Monday, August 21, 2006

Hypnosis among Christians

What seems to be an eternal debate is the question of whether a Christian is for or against hypnosis, as if there was an either/or choice. Catholic doctrine is different from LDS doctrine, Protestant doctrines are different according to which Protestant church you're speaking of. And every person is influenced by custom -- probably more than we're willing to admit.

So I've been asked about the LDS mindset on this. And I begin immediately with the doctrine of agency -- that is, the right and the moral imperitive to choose good over evil. And hypnosis is one of those things which can impair one's agency. Therefore, it's evil -- yes?

Well maybe - and maybe not. Used willy-nilly (and far too many entertainers use it without considering consequences) it can relax inhibitions. And inhibitions are not usually bad things. They're our fuses, our circuit breakers, that help keep us in control when we'd really like to crash (repeatedly) into the car which stole a parking space from us.

Now when someone who knows what they're doing is the hypnotist, when it's someone we trust, it's another (and a particularly powerful) method of relaxation, therapy, or anaesthesia. The only question is really whether the hypnotist is someone we trust.

Certainly, 19th century amusements were not particularly trustworthy. In the August 1981 issue of Tambuli, Brother William Berrett said "This led Brigham Young to say of the hypnotism he saw practiced in his day: 'Hypnotism is an inverted truth; it originated in holy, good, and righteous principles, which have been inverted by the power of the devil.' "

Lee Darrow, instructor for the first ever safety course for hypnotists, consistently campaigns for better training of hypnotists, whether for medical or entertainment purposes. A difficulty is that legislators (much less your average person) don't usually know what hypnotism is.

Richard Osterlind points out that people's feelings about hypnosis has more to do with their local or family customs than with their church's doctrine. In this, I definitely agree. (Besides, you'd be surprised how many people don't know the doctrines of their church.) There's a lot of misinformation which is given out about hypnosis, and local urban myths abound.

We're told that hypnotism can't make you do what you'd normally not do. We're told that hypnosis can cause you to lose your inhibitions and do things you'd normally not want to do. We're told that hypnosis, under a clever hypnotist, can make us do things we'd normally not dream of doing.

Get the facts. Lee's site is a good place to start (There's an extraordinary amount of false information on the internet, but Lee's an unusually straight player.) and he can lead you to further facts. You can probably contact him through his website at

As for us Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons) we're very fond of our agency. We submit to surgeons, therapists, and doctors all the time -- so we're, as a people, not particularly superstitious about hypnosis. But we might be a little suspicious of an entertainer making us dance like a chicken.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Politically Incorrect

Seems as if too many of these posts are about "what's wrong with magic." This one might well be a "what's wrong with people?"

I've been raked over the coals at a few places on the internet, because I've opposed a point of view which says that exposing other people's acts is just fine, and that bigotry is just fine. Disgarding the out-and-out hate mail, responses I've received are of four types:

1. They don't expose any tricks which aren't theirs. (This is a flat-out falsehood.)

2. They only disagree with certain groups; they're not bigoted. (We'll answer that in a minute.)

3. They do good works.

Anyone who points out evil, should practically be shot on sight.

Most of the fuss focuses upon a specific duo because they're currently getting the most attention. But next decade, it'll be some other hate group or celebrity. Past decades have seen momentary popularity of such "icons" as David Duke, the KKK, and Joe McCarthy. Eventually, history blips over the damage they do, but it's murder during the events.

This group for instance, has advocated violence against an entire religion, boasts of having stolen from a charitable organization (and advocates their readers do the same), inspired and encouraged vandalism of a church outside of Anchorage a few years ago --- and we've not even discussed their delight in ruining other people's acts.

As to their good works -- It's awfully Christian to see that they participated in a benefit for a magician who'd been all but destroyed in an auto accident. Despite, as one of their loyal worshippers said, the fact that the injured magician was a Christian. Sometime, we'll talk about the difference between actual self-sacrifice and taking a few hours of one's time. And I certainly hope the benefit didn't expose any of the injured magician's act.

This is the way they want the public to perceive magicians and magic. I'd druther be perceived as a friendly dad & gran'pa who hopes to make life a little easier, a little better for my brothers and sisters. Which means, no matter the money or fame, this gran'pa won't be trying to destroy other people's lives.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Keeping it simple

It turns out that I may be rather good at this mentalism thing, if reactions from my audiences can be said to be an indicator. And it's gotten me to go back, remember, and re-study theatre lessons of 35 years ago - tempered with the experiences of the past 35 years. I remember that, as young people, we were concerned with "the theatah" -- the art of it all and how we were so much more cultured than the plebes who laid down their money for "our art."

I'm afraid many think only of the "art" of it, and don't consider the craft and vocational portions.

For instance, there's this human tendency to overcomplicate things. A good portion of magic isn't entertainment because the magician complicates things. "Shuffle the deck. Deal 17 cards face down. Look at one. Remember it. Pat your head and rub your tummy." Even before we talk about presentation and interpersonal skills, things aren't looking well.

One of my favorite entertainers/creators frequently says that he can't believe someone didn't invent (fill in the blank) before, because it seems so simple to him. That is, however, a significant indication that something really is a good idea -- if, in retrospect, it seems simple. Jules Fieffer says the creation of Superman was not "an original idea" but something which all the imitators (and millions of customers) responded with "But of COURSE!" (The imitators followed with slapping their foreheads.)

It's easy to admire creators for BEING creators (something I may or may not ever become in magic, but I'm good with that); I also admire this entertainer for his choice to create with intent -- intent FOR the audience's purposes, not necessarily what will make things easier or more impressive for him.

Basing the act on what affects the customer (a term we ought never forget) is our real goal. We don't measure success by how much WE enjoy doing a certain routine. When all is said and done, sometimes the sponge balls get the biggest reactions. Recently, at dinner with my seen-too-much-magic wife, I couldn't help but do the old coin-from-dinner-roll. It doesn't get simpler or easier than that. Yet the woman who is bored with twisted cutlery yelped, stared with her mouth open, then said those wonderful words "How did you DO that?"

Humans haven't changed significantly since the days of Father Adam and Mother Eve, so it makes sense that the classics, the simple-and-direct, still hit the hardest. Richard Osterlind points out how, from twelve notes, an infinite number of diverse compositions are created. Perhaps we should be looking at basic human psychology and the classics of magic and mentalism as the basic notes with which we can create amazement.

It always seemed to me that the most awe-inspiring pieces of classic music were based on very simple arrangements, which could then be taken into many new places.

Of course, I always liked barber shop quartet too, and you don't get much simpler than that!

Back in the saddle again

Gee, did THIS ever take a long time to come about! Since you last saw me here, I've moved FIVE times by my counting, and we're only going to be at this assignment until September. This is why magazines don't want me to subscribe.

The good news is that my brother did remarkably well on the removal of the dangerous tumor in his neck. The bad news is that he has two more tumors on the other side of his neck. The weird news is that the medical team is waiting 'til September to do anything more with him. So far, so good. Now if only we could get him to stop smoking!

Enough of the personal matters! Skip to the next entry for something about magic!
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