Origami Heaven

A paperfolding paradise

The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell


The Buddha Papers
This page attempts to record what is known about the origin and history of the traditional paperfold now known as the Buddha Papers. Please contact me if you know any of this information is incorrect or if you have any other information that should be added. Thank you.

The Buddha Papers is a magical effect which, in its current day form, consists of a set of simple nested envelopes made from folding paper, each smaller than the one before. An object placed in the smallest envelope, which is then folded up inside the next smallest, which is then folded up inside the largest (a nest typically, though not necessarily, consists of three envelopes) is then found to have vanished or changed into something else when the procedure is reversed and the smallest envelope unfolded.

This effect is first described in Book 13, chapter xxvi of 'The discoverie of witchcraft' by Reginald Scot, Esquire, first published in 1584, the title page of which promises among other things to explain 'the naverie of conjurors'. The heading of the section is 'To transforme anie one small thing into anie other forme by folding of paper' and the second paragraph of this section reads: 'The like or rather stranger it may be done, with two papers three inches square a peece, divided by two folds into three equall parts at either side, so as each folded paper remain one inch square: then glew the two backsides of the papers together as they are folded, & not as they are open, & so shall both papers seeme to be but one; & which side soever you open, it shall appeare to be the same, if you hide handsomelie the bottome, as you may well doo with your middle finger, so as if you have a groat in the one and a counter in the other, you (having shewed but one) may by turning the paper seeme to transubstantiate it. This may best be performed by putting it under a candlesticke, or a hat, &c: and with words seeme to doo the feat.'

Magicpedia states that the name "Buddha Papers" began appearing in magic catalogs by the 1930s, but that the effect has also been called "The Witched Paper","Buddha Money Mystery", "The Hindoo Paper Packet Trick", "Bengali Papers", "Hindu Magic Papers", and the "E-Z Money Vanisher".