Divination Rites and Sleight-of-Hand, or: Mixing Magic with Magic

Precursory Research:
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Ching

   I used to perform/work at a bar in Manhattan. At the time, I was playing around with an effect called Imagination Coins by Garrett Thomas. The effect, as sold, is essentially a clever coins across routine. While it uses quarters, and these are more normal than using half or silver dollars, I never liked the idea of bringing out my own four quarters to perform this effect. At the same time, people these days don’t consistently carry change on them, so asking to borrow four quarters (that look relatively the same) was out of the question, and changing them in the register was unlikely since we never kept loose change.

   I thought about a way to normalize my quarters, and was drawn back to the I-Ching. The I-Ching is an ancient Chinese divination text and ritual, used to provide insight into your life. One of the casting methods of the ritual is accomplished with the use of 3 coins. I decided I could introduce these quarters as my casting coins (at the same time normalizing them by introducing an even more foreign object in comparison: an I-Ching booklet), administer an I-Ching divination with the participant, and then follow-up with the Imagination Coins routine. Conceptually, the effect fit with the I-Ching’s focus on self-actualization and the power of visualization or imagination, and the idea of balancing and contrasting sleight-of-hand magic with more individual ritual and divination had been exploring for some time.

   However, after performing this series numerous times, I quickly found that even though these performances were conceptually linked, the magic that both of them represented were entirely different, and my participants exhibited confused reactions after the whole experience. Either they identified with the more occult magic of the I-Ching and followed up with the fortunes the ritual told, quickly moving on from the sleight-of-hand, or they were extremely responsive to the sleight-of-hand, and diminished the reading of the fortunes.

   Performed independently, both ‘effects’ received stronger reactions than when performed in tandem. To some degree, this response represents a cultural marker, a certain point in time for magic, in both occult and entertainment forms. I feel that one’s perception of magic is rooted so deeply in personal experience, has been cultivated and delineated over time, that at the moment of witnessing anything magical, one’s reaction, or belief structure towards it, has inevitably already been set.

   At the same time, I believe that there is some way to harmonize these various degrees of and approaches to magic, both for pure entertainment and for personal change and occultism, combining them into a greater effect than either of them could have enacted on their own. However, I have not yet found that way.

-- J.R.