I recently came across this stunning ‘House of Hades’ tile nestled in the middle of Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village. Aha! A Toynbee tile, I thought.
But not quite a Toynbee... same style but different content.
Many decades ago, a strange phenomenon cropped up across some major cities - ‘Toynbee Tiles’. These cryptic messages appeared suddenly and anonymously in the middle of major city roads. The message: typically: “TOYNBEE IDEA MOViE 2001 RESURRECT DEAD PLANET JUPiTER”.
No one ever took credit for the tiles, so the mystery persists to this day. And it’s kept the door open for similar style tiles, which have been sighted around cities since the 80s through to today. A documentary film about the Tiles screened at Sundance in 2011, so the have definitely had their share of fame.
At some point, a new batch of Toynbee-like Tiles has appeared referencing the ‘House of Hades’, and more referencing Black Lives Matter. With BLM – that message is clear. But what about House of Hades? Some HoH tiles had an anti-media message and a 'one-man-against-the-machine' idea. Very different than the weird, far-out ideas of Jupiter and Space Odyssey necromancy of the originals. Other House of Hades tiles are more devilish with shadow men and devils, or more abstract/ geometric with little to no stated message.
Consider that the idea of mystery, puzzles, and exploration may well have been a component behind the original Toynbee tiles, and so anyone making something like a Toynbee tile now might be tapping into that same kind of artistic energy.
The pic here that I recently took is of a new-ish House of Hades tile - haven't noticed it before but I see it on google maps from probably the before-times as people are in t-shirts and hanging out inside restaurants. Yet I’ve been passing that corner on Bleeker somewhat regularly since January 2021 and just noted it this month.
As a magician working with Place, I am drawn to these tiles – not so much about who put them there or why, but at their effect. From an artistic standpoint, it's about what I see in them and what I get from them - they're mystifying, and cause wonder. From a socio-political standpoint they do act as a disruption or awakening mechanism. I can see them working as a culture jamming strategy to call out the media (the angry House of Hades) or support an important cause (BLM tiles).
From a magical standpoint I'm interested in how it shifts the perception of the area. What kind of Beacon has been set - and what can I do with it? The 'House of Hades' name and the abstract imagery is alluring and intriguing to me. The HoH tile on Bleeker made an already special area more special. Now for some, the concept ‘House of Hades’ might sound horrible, depressing, bleak, or otherwise negative. For me: the Devil, Hades, and shadowy figures all convey something dark and mysterious… devilish fun.. a mischievous debauchery.
So now the area has a cast of a new vibe for me. Perhaps it'll be a good kick-off point for a night out, or the place I unleash a hex sigil, or maybe a lust charm. Perhaps it'll make a good Portal to the city's shadow side, home to the more cosmic secrets of urban magic and the strange pathways it runs upon. Or a place to hex the stranglehold of popular Media and break open my own pathways to communicate with the World. Perhaps it's the place to invoke Dr. Strange ('177a Bleeker' is across the way)... or of course, it could be the veritable Gates of Hell, or a doorway to the Underworld to commune with the dead, or Hades himself.
Thanks Toynbee tile-person! I will keep an eye out for more. Vive le House of Hades!
More: Reddit thread on House of Hades And if you like these you might like the Space Invader art