True Stories of Modern Magic

A Conjurer's Confessions
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
Matter Through Matter
Mind Reading In Public
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Magician Who Became An Ambassador
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Methods Of A Doctor Of The Occult
The Name Of The Dead

The Lock And Key Library

A Case Of Identity
A Conjurer's Confessions
A Flight Into Texas
A Formidable Weapon
A Mystery With A Moral
A Scandal In Bohemia
A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
Addressed To The Advocate Who Defended Him At His Trial
Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department
An Aspirant For Congress
An Erring Shepherd
An Heiress From Redhorse
An Old Game Revived
By The Waters Of Paradise
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
His Wedded Wife
Horror: A True Tale
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
In The House Of Suddhoo
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
Introduction To The Corpus Delicti
Matter Through Matter
Melmoth The Wanderer
Mind Reading In Public
My Own True Ghost Story
My Wife's Tempter
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
On Being Found Out
Saint-germain The Deathless
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Avenger
The Baron's Quarry
The Closed Cabinet
The Corpus Delicti
The Dream Woman
The Fortune Of Seth Savage
The Fowl In The Pot
The Gold-bug
The Golden Ingot
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Haunted And The Haunters Or The House And The Brain
The Hostler's Story Told By Himself
The Incantation
The Lost Duchess
The Magician Who Became An Ambassador
The Man And The Snake
The Man In The Iron Mask
The Methods Of A Doctor Of The Occult
The Minister's Black Veil
The Minor Canon
The Mortals In The House
The Name Of The Dead
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
The Pavilion On The Links
The Pipe
The Puzzle
The Red-headed League
The Sending Of Dana Da
The Shadows On The Wall
The Story Continued By Percy Fairbank
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams

Fact And Fable In Psychology

"He (the conjurer) must dissociate the natural factors of his
habits, actually attending to one thing while seemingly attending
to another; at the same time his eyes and his gestures and his
'patter' misdirect the attention to what is apparently the
essential field of operation, but really only a blind to distract
attention away from the true scene of action. The conjurer directs
your attention to what he does not do; he does not do what he
pretends to do; and to what he actually does, he is careful neither
to appear to direct his own attention nor to arouse yours."

Prof. Max Dessoir, in a very fine article on "The Psychology of
Conjuring," writes as follows: "By awakening interest in some
unimportant detail, the conjurer concentrates that attention on
some false point, or negatively, diverts it from the main object,
and we all know the senses of an inattentive person are pretty
dull. . . . When causing the disappearance of some object, the
conjurer counts one, two, three; the object must really disappear
before three, not at three, because, the attention of the public
being diverted to three, they do not notice what happens at one and
two. . . . A specially successful method of diversion is founded
on the human craze for imitation. . . . The conjurer counts on
this in many cases. He always looks in the direction where he
wants the attention of the public, and does everything himself
which he wants the public to do. . . . If the trick is in the left
hand, the conjurer turns sharply to the person to his right,
presuming correctly that the spectators will make the same
movement, and will not notice what is going on in the left hand. . . .
Every sharp, short remark will, for a moment, at least, divert
the eyes from the hands and direct them to the mouth, according to
the above-mentioned law of imitation."

The successful conjurer has carefully studied beforehand every
movement that is made--every word that is spoken--during a
conjuring performance, and has seen that these all fit naturally
into place, and help conceal the real workings of the trick. The
right and left hands must be trained to operate independently, and
without the need of looking at either. Many conjurers practice
doing two separate things at the same time, one with either hand;
and the ability to do this is essential. Above all, the performer
must be full of conscious self-possession, and feel himself to be
master of the situation, no less than to feel the ability to cope
with any emergencies that may arise.

Turning, now, to a consideration of the seance, we find that many
of these psychological rules still hold good, and their operation
enables the medium to perform many actions which would otherwise be
impossible. A certain suggestion is given to the sitters, and
imagination and inference do the rest. "Our conclusions as to what
we see or hear are always founded on a combination of observation
and inference; but in daily life it is seldom necessary to
distinguish between the two elements, since, when the object and
its mode of presentation are familiar, our inferences are generally
correct. But it is different when, owing to circumstances, such as
a bad light, we have to infer more in proportion to what we
perceive than usual; or when some one, e. g., a conjurer or a
ventriloquist, is trying to deceive us by presenting one object
under the familiar aspect of another, and suggesting false
inferences. It is not uncommon to find people at seances
encouraging each other in the belief that they see, say, a living
human figure, when all that they actually SEE is something moving
which is about the size of a human being; the rest is inference."
How true these last remarks are is demonstrated by the statement,
made in The Revelations of a Spirit Medium, that an old wire mask
frequently used at materializing seances had been recognized "by
dozens of persons as fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, cousins,
sweethearts, wives, husbands, and various other relatives and
friends. None but the medium knew that it was only a fifty-cent
wire mask, hence none but the medium could enjoy the humor of the

One of the most instructive incidents I know, in relation to this
question of the psychology of deception, is the one given by Doctor
Hodgson[1]--the case of the officer and the Hindu juggler. In this
case, a trick was performed before an English officer and his wife,
and Doctor Hodgson happened to overhear this officer telling some
travelers of the experience at dinner that evening. "Referring to
the movements of the coins, he said that he had taken a coin from
his own pocket and placed it on the ground himself, yet that this
coin had indulged in the same freaks as the other coins. His wife
ventured to suggest that the juggler had taken the coin and placed
it on the ground, but the officer was emphatic in repeating his
statement, and appealed to me for confirmation. He was, however,
mistaken. I had watched the transaction with special curiosity, as
I knew what was necessary for the performance of the trick. The
officer had apparently intended to place the coin upon the ground
himself, but as he was doing so, the juggler leaned slightly
forward, dexterously and in a most unobtrusive manner received the
coin from the fingers of the officer, as the latter was stooping
down, and laid it close to the others. If the juggler had not thus
taken the coin, but had allowed the officer himself to place it on
the ground, the trick, as actually performed, would have been

"Now I think it highly improbable that the movement of the juggler
entirely escaped the perception of the officer; highly improbable,
that is to say, that the officer was absolutely unaware of the
juggler's action at the moment of its happening; but I suppose
that, although an impression was made on his consciousness, it was
so slight as to be speedily effaced by the officer's IMAGINATION of
himself as stooping and placing the coin upon the ground. The
officer, I may say, had obtained no insight into the modus operandi
of the trick, and his fundamental misrepresentation of the only
patent occurrence that might have given him a clew to its
performance debarred him completely from afterwards, on reflection,
arriving at any explanation. Just similarly, many an honest
witness may have described himself as having placed one slate upon
another at a sitting with a medium, whereas it was the medium who
did so, and who possibly effected at the same time one or two other
operations altogether unnoticed by the witness."

In reading through descriptions of slate-writing seances, we very
seldom find the statement made as to WHO placed the slates on the
table, or under the table, etc., generally the account reading "the
slates were then placed on the table," without any qualifying
statement as to WHO placed them there. Accounts of this kind are
absolutely worthless, from an evidential standpoint. We must at
once ask ourselves: who placed the slates in that position? and if
it was the medium--as it probably was in the vast majority of
instances--then that test, in all probability, ceases to have any
evidential weight. Anyone can read over a number of accounts of
slate-writing performances, and verify these statements, if he
chooses to do so. Frequently, the statement is made that the
sitter did actually place the slate on the table, when in reality
the medium did so. This error is quite unconscious on the sitter's
part, of course, but the account is falsified, nevertheless.
Mistakes of this kind are very common, the sitter thinking
afterwards that he (the sitter) MUST have placed the slates on the
table himself!

It will be seen from the above that there is a great difference
between what ACTUALLY transpired, at any given seance, and what the
accounts SAY transpired. The general public cannot get that all-
important fact too strongly rooted in its mind: that the events
which transpired at a seance may not be reported accurately, so
that the report of the seance may be altogether wrong and
erroneous, though the sitters, and those who drew up the report,
may have been thoroughly honest in their belief that the report is
accurate in every respect. The effect of all this is very great
indeed. Many spiritualistic seances are quite inexplicable AS DE-
SCRIBED, but the description is not a true report of what took
place at the seance in question. The facts are distorted.
Consequently, the person taking it upon himself to explain what
took place at the seance is called upon to explain a number of
things which, in reality, never took place at all. We must
remember, in this connection, that a number of conjuring tricks, AS
DESCRIBED, would be quite impossible to explain by any process of
trickery. The description of the trick was not correct.

Let me make this still clearer, and at the same time illustrate the
difference between what apparently occurs, and what actually
happens, by the following example: A conjurer places a coin (say a
quarter) in each hand, and closes his hands. Another quarter is
now placed upon the fingers of each hand, so that there is now one
quarter in each hand and one-quarter on the fingers of each. The
magician announces that, by simply opening and closing his hands--
which are held at some distance from each other--he will thereby
transfer one of the coins from one hand to the other, so that there
will be three coins in one of the hands, and only one left in the

Now, if the sitter were writing out an account of what happened, it
would most certainly read as follows:

"The magician then tried the experiment--of opening and closing his
hands rapidly, and causing the coin to be transferred, as promised--
but failed in the attempt, the coins from the back of each hand
falling on to the table in rather a clumsy manner. They were,
however, again placed upon the backs of the magician's hands; the
movement was repeated, and this time successfully. The coins
disappeared from the backs of both hands, in one of which was now
found three of the coins, while the other hand contained only one."

Such is precisely the description of the trick, as it would be
given by the average person, on seeing it, and it would represent
his honest opinion of what occurred; as it stands, it is quite
inexplicable by trickery. Needless to say, the account is NOT a
true statement of what actually occurred, as the following
explanation will make clear:

The first time the coins were dropped on to the table, the movement
was not so "clumsy" as might have been supposed. It was, in fact,
intentional, being the principal factor in the accomplishment of
the trick. What ACTUALLY transpired at that time was this: The
magician, by a quick movement, dropped both coins from ONE hand on
to the table, at the same time dexterously opening the other hand a
trifle, and allowing the second coin, on that hand, to fall into
the interior of the hand itself. Thus, while both hands are still
seen to be closed, one is empty, and the other contains two coins.
It is obvious, therefore, that, when a coin is placed upon each of
the hands again, the magician has only to repeat the opening and
closing movement, and there will be three coins in one of the
hands, and only one in the other.

This trick illustrates, in a very simple and striking manner, the
possibility of reporting a fact in an entirely erroneous manner,
quite unconscious of the fact that this error in reporting has been
committed. Just in this same manner, are many slate-writing and
other phenomena misreported, and hence an explanation of the
seance, AS REPORTED, is rendered impossible. The trouble is that
the "report" does not REALLY report what actually occurred.

. . . . .

Many of my readers may feel somewhat insulted at this accusation
that they cannot detect such obvious trickery when it exists, and
that they are liable to make such mistakes in recording a seance as
those here mentioned. They may comfort themselves with the
thought, however, that it is no disgrace to make mistakes and
errors of this kind; for, as Professor Jastrow pointed out:[1]

"The matter is in some aspects as much a technical acquisition as
in the diagnosticating of a disease. It is not at all to the
discredit of anyone's powers of observation or intellectual acumen
to be deceived by the performances of a conjurer; and the same
holds true of the professional part of mediumistic phenomena.
Until this homely but salutary truth is impressed with all its
importance upon all intending investigators, there is little hope
of bringing about a proper attitude toward these and kindred

These remarks will make it clear to us why many men of science have
been deceived by very simple tricks and fraudulent devices, while
investigating spiritualistic phenomena--their scientific culture is
no guaranty that they are any more capable of detecting fraud than
is the man-in-the-street--in fact their training has made them very
much LESS capable of detecting fraud than the average person, who
comes more in contact with the world, and is an acuter judge of
character and human nature.

Next: How Spirits Materialize

Previous: Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 2932