As was seen in P.1, could illusions performed by godmen which involve a violent aspect increase the level of influence passed on to the viewer. For example described as the tong of Kali, godmen in India will make their tongue supple by pulling it daily for about fifteen minutes and then curling it back into the throat. After practising this position the godmen places the tongue of an animal in the mouth, and as if it is cut remove it and curl the real tongue inside into the mouth. Then as if refixing the tongue, palm the animal tongue and bring back the original tongue to its usual position.
But while spectators may feel empathetic towards the individual experiencing pain, maybe it is not anly that, sentiment which spectators drawn to. In fact could it also be aggression as a sign of power?
So for example the Basket Trick still popular in India today. Here the godmen presents an oval-shaped basket, one in which the bottom is much wider than the top. These appear to be common in India. The basket is displayed to the audience. validating that it is truly empty. The performer then presents a boy, who is usually dressed in loud attire. The boy steps into the basket, maneuvering until his body is fitted completely inside. Once this has taken place, the lid is closed and a sheet is thrown over the basket. After a moment, the cloth is removed, and the fakir begins to run a sword through the basket several times, until no doubt is left that the boy must have been killed. At this point the cloth is placed back onto the basket and the fakir places his hands underneath the sheet to remove the lid. Feeling inside, he removes the articles of the boy's clothing from the basket (typically a turban and ajacket). To the astonishment of the crowd, the boy is gone, and to validate this, the godman jumps into the basket to prove that the boy has not in any way contorted himself to fit inside. Appearing distraught, the performer places the turban and jacket back inside of the basket, and proceeds to remove the cloth. In a sudden surge of excitement, the godme-magicians grabs towards the air with the sheet and immediately replaces it onto the basket. After a moment, there appears to be commotion from under the cloth and, soon after, the boy emerges unhanned, wearing his turban and jacket.
Unlike the Mango Tree Trick, this feat of illusion returns to the violent theatricality often seen in the performance of Indian mystics. However, these two tricks are certainly linked in their lengthy preparations. The truth of the matter is that at no point does the boy actually leave the basket. When the lid is closed, the first step is for the young assistant to remove his turban and jacket. The remainder of the trick relies on the flexibility of the boy. After removing the two articles of clothing, the assistant lays in a circular shape, essentially outlining the bottom of the basket. However, the godmen-magician runs his sword through in countless angles, making it impossible for the boy to remain unharmed. This is where the preparation comes into practice. The sword thrusts are choreographed before hand, so that each time the sword moves through, the assistant re-positions himself so as not to be in the target of the blade when it pierces through. After this portion of the illusion, the boy re-configures his body into its original circular motion, outlining the bottom of the basket. This allows room at the center for the godmen-magicians to jump inside, proving to the audience that the assistant has vanished.
When the godman places the turban and jacket back inside of the basket, the boy simply puts them back on, emerges from the top, and astounds the audience. Following what seems to be humanity's natural fascination with violence, the answer appears to be quite obvious that the volatility gives the illusion a greater sense of anticipation and sensationalism. Granted, the feat is rather dangerous regardless of its illusory factors, let alone what the spectators believe they are witnessing. To mediate divine powers to perform such an action win have great effect, but to be able to do so in the face of mortality will have a much greater influential stamp on those who witness the action.
It makes sense then that these mediators to the spiritual world would be able to harness this same power. Though the illusion involving the mango tree does not implement any violent tactics, there still exists this similar variable. The conjurer serves as the mediator in giving the tree life. In the Hindu Basket Trick:, the conjurer takes life away with his sword, only to return life to the assistant at the end of the illusion. On one hand, there exists this powerfully violent factor and, on the other, the ability to master what may be the most mysterious realm of human quandary, the source of life.
In another feath the godmen begin by placing a small bowl on the ground after previously showing the audience that it was first empty. The second step involves just filling the bowl with water. In terms of how much water is distributed, the amount will either be shallow, or the water will overflow. At this point, the fakir will place a small toy duck into the bowl, step aside, and begin to play his flute. In plain site of the spectators, the duck will begin to move, and will suddenly dive into the water in the natural manner as if it was truly alive. One by one, audience members will approach the bowl with their hand outstretched. Each time a spectator's hand becomes too close, the duck will submerge into the water, until the hand recedes at which point the duck will again surface. After this procedure has taken place, the toy is examined and validated as not having been altered in any way. The key to understanding the illusion however is not in the toy duck, but in the bowl. Before the performance takes place, thegoman-magician will make an extremely tiny incision into the bowl. He then runs a thin piece of brown thread through the hole, this being invisible to the naked eye via the camouflage of the ground. At the end of the thread, the conjurer has placed a thin coat of wax, which will be used to grab onto and maneuver the duck. Audience members do not suspect the godman who is standing at a greater distance to the bowl in comparison to themselves. As he plays the flute, he is in actuality pulling the thread which controls the toy. In cases where there are at least two perfonners, the assistant will be the one who pulls the thread. The connection of the wax takes place when the conjurer places the toy duck in the water.
One obvious question which arises from this illusion becomes, how does the godmen hide the certain leak which arises from the incision made into the bowl? This depends on whether or not the bowl is filled to a shallow level or overflowing with water. If the level is shallow, the godmen will preface the illusion by sprinkling water below where he will set the bowl. Again he will mutter some type of incantation to mask this as some type of ritual when truly it hides the water which will soon leak out. If the water overflows, then it will be this factor which will mask the leaking water.
Indian mystics also use a very similar illusion called the Jumping Rabbit. The bowl is still implemented; however, there is no incision made before hand. After the water is poured, sand is added, which at this time the godman will place a small spring. The spring itself is bent into a circle, and held together by a sugar cube. The now sandy water masks not only the insertion of the spring into the bowl, but also its key role in the illusion. A toy rabbit is placed on top of the water, strategically atop where the spring is hinged. At this point, the audience will gather closely around the bowl while the fakir will distance himself, and begin to play drums while again simultaneously muttering incantations. The next portion of the illusion is a waiting game. After a short period of time, the sugar cube will melt, causing the spring to un-hinge. This reaction will cause the toy rabbit to come jumping out of the bowl, both terrifying and mesmerizing the crowd. The godman must quickly approach the bowl and palm the spring before dumping the water. Typically, this illusion will be performed immediately after the Diving Duck to thwart off cynics. Though the feats are performed in completely separate ways, the connection of the bowl and the small toy animal creates an arbitrary connection in the minds of the audience.
Similar to the Hindu Basket Trick, the godman-magician appears to give life and take life away through both the Diving Duck and the Jumping Rabbit. The Hindu Basket Trick is likely more effective because it appeared to control a human life as opposed to the control of a supposed animal's life. In these three instances, the connection to this ability is quite apparent. In other illusions this ability to control life may not seem to be on the surface, but it is still certainly relevant.
In another trick in India, a small pail is presented, and filled completely with water. The mystic then lifts his arm to reveal a handful of sand. A portion of this is blown in several directions conveying that it is in fact true sand. The remainder is placed inside the grip of the godman-magician, as he submerges his hand in the bucket completely, releasing the sand into the water. It is important for the fakir to show his hands to the audience at this point. He washes them thoroughly and presents them to the crowd. It is here that the illusion is presented. The mystic reaches back into the pail of water and removes the sand,which has retained its dry and powdery consistency.
The pail and water has nothing to do with the illusory factors of the performance however. The feat is able to be performed due to the preparation of the sand, which takes several days. To begin with the godman obtains an ample quantity of clean, dry sand which he then rinses in hot water several times in order to eliminate any remaining dirt particles. After this process, the sand is sun-dried for several days. Two quarts of the resulting substance is then cooked in a frying pan accompanied with a small piece of paraffin (a waxy substance obtained from tar or petroleum). The cooking of the sand is complete once the paraffin appears to have disappeared. Once this has taken place, the paraffin is actually coating the sand, though this is not visible to the naked eye. This coating is what makes the sand unreceptive to the effects of the water. When the mystic first places the sand in the pail, he squeezes it into a ball, causing it to adhere; this essentially creates an outer shell.
When first reviewing the illusion, the aspect of giving and/or taking away life was not coming across. However water is a symbol and a source of life cross-cu1tura1ly--and across species for that matter-- and to control this substance is to symbollicly, control life. By rejecting the influence of the water onto the sand, the mystic is thus symbolically stating that he is not susceptible or dependent on the effects of having or not having water. To control the symbol of life is to control life itself. Similar illusory control of water is seen in the Brass Bowl Trick, in which a fakir will place cold water into a brass bowl along with an ice cube to prove it is actually cold water. A cloth is placed over the bowl and the mystic steps to the side and begins with the conjurer's signature indecipherable incantation alongside the beating of a drum. A few moments pass, and the water has turned to an extremely hot temperature. To perform this, the use of a special bowl is needed. The bowl is double sided and the space between the two side layers is filled with the hot water. Before the fakir places the cloth over the bowl, he scratches off a rather small piece of wax covering a hole on the side of the bowl, and another small piece of wax on the bottom. As the hot water filters in from the space between the side layers, the cold water filters out to the space between the bottom layers. The false incantation represents to the audience member the dialogue between the fakir and the deities, the deities granting the performer the ability to control water, which in turn, is controlling life.
in another illusion seen in India, the mystic will present a small box to the audience participant. To begin with, the conjurer will open the box to reveal three beans placed inside. He then tips the box over, releasing the beans into the hand of the participant. The mystic will instruct the audience member to close their hand, wait a few moments, and then open it again, followed by the conjurer asking if the beans have remained in the palm (of course they are still in the same location). In this next phase of the illusion, the audience member is instructed to place the contents in his hand back into the box. The fakir will speak some type of prayer, and re-open the box over the spectator's hand. To the shock of this volunteer, and the crowd, a scorpion falls from the box and into the hand which once held the beans.
This particular performance is not achieved with any tampered beans. Instead, it is the box which has been constructed in a peculiar way. From plain sight, it appears to have only one compartment, when in reality there are two compartments inside the box. The first compartment, which held the beans, is rather small and located towards the top. This area is small enough. that when the second compartment, which contains the scorpion, is opened, it appears to be one in the same.
The scorpion illusion seems to be closely related to the feats involving the duck and the rabbit. All three involve bringing to life an animal from an inanimate object. While this is true, there also appears to exist a greater sense of sensationalism and volatility with this particular illusion, similar to that found in the Hindu Basket Trick. This fi1ctor is relevant due to the incorporation of the scorpion as the object brought to life. Scorpions are quite prevalent in India; however, certain species are no danger to humans. Most audience members, and audience volunteers especially. will not be able to make this differentiation between the time the scorpion is released from the box to the time it lands in the palm of the now hesitant participant. The implementation of this dangerous aspect makes the illusion that much more compelling. It is not as directly violent as stabbing through a basket containing a small child, but it certainly gets the point across. So in a sense, the scorpion is almost as crucial to the illusion as the mischievously conceived second compartment of the box.
The scorpion comes into the equation again in the Basket and Chickens Trick, in which a basket is placed over a stone. The basket is lifted, and the stone has turned into a scorpion. While the spectators marvel at the scorpion, the fakir releases a small bag of approximately fifteen birds underneath the basket. He then distracts the crowd with an artificial summoning of spirits, and, from their perspective, birds have appeared from thin air once the basket is lifted again. The effect in this illusion will be linear to the one felt in the Beans and Scorpion Trick, with the creation of life from an inanimate object, and the element of danger felt by the scorpion. Also, this sense of danger serves as a reminder of one's morality, which in turn addresses the sense of our being, and thus religion comes into the spectators awareness. This pushes the agenda of the mystics, showcasing their personal relationship with the Hindu deities.
At one point a godman rolled out one to two yards of thread and places it on the end of his tongue. He then chewed the thread thoroughly and swallows it. At this point, an assistant handed the performer a knife which he immediately uses to stab himself in the stomach. Reaching under his shirt, the mystic began to pull out the swallowed thread until lifting the garment to reveal that the thread has come out from his stomach and appears to be protruding from his skin. The mystic then pushes out the last bit to show the audience the end of the thread which now has blood on it.
What can first be concluded is that the thread taken in the mouth is not the same thread which is pulled out from the stomach. Moreover, the thread which the godman places in his mouth is never actually swallowed, and is instead hidden below the back teeth. The thread pulled from the stomach is first hidden underneath the shirt, the godman merely pulling it from the linen until lifting the garment to reveal his stomach. The self-inflicted stab wound is an illusion as well.
It is presumed to be the work of proper angles and baggy clothing. Though the climactic stab wound is a farce, the fakir will make a small incision into his stomach prior to the performance. As he pulls the thread from under his shirt, he is simultaneously working the tail end into the incision so that when he reveals his stomach, it will appear that this is the source of the thread. The illusion does not linger far from reality in this sense, when one considers that the blood at the end of the thread is in fact just that, and that the string, though not the primary ingredient, is truly emerging from the stomach.
Within Western society, snake charming appears to be one of the most famous street performances stemming from India. Even small children have seen visuals of this interaction between the flutist and the cobra. The perception of the feat is that the snake is somehow hypnotized by the music, as it sways back and forth; its head emerges from the basket placed in front of the godmen, suggesting the performer is somehow in control of this deadly creature. However, there are many ways to perform this illusion, some much more humane than others. In a few instances, the godmen today, will simply sit out of striking distance of the cobra. In order to cause the snake to emerge in the fashion it does, the basket it is placed in must be covered by a sheet, making it quite dark for the snake. When the sheet is removed, the cobra emerges out of the hole as a reaction to the change in environment; the opening of its hood is simply a defense mechanism. The swaying of the cobra is a mirrored reaction to the movement of the flute as the mystic moves the instrument back and forth. Most snake charmers take greater precautions to avoid being bitten. In most cases, the charmer will remove either the venom glands, or the entire fangs from the mouth of the snake, rendering the animal harmless.
The connection to controlling life in this illusion is linear to that of the feats involving scorpions. Granted, the magician-alleged godman, is not bringing anything to life in this performance, but he is controlling a dangerous animal, one that can be potentially lethal.
This performance is so popular that the practice has filtered far outside the realms of Indian mysticism and is now performed by snake charmers who ask for monetary compensation, lacking any spiritual motivations. The use of snakes in the illusions of godmen is not limited to this performance, and finds its way back into the repertoire of these conjurers.
There also exists a feat in India today, in which a the godmen will take an ordinary walking stick, and ''transform'' it into a snake. Apparently there exists some nerve on the back of the neck that will, when pressure is applied, cause the snake to become extremely stiff in some type of temporary paralysis. This creates as was in the case of Moses in the Bible, the illusion of the snake as a stick. Then after a short period of time, the snake recovers, and returns to its normal state. The use of this trick in India one could say, conveys symbols of a dangerous animal, associating morality, along with the creation of life.
This brings us to the Indian Rope Trick which has been analysed by parapsycholgist Peter Lamont in 2004 (Lamont works at the Koestler Parapsychology Unit).
In fact it is still a question whether the act originated in China or India, as eyewitness accounts began circulating from both areas in and around the thirteenth Century. But the practice definitely gained more momentum out of India, though, now evident by the name of the illusion. An interesting aspect of this feat is that it has only recently been viewed as an illusion, and before was one of those strange enigmas which no one knew how to decipher, outside of the godmen who actually completed the task.
It appears that two people are needed for the illusion to be completed, the alleged mystic, and a young male assistant. From the spectators' vantage point a rope dangles from the air with no source; it appears as though it is floating. When the spectators arrive, the rope is either already dangling in the air or the fakir throws the rope straight up as the audience watches as it completely defies Newton's laws of universal gravitation. The mystic's assistant climbs the rope until he is completely out of sight. After a few moments, he summons the assistant to return back to the ground. As time elapses, the boy is nowhere to be seen, and the conjurer gives several visual indicators that he is angry with his assistant's lack of punctuality. This anger manifests itself until finally the fakir will place a dagger in his teeth and ascend the rope to retrieve the boy. After he is out of view, arguing is heard between the two, followed by loud and disturbing screams. Moments later, dismembered body parts begin falling from the sky and splattering onto the ground. It has become clear to the audience at this point that he has killed the young assistant. The macician then climbs down the rope and out of sight of the crowd, returning with a large basket. He gathers all of the body parts and places them inside. Following the standard practices of mystic street magic, the godman falls into a trance-like state before lifting the lid off of the basket, at which time the boy springs out alive and unharmed.
From some angles, this performance seems to deviate from the realm of natural possibilities. While the gruesome portions of the act are mysterious in their own right, the lingering of the rope in the air is what baffles spectators the most.
There have been several explanations as to how the Indian Rope Trick is accomplished; to begin with however, the trick must be performed between two buildings, two hills, anywhere with this type of setting. The reason for this is to secure a thin wire which connects to each support. The type of wire used is unclear, but it must be able to support the mystical magician, and the young assistant. From the spectator's perspective, there are only two people performing the illusion, when in fact there are at least three. The other assistant is never shown to the audience. If the illusion begins with the rope already suspended in the air, then the act is simpler to conduct, since the rope is already secured onto the wire. If the illusion begins with the fakir throwing the rope into the air, it is the obligation of the hidden assistant to catch the rope and secure it to the wire. The Indian Rope Trick is also only to be performed at night. Candles are set up around the rope, making it difficult to see into the air, this crucial element disguising the happenings above. This also gives the effect of the rope appearing as if it floats infinitely into the sky.
When the boy climbs up the rope, he will either secure himself at the top in conjunction with the wire, or he will traverse across the wire onto one of the two buildings, or hills, whichever was used. When the faldr climbs up the rope, he will position himself at the top with the wire. It is at this point that the unknown assistant will throw down one of a couple of objects. In variations in which it is to appear that limbs of the boy are sprinkling one by one onto the ground, shaved monkey appendages are used by the assistant as the substitution. If the illusion implements a less precise method, the hidden assistant will hurl pig remnants to the ground, which are not necessarily supposed to be discernable as particular body parts. In the Chinese version, the assistant will often accompany the pig parts with several buckets of blood splashing on and around the crowd.
Once the boy assistant is believed to be dead, he will either climb down to the ground from one of the two sides, or in some cases hide in the extremely baggy clothing of the fakir. If the conjurer implements the second method, he will refrain from turning his back to the crowd before retrieving the basket. Once the fakir goes for the basket, the boy will have either already climbed inside, or will do so when the crowd can ot see what is happening. The remainder of the illusion is not difficult as the boy merely waits for his cue to emerge from the basket.
With many of these illusions, the explanation ruins the mystique of the performance. The level of skill and timing involved in case of the Rope Trick however has to be incredible, thus many fail at it miserably. Lamont (2004) credited the fakirs' ability in climbing and balance to the juggling acts often performed by these practitioners. One fakir would hold a bamboo pole reaching as high as sixty feet. The other would ascend to the top, balancing on the end of the pole as the mistcal magician on the ground maneuveres it to and fro without dropping the large piece of bamboo. The Indian Rope Trick thus has been a cause of great wonder in India, and amongst those interested in the Western sense of magic. Such fascination has also brought about hypotheses which deviate from the empirical explanations of the various other illusions.
However the themes, incorporated by this type of magic, are consistent across the plethora of practiced illusions. Like many of the other performances, it appears again that the confrontation with violence and mortality cannot help but bring forth a sense of religious speculation on the part of the audience members. This is driven home particularly well with the death and rebirth of the young boy by the hands of the mystical-magician. Though the illusion may not convert the witnesses, it at least brings forth a spiritual context, especially since it was performed in the name of the practitioners' religious persuasion.
Put in a differnt way, the audience witnessing such an unnatural feat seems to gain some type of bond through this shared experience; therefore one could argue, that the illusion possesses a secondary cultural function of creating a sense of social solidarity.
Though it is not known what percentage of the audience members are converted, while audience members view these magic tricks as feats of supernatural ability, they also seem to strike a sense of curiosity in for example the lifestyle of Sai Baba.