Wizard reminisces as he turns 80

THE WIZARD: More than 40 years as a living work of art.
THE WIZARD: More than 40 years as a living work of art.

The Wizard of New Zealand turned 80 this month. He looks back on his long, magical association with Christchurch.

This piece was inspired by the publication in The Press recently of a lengthy letter from Professor Mike Grimshaw from the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Canterbury (November 29).

It is also the occasion of my 80th birthday and a good opportunity for me to look back and try to assess my 38-year contribution to the culture of Christchurch as a non-fictional, non-commercial, wizard.

The professor comments on the huge amount of hype surrounding the filming of The Hobbit, which like many other mass entertainment phenomena provides a "temporary escape from our mundane lives" while enriching people singularly lacking in good magic.

He refers to the writings of the great sociologist, Max Weber, whose century-old thesis on the growing puritanical disenchantment of the world should be known by all informed people.

I find Weber's ideas more relevant than the grim reductionist theories of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Weber's thesis impacted on me very strongly.

So much so, that I have spent the past 40 years of my life in a largely solo attempt to re-enchant the world, making use of my training as an academic sociologist and psychologist.

I would be overjoyed to be given a chance to explain myself in a dialogue with an academic who seems to have similar training to my own.

Marx pointed out that "our consciousness is determined by our socio-economic relationships".

By this argument, the roles of any priestly intellectual employed by the church or any secular humanist intellectual employed by the state render them unsuitable for the task of understanding, let alone stopping, the process of disenchantment, even if they wanted to.

Moreover, anyone who undertakes the task must be adequately equipped for it, both intellectually and emotionally.

I believed that, in 1967, I just happened to be the right man, at the right time, and at the right place, to attempt the process of systematically re-enchanting the world. An exciting but rather frightening situation.

That year, as a qualified sociologist of religion and psychologist specialising in "revitalisation movements", I started lecturing at the University of New South Wales at the new School of Sociology, the first established in Australasia.

Suddenly the arts faculties in many universities, particularly in America, Europe and Australia, exploded in a unique series of what are best described as modern cultural revitalisation movements.

That year I started a revitalisation movement of my own which I named ALF - Action for Love and Freedom.

This was my attempt to reconcile the opposite tendencies of the emerging hippies, whose ideology centred on love (which included radical environmentalism, Oriental spirituality and sexual experimentation) with the political activists' desire for freedom, particularly from religious and big-business intrusions into the community of scholars.

Aiming to stay clear of puritanical fundamentalism in both its religious and political forms and inspired by Johann Huizinga's Homo Ludens, I also called this movement the "Fun Revolution". Some of what happened is recorded in the official history of University of New South Wales by Patrick O'Farrell.

Unfortunately, like the fun-hating, political activists who ran many of the other revolutionary student movements, the professorial board regarded my activities as a sign of insanity, or subversion of the serious mission of the university, and without any explanation I was eased out of my job by the Marxist political scientist who was my head of department.

I decided not to follow the staff association's advice to take the university to court.

I found myself being consoled by the vice-chancellor, who was already angered at the unprofessional behaviour of many of the arts academics and who had openly admired my speaking skills, political acumen and concern for the university as a community.

I had outsmarted those who wanted to incite violence to radicalise the campus to advance their own dull political careers while, at the same time, keeping the interest of those who were tempted to drop out into a self-destructive escapist fantasy of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.

He wanted me to stay on the campus, but in what capacity? Realising that this was a unique opportunity to "revitalise" myself, and then to "re-enchant the world", I proposed a way I could stay on campus and continue to re- enchant the university.

I would have to occupy an entirely original and informal role. Moreover, to make it viable and to stop accusations of wicked and impure intentions from the already suspicious puritanical radicals and religious fundamentalists, the university and student administrations would have to agree to jointly appoint me as the official Wizard of the University of New South Wales, with a modest honorarium.

Once over the shock, they both agreed enthusiastically. An experienced and now legitimately qualified revitaliser and re-enchanter had been appointed as the official Wizard of a major modern university.

Universities had become the home base of the intellectuals who, for hundreds of years, had been employed to disenchant the world. The appointment itself was a perfect example of the reversal of the process. The ultimate act of my culturally necessary legitimation came in 1990 when the prime minister of New Zealand appointed me Official Wizard of New Zealand.

A huge elephant had appeared in the room!

So far I have avoided being diagnosed as insane, or arrested as a criminal for cleverly avoiding the Census authorities' desperate attempts to destroy my new identity and turn me back into a "real" person.

For 40 years, however, I have been punished for my "thought crimes", my foolish lack of moral earnestness, and my avoidance of commercial compromise by being starved of funds and largely invisible instead of becoming a rich "celebrity".

Fortunately I have an intelligent and good-hearted fiancee who has supported me financially since 1971.

It is not surprising that there are so few outstanding examples of even reasonably successful re-enchantment activists.

It is an extremely difficult mission.

So far as I can see only Dubcek in Prague in the 1960s and Mockus in Bogota during the 1990s have attempted to carry it off at least partially, and they are not properly recognised for their achievements.

For at least 500 years the biggest haters of magic are those who love useful, mechanistic science and economic development more than a sociable tolerant religion and virtuous behaviour. They have usually come from a background of religious fundamentalism, both Catholic and Protestant.

I first appeared in Christchurch in the costume of a prophet of the Anglican Church, the "hammer of the heretics", to exorcise the recently opened Cathedral Square from the swarms of religious fundamentalists who were accosting anyone who tried to cross it.

By 1976 I was being featured in most guide books about New Zealand and won the Newman Award for tourism in 1989.

Beginning at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1972, the process of becoming a pure self-created being, a "Living Work of Art" was completed in 1982 by a joint declaration by the New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Guild.

Since 1974 I have cast spells for the local rugby team, successfully fought a war with Telecom over the colour of their phone boxes, defied Census authorities, and broken several droughts by highly publicised rain dances here and in Australia, without any failures.

However my best known and most important function was to speak daily in Cathedral Square as a "conflation" of the roles of religious prophet, natural philosopher, political soap-box orator and street performance artist.

Though I have become known all over the world since the mid 1970s, for the past 20 years the Canterbury tourist authorities have chosen not to publicise the provocative presence of a government-appointed wizard in the heart of their city.

Instead, for years now, they have been wholeheartedly promoting the now-empty locations of a series of commercial films about a fictional wizard.

Meanwhile, books and films about purely escapist fictional wizards like Harry Potter have made a lot of money for their backers.

The enormously expensive Lord of the Rings and Hobbit film series centring on a wizard were bankrolled by Hollywood venture capitalists.

These admittedly well-made local versions of a major work of fiction are lauded to the skies and the Government gives American billionaires millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidise the costly venture.

The only wizards our "disenchanted" academic, religious and political leaders really believe in are financial wizards, whose greed and stupidity is destroying both our belief in our own personal magic and our social and natural environments. This is Disenchantment with a capital D.

The "elephant in the room" is beginning to get restless.

The Press