Listening | Magic

Audio Episode


What is this episode about?

Learn about magic, how it started and how it is today and learn new words along the way in this new Listening episode from English Plus Podcast.

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Can you fly like a bird by saying certain words? Or change ordinary metals into gold with a potion? Or cause a rainstorm by dancing in a special way? Of course not—that would be magic!


Long ago, before science developed, most people believed in magic. They thought supernatural forces connected different parts of the world. They believed some people, called sorcerers and witches, had magical powers. They could use special chants, spells, or charms to call on supernatural forces and make wonderful—or terrible—things happen.

In those days, magic and religion blended together. For many people, spells and rituals were a part of their religious beliefs. They believed that if certain spells or rituals were performed the right way, the gods or spirits would grant their wishes.

The first priests were religious magicians called shamans. Ancient hunting and gathering people looked to shamans to help them survive. They believed shamans had the power to heal the sick. Shamans were thought to communicate with the spiritual world. They led rituals to make hunting expeditions successful, keep crops growing, and prevent disasters. As civilization advanced, such ideas were left behind.


Few people believe in magic anymore. Yet many still enjoy magic shows. Stage magicians are popular entertainers. Magicians appear to do the impossible, such as make objects disappear or float in the air. Audiences know the magic isn’t real, but even so, they enjoy being baffled. How do magicians do it?

Most magic tricks depend on a practice called misdirection. Misdirection happens when a magician fools the audience into looking the wrong way at key moments. Magicians also use sleight of hand. This means they move their hands too quickly for people to see. Finally, magicians use special equipment. That is why people sometimes say magic is done with “smoke and mirrors.”


Even as entertainment, magic has a long history. A magician named Dedi lived and worked in Egypt around 2700 B.C. His most famous trick involved cutting the heads off two chickens and an ox. He then appeared to restore the animals’ heads and bring them back to life.

In 1921, a British magician named P. T. Selbit created one of the best-known acts in magic. He shut a woman into a box and sawed the box in half. Afterward, the woman got out of the box, still alive and whole. About the same time in America, Howard Thurston made the Indian Rope Trick famous. First, he seemed to make a rope rise into the air. Then he climbed the rope—and disappeared!

The American magician and escape artist Harry Houdini amazed audiences with his sensational escapes from seemingly impossible situations. In one act, he escaped from a locked metal box underwater while wearing handcuffs!


Magic is fun, but is it profitable? Some famous and successful magicians include Harry Blackstone, Doug Henning, and David Copperfield. Tens of thousands of magicians perform magic acts in the United States today. However, only about 500 of them actually make a living as professionals.


A potion is a drink that contains medicine, poison, or something that is supposed to have magic powers.

concoction, mixture, brew, tonic

a drink, esp. of medicine, poison, or some supposedly magic beverage


Supernatural creatures, forces, and events are believed by some people to exist or happen, although they are impossible according to scientific laws.

paranormal, mysterious, unearthly, uncanny

of or relating to things that cannot be explained according to natural laws


In fairy stories, a sorcerer is a person who performs magic by using the power of evil spirits.

magician, witch, wizard, magus

a person who seeks to control and use magic powers; wizard or magician


In fairy stories, a witch is a woman, usually an old woman, who has evil magic powers. Witches often wear a pointed black hat, and have a pet black cat.

A witch is someone who claims to have magic powers and to be able to use them for good or bad purposes.

historically, in mythology and fiction, a woman believed to practise magic or sorcery, esp black magic


A spell is a situation in which events are controlled by a magical power.

If something or someone casts their spell on you or casts a spell on you, you are fascinated or charmed by them.

If you are under someone ‘s spell, you are so fascinated by them that you cannot think about anything else.


A charm is an act, saying, or object that is believed to have magic powers.

If someone turns on the charm, they behave in a way that seems very friendly but which you think is insincere, often in order to obtain something or deceive someone.

If you say that something worked like a charm, you mean that it was very effective or successful.


A ritual is a religious service or other ceremony which involves a series of actions performed in a fixed order.

ritual activities happen as part of a ritual or tradition.

A ritual is a way of behaving or a series of actions which people regularly carry out in a particular situation, because it is their custom to do so.


Among some Native American peoples, a shaman is a person who is believed to have powers to heal sick people or to remove evil spirits from them.

a medicine man of a similar religion, esp. among certain tribes of Native Americans

a priest or medicine man, esp. among N Asian peoples, who is believed able to heal and to foretell the future through communication with good and evil spirits


A disaster is a very bad accident such as an earthquake or a plane crash, especially one in which a lot of people are killed.

If you refer to something as a disaster, you are emphasizing that you think it is extremely bad or unacceptable.

disaster is something which has very bad consequences for you.


Something that floats in or through the air hangs in it or moves slowly and gently through it.

If something or someone is floating in a liquid, they are in the liquid, on or just below the surface, and are being supported by it. You can also float something on a liquid.

Something that floats lies on or just below the surface of a liquid when it is put in it and does not sink.


If something baffles you, you cannot understand it or explain it.

puzzle, amaze, confuse

to perplex; bewilder; puzzle


sleight of hand is the deceiving of someone in a skillful way.

cunning or craft used in deceiving

skill or dexterity


If you saw something, you cut it with a saw.

A saw is a tool for cutting wood, which has a blade with sharp teeth along one edge. Some saws are pushed backwards and forwards by hand, and others are powered by electricity.

any of various hand tools for cutting wood, metal, etc, having a blade with teeth along one edge


A sensational result, event, or situation is so remarkable that it causes great excitement and interest.

You can describe stories or reports as sensational if you disapprove of them because they present facts in a way that is intended to cause feelings of shock, anger, or excitement.

You can describe something as sensational when you think that it is extremely good.

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