Magic, along with its subgenres of, and sometimes referred to as
illusion, stage magic or street magic is a performing art in which
audiences are entertained by staged tricks or illusions of seemingly
impossible feats using natural means. It is to be distinguished
from paranormal magic which, it is claimed, are effects created
through supernatural means. It is one of the oldest performing arts in
1.1 Magic tricks
1.2 Modern stage magic
2 Categories of effects
3 Learning magic
4 Types of magic performance
5 Misuse of magic
6 Researching magic
7 See also
9 Further reading
10 External links
The term "magic" etymologically derives from the Greek word mageia
(μαγεία). In ancient times, Greeks and Persians had been at war
for centuries, and the Persian priests, called magosh in Persian, came
to be known as magoi in Greek. Ritual acts of Persian priests came to
be known as mageia, and then magika—which eventually came to mean
any foreign, unorthodox, or illegitimate ritual practice. During the
17th century, many books were published that described magic tricks.
Until the 18th century, magic shows were a common source of
entertainment at fairs. A founding figure of modern entertainment
magic was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, who had a magic theatre in Paris
John Henry Anderson
John Henry Anderson was pioneering the same transition in
London in the 1840s. Towards the end of the 19th century, large magic
shows permanently staged at big theatre venues became the norm. As
a form of entertainment, magic easily moved from theatrical venues to
television magic specials. Performances that modern observers would
recognize as conjuring have been practiced throughout
history. For many recorded centuries, magicians were
associated with the devil and the occult. During the 19th and 20th
centuries, many stage magicians even capitalized on this notion in
their advertisements. The same level of ingenuity that was used to
produce famous ancient deceptions such as the
Trojan Horse would also
have been used for entertainment, or at least for cheating in money
games. They were also used by the practitioners of various religions
and cults from ancient times onwards to frighten uneducated people
into obedience or turn them into adherents. However, the profession of
the illusionist gained strength only in the 18th century, and has
enjoyed several popular vogues since.
See also: List of magic tricks
Opinions vary among magicians on how to categorize a given effect, but
a number of categories have been developed. Magicians may pull a
rabbit from an empty hat, make something seem to disappear, or
transform a red silk handkerchief into a green silk handkerchief.
Magicians may also destroy something, like cutting a head off, and
then "restore" it, make something appear to move from one place to
another, or they may escape from a restraining device. Other illusions
include making something appear to defy gravity, making a solid object
appear to pass through another object, or appearing to predict the
choice of a spectator. Many magic routines use combinations of
An illustration from Reginald Scot's The Discoverie of Witchcraft
(1584), one of the earliest books on magic tricks, explaining how the
"Decollation of John Baptist" decapitation illusion may be performed
One of the earliest books on the subject is Gantziony's work of 1489,
Natural and Unnatural Magic, which describes and explains old-time
tricks. In 1584, Englishman
Reginald Scot published The Discoverie
of Witchcraft, part of which was devoted to debunking the claims that
magicians used supernatural methods, and showing how their "magic
tricks" were in reality accomplished. Among the tricks discussed were
sleight-of-hand manipulations with rope, paper and coins. At the time,
fear and belief in witchcraft was widespread and the book tried to
demonstrate that these fears were misplaced. Popular belief held
that all obtainable copies were burned on the accession of James I in
During the 17th century, many similar books were published that
described in detail the methods of a number of magic tricks, including
The Art of Conjuring (1614) and The Anatomy of Legerdemain: The Art of
Juggling (c. 1675).
Advertisement for Isaac Fawkes' show from 1724 in which he boasts of
the success of his performances for the King and Prince George
Until the 18th century, magic shows were a common source of
entertainment at fairs, where itinerant performers would entertain the
public with magic tricks, as well as the more traditional spectacles
of sword swallowing, juggling and fire breathing. In the early 18th
century, as belief in witchcraft was waning, the art became
increasingly respectable and shows would be put on for rich private
patrons. A notable figure in this transition was the English showman,
Isaac Fawkes, who began to promote his act in advertisements from the
1720s – he even claimed to have performed for King George II. One of
Fawkes' advertisements described his routine in some detail:
He takes an empty bag, lays it on the Table and turns it several times
inside out, then commands 100 Eggs out of it and several showers of
real Gold and silver, then the Bag beginning to swell several sorts of
wild fowl run out of it upon the Table. He throws up a Pack of Cards,
and causes them to be living birds flying about the room. He causes
living Beasts, Birds, and other Creatures to appear upon the Table. He
blows the spots of the Cards off and on, and changes them to any
From 1756 to 1781,
Jacob Philadelphia performed feats of magic,
sometimes under the guise of scientific exhibitions, throughout Europe
and in Russia.
Modern stage magic
Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, pioneer of modern magic entertainment
A founding figure of modern entertainment magic was Jean Eugène
Robert-Houdin, originally a clockmaker, who opened a magic theatre in
Paris in 1845. He transformed his art from one performed at fairs to a
performance that the public paid to see at the theatre. His speciality
was constructing mechanical automata that appeared to move and act as
if alive. Many of Robert-Houdin's mechanisms for illusion were pirated
by his assistant and ended up in the performances of his rivals, John
Henry Anderson and Alexander Herrmann.
John Henry Anderson
John Henry Anderson was pioneering the same transition in London. In
1840 he opened the New Strand Theatre, where he performed as The Great
Wizard of the North. His success came from advertising his shows and
captivating his audience with expert showmanship. He became one of the
earliest magicians to attain a high level of world renown. He opened a
second theatre in
Glasgow in 1845.
John Nevil Maskelyne, a famous magician and illusionist of the late
Towards the end of the century, large magic shows permanently staged
at big theatre venues became the norm. The British performer J N
Maskelyne and his partner Cooke were established at the Egyptian Hall
Piccadilly in 1873 by their manager William Morton, and
continued there for 31 years. The show incorporated stage illusions
and reinvented traditional tricks with exotic (often Oriental)
imagery. The potential of the stage was exploited for hidden
mechanisms and assistants, and the control it offers over the
audience's point of view. Maskelyne and Cooke invented many of the
illusions still performed today – one of his best-known being
The model for the look of a 'typical' magician—a man with wavy hair,
a top hat, a goatee, and a tailcoat—was
Alexander Herrmann (February
10, 1844 – December 17, 1896), also known as Herrmann the
Great. Herrmann was a French magician and was part of the Herrmann
family name that is the "first-family of magic."
The escapologist and magician
Harry Houdini took his stage name from
Robert-Houdin and developed a range of stage magic tricks, many of
them based on what became known after his death as escapology. Houdini
was genuinely skilled in techniques such as lockpicking and escaping
straitjackets, but also made full use of the range of conjuring
techniques, including fake equipment and collusion with individuals in
the audience. Houdini's show business savvy was as great as his
performance skill. There is a
Houdini Museum dedicated to him in
The Magic Circle
The Magic Circle was formed in
London in 1905 to promote and advance
the art of stage magic.
As a form of entertainment, magic easily moved from theatrical venues
to television specials, which opened up new opportunities for
deceptions, and brought stage magic to huge audiences. Famous
magicians of the 20th century included Okito, David Devant, Harry
Blackstone Sr., Harry Blackstone Jr., Howard Thurston, Theodore
Annemann, Cardini, Joseph Dunninger, Dai Vernon, Fred Culpitt, Tommy
Wonder, Siegfried & Roy, and Doug Henning. Popular 20th and 21st
century magicians include David Copperfield, Lance Burton, James
Randi, Penn and Teller, David Blaine, Criss Angel,
Hans Klok and
Derren Brown. Well-known women magicians include
Dell O'Dell and
Dorothy Dietrich. Most television magicians perform before a live
audience, who provide the remote viewer with a reassurance that the
illusions are not obtained with post-production visual effects.
Many of the principles of stage magic are old. There is an expression,
"it's all done with smoke and mirrors", used to explain something
baffling, but effects seldom use mirrors today, due to the amount of
installation work and transport difficulties. For example, the famous
Pepper's Ghost, a stage illusion first used in 19th-century London,
required a specially built theatre. Modern performers have vanished
objects as large as the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, and a space
shuttle, using other kinds of optical deceptions.
Categories of effects
Opinions vary among magicians as to how to categorize a given effect,
and disagreement as to what categories actually exist. For instance,
some magicians consider "penetrations" a separate category, while
others consider penetrations a form of restoration or teleportation.
Some magicians today, such as Guy Hollingworth and Tom Stone
have begun to challenge the notion that all magic effects fit into a
limited number of categories. Among magicians who believe in a limited
number of categories (such as Dariel Fitzkee, Harlan Tarbell, S.H.
Sharpe), there has been disagreement as to how many different types of
effects there are. Some of these are listed below.
Production: The magician produces something from nothing—a rabbit
from an empty hat, a fan of cards from thin air, a shower of coins
from an empty bucket, a dove from a pan, or the magician himself or
herself, appearing in a puff of smoke on an empty stage—all of these
effects are productions.
Vanish: The magician makes something disappear—a coin, a cage of
doves, milk from a newspaper, an assistant from a cabinet, or even the
Statue of Liberty. A vanish, being the reverse of a production, may
use a similar technique in reverse.
Transformation: The magician transforms something from one state into
another—a silk handkerchief changes color, a lady turns into a
tiger, an indifferent card changes to the spectator's chosen card.
Transformation: Change of color
Restoration: The magician destroys an object—a rope is cut, a
newspaper is torn, a woman is cut in half, a borrowed watch is smashed
to pieces—then restores it to its original state.
Transposition: This is whereby two or more objects are used in play.
The magician will cause these objects to change places, as many times
as he pleases, and in some cases, ends with a kicker by transforming
the objects into something else.
Transportation: The magician causes something to move from one place
to another—a borrowed ring is found inside a ball of wool, a canary
inside a light bulb, an assistant from a cabinet to the back of the
theatre, or a coin from one hand to the other. When two objects
exchange places, it is called a transposition: a simultaneous, double
transportation. A transportation can be seen as a combination of a
vanish and a production. When performed by a mentalist it might be
Escape: The magician (or less often, an assistant) is placed in a
restraining device (i.e., handcuffs or a straitjacket) or a death
trap, and escapes to safety. Examples include being put in a
straitjacket and into an overflowing tank of water, and being tied up
and placed in a car being sent through a car crusher.
Levitation: The magician defies gravity, either by making something
float in the air, or with the aid of another object (suspension)—a
silver ball floats around a cloth, an assistant floats in mid-air,
another is suspended from a broom, a scarf dances in a sealed bottle,
the magician hovers a few inches off the floor. There are many popular
ways to create this illusion, including Asrah levitation, Balducci
levitation, and King levitation. The flying illusion has often been
performed by David Copperfield and more recently by Peter Marvey.
Harry Blackstone floated a light bulb over the heads of the public.
Penetration: The magician makes a solid object pass through
another—a set of steel rings link and unlink, a candle penetrates an
arm, swords pass through an assistant in a basket, a salt shaker
penetrates a tabletop, or a man walks through a mirror. Sometimes
referred to as "solid-through-solid".
Prediction: The magician accurately predicts the choice of a spectator
or the outcome of an event—a newspaper headline, the total amount of
loose change in the spectator's pocket, a picture drawn on a
slate—under seemingly impossible circumstances.
Many magic routines use combinations of effects. For example, in "cups
and balls" a magician may use vanishes, productions, penetrations,
teleportation and transformations as part of the one presentation.
The methodology behind magic is often referred to as a science (often
a branch of physics) while the performance aspect is more of an art
See also: List of magic publications
A stage magician using a top hat as a prop
Dedication to magic can teach confidence and creativity, as well as
the work ethic associated with regular practice and the responsibility
that comes with devotion to an art. The teaching of performance
magic was once a secretive practice. Professional
magicians were unwilling to share knowledge with anyone outside the
profession to prevent the laity from learning their secrets. This
often made it difficult for an interested apprentice to learn anything
but the basics of magic. Some had strict rules against members
discussing magic secrets with anyone but established magicians.
From the 1584 publication of Reginald Scot's Discoverie of Witchcraft
until the end of the 19th century, only a few books were available for
magicians to learn the craft, whereas today mass-market books offer a
myriad titles. Videos and DVDs are a newer medium of tuition, but many
of the methods found in this format are readily found in previously
published books. However, they can serve as a visual demonstration.
Persons interested in learning to perform magic can join magic clubs.
Here magicians, both seasoned and novitiate, can work together and
help one another for mutual improvement, to learn new techniques, to
discuss all aspects of magic, to perform for each other—sharing
advice, encouragement, and criticism. Before a magician can join one
of these clubs, they usually have to audition. The purpose is to show
to the membership they are a magician and not just someone off the
street wanting to discover magic secrets.
The world's largest magic organization is the International
Brotherhood of Magicians; it publishes a monthly journal, The Linking
Ring. The oldest organization is the Society of American Magicians,
which publishes the monthly magazine
M-U-M and of which
Houdini was a
member and president for several years. In London, England, there is
The Magic Circle, which houses the largest magic library in Europe.
Also PSYCRETS—The British Society of Mystery
Entertainers—caters specifically to mentalists, bizarrists,
storytellers, readers, spiritualist performers, and other mystery
entertainers. Davenport's Magic in London's The Strand is the
world's oldest family-run magic shop. The
Magic Castle in
Hollywood, California, is home to the Academy of Magical Arts.
Traditionally, magicians refuse to reveal the methods behind their
tricks to the audience. Membership in professional magicians'
organizations often requires a commitment never to reveal the secrets
of magic to non-magicians. Magic performances tend to fall into a few
specialties or genres.
Stage illusions use large-scale props and even
Platform magic is performed for a medium to large
Close-up magic is performed with the audience close to the
Escapology involves escapes from confinement or restraints.
Pickpocket magicians take audience members' wallets, belts, and ties.
Mentalism creates the illusion that the magician can read minds.
Comedy magic is the use of magic combined with stand-up comedy, an
example being Penn & Teller. Some modern illusionists believe that
it is unethical to give a performance that claims to be anything other
than a clever and skillful deception. Others argue that they can claim
that the effects are due to magic. These apparently irreconcilable
differences of opinion have led to some conflicts among performers.
Another issue is the use of deceptive practices for personal gain
outside the venue of a magic performance. Examples include fraudulent
mediums, con men and grifters who use deception for cheating at card
Types of magic performance
Magic performances tend to fall into a few specialties or genres.
A mentalist on stage in a mind-reading performance, 1900
Amateur magician performing "children's magic" for a birthday party
Stage illusions are performed for large audiences, typically within a
theatre or auditorium. This type of magic is distinguished by
large-scale props, the use of assistants and often exotic animals such
as elephants and tigers. Famous stage illusionists, past and present,
include Harry Blackstone, Sr., Howard Thurston, Chung Ling Soo, David
Copperfield, Lance Burton, Siegfried & Roy, and Harry Blackstone,
Parlor magic is done for larger audiences than close-up magic (which
is for a few people or even one person) and for smaller audiences than
stage magic. In parlor magic, the performer is usually standing and on
the same level as the audience, which may be seated on chairs or even
on the floor. According to the Encyclopedia of Magic and Magicians by
T.A. Waters, "The phrase [parlor magic] is often used as a pejorative
to imply that an effect under discussion is not suitable for
professional performance." Also, many magicians consider the term
"parlor" old fashioned and limiting, since this type of magic is often
done in rooms much larger than the traditional parlor, or even
outdoors. A better term for this branch of magic may be "platform,"
"club" or "cabaret." Examples of such magicians include Jeff McBride,
David Abbott, Channing Pollock, Black Herman, and Fred Kaps.
Micromagic (also known as close-up magic or table magic) is performed
with the audience close to the magician, sometimes even one-on-one. It
usually makes use of everyday items as props, such as cards (see Card
manipulation), coins (see
Coin magic), and seemingly 'impromptu'
effects. This may be called "table magic", particularly when performed
as dinner entertainment. Ricky Jay, Mahdi Moudini, and Lee Asher,
following in the traditions of Dai Vernon, Slydini, and Max Malini,
are considered among the foremost practitioners of close-up magic.
Escapology is the branch of magic that deals with escapes from
confinement or restraints.
Harry Houdini is a well-known example of an
escape artist or escapologist.
Pickpocket magicians use magic to misdirect the audience while
removing wallets, belts, ties and other personal effects. It can be
presented on a stage, in a cabaret setting, before small close-up
groups, or even for one spectator. Well-known pickpockets include
James Freedman, David Avadon, Bob Arno, and Apollo Robbins.
Mentalism creates the impression in the minds of the audience that the
performer possesses special powers to read thoughts, predict events,
control other minds, and similar feats. It can be presented on a
stage, in a cabaret setting, before small close-up groups, or even for
one spectator. Well-known mentalists of the past and present include
Alexander, The Zancigs, Axel Hellstrom, Dunninger, Kreskin, Derren
Brown, Rich Ferguson, Guy Bavli, Banachek, and Alain Nu.
Theatrical séances simulate spiritualistic or mediumistic phenomena
for theatrical effect. This genre of stage magic has been misused at
times by charlatans pretending to actually be in contact with spirits.
Children's magic is performed for an audience primarily composed of
children. It is typically performed at birthday parties, preschools,
elementary schools, Sunday schools or libraries. This type of magic is
usually comedic in nature and involves audience interaction as well as
Online magic tricks were designed to function on a computer screen.
The computer essentially replaces the magician. Some online magic
tricks recreate traditional card tricks and require user
participation, while others, like Plato's Cursed Triangle, are based
on mathematical, geometrical and/or optical illusions. One such online
magic trick, called Esmeralda's Crystal Ball, became a viral
phenomenon that fooled so many computer users into believing that
their computer had supernatural powers, that
Snopes dedicated a page
to debunking the trick.
Mathemagic is a genre of stage magic that combines magic and
mathematics. It is commonly used by children's magicians and
Corporate magic or trade show magic uses magic as a communication and
sales tool, as opposed to just straightforward entertainment.
Corporate magicians may come from a business background and typically
present at meetings, conferences and product launches. They run
workshops and can sometimes be found at trade shows, where their
patter and illusions enhance an entertaining presentation of the
products offered by their corporate sponsors. Pioneer performers in
this arena include Eddie Tullock and Guy Bavli.
Gospel magic uses magic to catechize and evangelize.
Gospel magic was
first used by
St. Don Bosco
St. Don Bosco to interest children in 19th-century
Italy to come back to school, to accept assistance and to
Street magic is a form of street performing or busking that employs a
hybrid of stage magic, platform and close-up magic, usually performed
'in the round' or surrounded by the audience. Notable modern street
magic performers include
Jeff Sheridan and Gazzo. Since the first
David Blaine TV special Street Magic aired in 1997, the term "street
magic" has also come to describe a style of 'guerilla' performance in
which magicians approach and perform for unsuspecting members of the
public on the street. Unlike traditional street magic, this style is
almost purely designed for TV and gains its impact from the wild
reactions of the public. Magicians of this type include David Blaine
and Cyril Takayama.
Bizarre magic uses mystical, horror, fantasy, and other similar themes
Bizarre magic is typically performed in a close-up
venue, although some performers have effectively presented it in a
stage setting. Charles Cameron has generally been credited as the
"godfather of bizarre magic." Others such as
Tony Andruzzi have
contributed significantly to its development.
Shock magic is a genre of magic that shocks the audience. Sometimes
referred to as "geek magic," it takes its roots from circus sideshows,
in which 'freakish' performances were shown to audiences. Common shock
magic or geek magic effects include eating razor blades,
needle-through-arm, string through neck and pen-through-tongue.
Comedy magic is the use of magic in which is combined with stand-up
comedy. Famous comedy magicians include Ed Alonzo, Penn & Teller,
Quick change magic is the use of magic which is combined with the very
quick changing of costumes. Famous quick change artists include Sos
& Victoria Petrosyan.
Camera magic (or "video magic") is magic that is aimed at viewers
watching broadcasts or recordings. It includes tricks based on the
restricted viewing angles of cameras and clever editing. Camera magic
often features paid extras posing as spectators who may even be
assisting in the performance. Camera magic can be done live, such as
Derren Brown's lottery prediction. Famous examples of camera magic
include David Copperfield's Floating Over the Grand Canyon and many of
Criss Angel's illusions.
Classical Magic is a style of magic that conveys feelings of elegance
and skill akin to prominent magicians of the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries. Notable classical magicians today include Yu Ho-Jin and
Misuse of magic
Some modern illusionists believe that it is unethical to give a
performance that claims to be anything other than a clever and
skillful deception. Most of these performers therefore eschew the term
"magician" (which they view as making a claim to supernatural power)
in favor of "illusionist" and similar descriptions; for example, the
Jamy Ian Swiss
Jamy Ian Swiss makes these points by billing himself as an
"honest liar." Alternatively, many performers say that magical
acts, as a form of theatre, need no more of a disclaimer than any play
or film; this policy is advocated by the magician and mentalist Joseph
Dunninger, who states "For those who believe, no explanation is
necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation will
These apparently irreconcilable differences of opinion have led to
some conflicts among performers. For example, more than thirty years
after the hugely successful illusionist
Uri Geller made his first
appearances on television in the 1970s to exhibit his self-proclaimed
psychic ability to bend spoons, his actions still provoke controversy
among some magic performers, because he claimed he was not using
conjuring techniques. On the other hand, because Geller bent—and
continues to bend—spoons within a performance context, the Dunninger
quote may be said to apply.
Less fraught with controversy, however, may be the use of deceptive
practices by those who employ conjuring techniques for personal gain
outside the venue of a magic performance.
Fraudulent mediums have long capitalized on the popular belief in
paranormal phenomena to prey on the bereaved for financial gain. From
the 1840s to the 1920s, during the greatest popularity of the
Spiritualism religious movement as well as public interest in
séances, a number of fraudulent mediums used conjuring methods to
perform illusions such as table-knocking, slate-writing, and
telekinetic effects, which they attributed to the actions of ghosts or
other spirits. The great escapologist and illusionist Harry Houdini
devoted much of his time to exposing such fraudulent operators.
Magician James Randi, magic duo Penn & Teller, and the mentalist
Derren Brown have also devoted much time to investigating and
debunking paranormal, occult, and supernatural claims.
Fraudulent faith healers have also been shown to employ sleight of
hand to give the appearance of removing chicken-giblet "tumors" from
Con men and grifters too may use techniques of conjuring for
fraudulent goals. Cheating at card games is an obvious example, and
not a surprising one: one of the most respected textbooks of card
techniques for magicians, The Expert at the Card Table by Erdnase, was
primarily written as an instruction manual for card sharps. The card
trick known as "Find the Lady" or "Three-card Monte" is an old
favourite of street hustlers, who lure the victim into betting on what
seems like a simple proposition: to identify, after a seemingly
easy-to-track mixing sequence, which one of three face-down cards is
the Queen. Another example is the shell game, in which a pea is hidden
under one of three walnut shells, then shuffled around the table (or
sidewalk) so slowly as to make the pea's position seemingly obvious.
Although these are well known as frauds, people still lose money on
them; a shell-game ring was broken up in Los Angeles as recently as
Because of the secretive nature of magic, research can sometimes be a
challenge. Many magic resources are privately held and most
libraries only have small populist collections of magicana. However,
organizations exist to band together independent collectors, writers,
and researchers of magic history, including the Magic Collectors'
Association, which publishes a quarterly magazine and hosts an
annual convention; and the Conjuring Arts Research Center, which
publishes a monthly newsletter and biannual magazine, and offers its
members use of a searchable database of rare books and periodicals.
Performance magic is particularly notable as a key area of popular
culture from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries. Many performances and
performers can be followed through newspapers of the time.
Many books have been written about magic tricks; so many are written
every year that at least one magic author has suggested that more
books are written about magic than any other performing art. Although
the bulk of these books are not seen on the shelves of libraries or
public bookstores, the serious student can find many titles through
specialized stores catering to the needs of magic performers.
Several notable public research collections on magic are the WG Alma
Conjuring Collection at the State Library of Victoria; the R. B.
Robbins Collection of Stage Magic and Conjuring at the State
Library of NSW; the H. Adrian Smith Collection of Conjuring and
Magicana at Brown University; and the Carl W. Jones Magic
Collection, 1870s–1948 at Princeton University.
Intellectual rights to magic methods
List of magicians
Magic in fiction
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Magic (illusion).
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article
Boston Public Library. Magic posters
State Library of Victoria (Australia). Magic and magicians Research
Science, Math and Magic Books From the Rare Book and Special
Collections Division at the Library of Congress
Magic Apparatus From the Rare Book and
Special Collections Division at
the Library of Congress
Magic and illusion
Sleight of hand
Films about magicians
The Discoverie of Witchcraft