After More Than Two Decades on the Payroll, Christchurch, New Zealand Is Laying off Official City Wizard

Christchurch's wizard, Ian Brackenbury Channell, in 2012.
Christchurch's wizard, Ian Brackenbury Channell, in 2012. / Jerryhattric, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1998, the city council of Christchurch, New Zealand, hired Ian Brackenbury Channell as its official wizard. For the last 23 years, he’s collected an annual salary of $16,000 New Zealand dollars (a little over $11,000 U.S. dollars today) in exchange for “[providing] acts of wizardry and other wizard-like services—as part of promotional work for the city of Christchurch.”

According to Christchurch City Libraries, these acts and services included rain dances, casting spells, making philosophical speeches in the city’s Cathedral Square, and more. Channell’s status as a “Living Work of Art”—not to mention his Gandalfian appearance, complete with a pointy hat, flowing robes, and a gnarled staff—also made him something of a tourist attraction for the region.

But soon, Christchurch will be wizard-less: As NPR reports, officials have decided to terminate Channell’s contract come December. To anyone familiar with Channell and his work, the news may not be much of a surprise. The 88-year-old sorcerer has decreased his activities in recent years, and last summer he even expressed a wish to hand over the reins to an apprentice.

That said, he apparently won’t hang up his hat completely, even after the paychecks stop coming. “It makes no difference. I will still keep going,” he told Stuff, explaining that he plans to continue his visits to Christchurch’s Arts Centre. “They will have to kill me to stop me.”

As for why Christchurch is laying off its most eccentric employee, Lynn McClelland, the city council’s assistant chief executive, said in a statement that the city is forming new programs that “increasingly reflect our diverse communities and showcase a vibrant, diverse, modern city that is attractive to residents, domestic and international visitors, new businesses, and skilled migrant workers.” It’s not clear if officials have abandoned the tradition of having a city wizard entirely, or decided that Channell himself doesn’t emulate the city’s values. As The Guardian pointed out, he did make light of violence against women—along with making other derogatory comments toward women—in an interview earlier this year, though Christchurch hasn’t cited that incident as a factor in its decision.

“The council has met with The Wizard and sent him a letter thanking him for his services to Christchurch over the past decades, and informing him that we are bringing our formal contractual arrangement to a close,” McClelland said.

[h/t NPR]