THE WAND OF THE CONJUROR
During the middle ages, conjurers began using wands to imitate their religious counterparts. They began assigning great powers to their instruments. Magic wands were commonly used by European conjurers by the 15th Century. In fact, a gaffed wand, loaded with a rolled-up playing card, was first mentioned in 1740.
Since the 19th Century, tarot cards featured early street-performing conjurers wielding wands. Nineteenth Century French magician Robert-Houdin was probably the first modern magician, i.e. the first magician to discard the robes of the wizard and perform a stage show in a formal gentleman’s attire. Early in the 1800’s, Robert-Houdin wrote of Italian magician Giovanni Bosco using a wand in his act. Bosco wiped the wand with a white handkerchief and tapped a copper globe above his head three times while saying the “magic words” : “Spiriti miei infernali, obedite.” Robert-Houdin also used a wand, black ebony centered with white ivory tips, the tips representing polarity & energy, in the past represented by the copper/steel/crystal tips.
This classic wand has remained with us today as a symbol of the magician’s power.
Modern conjuring wands come in all shapes and sizes. Some wands multiply, change size, droop and break to the touch. Many wands levitate themselves and jump from the hand, some by means of external threads, and others by means of secret internal elastic cords. Other wands, used in pairs, use cords in plain view. These cords appear to shorten, lengthen and are cut & restored at the magician’s whim.
Some wands are used to make handkerchiefs vanish… while others are used to produce such things as coins, handkerchiefs, cigarettes and flowers. Some wands are used to secretly load one object into another. Many magicians use spring-loaded and/or electronic wands to fire pistol blanks, launch confetti or streamers, or shoot flashes of fire. There are, of course, many other kinds of wands too numerous to mention : wands that vanish & reappear, are destroyed & restored, change color and penetrate solid objects, to name a few.
Wands are used for producing, vanishing, transformation and transposition of objects. But they are also secretly used for sleight-of-hand loading, unloading and concealment. And wands are also used in misdirection to distract the audience by spinning, dropping, tapping and pointing with them. Truly the magic wand is a tool of many uses!
Any public appearance without this ancient magical symbol of power voids both the magician’s authority as a creator of miracles and his command of the audience. Unfortunately, the use of magic wands by modern conjurers is on the wane. This nonuse seems to have been initiated by mid-twentieth century stage and television illusionists. Nowadays, wands are used mainly by some close-up workers (especially for the “cups and balls” trick) and “children’s show” performers (who use them mostly in comical routines).
The nonuse of a wand is to the magician’s disadvantage. For as long as children see such movies as Cinderella and other numerous tales of fairy godmothers, Witches and Wizards who use powerful wands (including the current Harry Potter stories), the classical magic wand will still remain as the source of those mysterious powers which allow the magician to accomplish his supernatural tasks.
And when a magician leaves this magical world to enter the next, his peers break his wand in a special ceremony symbolic of his departure. That special tool can no longer be used because its master is now gone.
© Joe Lantiere, 2001