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Jeff McBride

travel around in night clubs and theaters doing my magic show. And after the show, a couple of interested people will come and talk to me, and I’ll tell them where I feel that I experience magic. On stage, doing “stand and deliver shows” in Las Vegas, where I have to get up there and be the star. But night after night after night is a really different experience. I honor that experience, and there’s a great beauty to doing a wonderful magic show. And for me, in my Hermetic way, I encrypt as many of the symbols, and even words, into the script. And images in my show that will hint at these experiences, because that’s the way it’s always been done in the Hermetic traditions. I consider myself a Hermeticist.

David: So you do you try to blend shamanism in your stage magic performances?

Jeff: Yeah, and to the Hermeticist, or the people that are slightly switching on to a magical current, or expanding their horizons on what they perceive magic to be, they’ll light up, and they’ll get it. When I do my piece with the grail, or when I do my shamanic initiation with a young man from the audience, or when I do my kind of shamanic journey death and resurrection with the mask, people can see this. Or if they’re on the verge of getting it, it will stir a chord inside of them, and they’ll be maybe a little email, maybe a little conversation after the show, and that’s where I can tell them about these other events.

So, for me, the big stage, the television work, the Las Vegas work, the touring work, becomes outer-court. And at the same time, some of the best performers, and the best musicians that I meet at these fires, I take and tour with. I tour with them in my show. So if I meet some great drummers, dancers, or acrobats out at the fire, I’ll plug them into my show for awhile, and we become the traveling medicine show in the truest sense. I’ve met drummers at a Rainbow Gathering that I’ve taken around the world, on cruise ships, first-class hotels, and theater tours. So there’s a crossover there.

David: Speaking of medicine shows, this brings up one of the things that I wanted to ask you about. I’ve heard that in South America, the Ayahauscaros–the traditional shamans who use the ceremonial hallucinogenic jungle juice ayahuasca–in healing sessions, will often mix some sort of sleight of hand type magic with the real healing work that they’re really doing, because it helps to create a state of suspended belief. Do you have any thoughts on that, on the healing potential of suspended belief and how it relates to what is known as the placebo effect in modern medicine?

Jeff: These shamanic healers are sometime called sucking doctors. One of the old shamanic techniques was that the shaman would put his mouth on the effected area and suck. Then he would spit out all kinds of weird bits of bones, bugs, twisted tumor and things like that, to, I guess, create a placebo effect. Now, in the magical belief system, or ritual contract of these healing seances, that’s fair game. And that has changed into what’s called psychic surgery. South America and the Philippines are famous for their psychic surgeons. Sleight of hand magicians have a different take on this. People like James Randi, and the other debunkers and skeptics, see these shamans as con artists. 

I see it a bit differently. I think that, yes, I would say that eighty to ninety percent of them are using sleight of hand technique. But given the culture, and the surrounding mindset, and group belief system that these “healings” are taken place in, they can possibly result in a placebo effect which leads to a genuine cure. That’s very different from what I do at ritual theater. When I pull a beam of light from my heart, and I place it on your heart, I do not expect you to believe that I have tapped into the cosmic force of nature, and am able to pull a light beam from my heart, and place it in your heart. It’s a way of connecting with you through a magical illusion. 

What this does is it creates a symbol, and a metaphor, for us sharing light from our heart with each other. Now, I can do that very same thing at a magic show in Las Vegas, and people will go, “how did you do that?” At a ritual, when I offer this light from my heart to a person that I may have had conflict with, and I take it out and I place it in their heart, then they’ll say, I’m so glad you did that, and not even think of the how. There are ways of using magic in symbol and metaphor that can create an altered state of consciousness. And in that moment of altered consciousness, a profound psychic experience can occur that influences how we frame the way we live and work in the world.

David: It’s very interesting the way each of your responses seems to anticipate my next question.

Jeff: More synchronicity.

David: Do you view your magic performances as consciousness expanding?

Jeff: Yes, I absolutely do. Again, I’m very much a believer… Believer is a strange word. I’m very much a follower of the set, setting, and dosage school of thought of Timothy Leary.

David: Have you ever had a psychedelic experience, and if so, how has effected your perspective on magic?

Jeff: The answer to that is yes. What I’ve learned is that…let me think about this for a second. It has changed the way I do, where I choose to do it, and how much I do. Set and setting and dosage. In Las Vegas the setting is a casino. The mindset is, let’s see how good this guy is. Or let’s go kill an hour before we lose our wallets at the gaming tables, right? And the dosage is, you have to hit these people over the head. They’re pretty jaded, because in Las Vegas they have to walk down the street, past exploding volcanos and giant water fountains. So to even reach their aesthetic awareness you have to kind of bombard them with images and visuals.

David: Because they’re so numb from all the sensory overload.

Jeff: Exactly. The way I do this is by meeting that demand at the top of my show. Then I put on the brakes and go into complete stillness and silence, challenging that in a conventional theater setting. I do things in my Las Vegas show that no magician has ever attempted.

David: Like what?

Jeff: Total silence. No music. No movement. No action on stage for four minutes, and see if I can totally entrance the audience. And I have stunning results with it–because they are expecting one thing, and as soon as I deliver the expectation, I can take them into new territory, which is stillness.

David: When you say “stunning results”, what are you referring to?

Jeff: Standing ovations. And the type of magic that I do isn’t the big box, lion and tiger, explosion magic. All of what I do is sleight of hand and skill magic. And all of this, all of my repertoire speaks to deeper metaphors and symbols of magic. I don’t do any fluff in my show. And that’s the thing. When I show up at some of these rituals, they say, what are you from Vegas? You do a magic show? And they automatically pigeonhole me as some second-class, box-pushing lion tamer. Not knowing my history, and not knowing my experience.

And that’s the same thing that happens with the audience in Las Vegas. Oh, this guy’s going to be some razzmatazz sort of guy. So I come out, and I razzmatazz them into a total trance. Then I get them out of their social trance, and deeper into my magical shamanic trance, using all of the tools of the shamans. Using the rhythmic music. Using masks. Using repetitive motion. Using call and response with the audience. I get my audience clapping in rhythm, and doing call and response with me. Every tool that I’ve learned over the years that works, I’ve tried to apply to my theatrical performances. And all of the magic that I’ve learned for theatrical entertainment I try to utilize at the fire circles and sacred art circles that we do.

David: What advice would you give to a young person who is interested in becoming a magician?

Jeff: Study with a master. You know, learn your tricks at home. Most magicians are self-taught, but I would move anywhere there was a master magician. Carry his books. Carry his props to the show. Study and watch–not just the on-stage magic, but the off-stage magic. You see, most magicians are just taught the on-stage stuff, and until I ran into people like Eugene Berger, I didn’t understand the off-stage part of being a magician. That there’s a big difference between being a “magic act” and being a magician. A “magic act” can create the illusion that someone is a magician. 

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