There are lots of different types of tricks that magicians perform – sometimes they will make objects appear and disappear, saw a lady in half, or read people’s minds. One popular illusion that most stage conjurors still present today is levitation. This is the art of making something float off the ground without any extra supports.
The trick has a long history and traditionally the magician would make his assistant float horizontally in the air. Sometimes, a large ring would be passed through the assistant to show that they are not being held up by strings or wires.
More recently, the well-known magician David Copperfield has performed the feat by flying on stage. By executing meticulous moves and remaining in air while confined to a clear, sealed box, he advanced the impossibility of the trick in a profound way.
But magicians don’t just make people float – they also make everyday items levitate too. Perhaps the most famous example of this is ‘The Floating Light Bulb Illusion’ performed by American conjuror Harry Blackstone Jr. In his version, a light bulb would illuminate on its own without any electrical connections and then float above the audience’s heads, before returning to the magician. If this sounds too good to be true, you can search for performance videos of it online!
It’s unclear why watching people or objects float resonates with so many viewers – perhaps because it shouldn’t be physically possible or maybe because most of us dream of being able to fly at some point in our lives, like a superhero.
While it takes years to master these kinds of tricks, there are smaller versions of them that you can try at home.
For the first effect, all you need is a pencil. Lay your left hand flat and face-up on a table. Then, place a pencil on your palm so both ends are sticking out on either side of your hand. With your right hand, grab your left wrist, extend your index finger on your right hand and use it to hold the pencil in place. This might sound very confusing but the picture should make it clear. From the back, it doesn’t look very impressive, but from the front it looks as if the pencil is floating.
Another fun trick is the levitating steel ball. For this one, all you need is a soup ladle. Place the handle of the ladle down your sleeve so only the scoop is visible. From the front it will look as if a metal ball is levitating. Once you learn these tricks, you can begin practicing the harder ones!