The school had no name because no one who wasn't already familiar with it ever needed to refer to it, and those of us already aware of the school always just called it "the school." It was accredited--or, at least the undergraduate program was--and it did have a name for legal purposes. My degree says something at the top, where names usually go. But to be honest, the top of my degree was the first, and the last, place I ever saw that name. How did I not ever ask for a name of my school? Well, when you become a student of the school, you get very good at asking the important questions, and that wasn't one of them.
The school is gone now, I'll spare you that suspense. Knowing it no longer exists will help explain how I can share certain confidences with you now. Why it is important that I do so, and why it is me doing the writing, I will leave till later. I will call myself Daniel. I have changed some details, as you would probably have guessed anyway, but all the important things I am about to tell you are true.
So, enough with this quasi-mystic shit, shall we?
I joined the school in February of 2000, the New Year and the shame of having flunked out of my freshman year of college both still fresh in my mind. I never thought I would fail college; I'd always been bright, gotten good grades, but somehow when I got to college I couldn't apply myself. It didn't feel like what I was supposed to be doing, which in retrospect sounds bravely intuitive, but at the time it felt like my life was being hijacked by...I couldn't explain it. I hadn't explained it, not to my parents, anyway, and so I was driving around in the mountains one day at the end of January pretending to get ready for the next semester, with no idea whatever of what I was going to do.
I passed a long driveway with a small, blue sign I did not have time to read, and curiosity tugged me. I passed a second driveway and sign, evidently a second entrance to whatever it was, muttered "screw it," and turned my car around and drove up the drive. I didn't read the sign. I found out later the signs belonged to a defunct boarding school and had never been changed.
The campus I drove on to had several buildings of various styles, but one had a grander entrance, so I went there, guessing it was the office. The grounds looked very vaguely collegiate, and I saw several groups of people walking through the snow. Mostly, they looked to be about my age, some older, both men and women. Oddly, many of them wore hooded, black capes. The Harry Potter books were just coming out then, and I'd read a few, and these people looked to me very much like I'd imagined Hogwarts students to look in their robes, except that everybody seemed to be an adult. I don't remember trying to explain any of this to myself as I drove, I only noted it and felt curiosity about it, but Harry Potter was vaguely on my mind as I pulled up under the car port and hurried up the winter-sandy slate steps through the front door.
Inside, I found a normal-looking, if possibly slightly frumpy, office or reception room. A large desk faced the door, and a woman, clearly a receptionist, sat behind the desk, looking at me. She was slim and kind of ageless-looking, like you'd want to call her ma'am, like you'd tend not to introduce her as "this girl I know," but pretty, definitely. Her hair was dark, long, and curly, and for some reason I remember that the top she was wearing that day was electric blue. When she asked can I help you? I simply opened my mouth and said the first thing that came to my head;
"What is this place? Some kind of pagan seminary?" I'm not usually that abrupt with strangers, but her eyes twinkled and she smiled at me.
"That's exactly what it is," she told me. I was stunned. What did "pagan seminary" even mean? I was loosely familiar with the Neopagan movement at the time, as I'd had some Wiccan friends in high school. But mostly my experience with magic was through fantasy books. At the time, I knew the name of Ursula K. LeGuin, but not Dion Fortune. But I'd said this thing and I didn't know why, and somehow I was right.
"A college?" I asked. She confirmed that. An accredited undergraduate program in liberal arts that was also a...pagan seminary. I was intrigued.
"How do I apply?" I asked, on a whim. Instead of answering me directly, the woman in blue aske if I wanted to attend the school. I said I did, which was quite suddenly true, although if I'd had more time to think about what I was saying, I would have asked for more information first. I generally do things on a whim, but I generally research what my whims want pretty well before giving them the green light. But I did want to go. I wanted to not have to tell my parents that I'd failed and didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be able to give them a plan B. And I wanted to belong to this strange place where people wore Harry Potter robes to class. I felt the whim.
The woman smiled, and said I'd just been accepted.
It turned out that the single entrance requirement was that prospective students find the school. No one who was a part of the school would ever tell anyone else anything about it except in answer to a direct question. There was no advertizing budget; there was a secrecy campaign. Only students with enough magical skill to find the school and decide to go there despite the secrecy could be accepted for enrollment. In its thirty-plus years of existence, I suspect that thousands of people moved through the school community, in one capacity or another. All of them kept, and continue to keep, that vow of conditional silence; answer only direct questions, tell only what the other on some level already knows. They kept the secret to protect the application process, and for the simple, campy thrill of having a secret. They keep the secret still as one might bank a bed of coals against a winter's chill.
Only I have been asked to tell.