On being ... spellbound

By Ingrid Sapona

The father of a very dear friend died recently. I was unable to attend the funeral, but a few days after it, I visited with my friend and his family. During the conversation he told me about a very moving tribute ceremony some of his father’s friends carried out.

I hadn’t realized that one of his father’s hobbies was magic and that he used to be pretty active in the local chapter of an international magician’s association. When members of the association heard that my friend’s father died, they phoned the family to ask if they could come and do a broken wand ceremony. The family agreed and so, a few days after the funeral, a number of members of the organization went to my friend’s mother’s house to pay their respects and to honour their fellow magician with this traditional ceremony.

The focus of the ceremony is the literal breaking of the deceased magician’s wand because once the magician dies, his wand is no longer magic. I don’t think any family members knew what to expect, and my friend said it was very moving.

Besides being struck by the symbolism of the wand getting its magic power from the magician, I couldn’t help think about other moving customs and rituals related to death and what they all have in common. Though they’re always aimed at marking the death of someone in particular, those that I find most powerful also remind us of others whom we’ve lost but not forgotten. 

After the visit with my friend, I thought about the symbolism of the broken wand ceremony a lot and I thought about whether to write about it. I hesitated for a number of reasons – including whether my friend would mind me writing about his father. I also didn’t know whether the ceremony is considered kind of secret or proprietary and something meant only for members of the magician’s association and their families. I knew that there were non-family members present when they did the ceremony for my friend’s father, but I though perhaps they were asked to not say much about it.

Finally, the other day, I Googled “broken wand ceremony” to try to learn a bit more about it, and I’m so glad I did. It’s clearly not a secret tradition. There are many references to it, including a thorough description of the ceremony, the protocol around it, and even the wording of it on the web site of TheInternational Brotherhood of Magicians. Though my friend’s description certainly gave a flavour of the meaningfulness of the ritual, I found the actual words of the ceremony quite profound. Here’s an excerpt from the non-theist version of it:

“This wand without (the deceased) is now useless. The magic that infused itself into the life of performing on this earth is now broken as we bid farewell when our loved one encounters mortality. … The magic of (the deceased’s) performance is over. The magic and mystery that he shared will remain in our memory … (The deceased) was endowed with the talent to amaze, mystify and entertain. May we, like (the deceased) … use our skills, dexterity of hands and voice to bring happiness and awe to those for whom we conjure our pleasant and benign wonders. … May (the deceased) rest in peace and may (the deceased’s) memories last long with those who enjoyed (the deceased’s) love … talent and … companionship.”

I truly believe that all of us have wands and that we imbue them with our magic. Indeed, like magicians, our lives are the opportunity to use our talents – whatever they are – to do amazing things and to bring happiness to others. And, if we perform well, though the magic our particular wand was used for will cease at the end of our life, we’ll remain alive in the memories of those whom we’ve enchanted with our magic.

My friend’s father’s wand was recently broken, but his magic lives on in many ways – including introducing many to the profoundly meaningful broken wand ceremony.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


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