Charming couple hope to establish a real Hogwarts

The Times (England), Aug. 17, 2002
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-385885,00.html
By David Lister, Ireland Correspondent

There is no express from platform 9¾, no owls and no Nimbus 2000, but in many other respects a tiny cottage in a forest clearing in Ireland is the real-life version of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

From their grandly named but extremely modest Castle Pook in Co Cork, an English couple are hoping to open what is being described as Europe’s first finishing school for trainee witches and wizards.

Bev Richardson and his wife, Del, already host regular festivals for witches from all over the world. A stream of those interested in the magic arts visit their home on the edge of a forest. It is scattered with elaborate hand-carved wands, crystal balls, magic charms, herbs, potions, healing ointments and presents from other witches.

By night the dozens of bats that live in the tiny attic above a library packed with books on mystics and fairies fly silently through the house and out into the surrounding woods.

Mr Richardson, 55, a genial man with a bushy silver beard and watery blue eyes, has never played Quidditch, the game on broomsticks at which Harry Potter excels, and does not refer to non-magic folk as Muggles. Every day, however, he dons his hooded white gown and his black “scholar’s robe” that is fastened by the pewter buckle engraved with the faces of three foxes and goes barefoot into the forest.

There he performs his “daily circle”, a series of rituals in front of what he calls his altar, a jumble of moss-covered stones topped with a five-pointed star inside a circle — a pentacle — and icons of the witch god and goddess.

Although known in the nearby village of Doneraile as “the wizard”, Mr Richardson describes himself as a “hedge witch”, which means that he is a rustic witch and not part of any particular tradition. He makes charms and witches’ ritual knifes, and claims to be able to see fairies. “Fairies are life forms that exist at a different energy level to humans and they can only be seen with peripheral vision. You catch them out of the corner of your eye,” he said.

For years he has shared his healing skills and what he calls elemental water and fire magic with visitors. More than 50 witches, wizards and druids congregated at the cottage and its 13-acre grounds last weekend for a series of magic classes and workshops, which he wants to run regularly.

Four Irish wizards set the atmosphere with a class on how to divine the auric field, the energy that every person is supposed to radiate. A druid from Cornwall gave a talk on the Oghm alphabet, an ancient Celtic script used by witches, and demonstrated how to make a crystal-tipped wand.

An American witch called Tina held a workshop on the Divine Feminine for the women, while the men were treated to a talk on the Divine Warrior. For the grand finale, the participants formed a circle of energy in a ceremony led by a high priestess from the Wicca school of modern witchcraft.

The Richardsons, unemployed and the parents of seven children, are now aiming higher. They have started to charge visiting witches and hope to develop their teaching service.

“Typical of a collegium, we would bring other people we know who have particular skills to teach,” Mr Richardson said. “But it’s not just about teaching, it’s about sharing.”

Mrs Richardson, 51 and also a hedge witch, said: “I’d just like people to realise that all they need is the courage to access the magic because it’s out there. So many kids come out of university with these brilliant degrees but they don’t know anything about the world around them.”

Witches and wizards from Britain, the Netherlands, the United States, eastern Europe and elsewhere in the Irish Republic have visited Castle Pook this year. They include Annie, 31, a Croatian student witch who is spending a month there. She said: “You are probably born a witch and you realise it later, for me about 15 years ago. Being a witch is no longer illegal in Croatia, but if I stood up and said that I was a witch God knows what would happen, maybe my life would be in danger.”

Mr Richardson, who is from the Isle of Man, has been a witch since his late teens, when he was taken under the wing of Gerald Gardener, the late founder of the modern Wicca movement.

“We don’t sacrifice babies, we don’t kill Christians. The people who come here are not flakos, they are serious people,” he said. “Magic is about tuning into nature and taking the time to say thank you to the world around us.”

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