivification – To bring to life or endow with life. The Golem is an excellent example of a vivification, Frankenstein’s monster is another. I have caused a doll to come to life from time to time. 

Bio-feedback or biorhythmic control.

Life Transfer – to transfer the life animating force from one host to another or to project it through space, away from the body.

Physical anomalies. 

Then we have effects normally associated with Spiritualism. As I believe in the basic tenants of Spiritualism, I do not perform these effects out of respect for the beliefs of Spiritualists. Even if I didn’t believe, I would still refrain from the performance of these effects out of respect for those that do believe.

Spiritualistic phenomenon includes the manifestation of spirit or alien entities, apparitions – visual, auditory, olfactory, and Death Sense – the sense of a loss of someone.

Synchronicity is in a class by itself. Synchronicity is according to Carl Jung, “The coincidence of events in space and time as meaning something more than mere chance.” It is the working together of factors that we do not fully understand to produce a coincidence. 

And then we have what I like to call the effects of conventional magic. These are supernatural, but they tend to be more visual or physical then mental or spiritual.

Productions or Creations bring an object, person, or animal from not being to being.

Vanish or Disappearance bring an object, person, or animal from being to not being.

Transformations change one thing into something totally different in color, size, shape, design, substance, constitutional nature, weight. 

Transpositions take a person, animal, or object from being here to being there. 

The defiance or suspension of natural law might include such things as:

Anti-gravity, suspension or levitation of an object or person in space. These effects are similar to telekinesis except that movement may be affected by other means than the human mind.  A suspension holds a person or object in place in defiance of gravity while a levitation moves that object or person through space.

Animation is also a defiance or suspension of natural law. An example of an animation would be Blackstone’s dancing handkerchief. Animation is similar to vivification. 

Matter through matter enables the penetration of solid through solid.

Restoration of matter after it is damaged or destroyed.

Invulnerability effects bring to mind such illusions as the sword basket or sawing in half which raises the point of this piece – taking for instance the sword basket, is the performer demonstrating invulnerability or is this a vanish and reappearance? The performer does not need to tell the audience which he or she has in mind, but the performer should know.

Rapid Germination. An example of this is Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin’s famous “Marvelous Orange Tree.”

This list is not necessarily complete nor is it the only classification scheme. My purpose was not to create an encyclopedia of effects but simply to suggest that the performance of magic is enhanced when performers of magic are intentional about the effects they are trying to create in the minds of their audience.

Much love,

David Dellman