Christchurch's Magical Characters
From wizards to faeries, the colorful city boasts a quiet creativity found primarily on New Regent Street
He sits silently on New Regent Street, walking staff hung by his side, pipe in hand as he watches Tthe tram passes up the street and out of view. He’s seen a lot of things pass in his 84 years and a lot of things change. Christchurch had risen and fallen and risen again before his eyes, but New Regent Street is his. It’s the only place like it in the city, a place of culture and of community and a place to lay his pointed hat.
When he speaks, it’s as if it is from long ago. He’ll tell long-winded tales of Socrates, of philosophy and government. A wizard should be a wise man, he says in his soft-spoken voice. He’s a wizard because a wizard doesn’t seem to fit into any sphere and so he wanders into every domain.
“The wizard is key,” he said. “We don’t belong anywhere. We’re not in religion or science. What the hell are wizards?”
Born Ian Brackenbury Channell, though many call him Jack, The Wizard has been in Christchurch since 1974 when he appeared in the public square, dressed in his robes. His views rubbed a number of people the wrong way, especially the city council that was mostly conservative at the time.
Channell was anti-establishment, a post feminist who believed woman would inherit society and a monarchist who favored the historical empires of old like the Ottoman or Persian. He was against formal education because it stifled creativity from a young age. He seemed to be against the ways of science but not in favor of religion, either. To him, the world seems on a verge of collapse, the social systems buckling. He protested Christchurch’s abandonment of heritage, such as failure to restore historical buildings.
“They tried to stop me, but they couldn’t find a reason,” he said. “You aren’t allowed to speak out loud in the public square. That’s ridiculous. I wore strange clothes. I wore gas masks. I spoke in French. I spoke in tongues. My last trick was to speak inside a cardboard box and you can’t arrest a cardboard box for speaking in the public square.”
For a time, Channell considered leaving Christchurch, but after the 2011 earthquake, he decided to stay to oppose the demolishment of the remains of the Christchurch Cathedral. Today, he can be seen on his old stomping grounds of New Regent Street, walking staff in hand.
It was on New Regent Street that Ari Freeman found The Wizard. Freeman, 35, grew up knowing of The Wizard of Christchurch. As an adult, he became interested in wizardry, growing out his beard. Under the guidance of Channell, Freeman became The Deputy Wizard.
“It turns out he [the Wizard] was looking for an apprentice for quite some time but I wasn’t aware of it,” Freeman said. “He wanted someone to continue it as a tradition. It’s been empowering to watch him get away with stuff and I think that’s why he has a following. It just shows people when you’re not trapped, you can have more fun and get away with saying and doing stuff that people just won’t say and do.”
However, the Wizard’s relationship with Christchurch’s government would change over the next 40 odd years. In 1982, the New Zealand Art Gallery Directors Association issued a statement that Channell, in part due to the public support he was receiving, should be classified as a living work of art and he was appointed the honorary title of official Wizard of Christchurch by the city council. In 1990, the prime minister named him the official Wizard of New Zealand.
In addition to the Wizard and his Deputy, the city also boasts faeries. One particular faerie wears a pink dress, her hair adorned in pink flowers to go with her pink hair. Protruding from her back are two wings.
Lily Peas Blossom isn’t her real name, but she’s been called it so much over the past two and a half years, the name has stuck. Lily is the head faerie of Christchurch’s Faerie Circle. The Faerie Circle sprang up from a night on the town with Freeman and the other wizards. Blossom decided to dress like faeries to show their support for the wizards; it all started to form from there. The group grew from two friends to 20 members who host regular events in the Christchurch community.
These events include picnics for children where there are games, food and activities. At least once every two weeks, they go into hospitals and visit with children in the cancer ward. For those moments, the children believe in magic and goodness and all the wonder that comes with youth. For those moments, they believe in faeries and wizards.
“They may be very, very sick, but they need some distraction and happiness,” she said. “We’ll go on the cancer ward. They’re happy. They love to see you.”
There was a little girl in particular, one year and two months into treatment. She had four months of immunotherapy left, trying to stimulate her white blood cells. She had been through chemo and radiation trying to kill the cancer. Every time she had the treatment, she nearly died. The doctors had the crash cart waiting as the girl battled for her life for four days at a time. All her worried-sick mother could do was wait.
The faeries would bring her coffee and cake. They’d sit and talk with the mother, who hadn’t been home in days because she couldn’t sleep. After the treatments, they’d visit with the little girl to give her even a moment of happiness.
“It is really appreciated,” she said. “It’s a very special thing to do for people. This is a privilege to be able to bring joy to so many people.”
The faeries are working with Christchurch’s city council to put on a large-scale faerie festival of 20,000 to 30,000 people in the coming years. Since moving to Christchurch when she was 8, she had seen the city change a lot.
“Christchurch is always considered a very conservative city,” Blossom said. “[But] it’s actually one of the most creative cities. There used to be this very top conservative shell, with underneath this very wild creative underbelly.”
Since the earthquake, the city has become less conservative, but Christchurch has always had a creative side. After all, where else could you find wizards and faeries?