Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Astrological Sign Divination by Anagrams

Using branching anagrams to divine words was pioneered by Stanley Collins. The first to apply this method to the divination of a spectator's astrological sign was John Sherwood, who published his “Psychic Astrologer” in The New Tops, Vol. 17 No. 2, Feb. 1977, p. 32. Sherwood's approach was somewhat indirect, as he used a branching-anagram system to determine the month of birth, after which he took a calculated gamble on the spectator's astrological sign.

Six years later, Sam Schwartz refined the procedure as one of the tests—“Incredi Test #1”, p. 17—built into his marketed book test, “Astrology: The Hidden Force”, released in 1983. Schwartz's anagram method was more sophisticated and better concealed than Sherwood's but still didn't apply the anagram system directly to the astrological signs. Instead, it used used twelve key words, each associated with a sign, which the spectator looked up in a specially printed book on astrology. The word for the characteristic cued the correct sign.

After seeing Schwartz's test, Bob Farmer took the leap of eliminating intervening steps and a special book, and created a branching anagram system that led directly to the spectator's sign of the zodiac. Farmer planned to combine this divination with a system for generating an “automatic” cold reading that used eleven “personality” cards and twelve astrological-sign cards. The cold-reading system was never worked out to his satisfaction. He recorded his system in January 1986 in a private notebook, calling the entry “Astrological Cold Reading for the Lazy: Fate Accompli”. He shared the idea with a limited group of friends. Among those friends was Max Maven, who told T. A. Waters the general premise of Farmer's idea.

Around January 1987, Ray Grismer marketed his anagram approach for divining an astrological sign, which he called "What's Your Sign?" By February 1988, he changed the name of the trick to “What's My Sign?”, by which it was known from then on. Grismer was at that time unaware of Farmer's previous work on the subject.

The appearance on the market of “What's My Sign?” prompted T. A. Waters to contribute his anagram system for the divination effect, “Signse”, to The New Invocation, No. 39, July 1987, p. 469. Waters had worked out this system shortly after hearing of Farmer's idea but before having seen the details of his approach. The Grismer and Waters systems are different in their approaches to Farmer's and to each other. Waters recalled having shown his system to a few friends in early 1986 at the Magic Castle, one of whom was Ray Grismer. Grismer had an entirely different memory of events; he recalled demonstrating his system to Waters in the Hollywood Magic Shop around the same time. Grismer and Waters were friends and both were known to be scrupulous about proper crediting. Each remained convinced of his memory of events in this matter to the end. At times, Grismer and Waters have each been incorrectly credited with being the first to apply a system of branching anagrams directly to the names of astrological signs. That credit belongs to Bob Farmer.

See also Anagrams.