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Jeff McBride

times when he’d noticed this. I was actually surprised by my brother’s skepticism when I asked him about this. I came to understand that, because stage magicians see how easily people can be fooled by sleight of hand, many are dubious of anecdotes claiming controversial perceptions, such as psychic phenomena. Many magicians, like the outspoken debunker James Randi, see all claims of psychic phenomena as a sham.

One of the things Rupert asked me to look into was, during stage magic performances, when people entered into a state of suspended belief, whether or not that ever effected real events that people couldn’t easily explain through conventional science. So, I’m wondering if you’ve ever noticed, that when your audience is in a state of suspended belief, and reality starts to bend in their minds a bit, that unusual events sometimes occur, which you can’t easily explain?

Jeff: I would say this is more likely to happen in ritual space when performance magicians are creating magical illusion, than in “conventional theater venues”. The reason for this is setting and mindset. You go to the theater, or the casino, and there’s all of these conventional procedures that kind of lock in to the participants for a audience. There’s a big difference between audience and ritual participants. There’s a different contract. When you walk into a conventional theater, there’s all of these like–you know getting your tickets, going to your seat, getting your program. That kind of distances the audience. That puts them in an objective state of mind. For me, personally, it’s much harder to create the sense of real magic in a theater, than it is in a ritual circle.

David: When you say “real magic”, what have you noticed? Is there anything you can describe that you’ve noticed among participants, like some type of telepathic or psychic experience?

Jeff: The major thing that happens in ritual space is synchronicity. You notice the synchronicity. For me, yes, I could name instances for you, that, in recounting, might seem minor, but that had, thunderous impact internally. You know, you can never really measure interior depth by recounting the surfaces. 
I’ll give a specific instance. Recently, at a five day Fire Dance gathering, I did a piece of magic towards the end of the gathering. I do a piece where I throw a paper streamer, a huge spider-web streamer, out over the ritual fire, and sometimes this spider-web paper is carried hundreds and hundreds of feet up into the sky. It changes into a big paper dragon as it floats around, and people will see various things in that. 

It’s a piece of magic that I could never do inside of a theater, because you have this raging fire, and the heat and the convection pull this fifty foot piece of streamer paper up into the air. It circles around and makes patterns, and looks like an enormous fifty foot dragon in the sky. Often what happens is, it’ll float and waft around for maybe five minutes. Then the wind currents will carry it off into the distance. 

Well, this is something that happened. We’re doing Fire Dance–it’s a five day drumming event. Midnight fire lightings until about ten in the morning, nonstop drumming, dancing, chanting, prayers, people from all different traditions. I throw the paper out in the morning towards the climax of the event. The paper takes off, and now I’m outside the circle, tracking the paper, because the paper will eventually come down, and I like to catch it.

So the paper flies out of the circle, well behind everyone’s line of sight. No one can see this paper except myself and one other person. And I track it out into the field, and this one little piece of paper comes floating down. I catch it on my fan, and at that moment all of the drumming and dancing from the entire weekend stopped.

Again, from recounting it externally, it seems like a very minor incident. But for me, it was just an affirmation of the magic we’d been weaving all weekend. Everybody was on the same page at the same moment, responding to the same energy field–the paper, myself, the drummers, the dancers. It was as if Spirit said, this is the closing moment, the paper hit the fan, and the music just went out. There was only one other person witnessing this experience that totally got it, the synchronicity. All of the drummers, all of the dancers, were well up at the circle. No one could see what was happening to this paper or me.

David: This was completely unplanned for everyone to time it this way?

Jeff: Absolutely. This is five days of drumming, stopped on this moment.

David: Extraordinary timing. That’s really interesting.

Jeff: Well, again, this is just one instance that something extraordinary happens like this. But these sort of synchronicities happen because of the Group Mind that’s formed in a ritual space. People will begin chants at the same moment from across the fire circle. Is that thought transference? Is it mind reading? No. There’s this field set up of the Group Mind that has tapped into Spirit.
There’s occurrences happening continually throughout the evening–people entering trance states through dance and drumming and rhythm. People being able to all of a sudden have these incredibly cathartic breakthroughs during the evening. Or drum or dance in ways they’ve never thought possible before, taking risks with their physical body, their void, or their musical instruments that they would never even consider during the day. 

Yet during the evening, the field of empowerment and possibility is so high, that people can do these extraordinary things, that may be perceived from an outsider to be minor, but are of tremendous impact in the internal world of who’s ever in the magic of the moment. So, for me, performance magic on stage is, at best, a shadow and retelling of what happens at these fires.

David: What type of relationship do you see between stage magic and “real magick”, shamanism, or this type of ritual magic that you’re describing?-

Jeff: A lot of this piece is drawn from my research in the history of magic and shamanism. One of the most influential books on my personal philosophy on magic is a book called The Death and Resurrection Show by Rogan Taylor. Rogan and I collaborated on The Mystery School Book that we talked about earlier, which is an anthology of magic and illusion from the Mystery School magicians, that explores this area between performance magic and ritual.
Rogan Taylor’s thesis is that all show business has its roots in shamanism. When the first paleolithic fires were lit, people would dance and sing and gather in the night to do these healing seances, to do these healings on each other, for rhythm, dance and movement. This is were the shamans would gather, and this is where the tribe would gather. This was the hearth, and this was the first nightclub. But there was no differentiation between the ritual. There was no theater yet, because theater needs an audience. In ritual everyone’s participating.

So Rogan goes on to say that these bands of musicians, shamans, people that could extraordinary things by handling hot coals, or juggling, or acrobatics, would band together to celebrate together. They enjoyed doing this so much that, after they got tired doing it for themselves, they would take it to neighboring villages and do this. They would sing the songs, and do the chants and healings on neighboring villages. 

This became the origin of the traveling medicine show, developing over the years into the circus and other forms of theater, although they were originally ritual devotional work. But the important thing here that I’ve learned is that the birth of the audience is the death of ritual. That is, if you have people sitting in an objective space, they can not be subjected to the magic. And that’s where you get theater. People are objectively witnessing events instead of subjectively participating and entering into the mythos. That’s why I have such a fascination with ritual theater, and that’s where I spend most of my free time. Most of the time that I’m not performing in theatrical venues, I’m working on these four or five days of experiences.

Personally, I have seen great theater. I spent twenty years in New York City. But nothing has effected me the way that ritual theater has, where I’m participating in the event. Now, this isn’t for everyone, if everybody was out at shamanic events in the woods there would be no one left at home to bottle Coca Cola for the rest of the world. So, this isn’t for everyone, but it is for some folks, and it is for me. 

The rest of the year I

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