Which witch is which?

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Some witches are good and some are bad, but they’re all proficient at casting spells.

Here’s Sabrina the Teenaged Witch hoping to win a race:

Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter tries to defend Hogwarts:

Maleficent meets Sleeping Beauty:

And the Wicked Witch of the West hopes to regain those ruby red shoes:

Which witch is your favorite?

How to be a magician

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What you’ll need: magic wand, sleight of hand

Songlist: Magic by B.o.b ft. Rivers Cuomo, House of Cards by Radiohead

Further reading: Harry Potter and the International Phenomenon

This past Friday evening, I went to a Drive-In movie theater to see the final installment of the Harry Potter film series. Families had arrived early with camping chairs, grills and coolers of food, soccer balls and frisbees. Kids were wearing their pajamas, and pillows were set about in vans and trucks open to the big blank screen. There was magic in the air.

Magic captivates us in its ability to seemingly bend the rules of our universe in large and small ways. Though professional magicians with huge glitzy set pieces and fancy costumes perform stunning feats, I’m more impressed by the amateur magicians at my local library or even the 13-year-old neighbor who likes to show me the new card tricks he’s learned. The magician who performs at the library has no obvious place to hide the rabbits or birds or water that he makes disappear, whereas I assume that there are trapdoors and hidden sliding panels onstage in the professional show (even if this is not, in fact, how the professional magician operates). Thus, I gasp with unfettered awe when the neighbor pulls out my card or the library magician lets loose a dove from nowhere.

My great-grandfather ran a shop called the Red Rabbit, catering to all things magical. He himself was a Vaudeville magician who traveled along the east coast with his show. When he had children he settled into a more stable field and sold off all his tricks. To this day, my dad regrets that the family didn’t keep some of his old tricks.

Both my brother and I showed a fleeting interest in learning magic tricks as children; we have a few books of card tricks somewhere in the basement along with a trick pack. However, all the books specified that you must learn sleight of hand if you want any chance in wowing your audience. After practicing a few times, I gave up.

Back to the drive-in. The first movie was Cowboys and Aliens, one of the worst and least magical movies I have ever seen. It was, at least, fun to ridicule. Then came Harry Potter. I have been a fan of the series ever since I got over my snobbishness at the age of 14 (I thought the books would be too immature for me, a newly anointed teenager).  The eighth movie is non-stop action, replete with flying dragons, treasure, animated armor, ghosts, and epic wand battles. Perhaps the most magical part of the experience, though, was that fireflies were glowing all around us and overhead was the most dazzling shower of shooting stars I’ve ever seen. It reminded me that all the magic we’ve created to astound the uninitiated still can’t compete with the natural magic of the physical world.

Lament of the fortune teller

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Cassandra laments her fate

Oh, mistery, misery! Again comes on me
The terrible labor of true prophecy, dizzying prelude.

They call me crazy, like a fortune-teller,
A poor starved beggar-woman – and I bore it!
And now the prophet undoing his prophetess
Has brought me to this final darkness.

Thus says Cassandra in Aeschylus’s play Agamemnon. The god Apollo gave Cassandra the gift of seeing the future with complete clarity, but because she did not return his love he then cursed her so that no one would believe her visions. The only thing worse than predicting the total ruin of your city and your own death is being unable to convince others to help avert these tragedies.

Of course, that is the paradox of a true fortune teller: if you were able to see the future in a fixed state, there would be no hope of avoiding the misfortune you would inevitably foretell. You could not, for instance, foresee an accident in your loved one’s future and be able to save that person from danger.

A Russian scientist, Igor Novikov, described a similar notion in the 1980s called the self-consistency principle that deals with time travel. He asserted that any event that would change the past has a probability of 0 to eliminate the potential for time paradoxes. For example, if someone were to travel back in time and kill his younger self, that act would prevent him from the time travel itself; Novikov’s principle rules this act to be impossible.

J.K. Rowling played with these temporal paradoxes in her third installation of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Hermione, an over-achieving student, uses a “time turner” so that she can attend more classes than time permits. At the end of the book, she, Harry, and Ron rewind time to save the life of a creature that’s already been killed and then must rescue their slightly former selves from danger. Thus this sequence of events exists in a permanent loop: the former selves must be saved before they can travel back in time, but only after the later selves travel in time are they able to be saved (this is known as a bootstrap paradox).

Coming full circle, poor Professor Trelawney of Hogwarts is another fortune teller who is rarely believed (but perhaps for good reason in her case):