Hey guys! Are you ready for another blog post about a death defying act that has haunted the history of magic? Well that would be convenient since that is what I want to talk about today. The stage illusion is simply known as, The Guillotine.
This illusion in it’s simplistic form deals with the dismemberment of a human head, or appendage when being performed. When performed on stage, the magician demonstrates the functionality of the contraption by severing a large piece of fruit, vegetable or in some cases, a mannequin’s head. Shortly afterwards, most commonly bound, the magician is placed on a horizontal table and their head is fitted into the base of the guillotine. The blade is then released by an assistant and the blade falls and severs the magicians head which is commonly deposited into an opaque container. From here the head is either presented to the audience, clearly separated from the body, or it is carefully placed on the top of a taller table away from the body covered by a cloth. The cloth is then removed, presenting the head and face of the magician, still alive and possibly talking. After this, the head is covered and placed back onto the magician as if it was never severed.
This illusion first appeared in the fourth dynasty of Khufu’s reign in mid 2500 BCE Egypt by the magi known as Dedi. He exclusively performed this illusion by severing the heads off of common region animals and then restoring them back to normal. Aside from the description of this illusion popping up in a few books over the centuries, it wasn’t until 1765 when a man named Jacob Philadelphia performed this illusion. It detailed two boys and a dove being decapitated and restored by this magician in a syndicated publication.
From this point on, this dynamic display of human mutilation, that caries with it a real historical place in judicial culture, has transformed into a sort of morbid form of entertainment. Performed by most all famous and renowned illusionists, the devices used ranged from thick towering 15 foot tall contraptions of horror, to three inch tall digit slicing gimmicks.
It is most likely today, you will not see the towering hulking guillotine contraption that audiences saw back in then. As modern times as we know it, came into being, this illusion substantially shrunk in size to make the transportation and storage easier on the magician and crew. Most guillotine illusion contraptions today won’t reach a height taller than 10 to 12 feet, being a lot thinner and sleeker. Some actually only consist of a large looming blade and a few cables.
No matter how these devices are constructed or designed, the overall effect remains dramatic and gruesome. Anything to make the audience cringe in terror gives the magician a huge smile. And when that same magician gives back to the audience, the sense of relief and joyful excitement, by letting them know that what they just saw was not real; it makes what we do the greatest job in the world.
“When you cut away that which you do not need in your life, what you have left becomes more precious and abundant. In turn, you are compelled to share it with the world in hopes that it may inspire joy.”
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