The Wizard Of Old Louisville: Devin Person Is Using Magic To Build A Community

Nov 22, 2022 at 1:33 pm
Devin Person.  |  All photos by Carolyn Brown.
Devin Person. | All photos by Carolyn Brown.

Believe it or not, you might notice the wizard’s friends before you see the wizard himself.

They gather at Old Louisville Brewery one Wednesday every month to talk about magic. Sometimes they get tarot readings or play board games or watch movies. Many of them are magic enthusiasts, too, some with wizardly outfits and accessories of their own — a slouching black hat here, a carved wooden staff there.

It won’t be long before you find the wizard, though. He’ll be decked out in one of his robes — maybe the purple one with gold fringe, or the green one spangled with stars. He sports a long, dark beard streaked with white, plus a gold nose ring. He definitely stands out, but don’t be intimidated — he’s here to have fun. As he’ll tell you: “I take silly things seriously and serious things sillyously.”

If you don’t see him, he hasn’t vanished into the ether. He might be doing a tarot reading for a guest behind the front window, tucked between a line of books and his crystal ball, accompanied by any of his stuffed gnomes (he’s got dozens; he loves gnomes.) He might be packing up his woven blanket decorated with crystals and dolphins, upon which he puts a stack of business cards, which read: “No one meets a wizard by accident.”

More likely than not, though, he’s wandering between the backyard — where passionfruit vines blanket the fences — or the front room, socializing with friends and strangers, “moving about the cabin,” as he puts it.

But you will see the wizard, because he wants to meet you, and he’s glad you’re here. He wants you to hear his credo, a statement he makes at the end of every episode of his podcast, a statement he has tattooed on his left arm around a drawing of a wizard: 

“I believe in you. Your magic is real.”

For nearly a decade, Devin Person, 36, has been a professional wizard. A former Brooklynite and longtime occult enthusiast who was featured in The New York Times for “granting wishes” and giving strangers quests on the New York City subway, Person has since made his home in Louisville, where he hosts Wizard Wednesday, a magic-themed monthly gathering at the Old Louisville Brewery. He also has written two books, and has another one on the way. On his podcast, “This Podcast is a Ritual,” he speaks with guests, talks about his path to becoming a wizard, and occasionally answers questions that come in through the “Wizard Hotline,” offering advice and thoughts on the supernatural in a gentle voice. 

He began his journey to become a wizard in 2014 via a solo ritual of his own devising, surrounded by handmade sigils and assisted by nitrous oxide, to connect to his future self — “the best wizard [he] could possibly be.” In 2016, Person began hosting events, offering wizardly guidance, and appearing in public in long sorcerer’s robes.

Person moved to Old Louisville with his fiancée in 2020, in pursuit of a place that would be more neighborly than New York City. He’s found it since, he says, and has established himself in the community, using wizard events for fun, to meet others who, like him, love “counterculture and weirdo stuff.” As his podcast webpage says, “The real magic isn’t content… but connection.”

“I’m not trying to force my will on other people or cast fireballs or marinate in delusion,” he said. “Instead, I’m able to get people interested, where they’re saying, ‘A wizard — what do you mean?’ And I’m like, ‘fun, connection, human, community.’ And you’re like, ‘Yeah, let’s do that.’”

The Meaning Of The Magic 

If the title “professional wizard” brings to mind an ultra-serious cult leader, a performing magician, or someone under the influence of delusions, fear not — Person is none of those. What characterizes his wizardry is the sense of fun and joie de vivre that comes with embracing and using one’s own power to make a better, more magical life.

“It’s not that I disavow the supernatural,” he told LEO. “I think our culture sells us a version of that as a way to distance ourselves from the essential fact that everything is supernatural. There is no ‘natural world.’ Everything is supernatural.”

“The magic is literally all around us at all times,” he continued, “and the idea that magic is shooting a fireball from nowhere is just saying that you set the standard at impossible, so everything then fails. When I’m like, ‘I can communicate with someone on the other side of the planet in an instant,’ you’re like, ‘Well, that’s not magic. That’s just a phone call.’ No, that’s still magic.” 

Instead, he puts a finer point on his approach to wizardry:

“I could [say], ‘I am the reincarnation of Merlin, and I believe all of this, and I will now cast a fireball!’” he said, putting on a cartoonishly dramatic voice. “‘Oh, it’s not working, but that’s because the moon’s in the wrong position, and I’m very serious!’ And that doesn’t sound great to me.”

Instead, he says, his M.O. in his role is “taking one step back and saying, ‘What is the character of the wizard? What is the idea of magic? How can I step into that intentionally?’”

Still, the word “professional” is in his title for a reason. Though it’s not his main business — his 9-5 is a hypnotherapy practice in Bashford Manor — you can hire him to create and perform a ritual, officiate a wedding, or emcee an event, among other things, for rates that usually range from $150-$500.

He’s also got a Patreon with six sponsorship tiers, which are priced, respectively, at $4.20 (“Gentle Hobbit”), $6.66 (“Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), $11.11 (“Chaos Mage”), $23 (“Wise Owl”), $69 (“Machine Elf”) and $420 (“Elder God”) per month. 

The latter category is “obviously a joke,” the description says, though Devin says that if anyone takes him up on it, he’ll make them a plaque, fly to their city and do a full magic ritual with them. 

No takers so far, though.

click to enlarge Wizard Wednesday
Carolyn Brown
Using a card deck inspired by the anime “Cardcaptor Sakura,” Devin Person does a tarot reading at Old Louisville Brewery. | Photo by Carolyn Brown.

The Path 

The oldest of five brothers, Person spent some of his early life in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, but he grew up mostly in West Lafayette, Indiana, where his father taught nuclear physics at Purdue University. His mom was a computer programmer and stay-at-home mom who became a social worker later in life. The family eventually moved to Westford, Massachusetts, where Person graduated high school in 2004. 

Person says that his parents were supportive of his eccentricities, although not into counterculture in the same way that he was: “They weren’t hippies, but they were liberal pseudo-academics.” The family ate tofu, avoided red meat and limited TV time — not, Person said, “strict from a religious moral perspective, but more like trying to help us stave off the worst effects of mass American culture.”

As a teenager, Person and his family marched in a parade celebrating the town of Westford’s 275th birthday. His parents and brothers wore colonial outfits — costumes with tricorne hats borrowed from the local historical society. He, however, sported a spiked black collar, a mohawk and a black hoodie decorated with a few patches. In a family photo taken after the parade, he frowns, the spitting image of teenage angst.

“In 8th grade,” Person wrote in a 2019 Instagram post with the aforementioned photo from after the parade, “I discovered pot, LSD, and punk rock. That trio proved to be a potent combination, kicking off my adolescent awakening that school was stupid, adults had agendas, and I was going to have to walk my own path.” The photo, he said, is “a fun image of youthful rebellion, but it begs the question: Who’s the real rebel? I’m dressed like a punk, conforming to the archetypal image of non-conformity. My family are role playing colonial settlers, with the meta-awareness that this juxtaposition with their surly teen will be hilarious. The photo was, in fact, my mom’s idea who insisted I dress as punk as possible.”

“In regards to wizardry, I don’t have any sweeping conclusions beyond my own awareness of how I’ve always been draw [sic] to costumes and love getting lost in whatever character is creating me. Especially when it puts me a little out of step with the world.”

When he was 18, he read an interview with comic book writer Grant Morrison in Arthur Magazine, a counterculture publication, in which Morrison discusses their own love of the occult and their understanding of consciousness and reality. Magic, they said, is “a kind of participation with everything around you” and “the dawning understanding of how things all fit together.” For Person, the piece was mind-blowing — and formative.

The same year, he moved to Olympia, Washington, where he lived for three years. He then spent a year in Portland, Oregon before moving to Austin, Texas, for college in 2008. He worked a long string of short-term jobs, which included: late-night talk show host, touring band roadie, weed dealer, stand-up comedian, medical research subject, sex blogger, freelance journalist, model and porn store employee (graveyard shift.) 

Still, he grew tired of the lack of stability and structure that that lifestyle offered. In 2013, his final year in an undergrad journalism program at the University of Texas at Austin, he realized that the kind of intensive longform reporting he’d hoped to do — “send me out to live with some cult for a month, and then I’ll write a feature about it,” for example — was no longer a realistic option. Inspired by an info session at his school and his love of comedy, he decided to pivot: he moved to New York City to join a graduate program for TV writing. He was drawn by the opportunity to collaborate with other writers rather than write alone, but it didn’t last — the program, he said, was “bullshit,” with an uncompetitive environment and substandard instruction. He foresaw his future if he completed that degree: he’d become an intern, or, at best, a writing assistant, saddled with debt and earning a meager living. He dropped out after one semester.

The same year, he found a job at Squarespace helping customers troubleshoot problems with their websites. He laughs that the meanest customers were those advertising things like yoga studios and meditation retreats, not to mention “life coaches, life coaches, life coaches — so many frickin’ life coaches!” Person — incidentally an avowed longtime fan of “The Wizard of Oz” — was in the role of Dorothy Gale peering behind the curtain: “A lot of the life coach websites [had] these huge overblown claims of, like, ‘I’m going to help you manifest your dreams and 10x your sales,’ and I’m like, ‘I can look at your backend of your website. You don’t have any sales. You barely have any traffic!’”

The experience gave him an idea for a character: an occult life coach, someone who, rather than inspire a client with the Law of Attraction, might tell them, “Kill a rooster at midnight and divine by its entrails, and that’s how you’ll manifest your dreams.”

But he got bored of the joke pretty quickly and realized he couldn’t commit to it long-term. What stuck, though, was another idea: 

He could become a wizard.

“I realized that I cared deeply about magic. I’ve been doing magic for over a decade,” he said. “My version of magic is not what you find in the occult book section. There’s definitely overlaps. I like a lot of those traditions. I’m inspired by a lot of those traditions. But it was different. And it was personal.”

The Ritual

From then on, Person committed himself to becoming a wizard. He set a date — Sunday, November 30, 2014 — and planned a ritual to make his new identity real. He was inspired by a hypnosis audio track that talked about the power of manifestation: not, for example, the ability to control the weather with one’s mind, but the ability to make one’s own life more in alignment with a goal. 

Inside a Manhattan rehearsal space rented for an hour, surrounded by candles, nitrous oxide, strobe lights, and other “assorted ritual supplies,” Person called out to his future self, a self who might have already become “the best wizard I could possibly be,” and asked for his help, by way of sending magic back into the past.

If the ritual worked, he said, he’d be creating his own future wizard-self’s existence, even if not immediately. If it didn’t work, he’d understand that it was “an important detour,” and he’d “go the other way.”

“At the end of the ritual, there was no bolt of lightning, there was no smoke, there was no portal where future me called out in a booming voice,” he told LEO. “But I did it.”

A week later, on a trip to Philadelphia, a huge problem struck: his knee “swelled up to the size of a basketball.” Person has a condition called PVNS (pigmented villonodular synovitis), which causes occasional flare-ups of swelling. He found a doctor who gave him good news: he could try an experimental drug to counter the condition’s effects. There was one caveat, though: the doctor said all of his hair would likely turn completely white, which it did. 

Person was absolutely thrilled. As he told his audience: “That was unbelievable proof for me that my spell had worked, the magic was flowing, and I was really gonna transform myself into a wizard.”

He still commemorates the ritual’s anniversary every year. In 2018, he did so by recording “Opening Ceremony - How to Create a Slightly Better Reality,” the first episode of his podcast, “This Podcast is a Ritual.” In it, he recounts the story of his ritual to a live audience at Magick City, a venue in Brooklyn. At one point, he invites them all to join him in saying the word “magic.” Their unified chorus explodes the audio waveforms. 

“And did you feel that?” he asks the crowd and the listeners. “Did you feel that echoing throughout time from wherever you are — echoing forward, echoing back, this one connection of all kinds of people, people that we don’t even know, saying, ‘MAGIC!’” 

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “That’s magic.”

In The Beginning 

Person continued to wizard-as-a-verb after his hair turned white. 

In December 2017, he started a stunt that got him featured in The New York Times, The New York Post and elsewhere: He would ride the New York City subway in full wizard attire, talking to riders and “granting wishes,” sometimes sitting below a sign a friend made that said, “Talk To The Wizard / Because no one meets a wizard by accident.”

The first wish he granted was actually on a shared Lyft ride. A passenger asked for help finding a job in nursing, a field she’d gotten into because it had been her grandma’s profession. Person assigned her the task of calling her grandma, because “all my wishes, you have to do a task — you don’t just get it for free. You have to show the universe you’re serious.”

The woman messaged Person a week later: per his instructions, she had called her grandma a day after their Lyft ride. The day after that, she got the job.

The more that Person was public with his wizardry, the more he met people who were open to it, which surprised him. He wrote a self-help book, “Mysteries of the Deep,” for which he started a crowdfunding campaign — or “spell,” as his campaign video calls it — to raise $420. It ended up bringing in $1,985. He started to see clients one-on-one. He created two precursors to Louisville’s Wizard Wednesdays: an event series at the now-closed Brooklyn venue Tarot Society called “New Age & Chill,” then a series at Magick City called “The Wizarding Hour.” Both events celebrated mystic practices and gave local occult fans a place to gather and socialize; an event listing for one New Age & Chill advertised “soothing soundbaths,” “hypnotic vision quests,” “rolling paper high-ku,” “collaborative quantum healing” and “mind-expanding visual art.”

Fiancees Lisa Ann Markuson and Devin Person play around during a photoshoot in the backyard of Old Louisville Brewery.
Fiancees Lisa Ann Markuson and Devin Person play around during a photoshoot in the backyard of Old Louisville Brewery.

The Poet And The Wizard 

The poet and the wizard met at Squarespace’s 2017 corporate Christmas party in New York City.

Squarespace had hired Lisa Ann Markuson’s company, Ars Poetica, to work the event. The company, as Markuson told the New York Times in 2018, is a group of “poetry DJs” who use typewriters instead of turntables, making haikus for partygoers upon request.

Person, still “fully practicing his wizardry,” had a full beard then, and all of his hair was still white, thanks to his knee medication — as Markuson put it, he looked like a “sexy Santa.” She, then 30, thought he was older than his 31 years.

Person came over to Markuson and asked her to write a poem — about herself. 

And he asked her to put her phone number on the back.

In separate interviews, both of them described the interaction as “love at first sight.” Person called it “very magical.” He was attracted to her entrepreneurial acumen and the way that she wrote poetry on the fly — she, too, was a “magic wordsmith.” The moment sealed their fate, and they’ve been “practically inseparable,” Person says, ever since.

As Person continued to socialize inside Old Louisville Brewery one Wizard Wednesday night, I spoke to Markuson in the backyard. She asked about my plans for my story, and I explained that it would largely be a profile of Person and the nuances of his wizardry, part of which included a clarification for readers that he was neither a faith healer con man, nor crazy. She nodded knowingly.

“I think a major, major part of what [Person’s] purpose in life is, is to be a living example of our ability to choose what we want our life to be like,” she said. “You do not have to resign yourself to a specific life path that’s already been ordained by Boomers or by capitalism or by Christianity or by heteronormativity — by anything.”

She continued: “If you want to get a little creative and try something out, and you’re not afraid of just being a little silly and a little bit vulnerable about it, you can make the world that you want to live in happen right now. You don’t have to wait until the revolution comes for you. You can start now and you can make your own world better and then share that with as many people as possible.”

Magic In Louisville 

It wasn’t until 2019 that the idea of moving to Louisville occurred to Person or Markuson — though technically, they say, it was because of coincidences and external signs.

In summer 2019, Person, who had recently quit his job at Squarespace, took a solo trip — a “quest,” he calls it — to a weekend retreat in North Carolina hosted by a group called The Religion, a fake religion whose core tenets include “goofwork” and “ceremony.”

While he was there, people kept talking about Louisville, speaking highly of it as a cool place with friendly vibes. It struck a chord with Person: maybe this was the new home he’d been looking for, a calmer, quieter place than Brooklyn.

Markuson had done a poetry gig in Lexington around Derby time in 2019, and she found the city enchanting, the state friendly and warm. The two of them visited Kentucky together in November of that year, stopping in Lake Cumberland, Berea, Lexington and Louisville. On Nov. 30, the fifth anniversary of Person’s original ritual, the two did another ritual together in a bathtub at a bed and breakfast in Springfield, Kentucky. Kentucky, they decided, was where they were meant to go — at some point.

But it was the urgency of the pandemic that pushed them to move. They arrived in Louisville shortly after Memorial Day weekend in 2020. They tried out neighborhoods for a few months, eventually relocating to Old Louisville in September.

Since then, Markuson said, they’ve been “happier than we’ve ever been.” Moving to Kentucky has given them more opportunities for activism, for gardening, for “spending more time having friendships and just spending quality time with people.”

 Person laid low in Louisville at first, getting established and continuing to work on his podcast. It took a full year before he did any wizard rituals in public. It was because, in part, he didn’t want to be a distraction during the racial justice marches that happened in downtown Louisville throughout 2020, which also overlapped with the pandemic shutdown.

Though Person is an avid leftist who has marched for racial justice and abortion rights, he refrains from wizarding at protests where his presence would undercut the legitimacy and seriousness of the cause. (He made an exception, though, on Jan. 19, 2017, the night before Trump’s inauguration, when he stood outside of Trump Tower in full robes and held a sign that said “Wizards Against Trump,” for which he appeared in a story on a New York City TV news station.) 

Just as much, Person said, he refrained from wizarding here because he wanted to get a feel for the city first. “The last thing I wanted to do was try and force my New York wizardry into a Louisville-sized hole,” he said. “I wanted to engage with Louisville on its terms. I didn’t want to try and come and force some outside idea onto it. I wanted to see what it meant to be a wizard in Louisville.”

But on June 26, 2021, it was time for the wizard to join Louisville officially.

At the Garden of Goodness, a public garden in Old Louisville, Person hosted his first show in Kentucky: a performance with Isolation Tank Ensemble, a local “trash-prog” band, and Cookie Tongue, a Brooklyn-based “theatrical freak folk musical menagerie with puppetry, animation, butoh-inspired dance, and ritual magic, featuring original songs and whimsical interludes inspired by Cookie Tongue’s surreal mythology, fairytales, childhood, ghost stories, and a sprinkle of the occult,” who performs with ”guitar, singing saw, glockenspiel, organ, bells, drums, experimental percussion, and orphaned toys.”

About 120 people showed up, and they participated in a sonic experiment: open their phones, go to a website Person created, play one of three tones (69 Hz, 420 Hz, or 666 Hz), and find everyone else who was playing the same tone, creating a “cacophony of cricket sounds.”

Then came another experiment: press a vocal/musical audio track at the same time as everyone else.

“But I knew that we would fail,” Person said. “It was very intentional.” Throughout the garden, he heard the echoes of harps, and of recorded voices counting to ten and talking about fairies.

The audio eventually faded out. Cookie Tongue began their set. Fireflies shone in the dusk. It was a night fit for a wizard.

Or, as Person would soon create, a whole community of them. 

Devin Person does a tarot reading for Hyacinth Revey-Atkins at Old Louisville Brewery.
Devin Person does a tarot reading for Hyacinth Revey-Atkins at Old Louisville Brewery.

The Friends Of The Wizard 

On July 14, 2021, Old Louisville Brewery hosted its first ever Wizard Wednesday.

To Old Louisville Brewery manager Jenn Fraley, part of the magic of Wizard Wednesdays is the environment they create. The guests at Person’s events are always nice, she said, and they tip the bartenders well. The parties create more foot traffic, and that creates repeat visitors. Those, in turn, make the bar live up to its mission even more.

“We’re an open, inclusive space,” she told LEO. “Our slogan is, ‘Good beer makes good neighbors.’ We want to be that nice neighborhood place where you can come and hang out and sit by yourself if you want to, or you can come and there’s always somebody to chat with.”

Person, already a regular at the bar by the time Wizard Wednesdays started, approached Fraley with an idea: could the bar host a monthly event themed around wizards and magic?

Fraley’s helped Person put together the parties since then, though her role is mostly now hands-off. Occasionally, she has turned down his ideas: hosting a band was a no-go for space reasons. Past parties have featured dream interpretation and a performing magician. Person often does tarot for partygoers upon request.

As the parties have grown, they’ve attracted more guests, including some aspiring (or recently inaugurated) wizards.

Greg Esbrandt and his spouse Hyacinth Revey-Atkins, both Louisville transplants like Person and Markuson, have been coming to Wizard Wednesday since July’s one-year anniversary event. They are formally inducted wizards, inaugurated at this very bar. Esbrandt usually wears a plain black wizard hat to the parties; Revey-Atkins wears a red jumpsuit decorated with homemade patches.

Initially drawn to Wizard Wednesday by a flier, which had little info beyond the title, Esbrandt and Revey-Atkins almost couldn’t go to any of them — Esbrandt’s Dungeons & Dungeons group met on Wednesday nights. He lucked out, though, when that group changed their meetings to Tuesdays. 

At September’s party, they were fully embedded in the scene, part of a group in the backyard that was discussing the pros and cons of changing one’s own name. Later that night, Revey-Atkins got a tarot reading from Person, which he said was uncannily accurate.

Revey-Atkins defined wizardry this way:

“I think it’s fundamentally about an openness to the universe,” Revey-Atkins said. “It’s about being able to let the universe manifest things in your presence and you looking at that and saying, ‘That’s something that I’m supposed to pay attention to.’”

Esbrandt leaned in and whispered to me: “We’re figuring it out just as fast as you are.”

The guest of honor at the couple’s first Wizard Wednesday, the one who made them wizards in the first place, was one more famous than Person: Gilly (short for Gilderoy) Shine, aka Gilly the Sunshine Wizard, who had traveled to the event from Cullman, Alabama, a small town halfway between Huntsville and Birmingham. (Shine asked LEO not to use his real name.)

One of Shine’s wizard outfits includes rainbow tie-dye overalls, pastel-striped sunglasses, a colorful felt wizard hat, and ginger sideburns. On TikTok, where he has more than 440,000 followers, he posts near-daily videos in which he casts spells to encourage his viewers. They all end with his signature sign-off: “Wisha-wisha. I love you!”

An openly gay autistic man, Gilly Shine has faced his share of haters, but the core message of his wizardry is much like Person’s: embrace your own uniqueness and power.

“One of the things that I tell people when I make them into wizards is that you get cosmic power and all this cool stuff, but you do you have to serve people for the rest of time,” he said. “We’re given these magical powers from the universe for good — for helping people! — so we have to. But we can still enjoy the fact that we have cool magical powers.”

The Purpose Of The Wizard 

An archetypal wizard — seen in pop culture figures like Gandalf, Dumbledore and the Wizard of Oz, for instance — is a guide, someone who helps the main character find their way to a goal. A wizard is “not the hero,” nor “the center of the story,” as Person explained in a 2016 public lecture, but, instead, someone who can see things the main character cannot.

Even on Wizard Wednesdays, when Person is ostensibly the evening’s main character, he’s really one of many. But if his purpose is to help people accomplish a goal, sometimes that goal is just creating connections.

“The magic is the friends you make along the way. It sounds cheesy, but it’s really true,” he told LEO at September’s Wizard Wednesday. “My favorite thing is to step back and just prod little groups here and there and make introductions.”

He pointed out a nearby group, a trio of guests who were immersed in a game involving playing cards and a composition notebook.

“These people all met through Wizard Wednesday, they’re playing cards right now, and they’ve been hanging out in the park on their own,” he said. “I love when I see [posts] on Instagram of people, like, ‘Oh! They totally met at Wizard Wednesday and now they’re at a soccer game together.’ That’s the magic. I try actually not to be the star and be flashy or up in everybody’s business.” 

Of course, the limelight finds him anyway.

Person is a dude who dresses as a wizard in public in 2022. Obviously, he knows that that’s funny and attention-grabbing — and he embraces it. Seeing a wizard is unexpected, so it makes people laugh, and magic itself, he says, should be fun anyway. As he wrote in his first book, “Mysteries of the Deep”:

Magic is a metaphor a silly game to play That adds a bit of purpose to brighten up each day.

This story will hit print a week before Nov. 30, the eight-year anniversary of Person’s original ritual. It’ll also be the last Wednesday of the month, when most Wizard Wednesdays typically take place.

You will, of course, see Person there. You’ll know where to find him. You’ll definitely see his friends, too — and you might become one.

In Louisville in 2022, a wizard is no longer a relic from a mythic ancient world, a figure who glowers into a crystal ball, exiled from the world in a dark tower. 

Instead, a wizard walks into a bar — and creates a community. •

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