When I wrap up a show, I like to talk to my audience. I like stick around the venue, thank the people who hired me, the people I involved in the show, and generally try and have as many conversations as I can with people from the crowd.
I do this for a few reasons. I always ask if people enjoyed the experience, and truly listen to their compliments and criticisms. I also like to stick around and help maintain the fun atmosphere I just spent so much time and energy to create. But mostly, I like to show my audience that I'm a real, live, approachable human. It's not unusual to have people approach me with a sideways glance and say something like "Wow, you really freak me out," or "do you have...you know...a 'gift'?" after a show. While it's not a regular thing, it does happen from time to time. But, I tell them it's all just a show, they laugh, we have ourselves a merry little time and, for the most part, it stops there.
I say "for the most part" because every once in a while, I get something a little more unusual. I've had people voice their concerns about how what I do is...well, not looked upon well in some religious circles. I'm aware that people who do what I do traditionally had that spooky, occult-ish connotation about them, but things have changed a little since the Days of Yore. Now, instead of spirits, ghosts, or other oogie-boogies being claimed as the "source of someone's power," it's psychology, or neuro-linguistic programming, or suggestion, or even just something as simple as luck. I myself say that everything I do is through "science, suggestion, and good old-fashioned trickery." I'm simply deceiving you. The reality I'm presenting you with is a false one; I've left out a few steps to make my silly little tricks seem a little more impossible. (This idea of having a 'disclaimer' in a mentalism act isn't a new one...but we'll touch on this at a later date, mm-kay? Mm-kay.)
For the most part, this explanation puts those concerned for my eternal soul at ease. They realize that I'm doing what I do through entirely natural and not-evil means, and that my only goal is to make sure everyone enjoys themselves.
There's that pesky "for the most part," again. Why is it there? Because, one night, after doing a public show, a patron handed me a mess of paper. I hastily jammed it into my pocket and cleared my stage. When I finally looked at it, I was, shall we say, surprised.
Yep. That right there, is two pages from the Bible (from Luke, more specifically) and a index card reading:
"Did you call your Mother? Evil will not win. Love is stronger. I pray for your eternal soul, Jeff Newman. You were born a human being. Do not return here. I will bring others."
Immediately there were two voices inside my head. The first (let's call this voice "Oblivious Jeff") was ecstatic. It was screaming, "WOW! This person thinks you ACTUALLY have powers! Damn, you must've put on one helluva show if they think you're some kind of spooky demon-boy." Cue egotistical pat on the back.
The second voice, however, was a bit more concerned. Thanks to my partner-in-crime and the theatre techs being the voice of reason, I quickly was brought back to the reality that this is technically a threat, and thought it best to notify the appropriate people. And, while I'm not terribly concerned about it, I did wonder what drove this person to buy a ticket, come to my show, and hand me this. But, like most things, this event got lost in the shuffle of daily life and was more-or-less forgotten.
That was until I saw a video from Justin Flom pop up on my Facebook feed. The title was enough to get me hooked: "I Am Not A Demon."
Click the link. Watch it. I did. But if you didn't, here's the skinny: Justin Flom, a professional magician, put together a very well-made video that deals with similar comments he's received about being demonic. He explains that they bother him because he is, in fact, a devout Christian, he is not a demon, and explains why magicians are considered "evil" in in the first place. Even though I don't possess the same religious beliefs that Justin does, he explains why magicians aren't demons better than I ever could.
So, a world-class Christian magician makes a stellar video about how people who do what we do aren't actually Satan-worshippers but rather are heavy into the world of Arts and Crafts and Entertainment. Case closed, amirite?
Not exactly. Because this is an old thing. And I mean really old. Like, Salem Witch Trials old. (In fact, witch trials-and the following executions-have been a thing since about the 15th century, even despite numerous publications exposing "witchcraft" for dull trickery.) Justin did a great job addressing his own run-ins with people who think he's a demon. But his video got me curious about how prevalent these beliefs about magicians being possessed or demonic actually are. Justin may be the current magician speaking out against being associated with Satan, but he's far from the only one.
I know what some of you are thinking. These beliefs that spurred things like the Salem Witch Trials are antiquated, or even archaic. But In 2012, Wayne Houchin, another world-class magician, was set on fire while in the Dominican Republic. Yes, you read that right. SET. ON. FIRE. On national television. Why? The host of the show allegedly wanted to offer a "blessing" to cleanse Houchin of demons. A 2013 column from a Christian website not only labels a levitation effect as legitimate, but also as an indisputable example of how Dynamo (a UK-based magician) is in league with the Devil himself. A quick search on youtube reveals countless channels (some of which have thousands upon thousands of views and subscribers) that showcase magicians and mentalists as irrefutable proof that demons walk among us. These are all incidences involving world-class performers. I can only imagine how many lesser-known performers deal with this out of the public light.
Now, at this point, I want to make something clear. this post is NOT an attack on faith or belief. A lot of these issues are pointed at Christians, as many of the people who make these accusations identify that as their faith. But, there are plenty of people out there who are both magic-lovers and Christ followers. Even more telling, is that there are boatloads of Christian magicians who use magic to teach about their faith. (One of them even responded to the column I mentioned earlier.) I'd say that's about as far from being demonic as you could get.
What this post is about, however, is my curiosity about how these people come to the conclusion that magicians are tapping into some evil, mystical power. My question is, how many of the people who are calling magicians demons also believe that an actor on stage playing Peter Pan is actually flying, or if a real Ghost-King of Denmark is truly on stage during Hamlet? Why would a magic performance be considered something different? At what point does the suspension of disbelief stop, and theatrical performance transforms into soul-condemning Satanism?
I love my job. I love going out, putting on a great show, and having a room full of people laugh, gasp, clap, and cheer. That's my goal. I'll also be the first one to tell you that, despite how it may look on stage or during a performance, everything I do is a trick. It's a clever deception. Obviously, I can't tell you how they all work (because, after all, if I did I'd be a terrible mentalist), but what I can tell you is that, just like Justin Flom, Wayne Houchin, Dynamo, or countless other magicians, I am not a demon. I would love to meet this person who gave me the bible pages and the note and put their insecurities to rest, and assure them that I am, in fact, still a human being. I'd love to ask them why they jumped to the conclusion that I must be some kind of supernatural wonder, so I can better understand them, in the hopes that eventually they can better understand me. Because, after all, as threatened as they may feel that they're witnessing the Devil incarnate on stage, I can assure you that when I receive a letter that reads, "do not return here, I will bring others," I get a little on edge too. Which doesn't make the show fun for anybody. And fun is what this is all about, right?
So, the next time you see that I'm doing a show in your area, come in, sit down, and enjoy the show knowing full-well that I'm not evil. I promise.