"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves."
Houdini's Magic Career
Houdini chose his stage name in 1890 after reading the autobiography of Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, a French magician. He began his own magical career in 1891, but did not catch his first big break for almost another decade. In 1899, on the advice of his manager Martin Beck, Houdini began focusing on escape acts. He soon became known as "The Handcuff King" and astonished captive audiences as well as local police officers all over Europe with his ability to slip any handcuffs he was put in. In the early 1900s Houdini found major success in the United States as well.
Over the years Houdini became known for his ability to escape from straightjackets, chains, and other restrains while hanging upside down or holding his breath underwater. Houdini created something of a magical revolution in America during the 1910s and 1920s, serving as president of the Society of American Magicians for nine years until his death, and helping to expand its membership wherever he went. Houdini was also an avid filmmaker, actor, aviator, and writer.
Debunking False Prophets
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." (Matthew7:15)
Though his advertisements often claimed that Houdini's amazing feats were performed with the aid of supernatural power, Houdini himself never made any such statements and was in fact devoted to debunking fraudulent mediums. He attended numerous séances with the goal of exposing charlatans who claimed to have psychic powers or the ability to contact the dead but who were really using trickery to take advantage of their clients.
In this way Houdini very much resembled many Old Testament prophets, particularly the prophet Malachi, who, in Malachi 3:5 wrote: "So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,' says the Lord Almighty."
The Bible makes it clear that we are not to rely on or put our trust in people who purport to be using magic or sorcery in order to achieve their ends. God is in control of all, and it is only through His strength and power, not through the power of spells or omens, that prophets and chosen people have been able to perform miracles or divine the future as Joseph did when he foresaw seven years of famine for Egypt. It is because God does reveal His plan to His messengers that He advises us to be cautious of those who claim to speak on behalf of Him but are really looking out for their own self-interest. Deuteronomy 18:10-12 offers us a particularly strong warning against frauds and charlatans:
"Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord; because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you."
Houdini's Mysterious Death
In Revelations 6:9 we read: "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained."
This Bible verse is important because many believe that Houdini may have fallen victim to attack because of his debunking of spiritualist mediums. Though his death on October 31, 1926 was caused by peritonitis from a ruptured appendix, the circumstances surrounding what may have caused his appendix to burst have been a topic of debate since it happened.
In mid October Houdini was in Montreal performing a show. While there he attended McGill University to give a lecture on fraudulent mediums. On October 22nd he had a meeting in his dressing room with some students from McGill who were interested in speaking with him. Among them was a man named J Gordon Whitehead, who some believe was unsympathetic to Houdini's views on spiritualism.
Whitehead asked the magician if his stomach muscles were as strong as he claimed they were, and proceeded to punch Houdini in the stomach while he was reclining due to having a broken ankle at the time. Houdini stopped Whitehead and was clearly in great pain, but went on to perform that same night. Two days later he finally saw a doctor who informed him that he had a ruptured appendix.
Despite his pain and fever Houdini kept on performing until he collapsed during a show and was hospitalized. He died about a week later, and to this day there is contention about whether he may have already had symptoms of appendicitis prior to the dressing room incident, or whether it was caused by Whitehead's surprise and potentially purposeful attack.
Whatever the answer really is, Harry Houdini should be remembered for more than his tricks and amazing escapes. These are the gifts that God blessed him with in order to grab our attention and use the magician as a tool for opening our eyes to the false prophets at work in the world. Houdini was not a publicly religious man, but he was a watchman in the true, Biblical sense of the word.
"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me." (Ezekiel 3:17)