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Sefalaljia is a close-up one man spirit cabinet routine developed by Stewart James and published in the Jinx issue #69 (December 2, 1939) and later printed in Annemann's Practical Mental Magic.

The Sefalaljia principle or move has become the name for the method of putting a borrowed ring on rope effect (one of the original effects in the routine).

James says sefalaljia is the way you pronounce the medical term Cephalalgia for a big headache. The "C" was changed to "S" and the "G" to "J" (Stewart James initials).

The original routine

The performer introduces a box which, he claims, was made from material taken from a house said to have been occupied by a poltergeist. The front of the box has a curtain that may be drawn back and forth to reveal or conceal the interior. The top of the box is a hinged cover. On top of the box rests a skull.

Effects in order of appearance:

  • The Ball in the Glass

A bright red rubber ball is carelessly tossed to one end of the box and a drink glass placed at the other end. The curtain is drawn for a few seconds. When the interior of the box is shown again, the red ball has been placed back into the glass, apparently by a playful spirit. Any spectator may step forward to remove the ball from the glass and examine the box.

  • The Knotted Handkerchief

The inside of the box again is concealed. The top is raised and a handkerchief tossed inside. The spectator opens the curtains, removes the handkerchief and finds that a knot has been tied into it.

  • The Ring on the tape

In each end of the box is a hole. In the center of the hinged lid is a screw-hook on the under side. A length of white cotton tape is folded in half and another spectator places a safety-pin through the tape about an inch from the doubled end. The tape is now threaded through the box with the ends protruding out of the holes. Someone in the audience lends a finger ring and it is hung onto the hook inside the box which is turned with curtain side away from audience. A volunteer grasps one end of the tape and draws it from the box. The borrowed ring is now threaded on the middle of the place by the pin. The ring, still on the tape, is returned to the owner and the volunteer allowed to examine the cabinet.

  • The Smoked Cigar

A cigar is now placed into a glass tumbler. When put into the open cabinet, the cigar is seen to smoke furiously.

  • Drinking the Milk

Lastly the lid of the cabinet is raised to accommodate a quart bottle of milk. A straw is inserted and the thirsty spook can be seen drinking.

This version, the 1939 version has been reproduced by the Tabman's El Tab Magic as 1939 Sefalaljia kit.[1]

Sefalaljia Number 2

Later James developed another version. In this routine a brass ring and then four rings penetrate a white shoelace; then two plastic bangles penetrate a brass rod; a knot mysteriously ties itself onto a piece of rope; a six inch nail impossibly bends in two; a ball flies seemingly unaided out of the box; finally, a tumbler placed mouth up in the box inverts itself trapping a signed bill inside a pair of nested pill boxes.

Made by James' pal Ray Massecar.[2]

The box

The box James originally built was from a radio cabinet about 7" x 7" x 17".


  • Leon M. Leon's Miniature Haunted House (ca. 1940), used to perform a series of full-light spirit manifestations.
  • In Jinx August 20, 1941 issue, Herb Rungie described an alternate method for the milk drinking.
  • "Miniature Spirit Cabinet" Blue Prints and Directions by Jack Wilson in 1942 with his .
  • Sefalaljia jr. by Bruce Elliott and Walter B. Gibson in Phoenix, No. 21 (Oct. 30, 1942) - took the trick out of the Spirit Cabinet and put it under a handkerchief as an impromptu trick.
  • Sefalaljia III by J.G. Thompson, Jr. and Charles W. Nyquist in Phoenix No. Jan. 8, 1943 and reprinted in My Best was a variation which removed the safety pin (which James originally thought of but came up with the pin to avoid any suggestion of a trick knot).
  • Tarbell's Course in Magic, Vol. 3 (Page 81) includes two versions of 'Junior.' (1943)
  • Another version Sefalaljia jr. appears in Scarne's Magic Tricks, Page 13 (1951).
  • Sefalaljia III 1/2. in ConjuRING Trix by Hans Trixer (1955).
  • Sefalaljia Twins By Tom Daugherty (1980)
  • Rajneesh Madhok's "Handy Sefalaljia" in Apocalypse May 1991 (Vol. 11)
  • SEFALALJIA SANS by Martin Gardner Arcane No. 14 (1995)
  • 1939 Sefalaljia by El Tab, Tabby Crabb
  • Dean's Box by Dean Dill (c. 2001)


  • SEFALALJIA 2, created and marketed by Stewart James
  • Sefalaljia section in Volume III of Encyclopedia Of Rope Tricks (1982)
  • Stewart James In Print - The First Fifty Years
  • The Essential Stewart James
  • Annemann's Practical Mental Magic