Introduction to “The Tale of the Three Altars”

This is an introduction to a magic routine I invented. The full routine is available on my website, but you will have to contact me for a password.

Professional magicians generally look down on the 27-card trick, that well-known party piece in which the magician begins by taking 27 cards and dealing them into 3 piles of 9 cards each. They’d probably vote for it as the most boring card trick in the world.

The Tale of the Three Altars revitalises this old relic not only by having the cards shuffled by both magician and spectator in the middle of the performance, but by integrating the whole thing with a mythology in which the cards represent treasures layed upon the altars of three gods. It is story-based magic well able to entertain an audience of all ages.

Here are some excerpts from the routine as provided on the website.

Our story begins:

The spectator is seated opposite the magician, who begins to tell a story as follows.

“In a town far away, there was once a temple. And in that temple there were three altars. There was an altar to the God of the River, there was an altar to the God of the Wind, and there was an altar to the God of the Land.”

As the altars are named, the corresponding props are laid on the table, well-spaced in a row as near to the spectator as the magician can comfortably reach. The story continues:

“And once a year, at the time of the annual festivities, people would come and lay treasures upon the three altars, like so.”

The magician begins to deal the cards face-down into three piles, positioned on the magician’s side of the three altar symbols.



” But what nobody knew was that one of the treasures, on one of the altars, was in fact a powerful magical artifact … in disguise. Now, what I want you to do is to choose a card that will represent the magical artifact. And when you’ve looked through as many of the piles as you want to and made a decision, the only thing I want to know is which altar the artifact is on. “

So the spectator selects a card to memorise, and (as in the standard 27 card trick), the magician stacks the three piles together, placing the one containing the chosen card in the middle. As he does this, he explains:

” Well, when the festivities were over, the priests would gather up all the treasures, and do priestly things with them, and in the nature of things the treasures would soon find their way back into circulation in the community. “

Depending on which pile was identified as containing the selected card, the magician makes whichever of the following statements is appropriate.

  • ” The year that followed was a really good year for the fishing industry. People caught lots of big fish and it really seemed as though the God of the River was particularly happy. “
  • ” The year that followed was a really good year for the tourism industry, because the weather was perfect, and it really seemed as though the God of the Wind was particularly happy. “
  • ” The year that followed was a really good year for the farmers. They grew excellent crops, and it really seemed as though the God of the Land was particularly happy. “

More patter:

” So that year went by, and the annual festivities came around a second time, and people laid their treasures on the altars. “

The protagonist’s entrance:

” That year, a wandering magician visited the town. And he was on a quest for the magical artifact, which he had somehow traced to this location. And he came to the temple. And he grabbed the treasures off the altars; pushed them all off onto the floor. “


” And then, he picked the treasures up off the floor and stuffed them in his bag, so the treasures were all mixed up inside the magician’s bag.


” And then, he carried them away … to a cave, by the river. “


” And there he began to cast a magic spell that would cause the magical artifact to reveal itself. “

The treasures are scattered:

” But before the magician could finish the spell, he was interrupted. Because the gods were angry. And the God of the River sent a flood, and the cave was flooded, and the treasures were scattered.

The cards are cut as this is said, and upon the word “scattered”, the magician gives them a genuine riffle-shuffle.

” And the God of the Wind sent a storm, and the treasures were scattered even more.

Another genuine shuffle.

” And the God of the Land sent a quake, and the treasures were scattered even more.

A third genuine shuffle.

” And just to make sure the treasures are really thoroughly scattered, I would like you to have a turn at shuffling the cards, please.

The magician passes the cards to the spectator to shuffle. […] While the spectator is shuffling, the magician explains:

” The magician escaped from the cave when it was flooded, but it seemed as though the magical artifact was lost forever. And yet, the magic word that the magician had spoken was so powerful that no matter what happened, it was destined that one day, he and the magical artifact would be reunited. “

That’s enough of a flavour for this public excerpt. Of course, you know the ending: the magical artifact — the chosen card — is revealed.


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