The wizard of New York: ‘I’m weird, but I get results’
Devin Person speaks to companies, officiates at weddings and hosts a podcast
Self-proclaimed wizard Devin Person in the New York subway. A sign he carries on the subway reads: “Talk to the wizard, because no one meets a wizard by accident.” Photograph: Mary Inhea Kang/The New York Times
In New York, a city where anyone can be anything, Devin Person is a self-proclaimed professional wizard.
On a Sunday afternoon in his Brooklyn neighbourhood Greenpoint, Person – looking more Merlin than Harry Potter, with his plush robe and scraggly white beard – leads about three dozen people in meditation.
He encourages them to “sample the flavours and energy of each cloud formation as if you were walking around Costco’s different free sample stations”, to float “like Michael Phelps diving into the pool” and to wear a smile “like the sun on the Raisin Bran box”.
As a modern “wizard” Person (33) holds group sessions, like the recent meditation and Wizarding Hour. He speaks to companies. He officiates at weddings. He reads tarot and performs hypnosis. He hosts a podcast. He once planned an “edible enhanced” walkabout in Central Park.
He will also show up if someone wants to “have fun hanging out with a wizard”. He generally charges $150 for a one-on-one meeting, or $400 to $500 to create a ritual, but sometimes offers services pro bono.“I try to think, ‘What would a wizard do in the modern era’?” he said.
In recent years new-age pursuits – crystals, sound baths, astrology – have shed their stigma and seemingly become ubiquitous among swaths of city dwellers. Even venture capitalists are putting money into what one investor called the “mystical services market”.
It is in this environment that Person, the zany kind of character who makes New York distinctive, offers his services with a hefty wink. He would not disclose his “wizarding” salary, but says “I do other work so I don’t have to distort my magic into an endless sales pitch”.
“Wizards are people-helpers,” he says. “They are who the hero encounters on their journey, and they’re able to give the hero a bit of advice, maybe a magical artefact, some sort of assistance that helps the hero get over their obstacle and on their journey.”
Person had long been interested in the occult and spirituality when, in 2014, he decided to “hatch an egg” of something to pursue alongside his day job at the website creator Squarespace, now as an associate product manager.
So after making his way through an exhaustive list of new-age books, Person started holding “occult consulting” sessions with friends and friends of friends, eventually expanding to dozens and dozens of clients.
He describes his transformation as “reaching out through time and space and across the dimensional barrier to make contact with the most wizardly possibility of myself”.
That means, he says, functioning as a mentor and listener. (The word “wizard” comes from the Middle English “wys,” or “wise.”)
Person posted on Facebook that he was offering coaching services. Not long after a childhood friend from Indiana reached out.
The friend, Sahil Bhatia, said he was “in a deep depression and crisis of faith”. The two men discussed strategies like “set five goals per day” that Bhatia could use to feel fulfilled.
“The lower pressure and informal nature of it was much different,” Bhatia says. “That was really helpful to me.”
Person stresses that he is not a therapist, and that he generally offers just one session to participants, which he frames as “this is the moment in your life where you encounter a wizard, and this has the potential to change a lot and we’re going to talk about it”.
He adds: “I’m weird, but I get results.”
Quirk attracts quirk. Charles Philipp, a co-founder of Micro, which builds 6ft-tall museums, hired Person last year to appear at the company’s factory in Brooklyn.
“There’s the idea and the gift of pulling people out of their daily routine,” Philipp says. “No one does that like a large bearded man in a pointed hat and a robe.”
The clothing is a costume, but the facial hair is not. In 2015, a joint disease in Person’s left knee flared up. Doctors gave him medication, but there was a caveat: it would turn his dark brown hair Santa Claus white.
Person also legally changed his last name as part of his new identity; it comes from the “Person is awake” line in New York City’s guide to helping someone who is choking.
As a child Person was “into the whimsicality of life”, his friend Bhatia recalls.
“He would dress up, have his hair gelled up in some strange way, wear tacky sunglasses, clashing beach shorts, that kind of thing. Even then, I think he was dancing to the beat of his own drum.”
At Squarespace, Person dresses in what he calls “wizness casual” or “urban Jedi” – kurta, kimono jackets and other flowing clothing. But during his commute he sometimes dons his robe and hat, and offers “spells” to subway riders that range in theme from family and career to dating and health.
The sign he hoists on the subway reads: “Talk to the wizard, because no one meets a wizard by accident.”
There are, of course, skeptics and those who feign indifference. Recently, Person said, he sat across from a commuter reading a Harry Potter book.
“I was like: ‘oh, come on! There are four people on this train! You’ve got to notice there’s a wizard!’” he said. “But she just literally walked off the train.”
– New York Times