This past weekend I was up in the Catskill Mountains of New York at a resort with some friends. If you've ever seen Dirty Dancing, it was kind of like that. There was swimming and boating and shuffleboard. I carried a watermelon. I put baby in a corner. There were lots of old-folks doddering around, but also a contingent of younger people as well breathing some new life into these resorts in the mountains. And yes, there was even some late night dancing going on. Sadly, it didn't quite get as "dirty" as I had hoped (my kind offer to "fist someone during a Viennese Waltz" got no takers).
In all seriousness, it was a legitimately fun time. I loved it, but I'm pretty easy to please. It was nice to be around a bunch of people who were primarily interacting with each other and not their phones. I know I sound 100 years old, but I am finding increasing value in real human interaction. And that is one of the primary benefits of magic as a leisure activity: it demands people engage in the moment.
On our first night there, the group I was with met the people who were staying in the cabin next to ours. They were four friends in their late-20s/early-30s who had come up for a few days from NYC. They were all cool people, but I particularly hit it off with one of the women in the group whose name was Elena. She was from Portugal originally, had chin-length dark hair and her wardrobe seemed to only consist of shift dresses and bikinis (the former she would peel off to reveal the latter whenever the sun was out). She told really inappropriate jokes but would then giggle so sweetly afterwards that it was impossible to take offense. I was completely charmed by her.
On the second night there, she and I were hanging out on the couch in the small bungalow my group was staying in. She knew I did some magic and had seen a couple quick tricks in the past two days. Now I was telling her about a related interest I had in old fortune-telling games and other different little rituals that were passed down from generation to generation. I told her there was one I had just learned the details of and I asked her if she'd like to try it. She smiled and clapped her hands in front of her heart. She was in.
I went to my bag and grabbed a few things: a piece of paper with some writing on it, a deck of cards, and a little amethyst crystal.
I came back and set those items between us on the couch.
I gave her the deck of cards and asked her to shuffle it.
"I learned this from an old Romanian fortune-teller who was my friend's aunt. She showed me all sort of interesting things. She read my coffee grounds. Have you heard of reading tea leaves? In Romania they read coffee grounds. But this was the most interesting thing she showed me."
"It's called a Harmony Ritual. And what it's supposed to do is identify an area of imbalance or stress in your life, and then rebalance you and put you in the proper headspace to handle that area."
I read the hand-written instructions I had which told her to take the deck she shuffled and cut it into four packets and place them in a diamond pattern. She was to take one packet and touch it to her head and replace it, she was to touch the next packet to her heart, the next to her stomach, and last to her groin. "Romanians believed these were the four areas that needed to be in balance to confront any issue. The head/intellect, the heart/compassion, the stomach/'hunger,' and the groin/passion."
The instructions then had her shuffle all the packets together and mix the deck as much as she wanted. Things were heating up...
Okay, let's pause here for a moment and get into the method. I know we haven't really even hit what the effect is yet, but it will make more sense this way because (most of you) already know the method.
What I'm performing for her here is Miraskill. (If you don't know how to do Miraskill, go crack a book. This blog isn't here to teach classic card tricks.)
The interesting thing about this is that it's Miraskill without any predictions.
I know what you're thinking, "Andy....You're WILD!" (Ugh... why am I wasting all these great Dirty Dancing references on you bozos? I need more chicks in my readership.)
A reader, N.R., had written me with the idea of doing Miraskill as part of a ritual or reading of sorts. So instead of two predictions, you would do the first round and the disparity between reds and blacks would be indicative of some kind of imbalance. Then you'd enact some ritual and, in the next round, reds and blacks would be even, indicating some increased balance or harmony.
I really liked the idea but I thought it could be stronger and more personal. You see, with the traditional Miraskill, you have two rounds that are essentially identical. You make two predictions and they come true. With N.R.'s version there was no "effect" in the first round. It just established a baseline. The second round demonstrated the "balance" that the ritual had restored.
What I wanted to do was use the first round to "diagnose" an area of imbalance in the person's life, and the second round to suggest that area of imbalance had been addressed in some way.
How do I mean?
Well, imagine you have a friend who is going through a rough spot in her love life and you want to give her a little psychological boost.
So you go through the first round of the trick with her. At the bottom of the instructions you've written down, there is a "key" to decoding the results of the process.
+2 Red = Imbalance regarding family
+4 Red = Imbalance regarding job/changing career
+6 Red = Imbalance regarding friends/social circle
+2 Black = Imbalance regarding health
+4 Black = Imbalance regarding love/romantic relationships
+6 Black = Imbalance regarding finances
Now, of course, you just set up the first round so the outcome relates to the issue the person is having in her real life. When that round is over she counts up the cards and comes up with 4 more blacks than reds. You consult your notes. "Okay... what does that mean... alright, it looks like that means there's an issue with your romantic relationships." Bingo! It's as if the cards have accurately honed in on an issue she's struggling with.
You don't have to secretly find out what someone's biggest concern is. You just learn it from your normal interaction with them. The trick isn't weakened if they know you know what their issue is. It's not a trick about your skill, it's a trick about this weird old ritual. That's the fun part.
And I think this version naturally addresses a weakness of the method better than the traditional effect does. When Miraskill is performed as a prediction, it doesn't make complete sense that your prediction is the difference between reds and blacks. If you really knew what would happen, why not say 12 reds and 8 blacks or whatever? But in this version, the whole premise is about imbalance, so it make sense that we are just talking about the difference between the two.
Okay, let's get back to my night with Elena so you can see how I finish this off...
Elena deals out the cards in pairs. She ends up with four more red cards than black cards.
"Okay... four more red cards. Let's see," I say as I consult my notes. "Okay, that means you're feeling an imbalance in regards to work or your career."
"Does it really say that?" she asked.
"Yes," I said, and showed her the paper.
"Oh. That's very true," she said. "Remember I was telling you about my new job?"
"Ooohhh... yeah... I think so," I said, as if searching my brain. The night before, in a conversation with a bigger group, she had mentioned starting a new job with a fashion design company. And she was very nervous about it because it involved communicating with a lot of different people, both in the office and around the world, and she was self-conscious about her accent and her English speaking ability.
"Well, let's do the second part of the ritual, and see if anything comes of it," I said.
I gave Elena the crystal and had her trace a line down her body from head to groin, connecting the four different areas.
"There's nothing magical about the crystal," I told her. "It just gives you something to focus on. You could use an olive if you wanted."
We did some quick breathing and visualization exercises. (If you can't palm in some cards while someone has their eyes closed doing some visualization exercises, you're useless.)
Then we did a second round of the ritual. She cut the deck in four, shuffled it all up, etc. etc.
And lo and behold, this time, the reds and the blacks were in perfect balance. What are the odds of that? (It's 100%.)
She smiled at me. "It's all balanced!" she said.
"Do you feel more balanced?" I asked.
She thought for a moment. "I do," she said. "What does it all mean?"
"Well," I said, "when the ritual works—like it has here— they say that it means you should be in a much better state of mind to tackle whatever the issue was that wasn't in balance. So, I know you were concerned about your new job, and those concerns still exist. But now you should be in a better mindset to deal with that issue."
She smiled at me again and began to straighten up the piles of cards with her thin finger. "Yes," she said. "This is good. This is good."
Now, I know some will say, "This is manipulative because there isn't really a 'harmony' ritual and you don't really help these people and blah, blah." Look, I get where you're coming from, but have some perspective. I'm not lying to someone about their dead grandmother talking to them or saying I can see their future or telling them I can cure their cancer or whatever. In fact, I'm not really lying to them at all about the outcome of the "ritual." The truth is, if they believe it will put them in a better mindset, it will. And if they don't believe it, it doesn't matter. That's a little loophole I've found.
How do I know this little white lie isn't a big deal? Because, I wouldn't give a shit if you "exposed" it. If you said to someone after I did it, "You know, there isn't really any 'harmony ritual,' he just made that up to make you feel better about that concern you had." Their response would be, "Oh, that's sweet." I think it's pretty clear that you're just trying to be helpful.
I should mention that I really dislike Miraskill. And I dislike it because I don't understand why it fools anyone. The underlying "math" seems almost pre-school in nature to me. And that's why I don't like the trick. Not because I think the effect is awful, I'm just confused why people are fooled by it. It would be like if there was a trick to vanish an ice cube in the microwave. And you'd be like, "That's not a trick, that's obvious." But somehow it was a classic that fooled people. That's what I don't like about it.
On top of that, I'm not a huge fan of the structure of the routine. It's usually done in two phases which is kind of unsatisfying (usually one or three phases is more structurally pleasing). And often the phases are essentially identical. Which, again, isn't really great routining.
I realize the presentation given above isn't going to appeal to all of you. But for me, and my performance situations, it's damn near perfect. It solves the structural issues I have with the original, shifts the focus off me, and makes the trick 1000 times more personal. Thanks again to N.R., for sending me in this direction. And if you don't like it, you can wackle all you wanna, you can wackle while I walk away