Conjuring Credits

The Origins of Wonder

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Thread Tricks

Thread and hair have been used as a method for animation, suspension and levitation for centuries, in both the West and East. Explanations of early tricks using a strand of fine hair from a woman to cause a blown egg or coin to move, and to suspend a coin in the air are given in a late fifteenth century notebook by Thomas Betson, a monk at Syon Abby in Middlesex. This notebook is at St. John's College, Cambridge, MS. E.6, according to Richard Kieckhefer in Magic in the Middle Ages, 1989, p. 91.

Japanese and Chinese conjurers used hair and strands extracted the cocoons of silk worms in a variety of ways. The head-to-floor double anchor arrangement is described in several nineteenth-century Japanese books. Various objects are used: paper cut-outs and folded figures, chopsticks and even some heavier items, such as fans and bowls (the latter may have been lightweight fekes).

The old Japanese texts referred to the effects created as “dancing”, which indicates the type of animation. Some of the illustrations show objects levitating off the floor, although the path of movement is not entirely clear.

One of the earliest Japanese descriptions of tricks done with thread is in Senjutsuya Hanraku (The Hermit’s Nighttime Magic), a book published c. 1755. The next-oldest reference is in Hiji Hyaku Sen (A Hundred Secrets), from 1827.