The Many Faces of the Magician

Eugene Burger and I have been working together, creating magical events for magicians for 15 years. We learn a lot from our students and are often amazed at the diversity of magi we attract to our events. We often teach for large groups at major conventions, sometimes hundreds of people at a time. Over the years, we have worked with breaking down these large groups into smaller more personal units. Eugene says, ”The real secrets of magic are passed on from teacher to student in whispers.” I have been fortunate to have studied with master facilitators and have learned many of their techniques. Eugene and I prefer to teach in small groups, giving our students personal attention. At our first Magic and Mystery School, we wanted to encourage a feeling of intimacy, trust, and connection among the participants. I knew it would be important for us to be able to meet in smaller groups, so we created four divisions of people with similar desires, interests, and skills. The theme of each group was one of four aspects of the roles of the magician: the Trickster, the Sorcerer, the Oracle, and the Sage. These four archetypes represent parts of a life cycle, and a learning curve, but of course, there are many other possible combinations of magical masks – or personae – that the actor/magician may choose to play.

The Trickster is fast-talking, and quick-thinking. Tricksters represent the element of Air. Many magicians get into the art of magic around the age of adolescence. The Trickster teaches how to use magic as a way to develop communication skills. The Trickster archetype is also about accumulating information, skills and knowledge. Some magicians stay Tricksters and never feel the need to explore the other archetypes. Some modern day Tricksters have taken this style of magic to a high art. Penn and Teller, Dan Harlan, and Robert Neale all are excellent modern-day examples of performers that exude the Trickster spirit. In the age cycle of the magician, this would represent the birth of our fascination with magic.

The Sorcerer is skillful, disciplined and puts considerable time and energy into their magical work. They evoke the element of Fire. Not only are they interested in their art, they are also interested in honing their skills in stage craft and the theatrical arts. Sorcerers explore movement, music, costuming, diction, and scripting, in addition to the magical effects themselves. Modern-day sorcerers would include magicians like Jonathan Pendragon, Siegfried & Roy, and Lance Burton. Many magicians choose to move into the discipline of the Sorcerer after they’ve explored the archetype of the Trickster to their satisfaction. In the age cycle of the magician, this is the age of physical mastery and would approximately represent the time of the twenties through the forties.

The Oracle becomes more interested in the deeper matters of insight and intuition. They explore subtle techniques of mentalism and psychology. Oracles have learned that magic isn’t always big and loud, but can also be still, and as small as a slip of paper. The elemental correspondence of the Oracle is Water. Exploring the depths of the collective unconscious are modern-day Oracles Max Maven, Derren Brown, and Alain Nu. This would represent the middle stage in the magician’s maturity, from approximately age forty to sixty.

The Sage is the mentor and master of the art, whose work it is to pass on a lifetime of distilled wisdom to those who would seek to drink from this place of wisdom. They represent the element of Earth, patience and power. They are interested in the philosophy and history of magic. Sages are also interested in teaching what they’ve learned, and in keeping the art alive. Modern Merlins such as Eugene Burger, Channing Pollack and Rene Lavand are some of the important Sages in the world today. The Sage represents the later part of a magician’s life, from age sixty on.

We have contemplated these roles of the magician for many years and learned that a well-rounded magician can play any of these roles at different times, or even in the course of a single performance. For example, if I am hired for a show, I might start the evening off as a ‘trickster,” performing some impromptu magic for my client, stage hands or the staff of the theater. During my rehearsal I might keep the mood light by creating moments of humorous magic and comedy to ease the tension or tedium of the day. Towards show time I will slip into my costume and take on the role of the “sorcerer,” commanding the stage, with precision magic technique, scripting, lighting and sound cues -delivering the fire and excitement needed to entertain the large theater audience. After the show I might take a few moments backstage or at the “after–party” to create deeper moments of oracular mystery. Often I will perform a mental piece for a few select friends in a more tranquil setting, perhaps the chill out room of the nightclub or in a more intimate environment for my inner “oracle” to emerge. Later that same night I might meet with a few magic friends or even a person or two that would like to talk about the philosophy and metaphysical aspects of the art. The “Sage” in me can emerge at this time as I dare to share my deeper feelings about magic and art. This is the time when I meet people that have an interest in learning more about the art of magic. I can share information about my favorite books, websites, DVD’s and other source materials to help those interested in deepening their understanding of magic.

Once you become aware that these roles exist, you can experiment with your performance material and present the same effect in a different persona or mask. You might be surprised with the many textures you have hidden within that can emerge when you give yourself permission to explore your inner cast of characters. On my wall at the Magic and Mystery School, I have dozens of masks that are just waiting to tried on when you visit my House of Mystery. It would be my pleasure if you tried a few on!

To begin, you can select just one mask to focus on. Which one do you most often? Which ones do you avoid? Which one of the four faces of the Magician will you choose?

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