I once ran a dance club event called Byzantium at NowBar on Fridays in the West Village of Manhattan. It was my third weekly event, and arguably the best. Unlike the two which preceded it, I used the event as an opportunity to perform magical experiments related to publicity and mental influence of benevolent kinds.
The venue helped define an eclectic but strangely coherent musical style. It had Moroccan lamps, leading me to think we could lean into the Arabian Nights imagery which cropped up in the Goth genre (which generally was one of our major ingredients.) It also had futuristic furniture, tiki torches, and an artificial waterfall. Trip hop, techno, medieval revival, ethereal, shoegazer, industrial, and world music entered the sonic tapestry. The upper level had a lounge and we had poetry readings there at first, then art installations and live bands. It was thoroughly weird and unlike anything that had come before.
Magic was a part of my thinking from the start. I had been ruminating on the Orientalist imagery in Victorian magic, particularly that of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Ordo Templi Orientis, the Theosophical Society, and the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor. The artificiality of the usage of the exotic and the Other fascinated me; the forbidden and the liberational aspects as well. I saw strange parallels between this and the embrace of the Other in alternative cultures, and parallels between the remixing of cultural artifacts to alter consciousness and the blending of styles in contemporary World Dance and World Music. (I am entirely guilty in overthinking club promotion, but I really do think it is an unsung art form.)
A member of the Golden Dawn was William Butler Yeats, better remembered as a great poet than as a magician. He wrote two poems, “Byzantium” and “Sailing To Byzantium,” which helped inspire the naming of the event. Yeats’ notion of Byzantium was of a distant land of opulence and the exotic, where all cultures blended and anything was possible. It was a fantastic realm somewhat unlike the historic Eastern Roman Empire, yet vastly more alluring and powerful than the reality. I wanted to sail away to Yeats’ Byzantium and bring my friends along for the ride. Every Friday night we embarked upon adventures.
I could wax nostalgic all day about the event and never quite capture its essence, or list all of the amazing people who made it possible. That’s not my point here, though. What is relevant is that while we were doing something innovative, we had a lot going against us.
Friday nights had been a dead night for Goth scene events at the time for several years. The fact that we were not truly a Gothic event only protected us somewhat. Our venue was small and we were in a part of the city most of our patrons visited infrequently. When we debuted, we had only one competing event. A few months later, we had eleven. Twelve events all competing for the same attendees and dollars. It was a swarm hungry for limited resources. Some were actively unfriendly and unprofessional to us. And try as we did, we were losing ground. We had to fight for every single attendee.
My prior two events had also struggled to get traction, and eventually ended. I was an accomplished magician, but had rarely used any magic to give my projects a competitive edge. So when Byzantium debuted, one of the first things I did was enchant the heck out of our flyers. And how I did that requires a bit of personal history.
Rootwork and the Greater Key of Solomon
Years prior, a magical colleague of mine returned from a trip to New Orleans and began to whisper about something called “rootwork.” It took me a while to realize this was an alternate term for Hoodoo, which I had been practicing in a somewhat bastardized form for many years. I recognized that my knowledge was fragmentary, and so was hungry for every legitimate scrap of knowledge that I could find.
One of the things she told me was that the pentacles of the Greater Key of Solomon could be incorporated into Hoodoo candle magic to great effect. I did not believe her. I knew the grimoire well and the pentacles it described had to be created very precisely, according to the instructions. She urged me to try it her way before dismissing the notion entirely. I respected her, so I suspended my judgment and decided to give it a whirl.
At the time I didn’t know anything about petition papers, but nearly all of the magic shops in Manhattan used pull out candles and dressed them and carved them up, often also adding glitter. Since I couldn’t afford that on a regular basis, I used plain pour-in novena candles bought at dollar stores and supermarkets and used paint markers (mostly gold and silver ones) to carefully replicate the pentacle designs on the glass. I dressed the candles with Hoodoo condition oils and stroked around the paint to prevent them from smearing.
After three or four candles like this, I was convinced and converted. It was impossible for me to ignore how effective the Solomonic pentacles on the candles were. It was so effective that for over a decade it became a quickie solution for magical work. The method certainly wasn’t as potent as full Solomonic pentacles, but it was a lot cheaper and easier, and could be made rapidly as the need arose.
I have made several conclusions from working this hybrid system of Hoodoo and GKOS pentacles. The pentacles of the Greater Key almost certainly precede the grimoire and its elaborate instructions, and are of the kind of power that even if created in imperfect conditions (like using paint markers on the side of a candle) they will still produce diminished but powerful marvels. I sometimes call them shadow effects.
Since then I have used this as a method of evaluating grimoires; if their pentacles or sigils activate a candle in a noticeable way, they’re probably really powerful when made with the full ritual requirements. If nothing happens after several attempts, the system is quite probably weak and ineffective. It saves me the effort of spending a year or two and thousands of dollars working through a grimoire to determine whether it’s magnificent and miraculous or merely a dusty hoax.
After working through this method for a number of years, I was introduced to the usage of petition papers in Hoodoo, and other grimoires more popular in Hoodoo such as The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses and The Long-Lost Friend. I was slow to make the transition from using paint markers on glass to petition papers of pentacles under candles because I was, frankly, concerned about fire safety. But when Byzantium launched I had an idea of how I could experiment with a variation of this.
One of my long-term goals had been to coax the Goth scene overall away from the centrality of dance clubs and towards a salon culture by way of the literary gothic. I knew that the dance clubs were dying a slow and painful death, and having poetry readings at the event—very much a novelty—inspired me to design the Byzantium flyers as bookmarks. At the top was the Byzantium logo, a scan of some mysterious looking byzantine jewelry edited heavily in Photoshop. The middle plugged the various DJs, bands and musical styles of the week. And at the bottom was my experiment: the Mathers Greater Key of Solomon’s Fifth Pentacle of the Sun. On every flyer.
“The fifth pentacle of the Sun. It serveth to invoke those spirits who can transport thee from one place unto another, over a long distance and in short time.”
Mathers notes: “The versicle is from Psalm xci. 11, 12: ‘He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands.'”
So, why did I use that particular pentacle? I suppose I could have used one for gaining wealth, but I was impractical at the time and didn’t see that as a pressing issue. I also wasn’t sure whether this would make the bearer of the flyer wealthy or me. If some of those flyers were in the possession of my rivals, it might even work against me.
What I did want was to ensure that my flyers were distributed far and wide. Getting flyers to as many people as possible back then was key to the survival of an event, and some promoters had been known to track down and destroy flyers of their rivals in the music shops where they most often could be found. Flyer saturation was key to the survival of an event, particularly one in an unfamiliar venue with an odd theme, which Byzantium certainly was.
I also liked the design, I admit. It looked mysterious. I didn’t want people to realize the flyers were actually magical; I wanted people to think I was just being artsy. I didn’t want my competitors to copy my idea. Aesthetics can be important, but they also can conceal one’s methods or intentions in magic.
Magic was my biggest edge over the competition. I’m good at a lot of things, but magic is what I’ve always been best at. When I’ve forgotten this, I’ve always regretted it; when I’ve made mundane aspects of my life magical, they’ve soared.
Things Get Weird, Things Get Wonderful
Around the time Byzantium began to get hit by the worst of the competition, the magic began to manifest in earnest.
There had been signs of something strange happening earlier on. NowBar was a trans bar on most nights of the week, and was across the street from Meow Mix, a famous lesbian bar. Whenever our financial situation seemed to be in peril, we would unexpectedly get flooded by the regular clientele, but the lesbian bar would also empty out and drink our bar dry. At first I just thought lesbians and transpeople loved our event, but it did seem a little excessive—albeit very welcome.
Then the ancient famous photographer turned up. He worked for a major NYC magazine and his wartime work was spoken of with reverence by many in his field. He was in awe of Byzantium and assured me repeatedly that he’d never seen anything else like it, and that it was something he wanted to preserve for all time. I asked him where he’d heard of my event, and he told me that everyone was talking about it. I inwardly wondered who everyone was, where they were, and what were they saying. Hopefully nice things, right?
They weren’t the only ones talking, however. Our competition multiplied over and over, eventually to utterly absurd levels. A few of them had it in for us– the scene was very cutthroat back then– but most promoters just assumed there was some hidden untapped market that they wanted a slice of. Everyone and their cousin seemed to be opening up a new Friday event. Our attendance started to take a hit, but then strange things started to happen.
For example, this highly fashionable couple approached me one night at the event with expressions of delight and wonderment. They told me that they were from Switzerland and had flown to America just to come to Byzantium. They had to tell me this several times before I realized they were sincere. I asked where they had heard about Byzantium. They told me that everyone was talking about it, even in Switzerland. Wow. Really? Fascinating.
Then an Asian man approached me at the event and told me he’d picked up a Byzantium flyer in Tokyo. He’d just had to come; it sounded amazing. Someone else found a Byzantium flyer on an airplane, and he changed his vacation plans to get off in New York instead to check it out. Over and over I began to hear about people discovering my fairly small event with a modest budget all around the world, largely through the instrument of my enchanted flyers turning up in the most unexpected of places.
To this day I have no idea how the Byzantium flyers ended up scattered across the world. I have no idea how the buzz about my event went so strangely viral on the eve of the year 2000 AD. But I certainly have strong suspicions of a magical nature.
What I am quite sure of is that the somewhat inexplicable buzz about our event which had spread across the entire world ultimately fed back into local attendance. It kept our struggling event alive for months and months, when everything seemed to be going against our little passion project.
The enchanted flyers weren’t the only magical work (by far) that I integrated into Byzantium, but I still use those today and think of them as trade secrets. The other ones weren’t focused on publicity but making the environment fun, uplifting, and sexy. Considering how many people got laid in the NowBar lavatory and how fondly Byzantium is still spoken of today—all over the world apparently—I think they were pretty darn effective too. If you’ve been to my Green Fairy Parties in California, you’ve seen some of that other sorcery at work.
In spite of my magical and mundane efforts, Byzantium did not last forever. It might have done better if I hadn’t been so keen on lowering the cover charge to allow more people to attend; that gave us very poor financial reserves. The management at the venue expected us to become profitable sooner than we realized. The competition remained somewhat fierce to the end. Perhaps if I had focused on the business end more than the creative end, things would have lasted longer. But they wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.
It was a very successful event in creative terms and that’s what I really cared about. it was unforgettable and it injected some creativity into a scene which was stagnant. Our staff and regulars had also become a family. When management told us it was to be our final night, the head bartender– hired by the venue management– was so outraged that he quit on the spot. People really loved us, and I’m grateful for it.
Hopefully this little tale can inspire you to experiment magically, to improvise, and find new ways to make your life more magical and marvelous. Magic permeates everything and insinuates itself in the gaps between; this is where your hidden strength dwells.