An Official Wizard in New Zealand Loses His Job

No industry is safe from the realities of layoffs. Not even wizarding.

After more than two decades as the official wizard of Christchurch, Ian Brackenbury Channell, 88, saw his $10,000 annual contract go poof last week, according to Stuff, a news site in New Zealand.

No longer will the city payroll support “acts of wizardry and other wizard-like services,” as his contract had demanded since 1998. No longer will taxpayers pay for his rain dances, philosophizing and — perhaps more tangibly — his magnetism to tourists.

“They are a bunch of bureaucrats who have no imagination,” Mr. Channell, known most commonly as the Wizard, said of the Christchurch City Council, according to Stuff.

Some fair questions might follow: What does an official wizard do? What are wizard-like services? How does one become a paid wizard?

Unfortunately for aspiring wizards, it is not a lucrative career path. The Wizard himself was a pro bono wizard for 16 years after he was named the city’s official wizard in 1982. He is believed to be the world’s only wizard to appear on a government payroll.

He has been best known as a decades-long street performer, often perched in Cathedral Square holding a wooden staff and wearing exactly the sort of pointy hat you’d expect a wizard to wear. For decades, he attracted throngs as he pontificated on anything and everything. In recent years, his reign coincided with a surge in tourism by international fans of Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” movies, which were filmed in New Zealand starting in 1999.

But the Wizard’s free-flowing oratory has not always landed well. Word that the city would stop paying him in December came months after some of his comments, including jokes about violence toward women, drew swift condemnation in New Zealand, according to The Guardian.

The Wizard, who has described himself as a provocateur, appears to have budged little from his decades-long approach.

“The worst things in the world are stupidity, fear and hatred, and being serious,” he told The New York Times in 1988. “I want people to be enchanted and stop worrying.”

He has also had larger responsibilities. He cast spells to help rugby teams (though he later wrote that he regretted it and offered to resign in 1984 after the wrong team won). In 1988, he was summoned to Waimate, on New Zealand’s South Island, to perform a rain dance to help combat a drought. It poured about half an hour after he finished.

He would later be summoned to Australia to help with a drought in the Outback, skipping in a circle while drumming and being splashed with buckets of water. (The drought soon ended.)

Born and educated in London, he moved to Australia in 1963 and began teaching at the University of New South Wales in Sydney in 1967. There, he began to develop his wizarding persona, and in 1969 the university’s vice chancellor named him the school’s official wizard.

He moved to Christchurch in 1972, where his offer to become the city’s wizard was, at first, declined. He would prove himself to be wildly popular in the city, and also a thorn in the side of the local authorities. In 1986, he insisted he didn’t need to fill out the national census form because he was a registered piece of art and not a human being. (In 1982, the New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Association had indeed recognized him as a living work of art.)

The government won the battle, and he disappeared from the town square. Thousands of people signed a petition demanding he come back, causing the government to bow to public pressure and drop its fight over the census forms.

More kudos would follow. In 1990, Prime Minister Mike Moore named him the Wizard of New Zealand. In 2009, Queen Elizabeth II awarded him a Queen’s Service Medal.

In recent years, however, his sharp tongue has occasionally gotten him in trouble, especially the comments about women.

“I love women, I forgive them all the time, I’ve never struck one yet,” he said at a television screening in April, according to The Guardian.

“Never strike a woman because they bruise too easily is the first thing, and they’ll tell the neighbors and their friends,” he said, adding, “and then you’re in big trouble.”

In August, he posted an image on Facebook promoting what he called his “Save the Males” campaign, inviting people to help “protect the latest endangered species.”

Christchurch officials have not said whether those comments influenced the decision on his contract. His last paycheck from the city will come in December, according to Stuff.

“I don’t like being canceled,” he told the news site.

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