Monday, 24 August 2009

Trouble at Hogwarts

Yet another casualty of the recession, I hear, is a school of witchcraft and wizardry opened amid high hopes a mere 18 months ago. Founded by Isaac Bonewits, druid, "polytheologian" and, according to a press release, "the only person to ever earn an accredited degree in magic", the school was intended to do for spell-casters what statutory regulation did for the image of chiropractors until they ran up against Simon Singh.

Bonewits' degree, in "magic and thaumaturgy", was awarded by a proper university - Berkeley, no less - in 1970, when such eccentricity might well have seemed to be at the cutting edge of modern research.

Last February, Bonewits and his wife Phaedra decided to open "a [sic] online Academy called Real Magic School with the purpose of teaching magic in it's [sic] various forms and gaining accreditation for it's [sic] future degrees. (Bonewits might have a degree in spells and potions, but it looks like he could do with one in spelling.) He was keen to reassure applicants that he was "not Dumbledore", and his academy was "not Hogwarts". On the contrary,


Real Magic School is definitely real world and has a truly academic and educational philosophy unmatched in today's world. Isaac Bonewits is a serious teacher, along with Phaedra, with lifelong experience, and is one of the most respected voices in the Pagan world today calling for academic truth and excellence in the study of magic and thaumaturgy, history, and Paganism.



Perhaps the Real Magic School would have been more successful if it had been modelled more closely on J.K. Rowling's fictional boarding school. Announcing the folding of their venture (you'd think they'd have seen it coming), the Bonewitses tell their students that two other respected online institutions, the Grey School of Wizardry and the Witch School International, are prepared to take accept those whose courses have been unexpectedly truncated. "We highly recommend both schools" they add. Leading pagan blog Wild Hunt, however, notes that the Grey School, led by one Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (where do they get these names?) has "a somewhat different m.o. ...with its Harry Potter-isms and courses that equip someone to become a Journeyman Wizard".

As for the Witch School, with which Bonewits' academy was affiliated from the start, this is a somewhat controversial institution noted for its agressive recruitment drives. Among its graduates we find "Pope Princess Bedwetter Fluffernutter (Rev. Mikki Barry), Mistress of the Garden Gnomes of Festering Goo, head of the Shrine of the Sacred Chao (formerly the Shrine of the Flaming Asscroft)". But then Aleister Crowley was a Cambridge man, so I suppose you can't hold universities entirely responsible for the behaviour of their alumni.

It seems that Mr Bonewits had high hopes that his "truly academic" approach would be rewarded with respect from more firmly established disciplines - that one day, even, well-known universities would offer degrees in the theory and practice of witchcraft. Some proper colleges offer courses in things like homeopathy, after all, which no more or less valid a subject. Indeed, our own wellbeloved NHS still bankrolls some of the shaken water dispensers. One assumes that witches' brews do at least contain the promised ingredients. Nor is it clear to me how witchcraft is a less valid discipline than, say, media studies. Or even theology, which also presupposes the existence of invisible and mysterious forces active in the world.