Learning spells and laundry tricks

Basic course in magic and Wicca focuses on lore, but general life skills are also part of Pagan primer

Canada.com/October 25, 2003
By Harvey Shepherd

The Level I course at T. Scarlet Jory's school of magic and Wicca will teach you things like magic and its laws and ethics, how to adorn altars, who the gods and goddesses are, elementary first aid and how to sort your laundry.

First aid? Laundry?

That's right. Scarlet thinks people involved in magic (or magick, as Pagans often spell it) need to be centred and grounded. Particularly young people who want to rush into casting spells.

"If you can't live your own life, how can you help somebody else?" asks Theresa Jory, as she is also known. So the 18-week Level 1 course at the Crescent Moon School of Magic and Wicca, which she founded in 1995, places as much emphasis on basic life skills, and on techniques like creative expression and relaxation, as on more exotic lore.

Scarlet, 31, has studied magic and Wicca since she was 14. She told me the course, which attracts about 10 students each fall and spring, is "a lot like school."

That's impressive, considering some of the students are carrying full course loads in universities or CEGEPs.

Does this remind you of Hogwarts, the school where J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter learns the magical arts? Scarlet acknowledges the Potter phenomenon and other "Hollywood hype" are among reasons magic and Paganism have been enjoying "exponential growth." The women's and environmental movements also contribute to its growth, because they share similar values.

(One indication: 21,080 Canadians identified themselves as Pagan or Wiccan in the 2001 census, about 0.1 per cent of the population but up 281 per cent from 1991. The Quebec total of 1,330 was up 533 per cent.)

The emphasis on discipline and structure reflects what Scarlet sees as a recent trend in Paganism, which in its present form stems largely from the writings of the Englishman Gerald Brosseau Gardner (1884 -1964).

True, the roots of modern, capital-P Paganism - more precisely, neo-Paganism - go back to the dawn of history and earlier. But no one really knows what ancient witches and other pagans did. (Wicca is one of several neo-Pagan branches, or "practices.") Today's Pagans seek to re-create ancient traditions for today's world.

"In the last couple of years, there has been a huge push toward community service and interconnection," she said.

Scarlet was a founder of the Concordia University Pagan Society in 1994 and the Montreal Pagan Resource Centre in 2001. She isn't a full member of the small French-language group called the Église Wiccanne du Québec that got a government charter this fall, but considers that event another milestone.

Pagan groups in Montreal get a lot of support from Le Mélange Magique, a store at 1928 Ste. Catherine St. W., which specializes in Pagan books, ritual objects and so on. Among other things, it provides the meeting space of the Resource Centre and the Crescent Moon School.

Scarlet said she's a Wiccan of the Black Forest Tradition, based in Harrisburg, Pa., which specializes in training people to serve their local Pagan communities as "clergy." (The tradition is Celtic in inspiration and has no particular connection with the Black Forest in Germany).

Scarlet, who has a bachelor's degree in classics and anthropology from Concordia, is now working on a religion degree. To fulfill one requirement, she is studying issues of legal recognition facing neo-Pagans.

These days, she and other Pagans are in a busy round of activities for the annual festival of Samhain, which more or less corresponds in timing and significance to Halloween. Among public events for the occasion are two Samhain fairs, one from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday, organized by the Concordia University Pagan Society at the university's Hall Building, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W., and the other from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1, organized by the Resource Centre in its quarters off Le Mélange Magique.

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