"The best general theory of magic we have yet in any literature" - Dr. Lawrence Hass
"The best general theory of magic we have yet in any literature" - Dr. Lawrence Hass
In An Essay on Magic, Bob Neale acknowledges, "I do believe that there is an underlying magic for all the magics," what he refers later to as "metamagic." This project includes selected short commentaries on the nature of the phenomenon.
Bob Neale addresses metamagic in An Essay on Magic:
"I propose that the relationship between onstage and offstage magic can be effectively understood by means of backstage magic. Backstage magic can occur at several levels. The most obvious level is what I [have] called... reflexive magic or elsewhere labeled "trickster magic." This term is quite appropriate: "meta" means "beyond," and the specific consciousness involved is beyond the one that accompanies the usual onstage and offstage magics. When magic about magic is in full form, it creates an awareness of both offstage and onstage magics, of the dynamics underlying them, and of the unity of these dynamics.
This is to say, backstage the magics are one. Such metamagic can reflect on the magic that occurs in human relationships, politics, and government, the arts, education, economics, even science, and especially medicine. It can also relate to the puzzles, illusions, deceptions, and "mysteries" of the meaning of life as illustrated by traditional religions and contemporary approaches to ultimate concerns.
Magical feeling, thinking, and acting appear in every realm of human behavior. So, too, does deception occur universally. The human animal is one of the few that can deceive, and it does so nearly without pause. So metamagic is that most obvious form of backstage magic that openly and directly engages the audience in a reminder and education on magic in daily life.
It might seem that metamagic (what I discuss here and above as reflexive magic) is the only form of backstage magic, that this type reflexivity is the only way to engage an audience. It isn't, but only for those who understand that the dynamics of onstage magic are intimately related to those of offstage magic. Indeed, what occurs onstage is a result of what has occured offstage ...
Stage magic is not an alien performance from Mars, but a development of the human dynamics on earth that issue in daily life magic. Recounting the two magics (onstage and offstage magic) is an obvious goal, and is perhaps even easy to achieve once their dynamics are appreciated. For now, simply note that the magician who performs backstage, reflexive magic does fool, mislead, and deceive the audience. The expose' involved in such performances is not of stage trickery but of life trickery. The reflexive performer remains a theatrical trickster whose diabolical shenanigans teach and preach without pretentious pontifications.
And so I conceive of magic metaphorically as a mirror. Imagine a large mirror on a stage facing the members of the audience. If the audience is totally naive, they would assume themselves to be looking through a window to the back of the stage. In fact, the reflection causes them to be looking at themselves. Very small children and some animals will peek behind a mirror to try and understand how they are being fooled by it. The more advanced of the human animals will explore and get to know themselves more fully by means of the reflection. At worst, an audience will achieve no more than the lesser animals, only desiring to figure out how they are fooled by the trickery.
But ideally, onstage magic is backstage magic, a mirror that enables the members of the audience to perceive in themselves the varieties of magic that occur offstage in their daily lives. At best, they remain fooled by theatrical tricks, but perhaps not quite so misled by their own daily tricks.
Stage magic can be a magic mirror that reveals the many magics in our lives. When this happens, magic performance deepens and broadens into a stage on which the rich spirit of humanity is enjoyed--a spiritual stage.
Yet it is not sufficient to rest in metaphors. The performance of magic holds up the mirror to magic in daily life. Theatrical magic is best performed as metamagic or backstage magic ... And so I propose: "the magic's the thing" wherein we catch the self-consciousness of the audience in our mutual pursuit of the 'Minotaur called "truth".'" (pp. 92-94)
From the publication of his 1959 dissertation, In Praise of Play, many of Robert Neale's works have explored the imagination and human creativity, along with the roles they play in making sense of our own being and the world in which we live. One manifestation of the imagination is the universal performances of magic in everyday experiences--what Bob characterizes as our various "life magics." His reference to "metamagic" as a foundational mental function--alluded to only briefly in An Essay on Magic--has invited a broader discourse among thinkers about what motivates the many magical expressions human beings perform both consciously and unconsciously, both whimsically and intentionally.
In 2020, I delivered the following brief concept statement as an invitation for submitting short 500-1,500 word "commentaries" as a means to opening a broader dialogue on the subject.
Michael Smith frames his evening of magical performance with the characters and their anxieties introduced in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Each character holds up a mirror to all people's needs, desires, and dreams.
Retired psychotherapist and family counselor, Doctor Mike draws upon themes from Baum's iconic story to help illuminate Bob Neale's insights into the universal experiences of magical thinking and performances. Mike writes:
"When I was five years old, I saw the movie, The Wizard of Oz. I was terrified of the Wicked Witch and her Flying Monkeys. As I got older, my fears eased, and the movie eventually became one of my favorites. Still later, I studied the book by L. Frank Baum (1856-1919) and became intrigued with the symbolic meanings of the various characters in the story."
This is the first of two contributions that Mike provides toward a better appreciation for and understanding of Neale's concept of "metamagic."
A Texas-based magician, Norman Beck is a long-time columnist in national and international magic magazines. His texts sparkle with humor, but they are populated with rich insights that illuminate the value of our niche art form. His casual, "aw-shucks" style is disarmingly deceptive, masking years of wisdom drawn from his real-world experience as a fraud detective in the gaming industry, early work as a young police officer, and as a magical entertainer with credits at Hollywood's "Magic Castle," and invitational membership in the "31 Group" and the "FFFF" (those who know, know!)
In "Why Magic?" Norman captures the deep-seated needs of both the performer and the audience and the satisfactions both take away in the shared experience of magical entertainment.
Tim "Santiago" Converse is a magician and software engineer in Northern California who performs privately and teaches magic for small groups, virtually, and through the McBride Magic & Mystery School in Las Vegas, Nevada. He coordinates a special interest group of magicians who address the application of magical performances to social justice issues.
In "Meta-Intention: A 'Reflection' on Bob Neale's 'Metamagic,'" Santiago proposes that "the magician stands behind the reflection [of the audience's own magic], orchestrating it from one image to the next, and only when the time is right, revealing themselves and their intention."
Bill Bentz was practically born at the Magic Castle, spent his childhood there, and has performed regularly there ever since. There's a reason why he keeps going back:
"I heard it said that life is not measured by how many breaths we take but by how many moments take our breath away. I see magic as a way of giving back for the incredible life I have. Spreading this joy brings me joy. It is a true addiction to see people happy and amazed!"
Actor, author, producer, director, and teacher, Tobias Beckwith met Bob Neale at the first gathering of what would become the McBride Magic and Mystery School.
Tobias recalls the effect of Bob's presentation: " What amazed me most about the lecture wasn't the material he covered, though. It was his willingness to pose hard questions. Questions about life and death that most of us refuse to consider because we're afraid."