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Programmed for positive thinking

Christos Sfikouris

With a stage name that honours the mafia, one local mentalist and magician performs a range of tricks but put it all down to good energy. THEO PANAYIDES meets a man with a strong belief in himself


I thought we were going to talk about tricks. The owner of the Kallithea Cinema in Larnaca, where Christos Sfikouris aka ‘The Godfather’ did a show a couple of weeks ago, raved on the phone about his tricks – like the one where he hypnotised a volunteer into not being able to say the number ‘four’, so the poor guy couldn’t even count his own fingers (‘One, two, three… five, six!’), or the one where a heavy block was smashed against Christos’ not-very-muscular body. I went backstage after the show, added the man on the phone, and slipped into The Godfather’s dressing room to see if the block was fake, maybe foam or balsa – but no. It was real.

He’s done other such tricks – or “effects”, or “numbers”, as he calls them. The leaflet for his upcoming show in Ayia Napa on November 11 makes some bold promises: “I will levitate objects. I will make them disappear. I will escape. I will hypnotise. I will read your mind”. He’s escaped from a straitjacket, in Larnaca during Kataklysmos some years ago – but that’s not all, he escaped while hanging from a rope attached to a crane, high above the ground, and not only was he hanging from the rope but the rope was on fire! (Any delay would’ve seen the rope snap, and Christos plunge to his death.) He can walk on broken glass. He tells the future. He cuts people in half. His first solo show, in New York when he was 20 (he’s now 38), involved making objects appear – drinks, candles, walking canes – having them multiply, then vanish. “Now I’m preparing something new,” he explains, “which I wouldn’t like to say specifically what it is – but, just to give you a hint, if something goes wrong I could lose both my arms.”

I thought we were going to talk about tricks – but in fact we mostly go in a different, more philosophical direction. Not that I ever assumed he’d divulge how the tricks are accomplished. I haven’t met too many magicians – let alone mentalists – but I’ve met enough to know, or suspect, the following: (a) they’re usually control freaks (it comes with the territory), and (b) they instantly turn vague and waffly when you ask how they do what they do. “It’s down to the ability of these 10 fingers,” says Christos, spreading out his hands, when I ask about that youthful show in New York. As for being a control freak – well, he does change our venue three times, finally settling on the Asterias Beach Hotel as I’m literally driving down the highway to Ayia Napa.

Then again, maybe he’s just a perfectionist. Every aspect of his shows – not just the magic but sets, costumes, music – is designed to his specifications, he tells me, and a number can take three months to a year of intense preparation before it’s ready to perform. (He means the big show-piece numbers, not little things like levitations and cutting people in half.) He certainly looks intense – especially the eyes which are narrow, brown, and burn like embers. The hair is long and jet-black, the face lean and angular; his ears stick out, his nose is long and sharp. He talks a lot, with the fluency of patter. When I ask about his stage name, he replies that ‘The Godfather’ comes, at least partly, from the film and “it shows prestige, strength, authority, quality, uniqueness” he adds, rattling off the five nouns like a company slogan. He believes in branding, and calls himself a businessman as well as an artist. Back in the day, he studied Computer Science in the US – but also stayed up late watching hours of telemarketing, learning how to market a product.

Talking of the States is how we get sidetracked from talking about tricks – because New York was where it started, when 20-year-old Christos happened to stumble into a magic shop in Manhattan and the clerk, seeing his enthusiasm, handed him a flyer for an upcoming magicians’ convention where, in turn, he met Kamarr the Magician, a Greek-born legend who became his mentor. That’s not all, however. Just before all this, spurred on by his beloved telemarketing, he’d bought a pack of VHS tapes on how to teach yourself magic – then, having learned a few tricks, printed out business cards declaring himself a magician. “As soon as I made it clear in my mind that this was it,” he concludes, “things started to unfold in front of me”. It was almost like the universe was responding to his desire – the so-called ‘law of attraction’, where positive thoughts breed positive results. You can’t wish for things, he points out; you have to behave like you already have them – like he already was a magician, not like he wanted to be one. Then the world will be moved by that energy.

Does he believe in human energy?

“Everything is energy, not just humans. Nature as a whole, birds, trees, planets, the so-called beings, spirits, anything – it’s an energy. It’s a vibration, each of us has their own vibration”. The colour red has a vibration, he adds by way of example; so does anger, so indeed does sickness. “People who are sick have a vibration inside them thprofile2at’s bothering them, and their organs start to malfunction and so on. And that’s where the healing part comes in, where we send a positive vibration to neutralise the negative.”

The healing part? I’m suddenly reminded of something else, that Christos’ accounts of his magic tricks mostly have to be taken on trust. Searching on YouTube doesn’t bring up many clips from his shows (he’s purposely taken them down, he explains, since he’s currently planning a website; it’s part of his “branding”). All you find are clips from The Next Uri Geller, a Greek TV show from 2009 – and, more surprisingly, “seminars” on Sigma and CyBC where Christos appears, not to make things disappear or cut people in half, but to talk soberly about changing your life and getting rid of your stress. He’s not a professional healer, he says firmly – but he has found another vocation in the past few years, not just a conjuror doing tricks, not just a mentalist, not just a hypnotist and trained hypnotherapist, but a believer in “energy therapy” and the body’s ability to self-heal. “The world is energy. Everything is energy. Everything can be solved through energy”. Keep your aura clean, he advises – the so-called “etheric body” – and the physical body will follow.

We’ve all heard such talk before, of course – and whether you embrace it, or dismiss it as New Age babble, will always be a matter of taste. But it makes a difference when Christos Sfikouris uses it to explain many of his otherwise inexplicable feats, insisting for instance that “spiritual strength” – rather than any magic trick – is how he can walk on broken glass or withstand blows from a wooden block. One might also point to hypnosis, which is partly the domination of one energy by another, stronger one (albeit with the caveat that no-one can be hypnotised unless, on some level, they want to be). A typical aura has a radius of 1.5 to three metres, he tells me, but a trained practitioner – like himself, presumably – can bump theirs up to 12-20 metres. That’s a lot of energy.

Many will be sceptical, of course; people always tend to prefer mechanical explanations. On a clip from The Next Uri Geller, Christos does a small trick where he holds a lit cigarette between finger and thumb – and, this being YouTube, the mocking comments aren’t long in coming. “You can clearly see the water [on his finger],” scoffs one, putting it down to simple trickery. Christos won’t say if they’re right, only replying serenely that he uses all kinds of methods (“both the technical part and the spiritual part”); still, even if they’re ‘tricks’, his techniques are impressive. The Next Uri Geller, after all, was also the show where – so he tells me – he was asked to do an impromptu number as part of his audition, and quickly replied: “‘OK, bring someone here for me to hypnotise’. So they brought me this young guy who was part of the crew, and in just a few seconds I made him say that his name was ‘Maria’.” He can make a subject under hypnosis believe that he, Christos, is Michael Jackson, he says, and have them beg for an autograph. “You can make them see the whole audience dressed as clowns. Or you can even make them see the whole audience… well, I’ll just leave that blank,” he chuckles coyly.

It sounds amazing, and perhaps a little dangerous – but in fact, points out Christos, hypnosis isn’t really so bizarre. All of us are hypnotised every single day, by our parents, the culture, the media. “Above all, what you believe yourself to be is a form of hypnosis”. One little boy might do badly in school, he says (Christos himself was a mediocre student, apart from Maths and RI), another may be handsome and popular – and inevitably, through the usual insidious self-brainwashing, the first kid starts to think of himself as a failure, subconsciously making the kind of choices which reinforce that belief, while the second believes he’s a success. The word Christos uses is “programming” – and he himself has been programmed for positive thinking, both by his study of human energy and the law of attraction and, before that, by his early environment.

His real-life godfather was apparently a big childhood influence; that stage name isn’t only a tribute to Don Corleone. So was his God-fearing granny and so, above all, was his mother. (His dad, who owns an electronics business, was always too busy, though Christos seems well-disposed to him as well.) “The great love I received [as a child] and the great faith in me, mostly from my mother, was what made me believe I could have anything I wanted,” he recalls. “And the great love I feel now – that I’m loved by everything, and I love everything – gives me a great positivity”.

There’s something quite pure in Christos’ energy, an artless belief in himself. If he’s a hustler, he’s a likeable one. He says that he makes friends easily, and that strangers – sensing his positive vibe – will often tell him secrets they’d be embarrassed to tell their best friends. When he first went to New York, as a terminally naïve teenager, he’d meet people in the street and invite them home for dinner, believing that the whole world was good. He’s often felt, he tells me, “that I’m here, with Jesus Christ as an example, to give the world what I have that’s positive, so we can all move forward together”. Asked to recall a crisis he’s faced in his life, he cites a romantic heartbreak he had in his teens – and it doesn’t sound like much, but his eyes burn as he affirms that “it affected me very much”. (He’s currently “in a long-term relationship”, but doesn’t give more details.) It sounds like the profile of a man who gives of himself easily, fully expects to be loved back, and is sometimes deeply hurt when he isn’t.

How does all this fit with magic? Hard to say – though of course self-belief is crucial if your job is to fool (or astonish) an audience, and of course a kind of all-in naivety is useful for the law of attraction, which depends on telling oneself a lie and believing it implicitly. Christos’ focus is intense, and must be exhausting (he actually ‘retired’ a few years ago, taking an extended sabbatical and just enjoying life for a couple of years). He’s spent years on the circuit in Cyprus, starting (inevitably) with children’s parties after coming back from the US; the work takes up most of his life, his only occasional hobby being cooking – and the work is very much a one-man show, albeit with a team of collaborators. His current project, he says (which he hopes to present at the World Championships of Magic in a couple of years), is an act that combines magic and theatre, with many different characters all played by Christos who’ll quick-change from one to another – the ultimate in boundless self-belief.

Christos Sfikouris could come across as arrogant: he’s hyper-confident, he’s a bit of a control freak, he might be a charlatan, he’s even named himself after a Mafia don. Yet in fact he seems thoughtful and sometimes inspiring, an unusual person and perhaps a superior one. A philosopher once said that truth is a mirror that fell from God’s hands and shattered on the earth, he tells me, and everyone who finds a piece of the mirror thinks he knows the truth – so what’s his own version, his own little shard of the mirror?

“I think that we’re here to enjoy what we really are,” he replies without hesitation. “We’re a beautiful energy, and right now we’re in the form of human energy. And why are we human? To have senses – and to enjoy, through those senses, all the love that God has to give us”. Energy, sensuality – and perhaps a few tricks as well. It’s a kind of magic.

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