The Nature of Magic | ARTURO DE ASCANIO

A Baroque Transposition

As Performed by Arturo de Ascanio


Natural Magic

VS.

Naturalness

Natural magic is the disorderly attempt to create or produce harmonious actions through flawed observation of law and order.

There exists laws and rules to everything in existence and the history of humanity is one of observing what we can and trying to apply what we perceive to influence, control, and direct the world.

When we correctly understand what we observe and why it is happening we are able to apply those concepts to achieve desirable effects for real. The history of magic is filled with people misunderstanding the world around them and trying to, or pretending to create those same desired effects but with a distorted understanding of cause and effect.


"If my analysis of the magician's logic is correct, its two great principles turn out to be merely two different misapplications of the association of ideas. Homoeopathic magic is founded on the association of ideas by similarity: contagious magic is founded on the association of ideas by contiguity. Homoeopathic magic commits the mistake of assuming that things which resemble each other are the same: contagious magic commits the mistake of assuming that things which have once been in contact with each other are always in contact. But in practice the two branches are often combined; or, to be more exact, while homoeopathic or imitative magic may be practised by itself, contagious magic will generally be found to involve an application of the homoeopathic or imitative principle. Thus generally stated the two things may be a little difficult to grasp, but they will readily become intelligible when they are illustrated by particular examples. Both trains of thought are in fact extremely simple and elementary. It could hardly be otherwise, since they are familiar in the concrete, though certainly not in the abstract, to the crude intelligence not only of the savage, but of ignorant and dull-witted people everywhere. Both branches of magic, the homoeopathic and the contagious, may conveniently be comprehended under the general name of Sympathetic Magic, since both assume that things act on each other at a distance through a secret sympathy, the impulse being transmitted from one to the other by means of what we may conceive as a kind of invisible ether, not unlike that which is postulated by modern science for a precisely similar purpose, namely, to explain how things can physically affect each other through a space which appears to be empty."James George Frazer

Arturo de Ascanio considered A Baroque Transposition to be one of his Minor Miracles. It is a beautiful piece of magic in which he combines both nature and naturalness in order to enchant and deceive.


Natural Magic

The natural magic is played out when he invisibly grabs the two cards, flutters his hand, crosses his arms over, and invisibly exchanges them. This is not just a playful act which demonstrates what is suppose to magically transpire with those two cards. This is the magician enacting out an imaginary magical ritual which supposedly causes the two cards to transpose.

This magical gesture is of extreme importance because it not only narrates the plot of the effect to the audience, it also apparently is the cause of the magical effect.

Magic makes sense.

Magic makes sense because it is supposed to make sense. The reason magic creates a feeling of wonder in us is because it follows logical rules. The magician has power and knowledge to influence this world. The magic must flow in alignment with logic from either or both the magician's power and hidden knowledge.

Nothing random that is presented is ever considered to be magic. Mystery does not equate magic. Something that is not understood can be mysterious but it is not always magical. The reason magic works is because there are rules that we all understand and the magician is apparently able to override those rules through his or her power and knowledge.

We know that playing cards are lifeless inanimate objects coated with ink. This ink doesn't randomly change or transform every single second in front of our eyes. If we had a computer screen in front of us showing two cards, one on the left and one of the right, and every second the program caused these two cards to switch places we would understand that the computer has a code that's written to create an image and that our computer screen lights up every single pixel to correspond with that program. If we had even the most basic experience with computers this situation would not create any wonder in us as we would understand that computer screens are able to produce different images instantly. Physical objects such as playing cards are different. We know these objects are stable and inanimate. These rules are observed and understood by the audience.

If two different cards were to suddenly change places we would understand that something impossible happened but this may be confusing as it brashly conflicts with our understanding of reality with no cause or explanation. When a magician presents two different objects and acts out a ritual that connects with us emotionally and logically we experience wonder. That wonder is the effect of witnessing natural magic.


Unnatural Naturalness

Above we explored the art of natural magic, which is magic that is unscientific; meaning not real, but logically understood, processed, and accepted by people when they experience it.

That is the naturalness in the artistic side of magic. Naturalness also occurs in the technical side of magic and has a separate definition and effect. The artistic naturalness is used to create a narrative and the technical naturalness in magic is used to deceive.

A magician deceives through presenting a sequence that is incorrectly accepted as corresponding with reality. This is achieved through many means which all rely on the audience not actually understanding what is actually occurring in front of them.

Every action the magician makes must look like it should.

 In order to successfully execute these deceptions the magician's actions must appear natural. Any unnaturalness will draw the audience's attention so that they question the validity of the magician's actions.

Imagine, if you will, seeing a magician shuffle a deck of cards carelessly throughout an evening's performance. Let's say the magician now asks a member of the audience to draw out a card, commit it to memory, and place it back in the pack to lose it. Now the magician suddenly very carefully "shuffles" the pack. This shuffle is nothing like any of his other shuffles that he performed throughout the evening. The audience may not necessarily be able to follow this new shuffle with their eyes but they feel that magician is somehow controlling this shuffle and that their card is not actually lost.

Here is natural instinct and here is control. You are to combine the two in harmony, now if you have one to the extreme, you will be very unscientific. If you have another to the extreme, you will all of a sudden be a mechanical man, no longer a human being. It is a successful combination of both. Therefore, it is not naturalness or unnaturalness. The ideal is Unnatural Naturalness or Natural Unnaturalness.
- Bruce Lee

One of the primary objectives of the magician is to enchant the audience with their magic and in order to accomplish that goal the audience must be deceived. The audience may or may not know that the magician is deceiving them through their physical actions but they must not suspect or feel that any deception is taking place.

The magician works in two realities; one that only they see and one that they present to the audience. Once the audience feels that they are being cheated the spell is broken, they are able to penetrate the magical atmosphere and see what the magician is trying to keep hidden instead of the offered narrative.

Everyone of the magician's actions must seem natural even if they don't correspond with the truth. It is necessary to study and practice in order to achieve this unnatural naturalness.


These are two tools used in magic used to enchant and deceive. Arturo de Ascanio was a master of structuring his magic effects in order to exploit the two types of naturalness apparent in his body of work.