Harry Houdini is remembered first as an escape artist, but he was also a “séance-buster” who despised fraud in the séance room, and did all he could to expose it. His 1924 book, A Magician Among the Spirits, is an account of his experiences with the spirit mediums of his day, and in no case did he discover anything but scams and shams and magic tricks. He conducted his investigations with both an open mind and a wishful heart, as it was the death of his mother that led him to his inquiry into the realm of spirit in the first place. He sincerely hoped that life continued after death and that communication with the departed was possible. He was mortified to discover nothing but hokum, and morally outraged that bereaved people were being fleeced by con men using standard magician’s effects.
While he maintained that he was not a skeptic, his activities as a debunker inspired several generations of skeptical magicians to embrace him as their mascot. There is a branch of magic called “gospel magic” where standard magic tricks are presented with a religious-instructive twist, but in the main magicians are a skeptical bunch. They have direct experience with how easily people can be tricked, controlled, manipulated, and deceived, and using Houdini’s example as something of a guiding light, are in general quite dismissive of spirituality in any form. This is all perfectly understandable, but for someone like myself, an avid reader and tremendous fan of spiritual literature for decades before I took up the study of magic, I entered the world of magic and magicians and found myself a stranger in a land already famously strange.
I don’t “believe in God.” I experience divinity every minute of every day. This has nothing to do with what becomes of us when we shed this mortal coil; this is strictly here-and-now. What’s more, I have zero interest in persuading anybody to join me in my opinions. I don’t see truth as some kind of numbers game, where stacking up the believers makes a truth any truer; indeed, I’m fond of Oscar Wilde’s observation that “A truth ceases to be true when more than one person believes it.” Even if I ardently wished to make you see this splendid world as I view it through my enraptured eyes, I couldn’t do it anyhow. It’s too late, too unique to myself, the road was too long and full of surprise twists to fill you in on all the parts that contributed to “the making of” my point of view. In other words, do your own studying. Or not. Continue reading “Guest Contributor Lisa Cousins: A Spirit Among the Magicians”