Witches school casts spell on Alps

KLAGENFURT, Austria - You won't learn how to fly a broomstick or cast spells with the flick of a wand, but a potent dose of grit and study will turn you into a witch, promises Europe's first School of Witchcraft.

The school in the southern Austrian city of Klagenfurt might sound hocus-pocus, but those looking to emulate fictional young wizard Harry Potter will be a mite disappointed: the curriculum is downright scientific, and eye of newt is nowhere to be seen.

Headmaster Andreas Starchel, who prefers to be called by his druid name Danaketh, said he established the school to demystify witchcraft by explaining phenomena using scientific methods from physics, chemistry, and biology.

"Everything that is taught and learned at our school can be proven using natural scientific and psychological methods," he told Reuters during a training session in the woods.

"We teach everything needed to become a real witch in the historical sense -- that is to have an all-encompassing knowledge of nature and a highly developed sense of intuition.

"Being a witch is not inborn. Anyone can learn to become one," he added.

Practitioners of witchcraft focus on the good in life and the spirit, and reject any connection with the devil, Starchel said.

Since their beliefs date back to ancient times well before the birth of Jesus, witchcraft has no bond with the Christian embodiment of evil.

"Witchcraft has got absolutely nothing to do with the folklore image of evil witches with green faces and warts on their nose. It's about becoming a rounded person who lives in harmony with nature," said the goatee-bearded druid.


The headmaster stressed that his school, established in 1998 for wannabe witches and druids of 18 years and above, has no ties with religious organisations nor follows any esoteric movement.

The syllabus originally lasted three years but has now been revised to a more flexible form to suit students' busy time schedules. In a sign of the times, it teaches courses over the Internet as most of its students live outside Austria.

A student graduates with a venefica or veneficus (from the Latin for witch/druid) certificate after passing written exams in seven modules and submitting a final thesis.

The first module focuses on awakening intuition, specifically on how to find sources of energy in nature and how to channel it. Other modules are astronomy, astrology, botany, holistic healing and ritual magic.

Curriculum information on the school website www.hexen-schule.de shows there are no modules like the Defence Against the Dark Arts class which Harry Potter had to take in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"Some wannabe witches and druids are turned off enrolling with us when we tell them that our aim is to demystify witchcraft," said Starchel, who is an information technology specialist by profession.

"People do approach us hoping to learn how to fly on a broomstick. Then we have to disappoint them and explain that it's much more important to let the spirit fly -- to be able to combine intellect with the soul."

The school has received a huge fillip from the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling and television series such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

"We actually had kids phoning up asking whether they could ditch their school and enrol with us," Starchel said.


Student witch Katharina, a bespectacled middle-aged librarian by day who asked to be identified only by her witch name, said she was drawn to the course because something was missing from her life.

"I was looking for direction. Christianity was too narrow for me and didn't give me the answers I needed," she said after completing a session of chakra meditation with Danaketh.

Chakras are the seven key energy centres of the body according to Indian medicine.

"I was a bit sceptical at first but what impressed me is that it's not about belief or faith as in the church. The school offers plausible explanations for phenomena based on fact -- there's no hocus-pocus," Katharina said.

Katharina, who travels from Salzburg in the northwest of the country to attend the school's seminars, proudly shows off an array of bottles, vials and flasks with home-brewed potions, elixirs and fragrant creams with which she treats her friends.

"At first my friends and family ridiculed me for wanting to become a witch. But now they come to me for one of my potions to soothe a cough or whatever," she said.

Like Katharina, aspiring witch Saltah embraced the craft three years ago due to a thirst for knowledge.

"It started off as curiosity about mushrooms and herbs, but then I realised that I simply wanted answers to so many things I couldn't comprehend and that this school could provide me with them," said Saltah, who is in her mid-20s.

Both women said the course was challenging intellectually as witchcraft covered a swath of subjects.

"Just learning and completing the syllabus doesn't make you a witch. You've got to work at it day in day out," Saltah said.

"It's going to take me another 20 years before I can truly call myself a witch," said Katharina, hunched over a toadstool.