There’s No Such Thing as a “Mentalism Trick”

Recently I’ve been toying around with many mental effects. Book tests, tossed out decks, confabulations, and the like. In discussing this with many of my magician friends, the reactions has been very insightful- and slightly worrying.

“Oh, Ryan’s getting into mentalism!”

“Everyone is doing mentalism now!”

“Mentalism is the way to go, so much less to carry.”

And the like.

Everyone refers to these tricks as mentalism tricks. I strongly disagree. There is no such thing as a mentalism trick. There are mentalists, who perform mentalism shows. But there are no mentalism tricks. And furthermore, I argue that if one adopts such a distinction from other types of effects as their viewpoint, that their performances will suffer.

So humbly, I submit my argument that the term “mentalism trick” is useless and misguided. May it cure your ills if you have succumb to this sickness.


The stigma, or definitive wall, that exists between “mentalism” and “magic” has always perplexed me. When I was first learning magic, the books I read were divided into several categories. They still are, to be fair. Books never change. They are reliable like that.

Books would have sections on “Playing Cards,” and “Conjuring with Cigarettes,” and “Thimble Thaumaturgy,” and “Wizardy with Watches,” [Magician’s have a soft spot for alliteration]. And among these would be a chapter on “Mental Magic.” It’s not given any special recognition- mental effects are simply another type of magic trick. Reading minds is no different than the levitation of a matchstick in its inherit impossibility.

[Quick Aside: Think about that: vanishing an elephant and reading another person’s mind are equally impossible. They both boldly defy the physics of the universe we all inhabit. Now, one of them intuitively feels less impossible than the other. It’s easier to wrap one’s mind around immaterial thought transference than the instant dematerialization of an enormous pachyderm. But from a logical standpoint, they are equally impossible.

This intuitive discrepancy is behind why people believe Derren Brown’s tricks are real, but everybody knows Siegfried and Roy were faking it. It also explains why the elephant vanish wrenches a more visceral reaction upon witnessing live.]

But all mental effects: whether performed by a magician, a mentalist, a hypnotist, or a psychic is a magic trick at heart. If it is a magic trick, then it obviously belongs to the magician and cannot be claimed by outside parties as their own.


Fitzkee lists nineteen. I’ve seen the number balloon up to the mid twenties, and shrink down to just six. However one chooses to classify them, it cannot be disputed that there is a definite number of impossible effects.

The mentalist is a magician who choses to perform only the mental impossibilities. If his performance includes only mental effects, it can be called a mentalism show. By Fitzkee’s list, that limits his repertoire to seven: Animation, Control, Identification, Thought Reading, Thought Transmission, Prediction, and Extra-Sensory Perception, (For contrast, S.H. Sharpe combines most of these under one category of “Mental Phenomena.” He also includes hypnosis, memorization and lightning calculations).

The mentalist brings a unifying theme to their shows, but the tricks he does remain magic tricks. No amount of presentation or discrimination of material will ever change that fact.


Magicians treat mental magic with a stigma. It’s the predominance of presentational styles emulating Maven, Banachek, Brown, and the like. “That is how to do mentalism!” magicians exclaim. And so they inject a center tear in their otherwise fine magic show. And they try to be a “mentalist” for six long minutes.

After all, they are doing “mentalism” and therefore there are different rules. They can be a totally different character. They can pretend to do “experiments” and ask probing questions about the universe. They can propose theories about Uri Geller, ESP, spiritualism, and the like. Their performance might play as a successful, albeit accidental, burlesque of these subjects if it weren’t for the fact that these names are no longer a part of the public’s conscience.

Like I said, it’s a sickness.

These abrupt breaches of character, theme, momentum, and (often) entertainment can be found in far too many magic acts- both amateur and professional. I maintain that a major part of this is the adopted stigma that “mentalism tricks” should be treated differently then other magic tricks. This isn’t so. A magician can perform mental magic within his own character just fine.

And the cure is simple. Just don’t think that way. The inclusion of the tossed out deck in your show should be thought of as no different than a Professor’s Nightmare. It’s an impossibility that you are going to demonstrate for them. And you are gonna be damn entertaining while you do it. Because you are a magician. And you are awesome.

Magicians: do magic tricks, not “mentalism.”

Know somebody who needs to hear this? Please pass it along to them!

Have your own insights? Please comment below!

Did you really read this far down? Thank you so much, you are awesome!

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