On Keeping Secrets


The illusionist magician lives in a perpetual state of disillusionment. The magician knows how it is done. There are no secrets anymore. The magician can no longer feel what it is to experience the impossible. Every soap bubble once floating in the air has become nothing more than a wet stain on the ground.

Every magician has experienced the emotional upset of those who beg to know how the trick is done. If the magician relents, and gives up the secret, rather than being greeted with thanks, the magician is met with hidden and not-so-hidden resentment.

The spectators know, rationally, that there is no such thing as impossible, that there has to be a thread or a gimmick or a gaff, but they were hoping for something more romantic, something less pedestrian.  They start to feel stupid and angry that they could be fooled by pieces of tin foil. They wanted the Wizard of Oz but instead got the huffing man in a tattered suit pulling levers behind the curtain. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”—but it is too late, the feeling of impossible has burst.

So magicians strive to keep our audiences in that state where they can hold onto a feeling that they rarely get to experience: the wonder of the impossible. It would be cruel to take that away. We are not trying to change anyone’s belief system, but to provide the experience of a feeling that is in short supply.

But what of the magician? Magicians as a group can be cynical, knowing how easy it is to fool the human mind and our senses. We are anesthetized, we can no longer feel in the same way as our audiences. If our approach to magic is only to prove our power, superiority, and cleverness over our audiences, then we will be trapped in a loveless relationship.

The only way out of the dilemma is to acknowledge that our goal as magicians is to  provide the feeling of the impossible to our audiences, and that in return we are dependent upon them for our feeling. Our job is to fan their spark into a fire, so that in feeling the audience’s glow, we magicians may share in the warmth of that fire.

We give a gift, and our pleasure—and salvation—is watching theirs. In that, the audience gives their gift to us, and we are thankful to them.

(With thanks to magician Simon Aronson for first exploring this topic of Disillusionment.)