In the worlds of literature and pop culture, magicians have typically been the hero. From Merlin to Gandalf and everyone in between, so many of our stories have leaned on the powers of the almighty sorcerer. But that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, for a very long time, these magicians were feared and hated. Not because they were seen as charlatans, although that was sometimes true, and not because they were viewed as practitioners of some new and dangerous cult, since magicians had been around for thousands of years. No, they were feared for a much more simple reason: because just about everyone was convinced that their powers were real.
There’s magic in the air, and (probably not coincidentally) magi in the narrative of this Christmas-week episode of the Lore podcast. Host Aaron Mahnke covers the long and storied history of magicians, starting with their origins in ancient Zoroastrianism. He outlines the seven types of magic practiced in medieval Europe, giving special attention to the last and most controversial type: necromancy. Global in his approach, Mahnke does not just address familiar figures such as Aleister Crowley, but also invokes lesser- known magic wizzes like Abe No Seimei, the “Merlin of Japan.” The episode’s most entertaining element, though, is the extended discussion of a certain 16th Century German magician whose name has since become synonymous with ill-fated dealings with the devil.
Don’t be fooled by the title: there’s no trickery in “Sleight of Hand,” an episode that clearly presents listeners with plentiful nuggets of sorcerous lore.