Magicians have a long history, from street magic in the 1400s, to the most infamous, jaw-dropping performances of our generations.
It’s important to know where you came from before you can really understand where you’re going.
To appreciate all the work magicians have done in the past, so you can better decide where you stand in this fun and fantastic world.
Let’s take a look at the history of magicians, practicing magic, and go down the rabbit hole together.
The History of Practicing Magic
The first known practice of magic dates pretty far back, all the way to 2700 B.C.—which is a lot longer than people think.
Magic was seen as an entertainment form by Egyptians, who were vastly ahead of their time societally (for most things). It was well-regarded.
They practiced with cups and balls, and we believe they developed other sleight of hand maneuvers that helped them out as well. There is only so much history recorded from these days, so it’s hard to be 100% definitive.
Fast forward about 1400 years to 1300 B.C., and that’s when we start running into problems. We can find some references of magic in ancient Greek, but they don’t shine favorably on magicians.
Instead, it depicts us in a bad light where magic was mostly associated with the occult at that time. It didn’t exactly get better from there, either.
In 650 B.C., still mostly focused around the Greeks, magicians were believed to be demon worshippers and heretics of false gods and prophets.
There was a lot of superstition surrounding magic at the time, and it was far easier for people to feel fear and act on it than actually learn about it.
We have a name now. There was a group called The Acetabularii, which existed in Ancient Rome for about 300 years or so.
They adopted the idea of cups and balls, and practiced street magic (as we would refer to it today) until around 300 A.D., but we all know what happened not too long after that point.
Now, we have about a 1,200 year blackout of magic. From 300 A.D. onward, you encounter the dark ages, where magic was strictly put right up against occult following and worshipping.
It wasn’t a good time to be a magician, and since not a lot was documented during these years, we don’t know if it was passed around as a hobby and done in the secrecy of your own home.
Some speculate that magicians would help facilitate in stealing food and items from stalls or shops because of their ability with sleight of hand, if it were to still exist.
Again, that’s just speculation, because we don’t really know, but it would make sense that these traditions just didn’t die out for 1,200 years.
Now we’re in the renaissance era.
People are still associating magic with witchcraft and the occult, but in 1584, Reginald Scot published a book known as Discoverie of Witchcraft, which was meant to bridge the gap between understanding and misunderstanding of magic (although he probably should have chosen a softer title).
Those books were burned by most, and the hatred towards magic grew.
In 1634, we saw the book Hocus Pocus Junior: The Anatomie of Legerdemain, which was the first book to really talk about the age-old ball and cup trick associated with Egypt and Rome.
It started to bring some people around to the idea that magic was just trickery, not actual summoning or devil worshipping.
We’re seeing more and more magicians come to light over the next couple hundred years, and it’s a beautiful thing.
One turning point in magical history is the birth of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, which is where a man named Ehrich Weiss would later take inspiration from, and rename himself Harry Houdini.
Jean’s pivotal point in history was when he began introducing magic acts to circuses, which were gaining popularity at the time. It brought out the fun side of magic that was always meant to be seen.
He is seen as the father of modern magic due to this innovation that allows most of us to practice it safely without the fear of being called a witch.
We see Houdini’s rise, we see references to a man named Joseph Pinetti back in 1750, and we start seeing a tolerance for magic. People know it’s fun, and at this point in time, nobody is pulling a Salem Witch Trials type of movement.
In 1902, secrets of the trade were revealed in a book called The Expert at the Card Table, which is where we get most of our information on cardistry now.
A lot of info was divulged, which paved the way for us to learn about all of this stuff online.
Since we’re about to talk about famous magicians at length, I don’t want to dragon the next hundred years of magic history.
We saw books on mental tricks, movies focusing on magic, and public interest to learn it formed from 1902 onward. Thankfully, we’re still in the presence of some of the greatest magicians to ever live.
Famous Magicians Throughout the Ages
Dedi was the first magician referenced in all of history, dating all the way back to ancient Egypt.
The thing is, documentation back then was just done in paintings.
It’s not clear to say is he was the one who invented the cp and ball trick, but there are depictions of someone who may or may not be Dedi performing this trick.
Reginald Scot was an author who talked about magic, and tried to bring it back into our world without over a thousand years of devil-worshipping and occult-related ties to it.
It wasn’t easy, but the message did get through at least a little bit. Most of his books were burned by people who thought magicians were evil. Even so, it was still a big stepping stone in history.
At his time, Isaac Fawkes was one of the wealthiest men in England.
He retired with over 10,000 British pounds to his name, which is the modern-day equivalent of over 1.5 million pounds. Not too shabby for a magician, eh?
Isaac was a multifaceted magician, who went from impressions to acts of contortion, and most notably, he was famous for his card on the ceiling trick.
Some of his history is still preserved in England for you to visit. Many consider Fawkes to be the predecessor to Houdini.
Ever heard of the thumb-tie effect?
Joseph Pinetti pioneered it, as far as we can tell. While there are some speculations that he actually stole this trick (which is common in the magic community), there’s just as much to indemnify him from blame.
Pinetti was a renowned magician who was famous for the orange tree illusion and has plenty of rich history.
If you didn’t already see this coming, then I don’t know what to tell you.
Houdini is often regarded as the most well-known magician in history, and that’s not just because of his amazing tricks. He was a Hungary-born Jewish man who came to America with his family.
Houdini was pre-WW2, but that didn’t stop the persecution of the Jewish people in places in Europe.
He reinvented himself into Harry Houdini, taking a classic American name while also drawing inspiration from his idol, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin.
Harry died in 1926, and a commemorative bust was placed at his grave in a Jewish cemetery.
Now we get into the magicians who are still alive. At the time of writing this, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of the film The Personal History of David Copperfield.
Originally born as David Seth Kotkin, he took his name from a Charles Dickens novel, and has gone on to have the most successfully marketed magic career in modern history, even ahead of our last honorable mention.
Love him or hate him, he’s definitely earned his title of Mindfreak.
Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos has embodied a more gothic style of magic, which has earned him adoration, but his fantastic skills are what solidified him in history (which he’s still making, by the way).
Angel has been producing magic-related television shows of his own performances and playing in Las Vegas for years now, with no sign of slowing down.
As the youngest world-famous magician in today’s era, despite being in his 50’s, he never stops impressing.
Know Where We All Came From
There’s more than meets the eye, and not a lot of people realize that.
Find ways to work the history of magic into your act, to make a story out of what you’re doing, and you’re sure to keep crowds entertained moving forward. Who knows?
You could be the next piece of magician history.