To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Settling in

I was going to jump into my story here, writing as if I were posting about events happening now, but I've decided I need one more post to get everybody up to speed. After all, by the middle of March I'd had a month and a half to get used to the place and learn my way around. You've only had three blog posts!

So, to set the scene a little more, the school was, indeed, a non-denominational Earth-centered seminary. The seminary part came in with the basic assumption that we were being prepared to be of service, though exactly what form that service would take was up to us. Technically, it was a liberal arts degree, though the degree requirements didn't look much like any other school I've ever head of. You had to achieve at least a basic familiarity with a half dozen or so subjects, ranging from physics to history, and you had to achieve at least basic competence in some form of each of six "areas of mastery;" healing, spiritual development, magic, art, athletics, and practical craft. For example, healing could be anything from certification as a paramedic to the first Reiki initiation.

Yes, the school treated magic as real. No, I never saw anyone tap a wand and make something levitate, a la Harry Potter. The whole time I was there, I never once saw something happen that would be generally considered impossible or scientifically unexplainable. I often saw things happen that was easy to think they might be magical, in the way most people think of the term. For example, people at the school were often bizarrely lucky. More often then not, the school would need money or expertise for something, and the very thing or person needed would turn up by coincidence a short time later. Some faculty and students believed in more classically "impossible" magics, like telepathy, or even weather magic, and I know what they did sometimes seemed to work--like it would rain when a weather-witch said it would. But there is much that can be done with coincidence and wishful thinking. I can say that nobody on campus was a charlatan; if somebody's magic didn't really work, that somebody was as fooled as everyone else.

On the other hand, there was Alan, the stage magician who, with his graduating student, performed that trick with the ring my first night on campus. He was the only one of the six teaching faculty hired specifically to teach magic, and what he taught was stage magic, tricks. I know that generally practitioners of "real" magic(or "magick") are at pains to differentiate themselves sharply from illusionists, while illusionists in turn are often among the most cynical people with respect to anything possibly supernatural. Alan never claimed to be doing anything other than performing tricks, but he also saw no reason why tricks could not be magical.

Everyone on campus believed in something called magic, but not everyone used the word in the same way. Some, like my own teacher, Charlie, rarely used the word at all.

All of this, together with the basic rhythm of days and weeks on campus (which I'll tell you about later), and the names and responsibilities of the faculty and staff, I learned during the weeks from Brigid's Day to Ostara, the spring equinox, when classes started. The whole school year was inverted; the campus was a working farm, staffed mostly by students, so there was every reason not to take a long summer break. Instead, there was a winter break, to save heating costs. Although the dining hall opened up on Brigid's Day, and the Mansion (where the office and all the dorms were) stayed open all year, except for Brigit's Day itself, Chapel Hall (where the assembly was and where the classes were) stayed closed until the middle of March. We used that first month and a half to get oriented, to get hired and trained on our various campus jobs (in place of tuition, as you may recall), and to sort out which classes we would need to take. That last was not simple, for reasons I'll explain later. We also attended a lot of talks and workshops--they were for credit, but the idea was also to get to know the faculty better. The talks and so fourth were held in the Mansion until Chapel Hall reopened.

Sorry for the information-dump. I suppose I'm not a good enough magician yet to do without it, and this will be the last such dump for a long while. I'll finish up for the week by giving you this one vignette, a scene I remember from those early weeks--memory is funny, and a lot has skipped my mind, or been subsumed by a general mush of remembering how things typically worked at school, but without day-to-day detail. A lot that I'm going to tell you I've had to reconstruct from my journals, the letters I wrote to my parents and close friends (we weren't asked to keep secrets from our friends and family, provided they could keep the secret too, in order to protect the admissions process), and even the memories of other former students and staff. But this scene is one of the ones that stands out bright in my mind, like no time has passed, even though it's been over ten years. I don't know why.

I was walking back from somewhere in the late afternoon, around sunset, and I came around the edge of the mansion to its south-west side, heading towards the entrance to the student dorms. The faculty and staff had dorms in the same building, though not all of them lived on campus, but they had a different entrance. We rarely ran into them, unless one of them wanted to be run into. Anyway, as I came around the building I walked right into the end of the sunset, all orange and purple blazing away and getting ready to drain out of the sky, so I stopped, right there, to watch it.

The weather was very cold--there was snow on the ground, and my toes were cold and my knees were cold, and the scent of frost and snow burnt my nose the same way the glory of the sky did, and I didn't really mind, because it was beautiful outside, and because I knew it was warm inside, and I knew there would be hot chocolate and a shower waiting for me when I wanted it. So I stood there, watching the sky, until all the orange was gone, and most of the purple, and the stars began to come out, behind the shreds of cloud. The area was very rural, so the stars were always bright when the night was clear.

And just then, I heard a whistle. It sounded almost like a bird, at first, though it was hardly the season for birdsong, but very quickly the sound made itself into the notes of "Amazing Grace," played on a tin whistle--somewhere. I looked around and couldn't see anyone playing. The sound seemed to come from above and behind me--one of the dorm rooms, perhaps--but I didn't know anyone who had a tin whistle, and who would be crazy enough to open a balcony door to play on a night like this?

The melody repeated itself three times--there are at least six verses to the song--before breaking off near the beginning of the fourth verse. There was a pause, and then--it took me a moment to place the new tune.

Beautiful dreamer, wake unto me;
starlight and dewdrops are waiting for thee.
The sound was crisp and clear and sweet and flawless, lingering over the swelling notes, like....

I ran off to get my hot cocoa, moved and embarrassed in a way I could not name.

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