SHAKE THAT STICK!: A word on magic(k) wands (Arthur, 2008)

Shake that Stick! (A Word on Magic(k) Wands)

Applied Magic(k) column by the Center for Tactical Magic

Illustration by M. Wartella

Originally published in Arthur No. 28 (March 2008)


Shorty don’t believe me? 

Then come with me tonight

And I’ll show you magic

(What? What?) Magic (uh huh uh huh)

I got the magic stick

– 50 Cent

It doesn’t matter whether you survey stage magicians, witches, or a screaming horde of pre-pubescent Harry Potter fans, the magic wand is perhaps the most encompassing symbol of magic. Equally at home in the white glove of a dapper, tuxedo-wrapped conjuror or in the clenched fist of a cackling old crone, the magic wand immediately summons a magical mood. While such depictions are still commonplace in pop culture, most folks are of the opinion that magic wands are vestiges of a bygone era.

It’s certainly true that magic wands have been around for a long, long time. Some of the earliest known examples belong to Egyptian magicians and priests from the 2nd Century B.C.—more than four thousand years ago.But for anyone who’s sat around a campfire and raised the glowing tip of a fire-kissed stick into the night sky, it’s not hard to imagine that our ancestors have been waving magic wands through the air for a good many millennia.

Over the years, wands have played a variety of roles: instruments for measurement, props for illusions, scepters for governance, and, as 50 Cent can attest, as phallic symbols noted for their procreative ability. As tools for healing we see their continued use in the hands of Reiki practitioners; however, the connection to the healing arts goes way back. The ancient Greeks, for example, used the rod of Asclepius (featuring a snake coiled around a stick) to represent medicine; a tradition still carried on by today’s medical professionals.  Ironically, the rod of Asclepius is often substituted with Mercury’s wand (two snakes forming a double helix around a winged staff), which traditionally represented both commerce and thievery, two traits often associated with the contemporary medical establishment. 

Performing magicians have employed wands in their performances for at least the last few hundred years. Waved over top hats and ornamented boxes, wands have frequently added an air of mysterious theatrics while assisting the magician in feats of misdirection. Similarly, wands in the form of scepters have also appeared in the hands of governing leaders. In this case, they can be seen either as symbols of constituent power or as fancy, but ultimately useless baubles that will never yield the positive results one hopes for. And the same could be said of the scepters.

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