Are there any historical references to medieval magic?



A Modern English Rendering of Those Portions of the 16th Century English Text Dealing With Legerdemain

(Modern English Text and Commentary Copyright 1994-98 by Neil Alexander)

Originally published in 1584 in London. Authored, by Reginald Scot a justice of the peace in Kent, England.

In the 1500s witch-hunts were sweeping continental Europe and Scotland, and would soon engulf England with the coronation of the anti-witch activist, King James I, in 1603. Scot's work was intended as an argument against the existence of witches, and a protest to the rising tide of persecution.

A very small portion, 22 pages out of 283 in the Dover Publications reprint, was devoted to performance magic, and became the basis for many of the books on magic tricks that appeared over the centuries following the printing of Discoverie.

“The Discoverie of Witchcraft “ was written in 16th century Elizabethan English, and is filled with archaic spelling and phrasing along with obsolete expressions common to those times. Shakespeare's first plays appeared six years after the publication of Scot's work and the English is similar, although the student of poetry will search Scot's writing in vain for any examples of iambic pentameter.

It is a meticulously well researched study on the practice of witchcraft; and also touches on astrology, alchemy, divination, and more. The text presents logical evidences of the witches self-delusions or outright fraud.

The complete work covering charms; the names of demons, angels and other words of power; spells; rituals; sabbats; biblical and Egyptian magic; and much more, was researched with such academic integrity that the Discoverie remains a much-quoted primary source for those interested in the occult sciences and magic history, whether believers or not.

Scot was guided in writing the sections of the book dealing with legerdemain by John Cautares, a 16th century French sleight-of-hand artist who made his living as a laborer and resided in London. The sections devoted to magic tricks contain valid explanations of many effects still performed today, but include very little instruction on the handling of the sleights.

The chapters were written with tremendous respect for the art of legerdemain, which it discusses using that very term. Scot emphasizes that he considers such entertainments to be to the betterment of society and its citizens, and not the work of the devil or his allies.

The text holds little back in exposing the use of misdirection, manipulation, confederacy, and many other tools of the magician in surprising detail considering the relatively small space allotted to the subject. Not only does he reveal much sleight of hand, but also larger effects that can be compared to what we have come to regard as full sized stage illusions.

Among the many techniques and gimmicks "discovered" are: magicians' wax, double-sided coins, various finger palms, classic palming, coin shells, the classic force, lapping, loading for cups and balls, threads, false shuffling, second dealing, confederacy, "bar bets" (as they would be called today), mentalism including a simple second sight-style code, false bottomed boxes, paddle tricks, the double-tape (grandmother's necklace) principle, a four hundred year old sophisticated version of the "magic coloring book", and much more.

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