Hey Jugglers- here is an amusing piece on how language can change from Era to Era: back when Jason was assembling the Juggler, he proposed “The Juggler” as the name for this PNC blog-site, noting that The Fool is often represented in Tarot as a Juggler. As Jugglers and Fools frequently constituted medieval entertainment, it seemed to Jason that “the Juggler” might be suitable as a title for a Pagan blog about Paganism in the Popular Arts and Culture.
All very appropriate thinking, of course, so here we find the Juggler today. It’s just that it’s the slightest bit humorous, in an ironic sense, to reflect that back in The Day (meaning the Middle Ages, or at least the sixteenth century), “Juggler” was used as a term to express “making something not real, seem real”- meaning, say, a stage-magician, but also expanded to include a “cozener,” a “fraud,” a “cheat,” a “con-artist”: someone who feigned skill and expertise in the Occult Arts and Sciences, as a means of defrauding and swindling others.
This particular use of the word reveals medieval slang; it is obviously derived from “Juggler,” meaning a medieval entertainer with skills at throwing objects into the air, and catching them. (Skills often held by the Fool, the Middle Ages version of the Comic, the Satirist, the Clown, the Humorist.) Needing a word, however, to denote frauds, swindlers, and cheats in the promotion of Occult Talents: the Middle Ages selected upon “Juggler” as an all-purpose term to describe such unethical miscreants- a use of word reflected by Agrippa, in his Occult Philosophy (published in the early 1500s, and available today through Llewellyn’s Sourcebook Series, scrupulously edited and annotated by Donald Tyson).
Agrippa concludes his voluminous tome by addressing “Magic in General” (p. 689). After discussing “Natural Magic,” “Mathematical Magic,” “Enchanting Magic,” “Goetia” (“Black Magic”), “Theurgia” (“White Magic”), and “Cabalie” (Kabbalah), Agrippa turns his attention towards “Juggling, or Legerdemain.” (p. 705) “But let us return to that magic, part of which is an art of juggling, i.e. delusions, which are made according to appearance only, by which magicians show phantasms, and play many miracles- Also many things are done daily by slight of hand, of which sort we see some are done daily by stage players.” “These things therefore which are done according to appearance only, are called jugglings- But of this art of juggling, these things which are supposed to be juggled or bewitched, besides imagination, have no truth of action or essence.”
In other words, according to Agrippa, “magicians and stage players” can cause “delusions and phantasms,” done by “slight of hand” and according to “appearance only.” These “jugglings,” however, have no “truth of action or essence.” Agrippa basically describes the magician-performer, the sleight-of-hand artist, here- as well as the charlatan or phony, pretending to be an Adept in the Magickal Sciences, either through ego-gratification, or a mercenary intention to loot someone else’s wealth. (The supposed “Magick-Workers” of Jonson’s The Alchemist are “jugglers,” as they counterfeit skills in Magick to get money out of their clients.)
My intention is not to kill the concept of a “Juggler” for Jugglers, as it is to point out that sixteenth century writers can sometimes use the word in ways that seem odd to us- until one realizes the secondary meaning of “Juggling” as “Conducting a Deceit or Con” for the Middle Ages. (Reginald Scot uses “Juggler” in this light, for instance.) If one is going to read heavily in sixteenth century occult literature (say, Agrippa), one might want to be prepared to encounter “Juggling” in this context.
It doesn’t diminish from the suitability of “Juggler,” meaning a medieval entertainer, as the title for a Pagan Arts-centered blog-site; and the Fool of the Tarot is often shown as a Juggler.