Tales of the Cauldron: Making Magick in Montrose
On a drowsy morning at the Magick Cauldron everything is still, save for a few wind chimes swaying from the ceiling and a middle-aged man walking toward the counter with a battle-axe. Owner Paul Premazon is restocking the weapons department.
With a stern face and skeptical blue eyes, 58-year-old Premazon looks like a grumpy uncle you might see once a year. In reality, he is a familiar sight at an unusual number of ceremonial occasions: full moon rituals on the vernal equinox, spirit-banishments in an East Texas cemetery, or broadsword peddling at the Texas Renaissance Festival. At the Magick Cauldron, housed for the last decade and a half in a flat-roofed building on Montrose near Fairview, he often presides over ceremonies for clients who crave luck with love, money, or business.
“Mostly love and money. They’re neck and neck,” Premazon says, settling in behind his desk in a dusty back office.
Premazon first opened the Magick Cauldron 30 years ago on the Katy Freeway, in a small room of his then-furniture store. Magic was not the sort of retail he was trained for. But it was magic, Premazon believes – magic, and a University of Houston business degree – that built the store that’s here today.
The Magick Cauldron looks from the outside like a relic. The gothic black sign and polarized windows emit the vibe of a 1980s head shop, or a low-end accessory shop for aging Spinal Tap types. Then you open the door.
Bright and stimulating to the eye, the store brims with curiosities from the world of myth. A wire rack holds pointed pendulums for scrying – coaxing messages from lettered boards or reflective surfaces such as pools and crystal balls. Above them, on the wall, hang medieval weapons. “Eighteen or over,” reads a sign, over which loom broadswords, a spiked mace, and two sizes of battle-axe: large and larger.
Dominating the store’s center is a display case jammed with jewelry etched in mystical symbols: Norse (“Thor’s Hammer”), Celtic (“Celtic Cross”), fantastical (“The Sorcerer’s Dragon”), and a few Ayurvedic and Kabbalistic images for good measure. A stand nearby holds a modest selection of Santeria and Voudou supplies. By the window, a clothes rack holds a selection of cloaks: heavy, hooded, lavish in thick green or black velvet, lined in blood-red satin.
As you wander out from the center the wares get odder. High shelves are lined with plaster Greek deities (including the often neglected Pan and Hestia), sultry nature goddesses, art nouveau fairies, and Steampunk pixies with compasses and bowlers. A special display island offers magical herbs. To the right are receptacles: chalices, plain or magnificent, incense braziers, metal pots on tripods. A hutch displays drawers full of magic stones, each type labeled and described like olives at Whole Foods.
Finally, at the far end, is a garden bench surrounded on three-sides by shelves. These hold the Magick Cauldron’s books: volumes full of fairy art, potions for the Wiccan cook, reference tomes for pagans. There are encyclopedias, histories of witchcraft, and almanacs. On a recent afternoon, two grade school girls could be seen on the bench, raptly reading spells.
Books, Premazon says, are the Magick Cauldron’s top-selling item – bigger than the crystals or the Game of Thrones regalia. This might seem surprising in a store best known for supplying hard-to-find accessories for witches. But it makes perfect sense to Premazon. “A lot of what we do here,” he says, “is educate.”
Late last year, a woman stopped in at the Magick Cauldron to buy crystals. There was no one at the register, but clouds of incense billowed out of a back room. Inside, several people were waving the air and speaking softly.
“What’s going on?” the woman asked curiously.
“Resolving an issue with the landlord,” a burly man said.
When Premazon hears this story, he smiles discreetly. He does not disclose whether the back room in the story was the office he’s now sitting in, with its sketches of nude women, glass case of mineral specimens, and half-empty bottle of Scotch sitting on a dusty file cabinet. He does not indicate if he was the burly man leading the cleansing. But he allows that that is the kind of project the Magick Cauldron’s staff and products often facilitate.
Premazon is not a friendly person, exactly. But, perhaps surprisingly for an occult-supply vendor with a side game in maces, he is an extremely warm conversationalist. He is also modest. An hour of conversation goes by before he mentions that he is a third-degree Wiccan priest. But he doesn’t consider Wicca, a modern-day belief system based in nature and founded on pre-Christian Celtic traditions, his religion. “Do I identify as Wiccan?” Premazon says. “No. I identify as Jewish.”
Born in Houston to the descendants of Russian and Eastern European immigrants, Premazon grew up in an educated business family. His grandparents had moved to Houston from Chicago for the flourishing economy, and as a young man Premazon worked for the family store, attended Beth Israel, and studied business at UH.
In his late twenties he got a license for furniture resale and launched his own shop at I-10 and Gessner. As he tells it, he had no knowledge of the occult, and not much interest in organized spirituality of any sort, until a friend invited him to a Wiccan full moon ceremony.
“I went just out of curiosity,” he says. “I was always willing to look at new things.”
Something about the experience struck him. The ceremony was straightforward: incantations, veneration of earth spirits, rites and talismans channeling energies toward the participants’ wishes. Looking back, Premazon thinks the draw was his responsiveness to human energy. “I’m very sensitive to energy vibrations. Always have been,” he says. “To this day, I couldn’t go into a mall. I’d get overwhelmed; it’s like an anxiety attack. So the idea of working with energy, manipulating energy, directing it towards a certain goal – that appealed to me. And that’s basically the definition of magic.”
After a couple of ceremonies, Premazon began taking classes with a Wiccan master. He spent five years as an apprentice, but stayed in the furniture business. Then in 1985 he decided to buy a few hard-to-find accessories for his practice – incense, herbs, some talismans – and sell them from a nook in his furniture store.
For the first few years, says Premazon, the furniture paid for the magic. Then the occult shop took over the store. “When I started my formal training, there really wasn’t very much available,” he says. “I visited the old Occult Shop on Yale Street and fell in love with frankincense. That’s probably what got me started.”
But he didn’t bet the farm. “While it’s a wonderful thing, magic supplies are not going to make me a living,” Premazon says. “There have been countless shops that someone thought, ‘It would be neat to sell occult supplies,’ and none are here anymore. I have a business background, and that’s the difference.”
Only when the Magick Cauldron’s business surpassed that of the furniture store did Premazon go magic full-time. He relocated to Westheimer and Bagby, and then 14 years ago moved the shop to Montrose Boulevard, liking the mix of foot traffic and small, street-level retail. From the beginning, the physical store in Montrose has been only a small part of the business. The biggest revenues flow from the sale of weapons, which run to the thousands of dollars and are favorites at festivals, especially the Texas Renaissance Festival, where he maintains a warehouse.
Premazon’s own tastes run to serious tools of the trade: herbs, incense, stones whose properties have gained the esteem of magic practitioners over centuries. But The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones created a brisk trade in cloaks and intricate jewelry, while the fairie art movement, launched in the 1970s with the art book Faeries, is now an industry of its own. Premazon welcomes the whole gamut: mythology, gaming, and fantasy buffs. “That’s what keeps me in business,” he says.
That – and an ongoing demand for magical procedures.
When Wukash Grochocki’s family moved to the United States from Poland, Grochocki failed fourth grade. Consoling himself at the library, he came across a book on ancient Egypt. Thoth, he discovered, was the god of wisdom, so Grochocki made a deal: “If you will make me wise,” he promised the god, “I will follow you my whole life.”
Thoth delivered. Grochocki learned English, became an excellent student, and mastered Egyptian hieroglyphics so thoroughly that in elementary school he read the Book of the Dead for fun. Today, Grochocki is a sometime cashier at the Magick Cauldron, a full-time artist, and a continuing devotee of Toth.
Every employee he hires, Premazon says, is, like Grochocki, trained in a magical discipline. But only Premazon performs rituals at the store.
Sometimes, the rituals sound more like life coaching.
“For example, if someone wants to find a partner, I’ll tell them the first thing to do is find out what your ideal partner is like,” Premazon says. “You take that intangible, and you make it tangible. You should write a list. You cannot be too specific. Once you have the list, you put it away. For ten days.”
After that, he instructs clients to write another draft. “And now you can create opportunities. You have a focusing point,” he says. “You are able to draw the person toward you.” Premazon gives a piercing look. “But you still have to do your part. You still have to date.” You could call these exertions magic. But you wouldn’t have to.
“This is not hard. This is not rocket science,” Premazon says. “We cleanse. We focus energy towards specific goals. Magic is the science of manipulating energy. That’s the modern, politically correct way to say it.” Thus, you could call the statues and crystals in his store tools for magic – or you could call them aides for creative visualization, a technique that athletes and businessmen use to achieve their goals.
But why use them? Why buy the herbs or join the complex rituals that he leads? Premazon shrugs.
“It’s fun sometimes. It’s theater. Why do we put so many buttons on a stereo system?” That’s not to say, he continues, that the objects sold in this store have no effect.
“Everything in here is a tangible representation of an intangible concept,” Premazon says. “It’s like a tennis outfit. You can play tennis wearing cut-off shorts. But if you wear a white outfit, you’ll feel more tennis-y. It helps to focus the mind.”
Not every ritual is this prosaic, though.
“There was a lady in Crosby whose house was near a slave cemetery,” Premazon says. “There was a tremendous amount of activity there. I did a cleanse, and set up boundaries so that the spirits would not cross into her house. But she called me. It hadn’t worked as well as I wanted it to.”
A ghost, Premazon says, is usually someone who has died, but for some reason has not been able to cross over.
“A lot of time they are asking for help,” he says. “They need a path to follow. The boundary I made kept the spirits outside the house, but they were all over outside: figures, faces. So I went to an area where they tended to congregate, and instead of making another boundary, I created a portal.”
Premazon won’t explain how he made the portal. For the first time in the conversation, he is evasive. Find a place where the veil between the worlds is thinner, he murmurs, use certain techniques, certain powders… He trails off.
“It’s not something you want to do without experience,” he says. “There are different realms of existence, and it’s rarely a good idea to open a portal. Because there’s going to be movement through it in both directions.”
The portal to an occult shop can pose similar challenges. Mostly, Premazon and his staff like the clients who come in: the ones looking for daggers or scented candles may not be witches, but they help keep the doors open for the more earnest practitioners.
Those doors, though, also let in some dodgier types.
“Look, we are not politically correct here,” Premazon says. “Do we get crazies? Yes. We have our Tales of the Cauldron.”
In the magic business, delusionals are part of the job. So when a young man came in asking for a ritual to communicate with his cat, because the cat was going to teach him sorcery, Premazon gently declined. Another adolescent came in over and over to report that he had been abducted by aliens. As the boy grew increasingly agitated, Premazon decided neither tact nor magic was adequate. He called a therapist for advice, then persuaded the young man that Harris County MHMR was a secret governmental facility to help people in his position. He told the young man to tell the intake staff exactly what he’d told Premazon. MHMR admitted him at once.
Premazon is far less patient with blowhards, such as the woman who claimed to channel the pure energy of Jesus, or puffed-up Wiccans. “It’s a way of life,” he sniffs about Wicca. “But there is no tradition. And tremendous egos.” Something about overbearing Wiccans, in fact, seems to offend Premazon in a way that ordinary eccentrics do not. They above all, he seems to believe, should understand that the rituals, crystals, powders, and pendulums he supplies are less important than the human energy they help distill.
“Have I actually made things happen through magic?” Premazon asks. “Sure. I have a store in a niche business that’s survived 30 years.”