(An experimental investigation to explore
the communication potential of the art of magic)



Reg. No. 980771018

Submitted in partial fulfilment of requirements for the degree of Master of Science (Communication)
of Manipal Academy of Higher Education (A Deemed University).

March 2000

Manipal Institute of Communication, Manipal

[Note: Pending Publication. All Rights Reserved]


Table of Contents

Sl. No.


Page No.














Section ONE

The art of legerdemain – an introduction

The study: aims and objectives

Section TWO

The Hypothesis

The Methodology

The analysis of the responses

Section THREE

Summary and Conclusion

Limitations and scope for further study

Section FOUR



(a) The Questionnaire

(b) Annexures



(01 to 14)



(15 to 50)




(51 to 58)









Dedicated to

Who have encouraged me to pursue my interests,
However high-sounding and improbable they seem;

Who have given me the confidence,
To face the world and achieve every single dream.




Thanks to Dr Leela Rao, the Director (Academics), Manipal Institute of Communication, for providing me the opportunity to conduct this study and write the thesis.

I would also like to record my deepest gratitude to those talented and learned individuals who extended valuable and irrepressible support, during the course of this research.

Magicians Prahlad Acharya & Ganesh Kudroli – for helping me in innumerable ways, and also for their special magic acts used in the video; Ramachandra S. & Annu Mangalore and their respective teams – for graciously helping me with the videography that formed the video, a most essential part of the study;

Magicians Prof. Shankar and Shankar Jr., for lending me the book Net of Magic – wonders and deceptions in India, a book that was priceless to me as it presented a new dimension of the art of magic; Lee Siebel for writing such an entertaining and well-researched book;Magician Hebri Ramdas, for providing access to a horde of books and literature; and Magician Lolaksha, for his exhaustive discussions on why magic cannot communicate a message!

Magicians from all over the world, especially Tom CravenGregg ChmaraJames RandiMichael EmyrsPeter LamontRichard WisemanJim FishStan DavisWallace Willis and many more, – for their invaluable inputs, suggestions, and technical help. But more than anything else, for their wholehearted support and confidence in me, someone they had never heard of nor seen! Thanks guys, you make the art of magic proud, and it is here today only because of people like you!

Vibodh Parthasarathi and R. Swaminathan, for teaching me the basics of communication science; Dr. Pradeep KrishnatrayDr. Janet Vucinivichand Prof. Shashikala Gurpur-Murphy, who offered guidance and encouragement, in a way few others can.

My family – who are even now ‘donating’ their savings to quench my thirst for books, but more importantly, for giving me the ‘freedom’ to return home at two a.m. in the morning; My grandfathers – both of whom are more than an inspiration to me, who actually have the patience to go through the things I write;

My friend, Shalini S.K. in USA, for all her help, especially for sending me the book Magic in TheoryMy friends – who had to bear the brunt of my ramblings about the art of magic as a communication medium; but who extended all the support to me! All those people who are responsible for the existence of that other magical medium called the Internet, which helped me in collecting a lot of material;

To each and every person who had a role to play in me bringing out this work, for his or her support, encouragement and confidence in my abilities. I would have loved naming each of you, but the only problem being the acknowledgements will then run into more pages than the study itself!

But most of all, I would like to thank Dr. H.S. Eswara, my guide for this thesis – without whom this would not have been a research thesis, but only a book full of loopholes.


Chapter one

The art of legerdemain

What is the one thing that mystifies and enchants every human being?

What is it that never fails to entertain and appeal to each one of us?

What is it that makes the child that’s hidden in each of us alive and come to the fore?

If there is a single answer to all these questions, then surely we must be talking about the art of magic. It is only magic, among all the fine arts, that has the potential to impress and entertain a person to an extent that each individual remembers it for the rest of his or her life. Siegel (1991) says that the objects used by a magician onstage have associations – something important or aesthetic. According to him, every prop in the magic show becomes a symbol tying various realms of experience together.

The only other fine art that comes anywhere close to the true potential of magic is the other great art – the art of music. Music is an art that appeals to every living being including animals, and as Kumar (1999) contends that the art of music is as old as the first man, and as new as the first cry of a new born baby. He draws a distinction between subjects like History, Chemistry, Biology, etc. terming them as ordinary arts; while he terms music, dance, architecture, sculpture, etc. as fine arts. Kumar goes on to argue that while the ordinary arts appeal to man’s intellect, the fine arts appeal not only to the intellect but also to his emotions. He puts across his idea of how music, being universal in appeal, is a very powerful means of communication.

On the other hand, though magic appeals only to human beings, it proves to be the ultimate of all arts, for it entertains and enchants like no other. In the words of Magician P C Sorcar JR, arguably the top-most magician in India, “When a singer is great we say, ‘Your song was full of magic’; when a dancer is great we say, ‘Your dance was magical.’ … Art aspires to magic. Magic is the essence of all the arts, the highest art, pure art, art’s ultimate accomplishment (Siegel, 1991)”. These words belong not only to Sorcar, but also to most magicians who have realised the true potential of the art of magic.

Magic is to be distinguished from magick or sorcery, which refer to the alleged art and science of causing change in accordance with the will by non-physical means. Magick is associated with all kinds of supernatural or paranormal phenomena, and the occult sciences. There is a certain relationship present between magick and the art of conjuring and legerdemain though, which is explained in the Skeptic’s Dictionary located at, The article on magick in this dictionary reads The magic of performing magicians is related to magick in that the performers use tricks and deception to make audiences think they have done things which, if real, would require supernatural or paranormal powers, e.g., materializing objects such as rings or ashes, doves or rabbits. Some magicians have attributed their feats not to magic but to supernatural or paranormal powers, e.g., Sai Baba and Uri Geller (Caroll, 1999).

Again, magic is the most versatile of all arts. Magic can be used to entertain anybody from a lone person, to a couple, to a small crowd, to a gathering of thousands! The art of magic is so diverse that it can be performed anywhere – inside a house or in a restaurant, to a small hall for a gathering, or indoors in an amphitheatre or outdoors in a huge stadium or open ground. The trick can happen anywhere from right under the spectator’s nose, to a proper platform or stage. All this is possible because there are various facets to the art of magic like close-up tricks, parlour or platform tricks and stage illusions, to outdoor escape stunts and mega-illusions.

You may be the world’s best singer, the most accomplished dancer, or the top-most musician, but there are certain limitations when it comes to your performance. You cannot just start off into a song or dance just about anywhere. For example, if you are a singer, even if you make do without amplifiers, etc., to give a good performance you may need some musical accompaniment; if you are a dancer you will require some music to dance to; and for a musician you would surely require your musical instrument. There may also be many other limitations that will hinder an entertaining performance.

But an adept and accomplished magician can entertain anybody, anytime, and anywhere – for he or she can make use of whatever is available or at hand, at the given point in time. The magician can utilise anything from a pen to tissue papers to salt shakers. Let me not forget the magician’s favourite impromptu items in such cases being a deck of cards or some currency coins. And being as entertaining as magic is, it is the best available icebreaker anybody can utilise. If you need to make friends or impress somebody, all you need to do is go ahead and show him or her, a magic trick.

Bryan Dean talks about this very aspect of magic when he asks, “Did you know that the easiest way to meet someone is through magic?” His article A Valentine’s Magic dated February 12, 1999 in the Magic and Illusion site at, reads, How often have you wanted to meet that person on the other side of the room and had basically nothing to say? Wouldn’t it be nice to perform a trick and “break the ice”? Magicians have been doing this for years… The article goes on to say, What you need are a few good “ice-breaking” tricks in your arsenal. One of the best ones is “The Travelling Ashes” because the magic happens in the spectator’s hands. It’s very personal and it sure beats, “Dya wanna dance?” (Dean, 1999)

With magic tricks now happening not only through the radio, the television, but also through the Internet, the art of legerdemain has indeed travelled a long way. Magicians have been known to have performed in the royal court of ancient Egypt, during the rule of the Pharaoh Cheops, who died in 2494 BC, and so the contemporary magician has a spectacular and marvellous tradition of more than 5000 years (Christopher, 1991) to draw from. Though the latest and state-of-the-art technology like lasers, electromagnets, high-tech electronic and electrical apparatus are all being utilised to a certain extent by the modern day magician, he has not forgotten the age old principles and tricks which enable him to perform wonderful effects.

Magicians still dazzle their audiences with the performances of the cups and balls, arguably the oldest known magic trick. The same goes for many other age-old tricks like the Chinese Linking Rings, Indian Basket Trick, etc. Many books and writings on magic and magicians have often claimed that the greatest performers have carried their magical secrets to their grave. This is far from the truth, for most magicians understand these techniques. What really distinguished these performers, from the contemporary magicians, was their skill, showmanship and presentation.

When Harry Houdini made an elephant vanish, or when David Devant made a painting come to life; the audience gasped in disbelief. Even today, when David Copperfield flies around the stage or vanishes the Statue of Liberty, the spectators are equally spellbound. Such effects are beyond the scope and understanding of most magicians, let alone lay men. They require split-second timing and tremendous expertise, and more importantly elaborate and expensive equipment.

Only those who are willing to devote all their time and resources to this art can hope to master such sophisticated effects. Others can still achieve startling effects like producing a rabbit out of a hat (the traditional trick of a magician); produce or vanish a lady, etc. Most magicians entertain their audience making use of simple everyday objects like coins, cards, paper, and ropes. Then there are performers who make use of special apparatus, big illusions, etc. Lamont and Wiseman (1999) say that everything that a magician ever does can be summed up in nine concepts. These are appearance, vanish, transposition, transformation, penetration, restoration, extraordinary feats, telekinesis, and extrasensory perception.

The very firm belief that the art of legerdemain entertains and impresses people across all barriers, has made the modern day magician think that he can communicate to and influence his audience in a manner unlike any other media. And true to this belief, he is always on the lookout for new ways in which to project messages and get them across to the people through his presentation skills.

David Teeman, who is a gospel magician, in an e-mail correspondence with the researcher said, “Magic is all about communication, as is any form of entertainment. Again, since magic presents both an audible and visual (and sometimes tangible) message, it is doubly (or triply) heard. Besides the above reasons, people watch magic performances because they want to, not because they have to, therefore, you already have their attention.” David goes on to say, “In my many years of performing Gospel Magic, I have more often than not heard the trick talked about by the application. I deliver the straightforward truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ “For GOD so loved the world, that he gave HIS only begotten SON, that whosoever believes in HIM, should not perish, but have everlasting life!” It is worth noting here that David has performed Gospel Magic shows for Special Needs audiences, that is those who are Mentally Retarded, have Downs Syndrome, or are similarly impaired and for Prisoners. He says, “I have found, that if an audience is truly there to be entertained, they will pay attention and listen.”

Magicians have always tried to communicate to their audiences in different contexts. Whether it was a master magician like Harry Houdini, who tried to dispel superstitions by exposing so-called mediums (Gibson & Young, 1953); or our own P C Sorcar Sr (Siebel, 1991), who tried his level best to tell people that the so-called godmen like Satya Sai Baba (Kovoor, 1994), were no more supernatural than he was – an exponent of sleight of hands; magicians have always fought for different causes.

Perhaps the most famous of such crusaders today, especially in the Unites States of America and Canada is magician James Randi 1, who is engaged in an all-out fight with people like Uri Geller 2, who claim to possess supernatural powers (Randi, 1982). Randi’s counterpart in India is the equally famous anti-guru B. Premanand, who has declared a war against Sai Baba, and other godmen (Premanand, 1998). While Randi has set up the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), Premanand has the Indian Council for Scientific Investigation of the Claims Of the Paranormal (Indian CSICOP), to investigate the claims of the paranormal. Both of them have offered hefty rewards, US Dollars 1,000,000 and Indian Rupees 100,000 respectively, to anybody who can prove to possess supernatural or paranormal powers.

Most conjurors perform at least a couple of tricks in their shows, which convey a subtle message to the audience – whether in support of family planning 3, to generate AIDS awareness 4, or to promote small savings in banks 5. The all-time favourite with magicians in India has been the theme of national integration – either by restoring two pieces of rope into one whole piece, or by transforming three different silks into the tricolour – the Indian National Flag.

Gregg Chmara, a magician who uses the art of magic in his corporate presentations is of the opinion that, “Interpersonal health messages in magic (or educational messages, etc.) in an entertainment vehicle actually sets the message better in audiences mind than a show that ONLY revolves around the message. It is surprise reception of the message.” Gregg goes on to add that, “The use of ANY entertainment media for rural or urban poor populations that brings a unity of action can be good — but care must be taken when changing entertainment to education — not to overstep the bounds from entertainment to propaganda. The propaganda will eventually be discovered as audience manipulation — not entertaining discovery of an idea.”

Then there is Michael A. Emyrs, a magician with a BA in Communication and a Masters in Human Relations, who uses the art of magic to teach English language to school children in Taiwan. Michael, in one of his many e-mail conversations with the researcher wrote: “I can simply say that I use Magic as a way to keep the students interested in learning English. Most of the effects I perform in class are easily explained utilising simple words and phrases. My use of magic is pretty specific to teaching English and reinforcing language patterns in an interesting way”. Michael uses Pom Pom Stick 6 to communicate color and length, and also simple verbs such as move, pull, up, down, etc. Again Michael utilises the Professor’s Nightmare 7 for short, medium, long, middle, end, and simple if or then statements, while Cups and Balls 8 are used for “where” questions.

But there are also magicians who think that magic is only for entertainment, and have good reasons to believe so. Magician Gerald Wincklhofer, who believes that the point of his show is to entertain and not instruct, says, “Since Magic is part of the art of theatre and theatre is a communications art the answer seems to be yes (That magic can communicate a message). But you may not ask it to do two things at once, ergo: communicate a message and magic at the same time. This will split the audiences focus and diminish anything you are doing. In other words magic may enhance a message but does not seem to be able to communicate a message”. According to Gerald, magic can be used only as an illustration of a message, for when a performer tries to do both (entertain and educate) it (magic) is weakened.

David disagrees completely with this and argues, “One form of communication may certainly be used to enhance another form of communication. Just look at TV, the visual images enhance the audio, otherwise, TV would be just a fad, as the devout radio listeners stated. And yes, you can do two things and once (walk and chew bubble gum) or even more.” In support of his argument that “Magic is not weakened by a message. If presented well both the message and the magic are strengthened”, David states that, “If the point of entertainment is to entertain, then it is pointless. Anything or anybody out for themselves only is pointless. Entertainment does have a purpose (many). Bringing joy to your audience is only one of them. Throughout history the greatest and most effective teachers have used visuals or parables (mind visuals) to relate their teachings. Also, the majority of my performances are Gospel Magic. The Message and the Magic are both remembered along with the Magician.”




1. James Randi ^ is a magician who earned name and fame as an escape artist. Today, Randi is wholly involved in exposing any claim about the supernatural or paranormal. After setting up the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), Randi has intensified his crusade against mediums, god-men, psychics, and spiritual frauds. JREF has announced a reward of US $ 1,000,000 to anybody who proves to possess paranormal or supernatural powers under pre-set laboratory conditions. Is it necessary to state that the countless people who staked claim for this money, went back dejected, having miserably failed to prove their ‘powers’.

2. Uri Geller ^ is the Israeli born, world famous psychic, who shot to limelight bending spoons! Geller who was a magician for sometime, switched over to being a psychic. With many scientists and highly educated men confirming that Geller indeed had psychic powers, Geller even claims to have been consulted by some governments to help them with some internal crises. But Geller’s biggest triumph came when the Stanford Research Institute announced that they were conducting a research into what they termed as the Geller Effect. Geller now claims to be able to project his thoughts through mass media like Television and the Internet!

3. Chand Pasha^ a traditional street magician, was employed by the Government of India to communicate the message of family planning in the villages of India. Chand Pasha would perform a special act designed by him wherein a male and female doll placed in an empty box were seen to have begot many baby dolls! But when a condom is placed in the box, there would be no babies. After this act, Pasha would circulate free condoms to all his spectators and proceed to his next venue. (Siegel, 1991)

4. Magician Prahlad Acharya ^ shot to fame in India with his death-defying escape stunts. Prahlad has gained a reputation of escaping from anything – shackles, chains, handcuffs, boxes, etc, having performed numerous Fire-escape, Under-water escape, Chines Torture Cell escape. Recently this “Houdini of India” became the first magician in India to perform a “jail break escape”, when he managed to escape out of the prison cell in the Bellary Central Jail in Karnataka in a matter of seconds. Midway through a magic show, just when Prahlad has presented an escape for the audience, and is busy telling his spectators (bragging?) about his numerous accomplishments in this field of magic, four people come on to the stage and challenge him to escape from a rope tie. Laughing at them Prahlad agrees to this challenge, whereupon his hands are tied with a rope. But no matter what he tries to do Prahlad fails to escape from this simple-looking rope tie. Admitting defeat, Prahlad asks them what is this that even he is unable to escape from. The four assistants now turn around, to show their backs on which is displayed an alphabet each: A – I – D – S! As the knots are removed, Prahlad tells his audience about the dangers of AIDS virus and also about the methods of prevention.

5. Prof. Shankar ^ is the first Industrial magician in India, and is employed by the Syndicate Bank to help popularise the concept of small savings among people. In his magic shows, Shankar performs a couple of specially designed acts that put across the importance of small savings. On such act is when Shankar performs what in the magic circle is called six-dollar repeat. Shankar displays six Indian Currency notes, and proceeds to discard three of them in the guise of spending it. Though he does this repeatedly, Shankar is always seen to be left with six currency notes in his hands! At the end of the trick, Shankar tells his audience that he can go on doing this trick for days, but if the audience wants their maney to multiply, then they should open a small savings account at the nearest Syndicate Bank branch. In another trick, Shankar burns a plain piece of paper and converts it into a currency note. He then proceeds to produce seemingly countless number of currency notes. The message – “If you want your money to multiply like this, deposit it in a savings bank account in Syndicate Bank”.

6. Pom Pom Stick ^ is a foot long pole with two pom poms (woolen balls) hanging on thread, on both sides of the pole. The pom poms look to be interconnected, for when the magician pulls one… the other follows it, etc. But finally the magician breaks the pole into two to show that the two pieces of thread are not interconnected, and that the pom poms still appear to be magically linked to each other!

7. Professor’s Nightmare ^ is the trick, which is also called in the professional circles as Unequal Equal Ropes. The magician shows three ropes of different size – small, medium and long. But as he proceeds with the magic act all the three ropes are seen to be of equal length!

8. Cups and Balls ^ is one of the oldest magic tricks known to man. There are many versions of this trick, but in the most popular version, known as Western Cups and Balls, three cups and three balls are used. The balls are seen to travel invisibly between cups, vanish, multiply, etc. As a finale, bigger ‘loads’ like lemons, and oranges may even be produced!






Chapter two

The study: Aims & objectives:

Each communication medium has certain inherent limitations or barriers, which may be in terms of language, technology, literacy, education, etc. In other words, to communicate a message through Television, the target audience should essentially have access to a TV set. Again, Newspapers can target only literate and educated masses, while Internet is still the medium for the elite. In fact, if the demographics of the target group in terms of any medium is not well defined, they may never receive the communication.

For example, a programme on TV aimed at the senior citizens will not entice or entertain the youth, and vice versa. So if a message has to be communicated efficiently to every section of the society, then it has to be done through different mediums. But then one may not achieve the desired result even after lots of research, as there is no guarantee that the intended target audience will actually assimilate the message. The boundaries and limitations of the scope of most media today are very well defined, and to facilitate an efficient communication one would require huge capital investment in terms of research, artwork, advertisement, media spend, etc.

Is the art of magic similar in nature? History shows us that Pharaohs, kings, emperors, dictators, presidents, etc., have enjoyed magic shows in the same way as a commoner or a very poor man who watches a magic show on the streets. Whether it is a five-year-old child or a white-haired 90-year-old, both will enjoy a magic trick in the same way. Magic is an art that entertains and touches every heart, for it is one medium that really moves the child within us. So in theory, if the art of magic is utilised as a medium to communicate a message, then such limitations or drawbacks do not affect it. In other words, the limitations of socio-economic factors like age, sex, educational qualification, income, and so on, do not influence the perception of a message communicated through a magic act.

But the question here is whether the art of magic can really communicate a message. This research attempts to examine the art of magic in a new light, and tries to find the answer to this basic question. While outlining the history and various facets of this ancient art, this study examines magic per se as a medium of communication. This research, essentially exploratory in nature, hopes to open new paradigms for communicators and also prompt further research in this topic – one that remained unexplored before this.

The art of magic per se as an effective medium is studied here by analysing how effective and efficient it is in communicating a message. It examines whether the audience assimilates the message as communicated through the channel or medium (in this case, the art of magic) and also in the way intended by the communicator (here, the magician). If the art of magic is seen to be a medium of communication, then it may open new frontiers and challenges, not only in the field of social awareness, but also in the fields of advertising and marketing.

The study also deals with some interesting aspects when it analyses how the audience perceives the magician and magic per se, and also if the audience associate what they see in a magic act to something that has a greater meaning or interpretation in real life. Do the props utilised or used by a magician in a magic show really transform into symbols that have significant associations in the audience’s minds? Do theses associations have a role to play in the perception and assimilation of the message communicated?

The researcher feels that such a study is the need of the day, for there is a lacuna in terms of a communication medium that can truly communicate to all and sundry. Now if magic can communicate a message, and effectively at that, then it will cover this lacuna. The governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations, or for that matter anybody interested in communicating a message, will be able to utilise one of the greatest communicative tools. This will be a boon for everybody from small-scale industries to large Trans-National Companies, as they can make very good use of this “new-found” medium!

On the other hand, if the art of magic is proved inefficient in communicating a message, then it has no potential as a social awareness and education tool. Magicians on realising this futility may now concentrate on the entertainment potential of magic, for the art of magic continues to thrive as an entertainment medium.





Chapter three

Hypothesis adopted:

As stated earlier, magicians have always tried to communicate messages to their audience – whether it was for entertainment, social awareness or education. Then again, nobody has really tried to analyse whether the audience perceives these messages. And again if the message is perceived, is it in the manner intended or is it something totally different from what was originally intended.

Though most magicians hold the firm belief that the art of magic communicates to all and sundry, does the audience also feel this way? What is the layperson’s understanding and interpretation of magic and the magician? The basic question that we have to address here is, “Can a magician really communicate a message through the art of magic?”

A magic show may involve two components: ONE, the magical act per se and TWO, the verbal expressions used by the magician (called as “the patter”). For example, when a magician performing a card trick and tells a story about four thieves and a cop, while displaying the four Jacks and an Ace – the story he relates is the patter. When the magic conveys certain messages or meaning to the audience, such a meaning may be the outcome of either the magical act, the verbal expressions, or a combination of both.

The exact role of each of the components in connoting the meaning is not known, but one can hazard to make the following two guesses:

ONE, that the verbal expressions by the magician play a dominant role in conveying the message, while the magical act itself plays only the supplementary role of corroborating a theme expressed by verbal means.

TWO, the verbal expressions are irrelevant to the communication of the message in a magic show. The communication act, by itself, is capable of conveying the intended message even in the absence of verbal cues.

The major objective of this study is to determine the potential of the magical act to communicate messages, by resolving the controversy surrounding the alternatives regarding the role of the two components of the magical show stated above. In order to achieve this objective, a three-stage experiment is conducted to demonstrate deductively the communication potential of the magical act per se.

At stage #1, a magic show involving both the act and the verbal expressions is used. If such a show is successful in transmitting the message intended by the magician, one could infer that the magic show is a means of communication. But then it leaves the question, which of the two components is crucial in the process, unanswered.

In order to resolve the competing role of the two components, it is necessary to demonstrate that the magical act per se, even in the absence of verbal cues, is successful in the communication of the message. This can be done in two ways – ONE, the magical act is accompanied by verbal cues, but the verbal cues are foreign or unfamiliar to the audience of the show; and TWO, the magical act is completely devoid of any verbal cues. These aspects have been manipulated respectively in Stage #2 and #3 of the experiment.

Going by the above reasoning, the researcher adopted the following two hypotheses:

1. The magic show consisting of a magical act and a patter has the potential to communicate messages.

If evidence is forthcoming in support of the above hypothesis, then it raises further questions as to the role of the two components of the magical show, that is, the act itself and the patter. It is possible that the communication of messages is made possible by both the components working in unison, or that verbal cues essentially convey the message, while the act itself serves as second fiddle supporting, supplementing the message conveyed through verbal expressions.

What this essentially means is that though magic seems to comply with verbal communication patterns, it may be the verbal cues by themselves that are communicating the message. So whether there is a magic trick or not, the verbal cues will communicate the message anyway, and this communication has nothing to do with the magic trick! The only advantage of using magic, if any, may be to support this communication in the form of a visual cue.

To counter this argument and put forth the idea that it is not the verbal cues that communicate, but something in the act itself, the researcher would like to introduce the following alternate hypothesis.

2. The verbal cues in the magic show are irrelevant to communicate the intended messages. The magical act per se has the potential to communicate messages, even in the absence of verbal cues.

This hypothesis can receive support, if the magical act is accompanied by verbal expressions in a language alien to the audience of the magic show, or if the magic act is completely devoid of verbal cues. The second hypothesis as stated above has two parts:

2a. The magical act can communicate messages even if the patter is in a language completely alien to the audience of the show (pointing to the irrelevance of the patter in the process of communication)

2b. The magical act can communicate messages even in the absence of patter (pointing to the role of magical act per se in the process of communication).




Chapter four


Three experiments were designed and carried out to study the potential of the art of magic as a communication medium. Each of these three experiments studied one aspect of the communication potential of the art of magic, and the results of these experiments put together would facilitate the understanding of the viability of magic as a medium for diffusion of information and ideas. The magic acts were presented, viewed and responded under controlled laboratory situations.

The sample consisted of one hundred subjects selected from different strata of population, giving representation to different age groups, educational levels and professional categories. No systematic sampling procedure was adhered to in the selection of these 100 subjects, and they were selected on the basis of availability and willingness to participate in the study. In other words, non-probability accidental sampling procedure was adhered to in obtaining the sample.

The first experiment (Stage #1) aimed at finding out whether a magic trick could act as a supplement to verbal communication and thus enhance the effectiveness of the verbal message. In this experiment, it was assumed that the magician’s patter (talk or speech that accompanies a magic trick) held the message, and the magic served to corroborate the message and strike it home with more effectiveness.

The second experiment (Stage #2) analysed whether magic could communicate a message overcoming language barriers. This took on from where the first experiment left off, for it tried to examine whether it was the magician’s patter that conveyed the message or the magical act which achieved the objective. Could a magic trick communicate by itself or is it only the verbal cues that put across the message?

The third experiment (Stage #3) studied the possibility of magic communicating a message through a language of it own – the language of magic per se. The idea behind this experiment was to study whether magic could communicate a message without the aid of any verbal cue; that is, through the means of non-verbal communication. Does magic possess a language of its own – a universal language?

All the subjects, in small groups, viewed the magic acts on video in similar, if not exact, conditions. Each group was first made comfortable in a big room, with adequate lighting and ventilation. They were instructed not to talk to each other or cause any disturbance when the Experiment was in progress. No one was allowed to enter or leave the room, while the Experiment was in progress. Experiment, as used in this study, means the viewing of the three different acts and the filling up of the five-part Questionnaire. Each Part of the Questionnaire was distributed separately and collected immediately after the subjects had finished with it. This was to prevent the subjects from referring to their earlier answers and thus changing responses.

The Video:

The objective of this study, as said earlier, is to examine whether the art of magic can be an effective medium of communication. To be able to conduct such a study a special video, comprising of three magic acts, was prepared by enacting the said acts and shooting it on VHS. The idea was to make the subjects view each of the acts on video and then fill-in a very comprehensive questionnaire answering specific questions pertaining to the acts they had just viewed. Each of the acts on the video comprised an individual experiment, and the conclusions drawn from all these three experiments would enable the examination of the art of magic as a communication medium.

Each of the three magic acts utilised is described below in detail. Each act is explained in terms of the effect, the message, and thereason. The effect refers to the way a magic trick is seen by the audience. Lamont and Wiseman (1999) in their book, Magic in Theory, define an effect as being “what the spectator perceives”. In other words, an effect is the spectator’s perception of what actually transpires, or is seen to transpire, on the stage.

The message refers to the meaning of the magical act, which the magician purports to convey or connote to his/her audience through a specific magic act. The reason refers to the actual reason or intention for including that particular act or trick in the show.

Once all the subjects in the room were seated comfortably and given the instructions, PART ONE of the five-part Questionnaire was supplied to them. PART ONE dealt with demographic questions like name, age, sex, educational qualification, occupation, place of residence, and place of permanent residence. Further, questions to check the subject’s exposure to magic and his/her perception and understanding of magic were also included in PART ONE.

Experiment ONE:

The objective of the experiment was to study the role of magic as a supplement to verbal communication, to enhance the effectiveness of the verbal messages.

After collecting back PART ONE of the questionnaire, the subjects were exposed to video depicting ACT ONE.

ACT ONE: The Three Rope Trick or the magic of pulse polio drops


The magician displays three pieces of rope, which can clearly be seen to be equal in length. He says, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you a story about three new-born babies. These three babies were born in perfect health”. As he displays each of the rope separately, he goes on to tell a story. “The mother of the first child was educated and responsible. She knew that polio had no cure, only prevention. She made sure that her kid got all the pulse polio drops at the different intervals of its life.” Now displaying the second rope he says, “The mother of the second child was also educated, but was a little lazy. So this innocent kid did not get the full course of the pulse polio drops”. Displaying the third rope he says, “But our concern here is with this third child whose mother was poor and uneducated. She had never heard about pulse polio drops. She had not even heard about polio!” Folding all the three ropes in half and holding them that way, the magician goes on, “Some years later the kids grew up. The first kid who was given the full course of pulse polio drops grew up to be a perfectly healthy child”. The magician displays one of the ropes to be real long… much longer than it was at the beginning! “The second child also grew, but was not very healthy, he developed health problems.” The magician now shows that the second rope has also grown, but not as long as the first rope! “But like I said earlier, it is this third child that we are concerned about. This innocent child, who was not given the pulse polio drops, had serious health problems.” As he says this, the magician displays the third rope, which is seen to be real short, even shorter than it was at the beginning of the trick! The magician ends the trick saying, “Ladies and Gentlemen. Let us make sure that every child around us who is under the age of five has been given the full course of the pulse polio drops, so that all our children can have a happy tomorrow. Come let’s work for a polio-free world.”


The message intended was very straightforward and clear – polio cannot be cured. It can only be prevented. The magician made a humble request to the audience to make sure that all the children around them, under the age of five, were administered the full course of the pulse polio drops.


The magician has presented this trick with patter (verbal dialogue accompanying the magic trick) in English language. It was ascertained that all the subjects who took part in the Experiment understood the English language. This specific magic act was chosen to examine whether a message could be communicated through the verbal cues that accompany a magic trick.

After the subjects viewed the magic of pulse polio drops, i.e., the Three-Rope Trick, they were provided with PART TWO of the Questionnaire. The objective of this questionnaire was to study the potential of magic corroborating a verbal message and being able to communicate a message with the help of the patter. The power of recall (ability to remember something) in the minds of an audience with respect to a magic trick, and the most important part of the magic from the audiences’ point of view were also analysed through this questionnaire.


Experiment TWO:

The objective of the experiment two was to study whether magical acts communicate a message overcoming the barriers of language that are inherent in verbal communication.

The subjects viewed the second video being the magic illusion act called Magic against alcoholism.

ACT TWO: The Illusion Act or magic against alcoholism


A big white box is seen on stage, with a cut-out in the shape of a bottle (with a painting of a man drowning in liquor) on one side and a totem on the other. Two persons open the box and show that it is empty. To further stress on this fact, they take two electric bulbs all around this translucent box, and convey that there is nothing hidden around or behind this box. A drunkard now walks on to the stage, carrying along with him a bottle of liquor. As he takes a couple of swigs from this bottle, his wife now runs on to the stage, and tries to prevent him from drinking alcohol. All her efforts are in vain, as the man proceeds to beat her up, until he himself collapses completely exhausted. The magician comes on and takes the bottle from next to the collapsed man and places it inside the big empty box. The front cover of the box is closed, and as the magician gestures magically the inside of the box gets lit up. Shadows are seen to materialise within the box, until they break the box itself and emerge out in the form of two demons or spirits. These demons take control of the man and tie him to the big bottle on the stage. The magician now comes on to say, “Only the person who is into drinking can help himself. Nobody else can help him.” As he says this, the drunkard suddenly comes to life, and breaks lose of all his bonds. Now, the drunkard with the help of his wife, the magician, and others (who come on to the stage carrying with them fire torches), chases the spirits back into their den (in the shape of a skull) and sets the entire thing on fire. The den burns and disintegrates into ash, and the spirits are seen to have vanished completely without a trace!


The message intended through this act is that alcoholism is very dangerous. A man who cultivates or develops this habit of alcoholism loses all control of himself, with alcohol ruling his life. Again, it is only in the man’s hands to get rid of this deadly habit, and nobody else could do it for him.


This illusion act was presented by the magician in the Kannada language, and aimed at examining whether magic could communicate a message overcoming the barriers of language otherwise inherent in a communication. For people who understand Kannada it could be the verbal dialogues that deliver the message, but for those that do not understand Kannada, it cannot be the language employed in the act. Does magic have a language of its own by which it can communicate the message transcending the barriers caused otherwise in modes of verbal communication?

PART THREE of the Questionnaire was now distributed to the subjects. While including questions to check recall, this questionnaire had questions aimed at analysing the audience’s perception of the message communicated. The subjects were also asked to suggest a name to this magical act, which also intended to analyse the assimilation of the message communicated.


Experiment THREE:

Does magic per se communicate a message? Is magic a potential channel of communication?

Once the subjects finished viewing magic act three in the video, namely magic for patriotism, they were given PART FOUR of the Questionnaire.

ACT THREE: The Torn and Restored Map or the magic for patriotism


A youth is seen standing on the stage with a huge map of India in his hands. Another man dressed in Khadi clothes approaches him with his hands folded and an enigmatic smile (a politician?). He asks the youth to give India in his hands. After much deliberation, the youth reluctantly hands over the map to the politician, and goes offstage. A man dressed in a coat and carrying a stylish briefcase comes to the politician. He asks for the map from the politician. The politician refuses to hand it over, but only till he is shown a suitcase. Once the suitcase is handed to him, he tears off a part of the map and gives it to this man! The man in the suit tears up the map further, throws it to the ground, and walks off stepping over it. Two people dressed in black, and armed with swords (terrorists?), rush on to the stage. They threaten the politician and snatch the suitcase from him. The politician in turn tears off pieces of the Indian map and gives one part to each. The politician is left with only a small part of the map, which no longer looks anything like India. But as if he cares, for he loves the suitcase more! The miscreants tear their pieces of the map, throw it down on the floor, stamp on it, and walk off. The youth who originally had the map comes back, and is flabbergasted to see the remains of what was the map of India. He snatches the remains of the map from the politician’s hands, and chases him off. He collects all the pieces on the floor, and puts them all together. He looks up into the heavens for a second and the next moment restores the torn pieces back to the map of India!


The message intended in this act was that the well-being of our motherland – India, was in our own hands. Only we, being each one of us, could save the unity and integrity of India, and thus prevent our motherland from breaking up into pieces. Look before you vote!


This was a silent magic act enacted to music with no patter or verbal cues supporting it. The intention here was to study whether magic by itself can communicate a message, through the channels of non-verbal communication and semiotics. The magician may represent the good of the society, a true Indian patriot, or even the masses.

The questions in PART FOUR essentially examined whether magic by itself could communicate though various aspects of semiotics. Other questions (like in the earlier act also) tried to see if people draw parallels or make associations between what is shown as part of a magical act and some other related theme. Five questions aimed at analysing the subject’s attitude towards magic were also included as part of this questionnaire.

After collecting PART FOUR, the subjects were supplied with PART FIVE of the Questionnaire, being the last part. Here, the subjects were asked to rank the three acts they viewed on the video in their order of preference, and state reasons for the same. The objective here was to try and figure out what kind of magic trick was liked better by what kind of audience and for what reason. Recall in the subjects’ minds, in terms of any incident wherein magic was used to communicate a social awareness message, was checked for by some other questions.

As can be seen by going through the Questionnaire (PART ONE through PART FIVE) appended at the end of this study, both open-ended and close-ended questions were utilised to obtain the responses from the subjects. Some of the close-ended (multiple choice) questions enabled easy quantification and cross-verification of responses, while the open-ended questions enabled the researcher to study whether the respondent had indeed understood the message communicated and in what way. Many questions were intended to analyse the subjects’ interpretation and perception of the magician and the magic per se.




Chapter five

Analysis of responses:

The demographics of the sample:

Before going into the analysis of the responses to the crucial questions bearing on the study, the demographic description of the sample is made in the following section. The 100 subjects that took part in the experiment comprised of 35 males and 65 females. It is pertinent to mention here that this overrepresentation of females was unintentional, and was a result of non-probability accidental sampling. The sample was also fairly representative in terms of the age distribution. The subjects belonged to a diverse age group, ranging from 14 to 47 years. Since magic holds attraction to all age groups, selection of such diverse age range in the sample is justified.

Table depicting the age distribution of the subjects

Age (in years)

14 to 18

18 to 22

22 to 26

26 and more

No. of subjects





Again, the sample was quite well distributed in terms of educational qualification also. The subjects had varied educational background extending from tenth standard to Post Graduation degree. This reflects the diversity of the sample.

Table depicting the educational background distribution of the subjects


Standard X

Standard XII

UG Degree

PG Degree

No. of subjects





Most of the subjects were from Udupi & rest of Karnataka, and a small number from the neighbouring state of Kerala. Only one subject happened to be from the state of Jammu & Kashmir. These subjects from outside Karnataka formed the chunk of the non-Kannada speaking sample. It was these subjects who could not understand any Kannada, and were provided the comparison group needed for experiment TWO.

Table depicting the geographical distribution of the subjects


Udupi District

Rest of Karnataka

Kerala State


No. of subjects





If this study was on a larger scale, then such demographic data would have enabled to check for and examine interrelationship between data. The effects of variables like age, sex, educational qualification, geographical location, etc., on the perception of the viewer could then be studied in much detail. But given the small size of sample, no attempt is made to analyse the interrelationship between the demographic variable and the viewers’ perception of communication potential of magic.


Previous exposure to magic:

Coming to the study proper, the first part was aimed at finding and understanding the exposure of a person to magic shows. Out of the 100 subjects only one subject had never seen a magic show so far. But then the rest too did not have much exposure to the art of legerdemain. Though there were people who had seen more than 20 shows, they were a negligible part of this sample. To be precise only 18 had seen more than 10 shows; seven people had seen more than 15 shows, and only three had seen 20 shows or more! Furthermore, most of these shows were watched on the television, and on stage.

Table portraying subjects’ exposure to magic shows

Medium of exposure




No. of subjects




This is what makes this set of subjects ideal for such an experiment, because whatever responses they are giving is based more on their exposure to the experiments (being the video at hand), and not prior experience or exposure. If the findings of the study still show that magic can effectively communicate messages, then it is worthwhile to utilise the art of magic as a medium for social messages and other communications.

Analysis – Stage #1:

Experiment ONE:

In order to check whether the art of magic had a potential to communicate a message with the help of verbal cues, the first experiment was carried out on the subjects as explained in the methodology. In response to the first question, wherein the subjects were asked to describe the act they had viewed, two people left this question unanswered. But among the rest, 85 provided satisfactory answers, while five almost made it to this level (considered as “makes sense”). Eight people provided what can be said to constitute unsatisfactory answers.

It is pertinent to mention here that while explaining the act some subjects explained the effect, i.e., the trick as perceived by them; while others described the act in terms of the message conveyed. Both kinds of responses were considered correct, provided they reflected the essence of the magic trick or act.

To understand this further, let us have a look at a couple of responses. A 40-year-old woman, who is a primary school teacher by profession, explained the first act as: “The magician used equal pieces of rope to represent three children. The literate parents being aware of the polio course have given it to the children and the children have grown well. The one child who hasn’t been given is lame.” While some have been very descriptive, others have been very brisk and to the point, like the tenth standard student who scribbled, “Equal ropes to unequal ropes,” or the Bachelor of Law (LLB) student who wrote, “Advantage of pulse polio drops”. All these are responses that have been rated to be satisfactory, as they represent the essence of the act.

Analysis of the subjects’ responses to the question, “What was the message communicated through the first act?” showed that 90 per cent of the subjects had understood and grasped the message. Furthermore, 75 per cent of these people had understood the message at a very high level… what could be labelled for ease of classification as being “correct”.


Table representing the assimilation of messages in ACT ONE

Level of accuracy of responses

No. of subjects





Makes sense










Though the responses were provided in diverse ways, it was the essence of the message that was considered for analysis by the researcher. For example, “The act expressed the need for pulse polio education and why the complete course of pulse polio must be undergone”, and “The message was that children below the age of five years should be given pulse polio drops at the correct time”, were both adjudged as “correct”.

The next question was, “What did the ropes represent in the magic trick?” Again 88 percent of the respondents were on the right track when they penned in their answers, and an overwhelming 76 percent came up with the correct answer. It is important to note that unsatisfactory and wrong answers comprised only five per cent, and the remaining seven per cent had left this question unanswered.


What did the ropes represent in the magic act?

Level of accuracy of responses

No. of subjects





Makes sense







Again, the percentage of people who scored correct for both questions – in terms of the perception of the message communicated and the association of the ropes with children – totalled to 63 percent! Furthermore, the percentage of subjects who scored it high in terms of perception in all the three questions – the above two plus the perception of the act as such – accounts for 67 per cent.

Thus, with this first act and the said experiment the idea that a magic trick could communicate a message is put across. It is pretty clear that 90 per cent of the subjects have perceived the message as intended, 98 per cent of the subjects have realised that such a message was projected, while 88 per cent have again associated the ropes with children. This evidence supports Hypothesis 1 viz., “The magic show consisting of a magical act and a patter has the potential to communicate messages.” This goes on to say that the art of magic can be utilised as an effective channel to communicate a message to the audience. In other words, the art of magic has great potential as an effective medium of communication.


Analysis Stage # 2:

Stage 2a – Experiment TWO:

Although the findings of Experiment ONE provide enough evidence for the effectiveness of magic as a medium of communication, the question regarding the role of Magic Vs Patter is still open for debate. The contention here is that it is not the magic trick that communicated, but the verbal cues that conveyed the message across. The only role that the magic trick played, if any, could be in a supportive role. It was like the slide show or demonstration that strengthens the communication of a message. The magic trick only corroborated the verbal message, and thus it can be used as a communication tool; in no way can it be termed as a communication medium. The contention is that the subjects understood and perceived the message only because they could understand the verbal language. Point well taken!

The above argument can be rebutted if the subjects understand the message communicated through a magic trick, while not at all knowing the language used in the patter. The patter in the first act was in English Language, one that was understandable by all the subjects. What if the language used in the patter, which essentially conveys the message to be communicated, is one that is alien to the subjects. If it is the verbal patter that communicates the message, then the subjects should not receive the message, let alone perceive or assimilate it.

If the subjects still understand and perceive the message – even though they do not understand the language used – then it would mean that it is not the verbal cues that are communicating. If it is not the verbal cues, in other words the patter, that communicates the message then surely it must be the magic act per se, which is the medium of communication.

In the second experiment, except for the six respondents who did not answer the question which asked them to describe what transpired in the second act, 94 subjects responded satisfactorily. Again, it was only 2 who had understood the act at a lower level, for 92 subjects had understood the essence of the act perfectly.

Table showing the recall in terms of the second act

Level of accuracy of responses

No. of subjects



Makes sense




Cross-analysis showed that 80 per cent of the subjects had understood the act at a very high level both in the first experiment and the second. Some of the descriptions were very detailed like this one from a second year degree student. She said, “A big box of cloth was brought and it was shown that it was empty. It was compared to a man. It was shown what happens when a man becomes alcoholic. It was also shown that the man can be free of the addiction if he so pleases”.

Others like this tenth standard girl student had concentrated more on the message of the act, rather than the magic effects. “A drunkard beats his wife when she tried to stop him. Later it was shown that the drinking is injurious to health, society, country, etc. two demons come out of the box which was representing as the drunkard’s body and take him and tie him up. When he decides to give up drinking, he was able to totally root out those devils.”

Again coming to the next question, where the perception of the message was put to test, the response was very favourable and encouraging. 93 percent of the subjects had a high perception of the message, while 5 percent of the responses was unanswered or considered unsatisfactory. While some subjects interpreted the message as “Drinking alcohol is injurious to health, to the family, and society,” others said, “we should not cultivate bad habits like drinking, which will burn our entire being, and make us not our real self”.


Table representing the assimilation of the message in Act TWO

Level of accuracy of responses

No. of subjects





Makes sense







When compared to the perception of the message in the earlier experiment, a total of 81 per cent of the subjects perceived the message at a very high level in both the instances. This strengthens the idea that magic can communicate a message, as the sample also contained a section, who did not understand Kannada. But again we need to ascertain that the subjects that did not understand the language perceived the message correctly, and on par with those that did understand the Kannada language. For without this we cannot convince the critics who think it is the verbal cues that communicate and not the magic act.

Among the 100 subjects that were part of this study, 15 did not understand Kannada. Two respondents, who said that they only knew a bit of Kannada, were included along with the Kannada speaking lot, which totalled to 85. On comparing the assimilation of the message, we find that 13 out of the 15, perceived the message in the intended manner. Those that got it wrong or left the question unanswered were one each. On the other hand, among the 85 subjects who did understand Kannada, 79 perceived the message in the intended way. The people who got it wrong or abstained from responding were two and one respectively.

Like in the earlier instance, in this case too the responses were very distinct and interesting. Most responded on the lines of, “We should not cultivate bad habits like drinking, which burn our entire being and make us not our real self”. Others said, “The message we get from this act is that if we are willing to do something or achieving something, it depends on our will power. And if we have a strong will power nobody can change us”. Is it really necessary for the researcher to remind you that the respondent was talking about how it is in the person’s own hands to come out of a habit like alcoholism?

A 15-year-old boy hit the nail right on the head when he said, “The message communicated through this act is how a person’s life becomes miserable because of drinking; and (that) the drunkard can also come out of the habit by their self control.


Table depicting the perception of the message in ACT TWO

Level of accuracy

of responses

No. of subjects

Kannada Speaking (85)

Kannada non-speaking (15)







Makes sense










In other words, 95 subjects who understand Kannada perceived the message in the intended way, while 86 per cent of those that do not understand Kannada assimilated the correct message.

Consider this response by a person who hails from Jammu & Kashmir state, and does not understand a single word of Kannada. This 21-year-old says, “When alcohol goes into our body, it harms us physically as well as mentally (If I got that box thing right, I think it meant this only).” Explaining what she perceives as the message, she says, “Alcohol is an evil and it harms your body and soul as well. We should fight back and free ourselves from this evil act and fight it together”.

To understand this very point let us refer to the cross-question, wherein the respondent was asked to suggest a suitable name for the act. 85 per cent of the sample had named the act satisfactorily, thus proving that they had indeed understood the essence of the communication. 12 out of the 15 who did not understand the verbal language employed had named the act satisfactorily, as compared to 69 of the 85 that did understand Kannada. It is also pertinent to note here that among those that did not understand Kannada, 14 had earlier described the act with very high perception.


Table representing accuracy of names suggested for Act TWO

Level of accuracy of responses

No. of subjects



Makes sense







Again, in response to the question on whether language is a barrier in communicating a said message through magic, 66 subjects said No, while 26 felt that it was. One subject said it is both Yes and No, while 6 did not express any opinion. 79 of the subjects offered valid reasoning for the stand taken by them in response to this question.

Among some very interesting responses was one by a 20-year-old girl studying in Second B.A., who said, “Magic is a universal language. Its all about vision rather than hearing, so regardless of which language the said message is communicated in, the act itself is the communication of the message”. Then there was the tenth standard student who felt, “It (magic) inspires children to take a better way of life. Magic has a greater impact than language on human mind; especially on magic lovers”.

Analysis of the responses to the question, “Do you think magic is an effective means of communication?” provides more support to these findings. 89 per cent of the subjects said yes, while 10 said no. There was one subject who said it is both yes and no, and provided quite a valid reason for the same. She said, “Yes – because in a very short space of time the idea is conveyed; No – because the person might be so awed by the act that they may fail to get the message”. As many as 91 subjects provided valid arguments in support of their response.

One of the arguments in support of magic being an effective means of communication was that, “Magic is something that grabs the attention of the most mundane of persons. So it’s a sure-fire medium for any social cause. It is undoubtedly one of the more effective means of communication”. Looks like this 20-year old girl said everything that the researcher is trying to put across with the help of this study.

Many interesting arguments also figured in why magic is not an effective medium of communication. While most felt that, “Magic is only an entertainment”, two others reasoned, “Because you cannot communicate each and everything through magic,” and “Because everyone in this world cannot be shown magic”.

Analysis Stage # 3:

Stage 2b – Experiment THREE:

But then the argument here is that even now there is not sufficient evidence to say that magic communicates a message. How do you say that the art of magic can communicate a message, and that it communicates in a language that is universal that everybody understands? Where is this language, and if it really exists then why is it not self-evident?

To find some answers to the above questions, the researcher conducts the third experiment. Remember that the magical act used in this act was one where no verbal cues, in any language, was used. So if a message is communicated, then it has to be through the language of the art of magic, and nothing else.

In the third experiment too, the subjects were asked to describe the act, like in the earlier two instances. Most of the descriptions resembled the following description as supplied by a second year degree student. She says, “A patriot was shown holding the map of India. Then a politician takes it in his hands. Then a rich man comes and bribes him. So he gives a part of it to him. Then hoodlums come and threaten him, so he gives a part of it to them. Then the patriot comes back and assimilates all the pieces into one”.

Most of the descriptions fit this except for certain specifics like associating the man in the suit with corruption, the British, etc., and the hoodlums with terrorism, terrorists, anti-social elements, and more. Interestingly, the magician has been looked on as a patriot, good politician, a good citizen, the people, Prime Minister and even Atal Bihari Vajpayee! Let us now have a closer look at some of the statistics.

A massive 98 per cent of the people described the act to satisfaction, while only two per cent were unsatisfactory in their description. It is worthy to mention here that the two, who were unsatisfactory in describing the act had been unsatisfactory in the descriptions of all the three acts! But more importantly, 89 per cent of the subjects had responses, which were considered ‘satisfactory’ in terms of perception of the intended message in all the three experiments.

Coming to the perception of the message in this act, 97 per cent of the sample had perceived the message accurately. Again, within this 97, 63 had been adjudged “correct” in their perception. Furthermore it is also worth noting that a total of 71 per cent were considered to have perceived the messages at a very high level in all the three acts.

Now let us look at some of the messages that were perceived by the subjects. A majority of the subjects, like this 20-year-old girl, perceived the message as, “Be united and live united. Unity is strength and no money can break the country. And that please please… use your sense while voting a politician (to power)”. Many others perceived the message on the lines of, “It shows the present condition of India. The whole (of) India is being parted into different small parts by the Indian(s) only, for their selfish needs. But it also conveys that it is possible to make India as one, but a sincere person is most needed”.

What is very encouraging in this is that most subjects have directly associated the map of India with India – the nation, per se. They have also associated the magician as the saviour of India, the one person who can save the motherland from the clutches of corruption, terrorism, and of course the wretched politicians.

All these facts add up to validate Hypothesis 2b, and prove that, “The magical act can communicate messages even in the absence of patter”. This stresses the role of the magic act per se in the process of communication. This again goes to prove the theory of the art of magic possessing a universal language by which it can communicate and influence across all barriers.

The evidences in support of the Hypotheses 2a and 2b, suggest, beyond any doubt, that, “The verbal cues in a magic show are irrelevant to communicate the intended messages. The magical act per se has the potential to communicate messages, even in the absence of verbal cues”.


Additional analysis:

Perception of a magician and magic per se:

Having found that the art of magic has immense communication potential, it is but apt to analyse the perception of legerdemain in the minds of the audience. What are some of the perceptions of the respondents about magic and the magician? The perceptions of the subjects were explored through a series of “close type” questions or rating scales scattered throughout the Questionnaire.

To begin with he subjects were asked to indicate functions of magic or the intentions of the magician in performing the magical act. They were given the following options: “educate,” “entertain,” “cheat,” “fool,” and “any other”. Majority of the subjects believed that magic performs the twin functions of entertainment (78%) and education (67%). This clearly suggests that magic performs some of the same functions attributed to other communication media. It was only a negligible number of the subjects who attributed the functions of cheating or fooling to magic.

Is magic an art, science or something else? Almost two-thirds (61%) of the respondents of the present study consider magic an art, 13 felt it was science, while another 16 of them regard it as both an art and a science. Only six of the total respondents believe magic to be a supernatural phenomenon. Even in the highly literate sample of the study, there are some who consider magic as super natural. This belief may be more predominant among the less-educated rural masses.

What is perhaps more disturbing, are the responses to the statement that “the magician is a person who uses supernatural or yogic powers to show magic”. 59 per cent of the subjects do not associate any supernatural or yogic powers with magical acts, while 23 per cent tend to believe that a magician possesses some kind of such power. It reflects that even a fair number of the literate people is quite ignorant about the “true” nature of magic – a combination of art, science, and misdirection.

Further it is to be noted that there is some inconsistency between the responses to the previous question and the present one. Earlier it was noted that only six per cent of the total respondents believed that magic involves supernatural elements, but here the percentage has gone up to 23! It may be due to the faulty nature of the latter question where the supernatural and yoga are combined. In actuality, the higher rate of agreement with the statement may reflect the respondents’ beliefs that magic is an outcome of yogic powers.


What is remembered? The effect or the message?

An interesting point that the researcher observed in the analysis of these three experiments was that in most instances the subjects remembered and described a combination of the effect and the message. This puts forth the idea that when a person sees a magic performance and if the message is intermingled with the effect of the trick, then there are very high chances that this spectator will remember it for a long time. In other words the recall in terms of such acts will be very high. This was the case with the acts used in the video, and the results speak for themselves!

Ranking of the three acts in terms of preference:

There is only one aspect of the Experiment that we have not yet covered and that is the ranking of the three acts in terms of the respondents’ preference. If we look at the preference of the subjects for the first rank it was totally in favour of the Magic for Patriotism act. The Magic of Pulse Polio act was ranked second, while the Magic against Alcoholism a close third.

The Magic for patriotism appealed most due to the message of patriotism, along with the shocking visual of India being literally torn to pieces by a politician for money and greed. While one girl said, “That’s the quality (patriotism) lacked by almost all in today’s generation. It (the lacuna) can put a whole country into hardship”, another felt, “the use of any particular language did not hinder the purpose of the act – and the act itself brought out the essence of the message”. Most of the others “liked the way the magician put the torn pieces of the map together and made it a whole India”.

What is very clear here is that the simple yet effective act Magic for Patriotism communicated the message to the audience in a way that most of them linked the message with the effect. Even if there was no verbal language or verbal cue used in this act, the universal language of magic, communicated the message very efficiently, and the evidence for this is that 87 per cent of the subjects who voted it for Rank 1 and 2.





Chapter six

Summary and conclusion:

“The art of magic as a medium of communication” – is what the study is all about, and that is precisely what the study points to. To examine the potentiality of the art of magic as a channel for communicating a message, three experiments were conducted. A sample of 100 people in the age group of 14 to 47 years, viewed magical acts and answered questionnaires in controlled laboratory conditions.

The subjects, selected through non-probability accidental sampling procedure, were exposed to three special magic acts on video, each of which was trying to communicate a message. The subjects then filled up a comprehensive five-part questionnaire aimed at examining the assimilation of the said messages. The questionnaire also aimed at analysing the perception of the subjects with reference to the art of magic and the magician per se. The experiments, the design of the study, the questionnaire used, and other details, have already been explained in earlier chapters.

The analysis of the responses showed that the subjects had a very high level of message perception. In the first experiment, which examined the potential of communicating a verbal message through a magic trick, in terms of its patter, showed that 98 per cent felt that there was a message communicated through the act. Again, nearly 90 per cent of the subjects understood and assimilated the message correctly. Through the first experiment Hypothesis 1 was validated, viz., “The art of magic can be used as a medium of communication by loading verbal messages or cues, magical act corroborates the message via verbal expressions.”

To counter the criticism that the message communicated was through the verbal cues (incidentally in English) and not through the magic act as such, the second experiment was conducted. In this magic act, the patter accompanying the act and “communicating the message” was in Kannada, the regional language. The comprehension of this message between subjects – who understood Kannada and did not understand the language – was analysed and compared between the two groups. It was found that the assimilation of the message in both the groups was above 85 per cent. These findings suggest that it is not just the verbal cues or the patter that communicates a message, but that even the magical act has a role to play in the process.

Again, if it was the verbal cues that communicated the message, then the section that did not understand Kannada should not have grasped the message. But the fact that, those alien to the language did comprehend the message as well as those who knew the language, suggests that language is not a barrier, if the art of magic is used as the communication channel. The hypothesis adopted for experiment two, being “Language is not a barrier in communicating a said message when the art of magic is used as a medium for the same,” was thus validated. All this gives rise to the idea that the art of magic per se is able to communicate a message by itself, and thus be a communication medium.

To examine this, the third experiment was conducted, wherein the potential of magic per se as being able to communicate messages, without the use of verbal cues was tested. The hypothesis that, “the art of magic has an inherent language of its own, and is able to communicate a said message according to the principles of non-verbal communication,” was validated, when 97 per cent of the subjects assimilating the message in the intended manner.

The very fact that a total of 71 per cent of the subjects had assimilated the message with high levels of perception in all the three acts, is evidence enough to say that the art of magic communicates a message very efficiently. Another aspect is the recall in terms of the act. An analysis of the descriptions of the three acts provided by the respondents, reveal that 89 per cent of the respondents recalled correctly the details of the magical acts.

With the art of magic being proved as a medium of communication and an effective one at that, it is pertinent to have a look at its potential. What is so unique or special about magic that should make it the ideal or most sought after communication medium?

Well in simple words, the art of magic has a potential to transcend all kinds of barriers and communicate the message in a manner as no other medium can hope to match. If magic happens by itself, irrespective of whether the magician is on the street, on stage, in a parlour, in a restaurant at your table, or even in your house, the art of magic retains its ultimate charm. It amazes, entertains and communicates to the audience – whether it is one person, a couple or thousand of people.

Now take the same art of magic, a medium by itself and make it part of another medium. For example air a magic over the radio (Yes, you may be surprised, but this has been accomplished on numerous occasions, especially by mentalists!) or telecast it over the television. The art of magic does not lose its identity, and the communication is not identified with being from within the other medium. For example when a mentalist reads your mind from inside the radio or over the telephone or even from within a television screen, you will be equally amazed, if not more.

The art of magic is so versatile and diverse that it can be classified into different genres, each of which can communicate best through a certain mode. Magicians have conjuring tricks, parlour tricks, stage tricks, mega-illusions, close-up tricks, street magic tricks and illusions, and much more. Believe it or not, there are actually tricks that belong to the genre of “over the telephone” or “through the television” – magic that can happen right in the spectators or viewer’s house as he is talking over the phone, or watching television.

Whatever the trick, and whatever the mode, what you are finally watching is “magic”, and nothing else. Magic is so versatile that now you can even find it over the Internet! Many web-sites provide you with “online magic tricks” a new genre by itself, that happen again in your home, through the computer screen! Thus magic is not like the other fine arts which are challenged with the advent of new technology, for magic is a bigger medium than all other mediums. It has the potential to utilise the new medium of technology itself and make it a part of the art of magic – like it has happened in the case of television, internet, etc. Magic has actually utilised these new mediums to the fullest extent and not lost its identity. Another important finding in this study is that the subjects associate the magic trick, the props utilised in a trick or act and also the magician, to significant in real life.

Again, the use of magic is social awareness and education campaigns, would be of much help to countries like India. Not that it should not be utilised in richer countries like USA, UK, etc., for there it is already being utilised to a certain extent, but that it has very good potential when compared to other media in less-developed countries. With a low rate of literacy and high levels of ignorance, the art of magic being able to communicate across all barriers in terms of age, sex, education, language, etc., should be fully utilised.

Only magic has the potential to eradicate superstition and false beliefs, for it is essentially this great art that the so-called godmen and psychics are misusing. As B. Premanand, India’s premier crusader against alleged godmen like Sai Baba, once said to the researcher, “Prevent godmen from misusing the great art of magic”; all the magicians should follow this golden rule.

The researcher would like to stress on the dangers of such misuse by drawing your attention to the analysis of the perception of the people towards magic. If as much as 41 per cent of the “literate and educated” people could say that, “the magician employs supernatural and yogic powers to show magic,” what would be the magnitude of such a misled notion among the uneducated and illiterate masses in the villages of India?

The art of magic has tremendous potential not only to communicate messages but also to permanently influence an individual’s life. How else would you describe the influence of the alleged godmen and psychics over the decisions of their countrymen and political leaders. Understand the power of the medium, and unleash the power of magic for the good of the society. Use magic to eradicate superstition, create social awareness, and for social education. Prevent its misuse by unscrupulous people who are taking the educated and the gullible alike for a total ride.





Chapter seven

Limitations & scope for further study:

The fact that this study was exploratory in nature brings to the fore many limitations in the same. The experimental design utilised in the study, itself may be brought under critical scrutiny. It should be noted that this study has no precedent, other than a pilot study conducted earlier by the researcher himself.

Given the complexity of the subject matter, the experimental design calls for greater ‘rigour’ in terms of controls. Ideally, the same magical act should have been used with all the experimental variations viz., (a) Act + Patter; (b) Act + Patter in language alien to the subjects; and (c) Act with no Patter.

The word “Experiment” is used in the present study only in a limited sense. As stated earlier, it refers to the viewing of the three different magic acts on video, and the filling up of the five-part questionnaire in a controlled laboratory condition.

If the study was carried out on a larger scale, many other parameters could have been studied in greater detail. A larger sample would have enabled the researcher to analyse the interrelationship between demographic variables and the viewers’ perceptions of communication potential of magic. The influence of variables like age, sex, educational level, geographical location, etc., on the viewer’s perception of magic and the message could have been examined. The influence of socio-economic factors on the perception could also be examined here.

The limitations inherent in the usage of the questionnaire method also come into effect in this study. A more detailed study may involve the utilisation of the personal interview method, focus-group discussions, etc., along with the questionnaire. Then there was question of using a video recording to expose the viewers to the said magic acts. Would the perception of a viewer be different if it was a live (stage) performance of a magic act?

Lastly, there is the aspect brought in by the different genres of magic that offer a scope for further study. Do the different genres of magic namely close-up, platform, and stage, or the genres of tricks namely tricks, illusions, and mega illusions, and also the genre of a magic show itself, as in corporate magic, gospel magic, stage magic, mobile magic influence the perception in distinct ways? Do the kind of messages that are communicated through a said act (abstract message as in patriotism, etc, and specific messages as in pulse polio) also have a bearing on the perception?




Chapter eight


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The Internet – Sites that offered valuable information:

  1. Astonishment Site. URL:
  2. Comptons Encyclopedia Online. URL:
  3. Committee for Scientific Investigation of the Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) URL:
  4. Houdini! – Harry Houdini. URL:
  5. Indian Skeptic. URL:
  6. James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF). URL:
  7. Learned Pig Project. URL:
  8. Magic & Illusion Site. URL:
  9. Magical Past Times. URL:
  10. Skeptic Dictionary – A Guide for the New Millennium. URL:
  11. Skeptical Inquirer – Magazine by CSICOP. URL:
  12. University of Virginia Library. URL: http://etext.lib.virginiaedu/modeng/




Appendix – contents

1. The Questionnaire (Page 64 – 68)

  1. Questionnaire Part ONE of FIVE
  2. Questionnaire Part TWO of FIVE
  3. Questionnaire Part THREE of FIVE
  4. Questionnaire Part FOUR of FIVE
  5. Questionnaire Part FIVE of FIVE


2. Annexures (Page 69 – 77)

  1. “Magick”
  2. “Sai Baba”
  3. “Uri Geller”
  4. “The Randi Psychic Challenge”
    – Robert Todd Caroll’s The Skeptic Dictionary located at
  5. “James Randi – brief biography” – James Randi Educational Foundation web-site located at
  6. “A Valentine’s Magic” – Bryan Dean’s Magic and Illusion web-site located at