There's no abracadabra or broom-flying at Andreas Starchel's School of Witchcraft.
Instead, there's astronomy, botany, anatomy and other scientific studies, along with classes in oracles, tarot cards, horoscopes, dowsing and magic. Today's witchcraft, the teachers say, is just mainstream science applied in a different way.
"A witch is someone who looks holistically on life, who does life-counseling things. A witch serves to help humans," said Sonja Kulmitzer, 28, who runs the school with Starchel.
Their witches-in-training are far removed from the spell-casters of Harry Potter and Snow White, or the ghoulish decorations for sale in shops ahead of Halloween, now a popular holiday in Austria.
Students learn to open their senses so they can perceive information that is filtered away by most people, said Starchel, 35, a self-described druid. They also learn to connect sciences in new ways, he said.
"Nowadays, everyone is so specialized," he said. "Druids and witches are basically highly educated people, but not just in one topic."
Starchel and Kulmitzer began offering organized courses in witchcraft in 1998. Initially, their three-year course consisted of monthly seminars for which students would travel to Klagenfurt, a southern Austrian city about 220 miles southwest of Vienna.
But most of the people interested live far away and few showed up for the seminars, so the program was reorganized into a correspondence course with seven modules.
Those who pass a test at the end of each module and write a 25-30 page thesis are awarded a "Certificate of Venefica," a document invented by Starchel and Kulmitzer. Venefica is Latin for witch.
"We hope it will become the norm for witches," Kulmitzer said. "We want to have a quality standard. There are so many people running around saying they are witches, just because they can brew chamomile tea."
Students pay $106 for a module, or $142 if they want online coaching.
For those who want to earn the certificate, a test must be passed at the end of each module. The tests each cost $68.
The dowsing module test, for example, includes a map of Carinthia, the southern Austrian province that includes Klagenfurt, over which students use pendulums to find energy lines. The pendulum works like a divining rod used for dowsing for water when outdoors, said Kulmitzer, who added that most students pass the tests.
Only three students have graduated so far, and more than 100 are studying modules. Karin Isamberth of Salzburg enrolled in 1999 and hopes to finish the course by the end of the year.
"The important thing for me is to know that I have understood it," said Isamberth, who already considers herself a witch. "You can't learn it all in a class. You have to continue working with it."
While Starchel says it's all based on science, he contends it takes talent to use witchcraft to help others. Magic rituals work for those who believe in them because they spark two processes: selective perception and self-fulfilling prophecy, helping ritual users achieve their goals, he says.
"Management classes use the same methods, though they would never dare to use the word magic," Starchel added.
Most students taking the course are in counseling professions, and few expect to make a living as a witch. Even Starchel works as a technician at Klagenfurt University, and Kulmitzer moonlights as a jazz and soul singer.
Still, to Isamberth, becoming a witch affects almost every aspect of life.
"Being a witch is something you are 24 hours a day," she said. "It's an attitude toward life. You have to live according to this life philosophy."
Written By SUSANNA LOOF
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