St. John Don Bosco, Patron of Magicians: A Magical Hagiography

 

St. John Don Bosco

Mr. Stagnaro is one of those folks for whom we could have great jealousy.  He is a good person with a great website and wonderful writing.  If you are not a subscriber to his Smoke and Mirrors, you should be.  He has the latest news and helpful tips for folks like us that can?t get enough of this good stuff.

 

If you haven?t already, please go to this site, http://www.topica.com/lists/smokeandmirrors, and sign up for this wonderful resource for magicians.  Then, after you have secured your place on his mailing list, visit Mr. Stagnaro?s website at www.kismetmagic.com.  He is was we can only hope to one day be.

 

Mr. Stagnaro wrote a wonderful hagiography of St. Don Bosco; the Patron Saint of Magicians.  He has graciously allowed us to re-print it here.  In keeping with the motif of having more skills and talents than a normal human should possess, Mr. Stagnaro designed a medal of St. Don Bosco.  He does not profit from purchases but donates the proceeds. 

 

Check out his wonderful work here.

 

“They followed him a long time because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.”  (Acts of the Apostles, 8:11)  When most people, Catholics or not, find out that there actually is a Catholic saint whose sphere of influence includes stage and close-up magic, they generally question the fact. 

 

After all, Biblical references…

 

St. John Don Bosco

Mr. Stagnaro is one of those folks for whom we could have great jealousy.  He is a good person with a great website and wonderful writing.  If you are not a subscriber to his Smoke and Mirrors, you should be.  He has the latest news and helpful tips for folks like us that can?t get enough of this good stuff.

 

If you haven?t already, please go to this site, http://www.topica.com/lists/smokeandmirrors, and sign up for this wonderful resource for magicians.  Then, after you have secured your place on his mailing list, visit Mr. Stagnaro?s website at www.kismetmagic.com.  He is was we can only hope to one day be.

 

Mr. Stagnaro wrote a wonderful hagiography of St. Don Bosco; the Patron Saint of Magicians.  He has graciously allowed us to re-print it here.  In keeping with the motif of having more skills and talents than a normal human should possess, Mr. Stagnaro designed a medal of St. Don Bosco.  He does not profit from purchases but donates the proceeds. 

 

Check out his wonderful work here.

 

“They followed him a long time because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic.”  (Acts of the Apostles, 8:11)  When most people, Catholics or not, find out that there actually is a Catholic saint whose sphere of influence includes stage and close-up magic, they generally question the fact. 

 

After all, Biblical references to “magic” are, without exception, the manipulation of supposed preternatural powers usually associated with conjuring spirits in order to foretell the future (1Samuel 28:7,) or dealing with astrology (Isaiah 47:13.) Suffice it to say that, inevitably, the kind of “magic” that is referenced in the Bible is not stage magic. January 31st is the day set aside on the Catholic liturgical calendar to honor St. John Don Bosco.

 

This month, Catholic magicians around the world will celebrate the 190th anniversary of the birth and the 117th anniversary of the death of St. John Don Melchoir Bosco, an Italian priest born in Becchi, Castelnuovo d’Asti, Piedmont, Italy. Many people wonder how the Catholic Church and magic could get together in the first place. During the latter half of the 19th century, as Europe’s poor were suffering from the effects of industrialization, Don Bosco saw how most of the children in his village remained uneducated and without faith in God.

 

John’s father died when he was only two-years-old. As was common at the time, he helped the family’s finances with different jobs. Whenever he had an extra penny for himself, little John would go to the many circuses, fairs and carnivals that visited his part of Italy. He watched in rapt attention when magicians performed seemingly impossible, preternatural effects.

 

Being a precocious child, he reasoned some of them out and those he could not, he would beg magicians to teach him. With the knowledge he cobbled together, he was able to put on little magic shows free of charge for his friends. Even at that age, he would make sure that the poorest children in his neighborhood would be in attendance.

 

Being devout, he would take the opportunity, in front of his impromptu congregation, to repeat the homily he heard at church on the previous Sunday.  As Don Bosco (“Don” is an Italian honorific equivalent to “Sir” or “Mr.”)grew up, he chose to became a priest. He was ordained in 1841 and dedicated his priesthood ministry to teaching and working exclusively with the poor children and youth in the city of Turin. He served as chaplain for a hospice for wayward girls and feeding and clothing the poor was his main concerns.

 

Once accomplished, he turned his attentions to their spiritual development.  He needed a way to get kids interested in coming to church, back in school and accepting the aid he was offering.  He remembered his early success as a child with the impoverished children of his neighborhood and decided to use puzzles, gags, riddles and juggling. But it was the magic that caught the kids’ attention the best.  

 

Stories that have come down from Don Bosco’s contemporaries include some specific tricks he used.  He was said to be especially good at tying three ropes together to form one seamless rope in order to explain the mystery of the Christian Trinity. He also would pull coins from ears and change pebbles into candy delighting the children who were under his care.  Later in life, Don Bosco started a community of Catholic priests, nuns brothers and lay people who to this day help street kids and youth in gangs throughout the world including the largest cities in the United States, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa.

 

Don Bosco was canonized in 1934 by Pope Pius XI. For those unfamiliar with saint veneration in the traditional and orthodox Christian Churches, as exemplified by the Catholic Church, a saint is simply a person whose earthly life was noted for an intense morality, spirituality and piety. Saints are “venerated;” only God can be “worshipped.” Considering Don Bosco’s association with magic during life, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to understand why he is dubbed the “Patron of Magicians” in his “afterlife.”

 

As mentioned earlier, January 31st is set aside to honor his spiritual accomplishments.  Catholic magicians in Europe and North and South America still celebrate by performing benefit shows for children on that date.  Some Catholic magicians here in America celebrate the day in their own creative ways. Though the day might easily go past us, as it has so many times previously, it’s gratifying to sit and reflect, whether or not you are Catholic, on the “magical effect” that tricks have on people and especially children.

 

The real magic occurs when, during performances, we can transport our audiences to an alternative world and reality, even if for only a few seconds. Being able to show them something fantastic, something “unbelievable” is our special ability. When we look back to the first magic trick we can remember, it’s not so hard to see why Don Bosco chose to help kids with the use of magic. In January, 2002, hundreds of European and American magicians presented a petition to Pope John Paul II asking him to declare St. John Bosco their patron saint. His Holiness was presented with a magic wand made in India as part of the ceremony. The wand was a present from a young Indian orphan who was being cared for in on one of Mother Teresa’s orphanages. The wand had belonged to the boy’s father, who had been a magician.

 

The performers all dressed in their stage costumes which greatly added to the festival-like atmosphere of the papal audience. I can only hope that the magicians’ female assistants were more circumspect in the way they dressed.  The principle organizers of the event was a Salesians Father Silvano Mantelli, himself an accomplished Gospel Magician. Fr. Mantelli is very active in the Italian magic community. Each year on Don Bosco’s feast day, he celebrates the “Mass of the Conjurers” in Castelnuovo Don Bosco, in home land of his order’s founder.

 

He also is the director of the Magicians Without Frontiers Foundation, which offers magic performances for children in Third World nations. Fr. Mantelli is very clear as to the distinction between stage magic and those supposed powers that “psychics” claim.  He sees them as charlatans and opportunists who take advantage of the ignorance and credulity of people and that the real purpose of religion, and even stage magic used to promote religious values, is to defeat superstition.

 

We see with the advent of Don Bosco’s efforts at teaching spiritual values via the mechanism of stage and close-up magic, the birth of Gospel Magic; that is, the altering or tailoring of a magic performance so that it can be used to instruct children or adults on some aspect of Christian theology.  Magic is an excellent means by which to get across a point, even a religious one. In many ways, Gospel Magic is a model for all of the other pedagogic permutations that magicians have been able to come up with over the years.

 

Certainly I know Jewish magicians, inevitably rabbis, who use magic as a vehicle of spiritual instruction as some Christians do but I’ve found that it is not as popularly sought out in the religious Jewish community.  Admittedly, I have not encountered nor even heard of other faiths whose magicians have dedicated themselves to using magic as a vehicle for spiritual instruction but, clearly, the possibility still exists. 

 

Gospel Magicians have several organizations that offer a community for like professionals including the Fellowship of Christian Magicians and the Catholic Magicians’ Guild. The former organization offers an excellent journal entitled, “The Christian Conjurer Magazine.”

 

Angelo Stagnaro’s Incredible Medal

Though the Fellowship of Christian Magicians is mainly composed of Americans and Canadians, it operates in thirty countries on six continents.  Ultimately some people who are uncomfortable with Christianity might balk at Gospel Magic but none of us are called upon to please everyone at all times.  I’ll point out here that I wouldn’t be angry if a magician chose to expound upon the wonders of their peculiar forms of madness. I love magic.

 

It’s not so strange to think that I or any magician wouldn’t attempt at a synthesis of two interests that he or she might have.

 

I can’t stand “professional” wrestling and I feel nothing but pity for those who do, but if a magician were to offer an effect that highlighted that “sport,” I wouldn’t be offended.  One also has to wonder if one would hear a similar complaint if a magic effect used the accoutrements or patter that suggested the viability of the occult or some even more ridiculous political opinion, I ultimately wouldn’t mind.  

 

At heart, I am a libertarian and I respect the fact that we in the Free World are allowed to express ourselves as we choose fit. Before reacting badly to someone’s opinions, consider first the amazing unalienable human rights we cherish such as the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion.

 

I’ve spent about half of my life in other countries of the world and am fortunate enough to have friends of dozens of religions and hundreds of cultures.  It doesn’t require a similar faith to appreciate a magic performance or, nor more, should I say, than it does for two people to share a civil and pleasant evening together.  

 

Nor does it take all people in a society to agree about religions or politics for it to function. Many of us have families in which several faiths and political expressions are manifest and certainly many of us survive any of our respective holiday dinners with those very same families.

 

If you were to come across a magician performing Gospel Magic and you don’t necessarily share his or her faith, why not simply see his performance for what it is; an artistic expression and a pedagogic tool.  It’s a credit to oneself to be open-minded towards the expression of another idea especially one that doesn’t necessarily coincide with one’s own. On the other hand, it doesn’t speak well of a person who would ask for the right to express themselves but deny it from others.

 

Voltaire more clearly expressed the idea when he wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Voltaire was an outstanding leader of the 18th-century intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment; which was, all too often, was less than completely enlightened. He was extremely tolerant of the diverse religious and political beliefs around him which stood in sharp contrast to the period’s zeitgeist.

 

It’s a bizarre expression of the modern, “ultra-enlightened” society in which we live that has come to askew “tolerance” for “politicalcorrectness.”

 

Sincerely,

Angelo Stagnaro

 

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