From: Metropolitan Moses <metmoses@...>
To: Undisclosed recipients
Sent: Saturday, July 1, 2006 8:29:05 PM
Witch School Opens in Midwestern Town
City Residents Petitioned and Prayed to Keep it Away
By DURRELL DAWSON,
30) - In the "Harry Potter" series, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft
and Wizardry sits in a mystical Scotland location, shrouded by magic
that hides it from unknowing humans.
Saturday, in the unlikeliest of places, a real witch school opens its
doors to the public in a place known as the Sweet Corn Capital of the
almost five years of existence on the Internet, Witch School is
expected to operate under normal business hours in the town of
Hoopeston, Ill., about 100 miles south of Chicago.
school is dedicated to educating the public in Wicca, a neo-Pagan
religion that incorporates nature and magic into its theology. Until
now the school has existed almost entirely on the Internet.
Hubbard, the school's CEO and director, was lured to Hoopeston by what
have been considered to be some of the lowest real estate prices in the
town is known primarily for its annual Sweet Corn Festival; its high
school mascot known as the Cornjerker; and the National Sweetheart
Pageant, which has produced eight Miss America winners.
town could soon be known as a Pagan colony, after Witch School starts
letting visitors utilize its ritual space, view the studio where it
produces videos for the Internet, and peruse its library of religious,
metaphysical and historical texts.
a humble beginning, Hubbard says. The school is adorned with a "Witch
School" sign and has maintained a quiet presence since moving to
Hoopeston in 2003. He says that with an estimated 30 new students to 50
new students registering on the Web site every day, the "cyberministry"
is rapidly growing.
school has roughly 120,000 active students who enroll in Witch School's
Internet courses, which range from Druid and Celtic history to crystal
and gem magic, Hubbard says. Students then take at least one test a
month to stay active and can eventually become an accredited member of
really getting to be a functional community," Hubbard said of the
increasing presence of Witch School online. The school is also
increasing its visibility in Hoopeston.
Hubbard first announced plans to house Witch School in Hoopeston,
population 6,000, it caused an uproar among some residents, who feared
the school would bring notoriety to the central Illinois town.
2003 as he finalized plans to move from Chicago to Hoopeston, residents
of the town and its surrounding areas mobilized, signing petitions in
opposition to the school and lobbying the City Council to try to stop
did what we felt was our place to do at the time," said Pastor Steve
Nelson of Hoopeston's First Baptist Church. He was one of several
pastors who had held prayer meetings outside of Witch School's property.
says the people of Hoopeston are all too often reminded of the school's
presence, because it occupies a former brick horse stable and it is in
the middle of town near the Hoopeston Civic Center.
he says he has come to accept the school as a permanent fixture and
moved on, even though he doesn't approve of Wiccan beliefs.
just disagree with their anti-God approach and feel it's not good for
our community," he said. "When given the opportunity, I would speak
Witch School isn't the only Wicca-friendly business that has been lured to Hoopeston by low real estate prices.
is a Wiccan-owned bookstore, and Catherine Novak moved her crafts and
herbs shop from Virginia Beach, Va., to Hoopeston to cut back on
expenses and expand Internet sales.
describes her business, Beads and Botanicals, as a combination of New
Age and hippie. She says that in the six months it has been open, her
business in Hoopeston has suffered from a perceived connection to Witch
School and Wicca.
"A lot of people in this area are nervous about new things," she said.
says some of the locals balked when she offered a newsletter about
herbs and jewelry-making, and others have been taken aback by the
voodoo dolls she sells. She emphasizes that she also sells Christian
don't see any reason to promote any religion over anything else," she
said. Novak says she isn't "pounding the pavement for Wicca" and
considers herself pagan, a broader term that could encompass several
religions, including Wicca.
A Growing Religion
to the American Religious Identification Survey, there were
approximately 134,000 Americans claiming Wicca as their religion in
2001 -- up from 8,000 people in 1990.
"It's still a very small group, but it is growing," said Ariela Keysar, co-author of the book "Religion in a Free Market."
an associate research professor at Trinity College's Public Policy and
Law Program, worked on the study, which is one of the broadest surveys
on religion in the United States.
of this growth could be attributed to the prevalence of Wiccan Web
sites and portrayals of witchcraft in Hollywood movies that have been
"less than negative," Hubbard said.
for his students, he says they come from everywhere: South Africa and
Croatia to Australia and Uruguay via the Internet. Witch School is not
Witch School, the Cherry Hill Seminary in Vermont offers pagan-related
classes on the Internet. However, Kirk White, the school's president,
says there are a few differences in its education.
"It poses a number of unique challenges when you're talking about one experiential-based thing like religion," he said.
Cherry Hill Seminary is a three-year program that requires an on-campus
residency to include a more hands-on approach. Still, White says he
respects what the Witch School does.
the Witch School's director, considers his decision to move the
institution to Hoopeston as an experiment in religious tolerance. Most
residents of Hoopeston are at least neutral toward Wicca and Witch
School, he says.
Witch School finally opens its doors to the public on July 1, Hubbard
says he won't expect a flood of visitors, though he feels it will be a
step toward acceptance as Wiccans in Hoopeston.
"Three years ago the question was did we have a right to be here," he said. "Now it's can we be successful."