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Magic Archetypes: The Art Behind the Science of Conjuring Review

Official Review

February 1st, 2006 3:36pm
Reviewed by Gordon Meyer
Conley's book, Magic Archetypes: The Art Behind the Science of Conjuring, is a delightful, but somewhat difficult, book to review. It's easy to dismiss the book at first glance, it consists of just over 100 pages of old drawings and interesting typography, and really there aren't very many words in the book because several pages consisting of nothing but images. It covers no tricks, no gaffes, and not a single sleight. Yet, its one of the most magical books I've ever read for it does contain several secrets; secrets which are hundreds of years old and largely overlooked by modern magicians. But like most things worth knowing, these secrets will only reveal themselves to the open minded and thoughtful reader.

Still with me? Then you might be the kind of magician who will enjoy this book. If you're already familiar with the magical archetypes of the Trickster, Sorcerer, Oracle, and Sage; as discussed in Mystery School, then you'll immediately find this book a worthwhile companion volume.

If this is your first encounter with archetypical magic, or archetypes in general, Conley provides a well-written and gentle introduction to the concept of these enduring, and meaningful, models. Don't feel that you need to be a Jungian psychologist to understand the meanings and theory behind them, they'll probably resonate with you right away, which is really the point behind it all.

The images presented in the book are hundreds of years old, with most originating in the 1600s, but some much older than that. Conley provides each with an evocative title and a quote that speaks to what he imagines the image might suggest. For example, page 18 has a 16th century engraving of a "horn of plenty" held upright by heavenly hands. Conley offers these accompanying words "Brimming Over: The magician produces an abundance. The cornucopia promises freedom from want." There are scores of other possible interpretations, of course, and the reader is encouraged to discover their own. The author provides helpful suggestions for doing so near the back of the book, which allows you to read it once borrowing his imagination, and then again (and again) with your own.

Here's a personal example that might give you a feel for the types of discoveries that can reveal themselves when you study this book. The cornucopia image and accompanying text described earlier stirred up memories of when I used to perform the Square Circle at birthday party shows. I used it as a way to magically introduce some props that I would use later in the show--a couple of scarves and a piece of rope--but Conley's observation about abundance and "freedom from want" now leads me to imagine another approach. Instead of producing everything at once, returning to the Square Circle to acquire just the right prop, exactly when it was needed, might have been a stronger approach. Additionally, the items I was producing were satisfying only my desires, could I have elevated the power of this piece by also producing items of interest to the birthday child or the audience as a whole? Interesting questions, and those just from a single item in a book whose every page is filled with untapped potential.

If all that seems too "out there" for you, then at a more tangible level you can appreciate the meticulous research that it took to put this volume together, complete with citations for each image and quote. You can also enjoy the appendix with re-creates Jeff McBride's Abracadazzle show using imagery from the book, and demonstrates how, indeed, these old engravings are relevant in the 21st century.

I'm giving this five stars for its fine production, its uniqueness, and because I can't imagine how it might be improved. Ultimately, as a book with liberal doses of art, science, and philosophy its worth will be a subjective judgment. But if it speaks to you, there is much to be heard.

Product info for Magic Archetypes: The Art Behind the Science of Conjuring

Author: Craig Conley
Publisher: LuLu
Average Rating:  (1)
Retail Price: $30.00
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Manufacturer's Description:

Stage illusionists and amateur conjurors play out a mythic story, told through the deep symbolism underlying their age-old magic tricks and tools: the top hat, cups and balls, escape trunk, linking rings, white dove and rabbit, wand, handcuffs, restored ropes and papers, multiplying coins, etc. This book explores how magical props, as symbols, point beyond themselves to the larger mystery.

Magic Archetypes is a picto-poetic history of magic predating Robert Houdin’s Scientific School of conjuring, recalling the ancient Mystery School traditions. Told by artists from the 700s - 1600s who were influenced by the iconography of even earlier ages, this history is an initiation into the deeper aspects of magic: the meaning in the art beyond clever trickery, the archetypes at play since time immemorial. A fascinating, enlightening companion for professional illusionists, amateur conjurors, and art lovers intrigued by the power of archetypes.

Softbound, 127 pages, fully illustrated.


“Craig Conley’s Magic Archetypes is a feast for the eye and the mind. A marvelous read!” ”Eugene Burger, author of Mastering the Art of Magic

“Magic Archetypes is a lavishly illustrated tome filled with thought-provoking visual concepts and captioned ideas intended to prod the reader to unleash the creative self.” ”Joe Lantiere, author of The Magician’s Wand

“A treat for the eye as well as the mind.” ”Robert Neale, author of The Magic Mirror

“Recommended!” ”Jeff McBride, author of The Mystery School Book

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