The Castle: A Living History

“How long have you been coming here?”
“Probably since about 2004”
“Oh wow. That’s the year I was born!”

This was part of the conversation I had with a baby goth on her 18th birthday recently while waiting in line outside the local goth club. As we stood there chatting and I came to the chilling realization that I have been frequenting this establishment for the entirety of this young woman’s life, a feeling of local pride and inspiration came to me. The rest of the night I had a much deeper appreciation for the long history of my favorite place–and where I have always considered to be my spiritual home–the world renowned nightclub, The Castle.

Hidden away on the back streets of the Ybor City district of Tampa, Florida, looms the building whose crenelated façade, stained glass windows and square tower harken back to the Cuban and Spanish influences which marked the beginnings of the sprawling city which has been built around it. Throughout its lengthy history, The Castle has served as a nexus of both a political and social community. Over the past near-century, The Castle has been transformed into a vinculum of art, movement and personal expression. It is easy to see that this belovèd building has held meaning for many disparate groups over generations of time.

A Capitalist Town With Communist Roots
Prior to 1885, most of the area around Tampa Bay was sparsely populated by the Floridian pioneer families who had begun their southward expansion, starting from the end of the Civil War. It was at this time that the Spanish industrialist Vincente Martinez-Ybor founded the corporate town of Ybor City, which established a unique, multi-ethnic community populated almost completely by immigrants. Here arose the cigar rolling factories which would be producing 500 million hand rolled cigars each year by the early 20th century.

7th Ave, Ybor City 1925
7th Ave, La Setima (sic), was and remains the high street of Ybor
The Ybor Labor Temple, 1930’s

In 1930, the structure located at 2004 N 16th street was built by the Order of the Golden Eagle, and began its first life as the Ybor Labor Temple, while the building itself was formally called the Castle of Christopher Columbus (Castillo Cristobal Colon). At this time, labor guilds and unions were separated by race. In a multiracial town like Ybor, this resulted in the construction of many different guild halls, of which only a handful remain. The Ybor Labor Temple would then serve as the communist labor union for white Cuban immigrants. The very next year, the YLT would become the center of a clash between police and cigar workers whose right to assemble was being suppressed. Once the first arrest was made, the crowd of several hundred workers rioted against the authorities, resulting in an even harsher response from the governor on the “threat” of Communism.

The neighborhood surrounding the Labor Temple, early 20th cent. Few of these buildings remain today.
The Labor Temple as it appeared in the 1940’s
A lector reading to factory workers, 1930s. Lectors were not factory employees but were paid from the pooled wages of the workers themselves. As Ybor City was multicultural, some could read papers in English, Spanish or Italian and translate on the spot. Because of the lectors even those illiterate factory workers could be well versed in classical literature, news and politics.

Cigar City In Decline
Once a proud and booming center of industry owing to its many cigar rolling factories, the cigar business had already been in decline by the later 1950’s. Then, in 1962 everything came to a sudden halt when diplomatic tensions between the United States and Castro’s Cuba resulted in the trade embargo which has remained in place to this day. As the cigar factories closed, the communities who built the city of Ybor dispersed for other opportunities while few remained. By the 1990s, Ybor had fallen into neglect. The main strip of 7th Avenue was not yet considered a “destination” spot. Before then, the only bar nearby was the Spanish Park Tavern, Las Novedades (also later a nightclub called Czar), which held a record for most consecutive years with a murder. It was in this transitional period that the new foundations of The Castle were to be laid down.

Performers in Spanish costume, La Columbia Restaurant, 1968
Abandoned tourist kiosk, 1980

Darkness On The Horizon
After the massive swelling of the Goth subculture in the 1980’s, its evolution into the future, though fragmentary, was still shepherded by the musical artists who embraced and expanded on those intersectional themes of the macabre, the romantic, and the melancholic into the 90’s. It was in this new decade that the post-punk movement would mature into forms of universal influence. As gothic subcultures began to further develop in the United States, the time was exactly right for the arrival of the next incarnation of the old Labor Temple.

Empty buildings on the streets of Ybor, 1985


In 1992 the aging building was sold. At the time of the city’s annual Latin-flavored Halloween celebration (Guavaween), “The Castle” opened its doors to the world. The ground floor saloon, which had always served as a bar since the very beginning, first opened as an intimate watering-hole with strong drinks and only a jukebox for entertainment. At the time of purchase, the large upstairs space, once rented out to Union members for parties, could be found covered in old wood paneling and the ceiling full of bullet holes. Over the years the nightclub has had many renovations, most famously its saloon bar which boasts a cobblestoned top and a moat with running water coursing around patrons’ drinks. “Every castle has to have a moat”, said John Landsman, one of the longest staff members.

Current view of the courtyard. In the early days of The Castle, bonfires and more intimate gatherings would happen here. It is now an outside dance area.


After trying many themes for its events: attention was brought to a group of wayward goths who met on weekends across Tampa Bay in St Petersburg. These folks would get together on a weekly basis, dressed to the nines and needed somewhere better than the old Bennigan’s to hang out at. So began Goth Night at The Castle, every Friday. Since then not only has The Castle outlasted most of the other night spots in Ybor which were present when it first opened, but it has become world famous for its nightlife and the eccentric crowd it caters to. It has been recognized internationally as the premier dance club for alternative electronic music: EBM, dark electro, synth pop, goth, power noise and many others. 

The upper hall is decorated in lush furniture, chandeliers, a large glass top bar, and state of the art sound and lighting. 2022.
The Red Room. A more intimate space where specialty cocktails are served. Also the location of the Tower, which in the 21st century has had the upper floor beams removed, revealing the top of the tower interior.
The most recently designed space, The Dungeon, features larger works of art. Most art found in The Castle has been donated or long-term loaned by patrons.

With such a title to bear, The Castle has inserted itself into the wider culture in several ways: as the inspiration for the 90’s SNL skit “Goth Talk”, the setting of a very ridiculous B-movie , and the home of the long-running internet radio show Communion After Dark (available on streaming platforms). It is the regular host of many major nightclub parties and events such as The Vampire Ball, The Taboo Masquerade and The Hallucination Before Christmas. It has been featured in countless travel shows at home and internationally.

If These Walls Could Talk
The true history of any place like this is less about the brick and mortar, but the people who have come through the doors over the years (and decades). Some of these eccentric faces have haunted The Castle so frequently that they become part of the characterization of the place itself. There’s “Peter Pan”, the pixie-dressed fellow who is never seen out of a leotard. “Phi-Phi”, the seven foot tall bob-haired harlequin doll (so sweet, a dear friend) who I have never EVER known to be absent from a dance night. “Lilith”, the devil-horned temptress who is often to be found being flogged against a St Andrew’s Cross (much to the delight, confusion and damnation of the menfolk). “Leonardo”, the handsome Satanic wizard, usually seen swaying to the heavy beats in a druggèd trance, casting who-knows-what spell over the crowd (Hey he sounds familiar!) Celebrities and important figures are also known to visit including Cedric the Entertainer and even Peter H. Gilmore, High Priest of the Church of Satan (I said this place attracts all types!). Yet no face was as well known as the One whose status rose to that of legend: The Senator.

The Senator (Michael Ricardi) reached Legend Status because of his unique appearance. After years of hearing about this man, I finally first spotted him by complete chance. As I turned around, there his fully erect penis was, staring me right in the face, followed by the rest of him. He was usually seen wearing lace negligees and other delicate boudoir elements, or sometimes he’d just be totally naked. Then, that first night, like a magic act, I turned around and he had disappeared without a trace. Sadly it seems The Senator has departed, though many younger lads have stepped forward and pulled their cocks out for the crowd, ready to claim the throne for themselves.

The Senator, circa 2017. It wasn’t until I wrote this article that I saw myself in this photo dressed as Papa Emeritus II, staring wide eyed at The Senator’s goods. (c) DrunkCameraGuy

“It’s pretty much about life, even though it looks like it’s about death. You should be able to look the way you want to look and live your life the way you want to live it. As long as you’re harming nobody else, you should be able to be the person you’re meant to be.” – Angel Crane (from a news interview in the 90’s). While its outward beauty has blessed the city for nearly 100 years, the true blessing of this place today is what a haven it has become for people like me. When the sun goes down, the night brings to The Castle a world of endless possibilities. Here, everyone is free to be themselves (and whatever form of themselves that may express). Here, everyone can become a beautiful creature of the night, no matter who they are in the day. 

Illustration by Rebekah Lazaridis

Phallic Satyrs, Psykter of Cerveteri, Century V BCE

490-500 BCE: This Attic red-figure psykter (wine cooling vessel) from the necropolis of Cerveteri depicts bearded satyrs in revelry. A satyr falls backwards and balances a cantharos (drinking cup) upon his erect penis. Other satyrs around him pour wine into the cantharos. Other figure groups in the artefact depict other acrobatic satyrs in various states of drunkenness.

It boggles my mind to think that this piece of pornographic pottery is as old as Buddhism.

In red-figure, as the artist would add series of drafts and outlines, certain features like fingers, noses and penises would become long and skinny

Currently located at the British Museum.

Papal Magic During Pestilence

This may be the last place you’d expect to find content like this, I’m sure. At the time of this writing, the world is currently stuck in the clutches of the awful Covid19 pandemic. Naturally my our energies are spent on more important things than writing on a niche website. But this particular bit of papal magic was not only extremely interesting, but also quite moving. More importantly, it is living history unfolding before our eyes.
Last week was the Pope’s semi-annual Urbi et Orbi declaration, where he traditionally pontificates on the state of the Church and the world, took place in an emptied St. Peter’s square. After his address, the small number of clergy present performed the rites of Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. Here, the pope took the ostensorium in his hands, and blessed the whole city of Rome, and perhaps the whole world, with the sacred host. As he did so, the basilica and the surrounding churches began to PEEL with thunderous resounding, while the sirens of the gendarmeria blared in salute. As soon as the pope had finished, the bells stopped and silence again fell over the empty square. It was like watching something from the end of the world.
Also present was a miraculous crucifix which was reported to cure the City during a plague in 1522. The pope reverenced this relic as it was also exposed to the open square, obviously in the hopes that the pandemic will soon end. We shall see what efficacious qualities this rite may bare.

Watch this moment of magic below:

Vandalism at Hermosillo Cathedral

It looks like the Catholic Church has pissed off one too many women in Mexico, where on March 9th, the local march for International Women’s Day reached an apparent frenzy of righteous feminine anger. Several masked protesters launched an attack against the exterior of the Cathedral of Hermosillo, covering it in ♀ symbols and other graffiti. They were unable to destroy the inside however, since the congregants inside barricaded the doors with heavy pews.
I think it’s just great that people are finally acting out after 2,000 years of Christian oppression. It makes me wonder what the French Revolution may have looked and sounded like. We are living in such interesting times! I’d love to see these kind of riots go down on say, Capitol Hill, the White House, or even the Vatican. Let’s tear down the old structures of power already, they are killing the planet.
Good job, ladies. And better luck next time, I say.

The Tooth Worm as Hell’s Demon

According to medical historian Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, tooth worms were a legitimate concern in dental medicine as far back as 5,000 BCE, where they were first mentioned in a Sumerian medical text. By the 8th century CE, the idea of worms causing tooth decay had reached Europe. As they describe it:

Treatment of tooth worms varied depending on the severity of the patient’s pain. Often, practitioners would try to ‘smoke’ the worm out by heating a mixture of beeswax and henbane seed on a piece of iron and directing the fumes into the cavity with a funnel. Afterwards, the hole was filled with powered henbane seed and gum mastic.  This may have provided temporary relief given the fact that henbane is a mild narcotic. Many times, though, the achy tooth had to be removed altogether. Some tooth-pullers mistook nerves for tooth worms, and extracted both the tooth and the nerve in what was certainly an extremely painful procedure in a period before anaesthetics. – Fitzharris

In this unattributed 18th century ivory carving which stands at 4″ tall, demons can be seen wrestling with the tooth worm amid swirling hellfire, next to figures beating and clubbing the souls of the damned in eternal pain. Anyone who has ever suffered an extended toothache can sympathize with the hellish torment depicted here.
Many medical spells for toothache can be found throughout history. One spell found in the Cambridge Book of Magic (1530’s), the cunning man is instructed to “write on bread or in an apple or in cheese: ‘Loy: Gloy: and Zedoloy’, and say an Our Father, Hail Mary and Creed.” In Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica (1900), there is listed a folk spell from Scotland where toothache sufferers would drink water from a magic well called Cuidh-airidh. A number of spells from Germany involved magically transferring the toothache somewhere else, especially with a coffin nail. The sufferer would ask a grave-differ for a coffin nail, poke it into his gums, then drive the nail into the ground a crossroads, or into a door, taking the toothache with it.
One time I myself had a terrible wisdom toothache (and no dental insurance!), so I ate a  single psilocybin mushroom, and then earnestly begged the spirit of the mushroom to heal me of the pain. For what it’s worth, the pain did go away until I had to have my wisdom teeth finally pulled. Experience has shown me that magic is never a proper substitute for good medicine. 

Leonardo & The Hermit

Alec Falle Hamilton recently shared this drawing which was inspired by the spirit(s) of the magic mushroom. “I asked the mushrooms how I could honor their spirit with a single drawing. Their answer came back immediately… ‘It’s all One line’. Here’s Leonardo Da Vinci and the Hermit, drawn without lifting my pen from the paper, made up entirely of mushrooms.”

credit: Alec Falle Hamilton, used with permission


This resonates so deeply with my own mushroom experiences, which often hurtle me back and forth between the past and future, with icons like Leonardo and other Renaissance figures giving my inspiration through their work. Leonardo has always represented to me the greatest mind humanity has ever offered: one whose inquisitive nature lead him to define new art forms, mechanisms and ideas that were centuries ahead of his time.
The Hermit is of equal importance in his quest for interior silence. Becoming a spiritually minded person often means separating oneself from society in order to deepen the relationship of the individual with nature and his own self.
These are all values upheld by the mushroom spirit.

See more of Hamilton’s art at their website and Instagram

Matthew Hopkins & the Essex Witch Craze

While the Inquisition had been prosecuting and executing witches for centuries, the witch craze never really took off in England until the reign of James I. If anything, magic had an everyday place in English lives during the Tudor dynasty. This is not to say that witchcraft (then differentiated from magic) was free from scrutiny. But from the court-sanctioned experimentations of Dr. John Dee and other Christological magicians, the coastal witches who warded off the Spanish Armada with the help of Sir Francis Drake, to the rustic cures and spells offered by the cunning men and women, as well as the fantasy magical elements featured in popular culture such as Marlowe’s Faustus or Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream or The Tempest—magic was everywhere!

John Dee & Edward Kelley employing a magic circle to invoke a spirit. The Astrologer of the 19th Century, 1825

During the height of witch persecution on the Continent, there were no large-scale witch trials in England for a number of reasons. The ecclesial separation from other areas of Christian Europe meant that the English church had its own priorities, e.g. the persecution and removal of the treacherous papists! There was also a lack of any desire from authorities to conduct a witch hunt in the first place. The final decline of witch trials came at the latter half of the 17th century as a result of the rise of new scientific thought and the works of natural philosophers like Isaac Newton who were now able to explain the universe in mechanical ways, causing a decline in the belief in the possibility of magic to influence the world.
In English witchcraft trials, it is odd to see any reference to making a pact with the Devil. There are no witches’ sabbats, no sex with devils, nor did English witches fly. They did however have imps and familiars. Ursula Kemp was alleged to have four familiars: two cats, a toad called Piggen, and a lamb named Tiffin. Witches were usually only condemned for maleficium. These trials were rarely issued from above. English court records feature a lot of individual prosecutions from below by the alleged victims of witchcraft seeking redress in the courts. Trials against witchcraft were generally few and far between, except in the counties surrounding London.

Woodcut of witches flying. Mather’s Wonders of the Invisible World, 1689

Cases of witchcraft were coming predominantly from Essex. During the reign of Elizabeth I, for example, Hertfordshire only produced 24 cases, Sussex only 14, yet Essex produced 172 cases! Between 1560 and 1580, 270 individuals were prosecuted for witchcraft in Essex alone. Most of these trials took place in the last quarter of the 16th century, and became very rare everywhere after 1620. This decline can be explained by the fact that by the 1580’s judges were becoming very worried about the difficulties of proving witchcraft. This doesn’t mean necessarily that they were skeptical—many likely still believed that witchcraft was possible. But how could you prove witchcraft unless they confessed? In English law, torture was not used except in state trials when authorized by the Privy Council. It was routinely used in Scotland and the Continent. How could prosecutors root out natural causes of these alleged injuries? And if it were actually witchcraft, who did it? In cases of witchcraft, the normal rules of evidence could not apply.

Elizabeth I, after the Darnley pattern, c. 1585

With an increasing level of methodical jurisprudence, why they was there also a rise in the concerns against witchcraft in the 17th century? The dominant explanations offered by Thomas[1] and Macfarlane[2] show that witches were frequently elderly women who were accused of bewitching neighbors, not strangers, and who were often poorer than their victims. This suggests that accusations were rising as a result of tensions between poorer women and their competitive neighbors. While it is possible that some of those accused did practice magic and believe they had the power to harm, or that they responded to these accusations by playing the part of the witch given to them by reputation, there must have been some incident serious enough to start an honest investigation into witchcraft. In Essex, there was an average of four witnesses per accused witch. Witchcraft accusations could arise as a result of personal rivalries in local politics, used to discredit others and so on.
Thomas suggests that this peak period of witchcraft anxiety came with the rising concern in the loss of belief in the power of ecclesial protection and counter-magic, and secondly because that period was one of unusual tensions within village societies. Economic distress caused a declining position for the poor and widows. Poor Laws had not yet been put into effect for this population. The decline in charity among neighbors meant that accusing one of witchcraft could become a means to severing responsibility for the poor, and transferring this guilt to an accused witch.
Why were the Witchcraft Acts passed in the first place, and why did so many cases arise in Essex? Why were other counties similar to Essex not so affected? It’s worth considering that these laws were passed when they were for two reasons. Both were passed at the beginning of two monarchical regimes (Elizabeth I, then James I). This suggests that elements of symbolism or propaganda were being set up to confirm the legitimacy and uprightness of the monarch, who would be seen opposing certain subversive (yet harmless) acts. Another element was the perceived threats against the monarch. In 1561, two years before the 1563 act passed, a plot was discovered where sorcery was being used against Elizabeth. William Cecil discovered then that there were no acts preventing these crimes. The 1604 Act followed the succession of James I to the throne. He was a man with profound interest in witchcraft, having written his treatise Daemonologie after a group of witches were uncovered attempting to kill him in a shipwreck. The witchcraft acts of England and Scotland were then overhauled and combined.

James I & VI of England & Scotland, after John de Critz, 1606

As a result of these acts, the political and ecclesiastical elite had a bigger role in managing cases of witchcraft. It is possible then that Essex was peculiarly conscious of threats of witchcraft. The use of criminal law against witches had terrible publicity there. Three group trials took place in 1566, 1582 and 1589. In each case, an initial accusation was vigorously pursued by justices who had a particular concern against witchcraft. These trials were then publicized in pamphlets, which may have had the effect of heightening the sense of threat people felt, or even a moral panic. This paved the way then in 1644 for Matthew Hopkins, the self-appointed Witchfinder General.

Woodcut of Matthew Hopkins from his book, The Discovery of Witches…, 1647

Between 1644 and 1647, Matthew Hopkins traveled throughout East Anglia and hired himself out as a consultant for the discovery of witches. He came to have gained his experience by accidentally encountering a meeting of witches in Manningtree, Essex. The witches met and offered sacrifices to the Devil, and gave commands to their familiars to do harm. English prosecutions until then had been sporadic, except in Anglia where they then came in great waves. With the Witchcraft Acts of Elizabeth and James now making witchcraft a felony, Hopkins was free to pursue witches as state criminals and so use extreme acts to gain his confessions. Though torture was still illegal, one method he employed was in keeping the accused witch awake for days at a time until they would confess[3]. Another means of torture which he employed was the infamous trial by dunking in water. The aim of Hopkins was not to prove a witch guilty of committing maleficium, rather of having consorted with Satan, and thus being a heretic. During this time, Hopkins is suspected of executing 300 alleged witches, or 60% of all cases in a period of 300 years of English history. His 1647 account of witch-finding, The Discovery of Witches would later influence the witch craze in New England, including the madness that was the Salem witch hysteria of 1692-1693.

Ducking stool. 18th century drawing reproduced in Chap-books of the 18th Century by John Ashton, 1834

[1] Thomas, K. (1971). Religion and the decline of magic: Studies in popular beliefs in sixteenth-century England.
[2] Macfarlane, A. (1970). Witchcraft in Tudor and Stuart England: A regional and comparative study.
[3] Hopkins, M. (1647). The discovery of witches: in answer to severall queries, lately delivered to the judges of assize for the county of Norfolk. And now published by Matthew Hopkins Witch-finder, for the benefit of the whole kingdome.

Comet Observations – The Augsburger Book of Miracles, 1552

The Augsburger Wunderzeichenbuch (1552 ?) was a compendium of famous meteorological and astronomical phenomena  as well as selected illustrations from the Bible. The more interesting part here is that the writer associates the various comet appearances with specific disasters (disaster literally meaning an ill-starred event) in world history. In this work, the author does not make the distinction between comets and meteors which we do today. The segment on miraculous signs appears between the Old and New Testament portions and depicts several freak weather incidents and celestial apparitions from antiquity up to the year 1552.

“In 1401 A.D., a big comet with a tail… appeared in the sky in Germany. That was followed by a great, terrible plague in Swabia.”

The great comet of 1456 was actually excommunicated by Pope Callixtus III. Today we know this as Halley’s Comet. I’m not entirely sure what the smaller object is but it cannot be a comet since comet tails always face away from the sun. This must be a shooting star.

“In 1007 a wondrous comet appeared. It gave off fire and flames in every direction. It was seen in Germany and Welschland and it fell onto the earth.” This was then not a true comet but an impressive meteor.

“In 1546, in the month of August, the fire from the sky struck a tower in which were more than four hundred tons of powder, in Mechel in Niederland. And exactly half of the city burned down, which is also a special sign from God.”

The comet of 1300/1, most likely Halley’s comet again.

 

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