“Thou seest, O Son, with thine eyes”: Magic, Metaphysics, and the Actionable Expression of Misdirection
16. Thou seest, O Son, with thine eyes; but though thou look never so steadfastly upon me, with the Body, and bodily sight, thou canst not see, nor understand what I am now.
17. Tat. Thou hast driven me, O Father, into no small fury and distraction of mind, for I do not now see my self.
— The Seventh Book of the Corpus Hermeticum: His Secret Sermon in the Mount Of Regeneration, and the Profession of Silence. To His Son Tat.
My friend Ferdinando Buscema was recently featured on Erik Davis’s and Maja D’Aoust’s Expanding Mind podcast (dedicated to exploring “the cultures of consciousness”) to discuss his specialty, Magic Experience Design. It’s always a pleasure to be reminded of Ferdinando’s work, because it has been so integral to opening up my understanding of the true depth of the art of misdirection. What I once assumed was merely a complex set of techniques that could be used to increase manual and mental dexterity has become a gateway to revelation.
The artful evocation of astonishment is one of the ways that Ferdinando defines his practice, but such a simple statement doesn’t reveal, and it might even be said that it misdirects from, the fact that underlying this is a master’s understanding of the subtle clues that go into building an atmosphere in which astonishment is possible. I’ll leave it to you to listen to the Expanding Minds conversation, in which Erik, Maja, and Ferdinando explore this topic in great detail. What most surprised me about it personally wasn’t something in the podcast itself but something I found later while looking for more information on one of Ferdinando’s mentors in the magical arts, Max Maven.
When one thinks of stage magic, speculative metaphysics might not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, there is a more philosophically relevant school of illusion that utilizes the tools of sleight of hand to express complex concepts of reality. In such a situation, these insights are slipped into the mind in the same way that the magician slips distractions into his or her performance to lead the observer away from the core secret of the illusion.
This technique is directly relevant to anyone interested in true rational inquiry, as it is used in rhetoric to manipulate the presentation of facts in order to point to a predetermined conclusion. Keeping in mind my recent attendance at the Parapsychological Association conference, I’m freshly reminded that one of the situations in which this technique is utilized very effectively is the skeptical presentation of anomalous evidence.
“There is a more philosophically relevant school of illusion that utilizes the tools of sleight of hand to express complex concepts of reality.”
Keeping in mind that there is no clear explanation for the events described in the following clip from the Larry King Show, pay attention to what the people experiencing the alleged haunting describe, and then to the explanation provided by the skeptic Michael Shermer. See if his explanation would satisfy you, had you personally experienced the anomalous light phenomenon that is presented as one of the most surprising elements of the “haunting.”
Now note that these very same techniques can be used in a socially constructive way as well. What the skeptics use as a rhetorical device can be turned into a powerful teaching tool, and in the case of Max Maven, at least in the instance that I’d like to share here, one might say that misdirection has even taken on an esoteric dimension in which the true relevance of his presentation isn’t revealed until one is already somewhat familiar with the topic at hand.
And what might this topic be?
For your amusement and illumination, I’d like to present a very unlikely exposition of the 7th book of the Corpus Hermeticum from a Canadian children’s show that Max Maven produced called MAXimum Dimension. As you’ll see, it abundantly underscores and amplifies the point at hand.