The Power of Magic: Conversation with Drummond Money-Coutts

Drummond Money-Coutts (affectionately referred to as DMC) is best known as a magician booked by well-heeled and often famous patrons. He is an impressive performer, to be sure, as plentiful film footage and images testify. What is less well known is his quasi-obsessive quest to expose all practices on the fringe (and often sinister edge) of magic – voodoo, shamanism and the like – and a quiet determination to use his skills and the power of magic ‘for good’.

Is being able to influence peoples reaction and thought process something you have developed over time or did you discover you had it intuitively?

People often say that magic is like music – no one is born with the skills or musical aptitude to play scales and arpeggios and knowing the theory of music but some people are born with the love and commitment that get them through the years of training and practice. I very quickly developed a burning love for magic and for what it can do to people. That drove me through years of practice and training. You need those years of getting it wrong before it becomes intuition. It’s like zoning. Comedians can sense pockets of the crowd that need lifting and interact accordingly. A soldier can assess a situation and get a feel for danger or threat. When I have cards in my hands I can tune into the people around me: where they’re looking, what they’re doing, what their interests are, where their focus is and how I can manipulate all of that, how I can play with it.

On what basis do you select people that you ask to perform a function? Do they look susceptible or suggestible to influence?

We are all susceptible. We are all psychologically open to magic. You have to pick the right people to make use of and learning that takes a very long time. Some people simply aren’t interested in magic –either because they are not into it, or because the only magicians they have ever seen have been awful. There is so much clichéd magic out there. So many magicians are lacking in subtlety and finesse. It often doesn’t evoke that feeling of awe. About 10% of magicians are very good and 3% are brilliant and you just need to find those in the 3% category.
Who, in your opinion, is the greatest illusionist of all time?

Magic is a very three dimensional thing. It is very hard to quantify or benchmark people beyond a certain level. I grew up watching David Blaine who is a favourite of mine. With Derren Brown, the British mentalist, there is theatre and drama in what he does which is so rare in magic. Magic performances are often so crass. Derren and David influenced me greatly. There are lots of other magicians who aren’t so commercial – we are hoping to meet them when we make TV series next year. Bebel (a French magician), for example, is a master in everything. In magic the very best are often the underground performers. Most of them are amateurs and have day jobs but they have a great love of magic. In the film The Illusionist there is a series of dramatic scenes during which Eisenheim is ostensibly summoning up ghosts during stage performances.

Is this poetic licence or is it possible to make the audience believe they have witnessed the appearance of a ghost? Do you believe in ghosts?

Before doing magic, I read up a lot on ghosts, UFOs, conspiracy theories and ancient Egypt – and all manner of mystical topics. I’ve yet to see any evidence for what could be deemed real magic. I made a short film last year in India called ‘Why do we believe’ questioning why humans believe in these things in the face of a lack of evidence. It was a very candid look at why we as humans, of any nationality, at any level of development feel the need to believe in ghosts, heaven and hell and other mystical notions. I’ve never seen any true evidence of ghosts – such evidence that does exist has always been anecdotal or questionable. Richard Dawkins says he would love nothing more than to be proven wrong and I feel the same. I have a fascination with and a profound love of magic and would love to see a ghost but looking scientifically at the factual evidence, we’ve nothing irrefutable yet. All ‘evidence’ is circumstantial. Even today with the huge proliferation of cameras and CCTV we’ve yet to find any ghosts. I’m incredibly open to it but their existence has yet to be categorically proven. The jury is open.

People are always fascinated with things they don’t understand. What do you think about voodoo? Have you any experience of it?

In 2011 I went to Tanzania in East Africa to look at witchcraft. We have this fanciful notion today of men with bones going through their noses, with feathers in their hair. Witchcraft now is a very barbaric, sinister, murderous and mafia type business. There’s nothing magical or spiritual about it. It’s like Arthur Miller’s Salem. Ignorance in certain countries fuels this belief in it because people don’t know better. They don’t understand geography or meteorology or the way crops grow or rains fall. They simply blame whatever they’re told to blame. Voodoo is just a way of garnering power. A professor who studied this in Africa said it was a combination of fear and ignorance and that effectively, whenever you have this in large numbers of people you’re going to have people exploiting it. If you get people into a fearful state you can spoon feed them propaganda – voodoo is just that. From tiny African villages to the highest level of politicians it permeates every level of society and certainly in Tanzania it is incredibly prevalent, very powerful and very sinister.The crossover it has with magic is that it preys on people’s belief systems. As a foreigner it’s very hard to actually meet with a witch doctor, although I did try.

Do you think the belief in the power of voodoo would disappear entirely even if people were educated?

If you look at the history of any country there is always a chapter in which belief systems and magic and voodoo or shamanism would have been abused by a small number of people in order to usurp power. Arguably the Catholic Church did. Greek oracles used magical techniques. If we look hard enough at any of our own history it’s there. Education is the answer.

Are magicians able to beat casinos? Are you?

I would love to say yes and I know many magicians that will claim they can but the level of technology in casinos is such that it is impossible. Be it CCTV or the protocol, the things they have in place make cheating pretty much impossible. Magic and cheating at casinos are very different things. I qualified as a croupier when I left university so I have looked at both but the magicians that do card tricks and say they can win are living in a fantasy.

Is there any game of chance that you can influence the outcome of?

There are games supposedly of chance with cards and dice that I could very easily win but in a casino setting, you’re going to be watched and re-watched. It wouldn’t stand up to that scrutiny. In a private game it would be the easiest thing in a world to sit down and deal four aces, especially to people that don’t live and breathe poker. The analogy is trying to pick a policeman’s pocket in a police station with everybody watching you versus picking the pockets of a drunken man in a night club. It’s a very different thing. Casinos are pretty much impermeable to cheating.

The full interview can be found in BBeyond Magazine.

Image credit: Annick Wolfers