So, Sharon--that was the name of the receptionist--told me I'd been accepted to the school, this "pagan seminary" less than ten minutes after I'd walked into her office and asked about the place. The only entrance requirement was that you had to ask for admission, no easy thing since the school was a secret. I'd asked to enroll on a whim, expecting there would be some long, drawn out process during which time I could find out what I'd gotten into and whether I really wanted to be in it. But, within ten minutes Sharon was handing me an information packet like it was the most normal thing in the world, and telling me to show up for enrollment and orientation tomorrow. The school year--not just the semester--began on February 1st. I started to sputter.
"Tomorrow? I can't enroll tomorrow, I have things to do!"
Sharon asked me what things, and I couldn't think of anything. My whole life was already organized around starting school in early February, this would just be a different school and a few days earlier. I ceded that point, but explained that I really needed to know more before committing--like how much tuition was and so forth. Sharon smiled and told me to sit on the couch over there and read the handouts and if I had any questions to ask her. I did, and we talked, off and on, for a few hours. A few other people came and went, mostly people wearing black or brown robes, but a few were evidently outsiders like me. Three of us were sitting on the couch reading handouts before the end of the day.
I won't bore you by repeating all the things I learned of the school that day--most of it you'll pick up with the story before too long. The material covered housing (strictly on campus for the first year), curriculum, educational philosophy, and financial structure, as well as the school history and maps of the campus as a whole and each of the buildings. I was interested to learn that most labor on campus was done by students in place of tuition, and that the campus was also a working farm. I found out enough that day that my enrollment a day later counts as definitely odd and precipitous, but not actually insane. You're probably wondering how I could afford to enroll in a new school without asking my parents. No, I wasn't rich, though I had some money saved up. In brief, the school accepted no outside financial aid or loans, and instead allowed some students to pay the bulk of their tuition in labor. I paid the remaining fees in cash from my savings for several weeks, and then, once I really trusted the school, I donated my car, which they sold for me. It was a second-hand car in excellent condition, and they got an excellent price for it. That car covered the fees I could not work off until I graduated, and when I wanted to go somewhere I would borrow a bicycle or one of the campus cars.
So I went back to my friend's place that night--I'd been staying with a friend over break to make it easier to avoid telling my parents I was going to flunk--and I called my folks and made arrangements. The following day, February 1st, I returned to campus with my bags packed. There were maybe fifteen of us in the incoming class (I never counted). Sharon told us to stash our bags in a side office, since we hadn't been assigned dorms yet, and gave us our uniforms. When I say "uniform," don't picture blue blazers or plaid skirts. They looked more like martial arts uniforms than anything else. There were white, drawstring trousers and white pullover tunics with ties to tighten at the neck opening and a white cloth belt around the waist. Men and women dressed alike, except that our tunics were cut straight from the shoulder, being rectangular in outline, while the women's tunics flared slightly to the waist. We each got two winter-weight outfits, and two summer-weight, plus two floor-length hooded black wool capes. One to wear, one to wash. We were to wear uniforms to all scheduled school events unless we were told otherwise. Faculty and staff, except for Sharon, wore the same outfits except in brown. Then each of us was sent off with a "buddy" to tour the campus and get ready for the school assembly, when we would officially be enrolled.
I think I was walking around in a daze. I don't remember much that I saw or learned that day--I had to re-learn everything later--but I had a good time hanging out with my buddy, and I ended up at the assembly on time.
The clothes might sound kind of hokey, and there was certainly as aspect of the uniforms that was pure camp. The school was not strictly Neopagan ("Earth-centered" might be a better term for it than pagan, for there were community members who were areligious, Buddhist, or even Christian or Jewish), but like much that is Neopagan, there was always an element of play within the genuine rigor. It was as though in addition to really being a seminary for magic, the school was also pretending to be a seminary for magic, simply for the fun of it. The uniforms were the necessary costumes for the game. But when I put on my uniform for the first time (over long johns, given the weather) I felt different. I felt exotic, set-apart, new. I felt like I'd come home.