Esoteric Education: Restoring the Wonder
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Article ID: 11780
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Author: Oberon Zell-Ravenheart
Posted: May 27th. 2007
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Once, not too long ago . . . education was considered a rare privilege to be earned or granted, a goal to achieve, a dream to fulfill. Schools were seen as repositories of esoteric knowledge that would unlock the keys to the universe, and the secrets to success. Scholars were held in the highest esteem by all members of society. What we take for granted today was once considered a cherished opportunity to be strived for at any cost.
Consider this: less than a century ago, women in traditional European Jewish culture (which prides itself on education and scholarship) were not even allowed to learn how to read! And many women today in traditional Moslem and Hindu societies are still not allowed the “luxury” of literacy. Indeed, throughout most of human history, education—even the basic ability to read, was limited to a small and privileged class of literati. Now, at least in America—it is available to everyone, and anyone.
Did you know that 60% of high school graduates cannot find their own country on an unmarked globe of the world? These same graduates think cave men lived with dinosaurs! Indeed, there is a deliberate anti-intellectual and anti-educational current running through our entire country, which is even influencing the outcome of national elections! Pop Culture has supported disdain for education, How did a terminally depressing song--“The Wall, ” by Pink Floyd, with the recurrent line, “We don’t need no education”--become the hit of a decade, and the theme song of an entire generation?
I have always had an obsessive love of learning. I want to know everything! As soon as I learned to read, at about age two, I began to devour every book and magazine in the house. When I visited friends, I’d spend my time just reading the books on their shelves.
My reading compulsion even extended to the fine print on cereal boxes! The first time I saw the inside of a library, I was agonizingly torn between sheer delight at the vast number of books available to me, and utter dismay at the realization that I could never possibly read all of them. My own personal library today has several thousand treasured volumes—many of them dog-eared from frequent consultation. And I am constantly obtaining more, and reading them. When I’m not actually writing, I’m usually reading.
Unlike many of my friends when I was growing up, I passionately loved school. I could hardly wait ‘til summer vacation ended and I could return to classes, armed with fresh questions for my teachers from my summer of reading everything I could get my hands on about everything that interested me. When I wasn’t actually in class, I spent as much time as possible in the public library, and was on a first-name basis with the librarian, who would always set aside new arrivals in my favorite areas for me.
In high school, I served as a teacher’s assistant in biology, edited the school literary journal, published a student newspaper, was very active in the Latin and chess clubs, and had a major role in every school play. And I continued most of these activities and involvements all through college.
I have spent most of my life in learning and teaching. When in college I read A.S. Neil’s Summerhill, B.F. Skinner’s Walden Two, and learned of Maria Montessori’s schools. After receiving a BA from Westminster College in Pre-Med, Psychology, Sociology and Anthropology, I shifted my interests to Developmental Psychology and Education, entering the graduate program in Clinical Psychology at Washington University, and earning a Teacher’s Certificate at Harris Teacher’s College. My first post-graduate job was with the newly-launched Head Start program, and I served as a public school teacher and school and family counselor for several decades.
Oprah Winfrey said this about why she chose to build a new school in South Africa rather that in the US: “I became so frustrated with visiting inner-city schools that I just stopped going. The sense that you need to learn just isn’t there. If you ask the kids what they want or need, they will say an iPod or some sneakers.” (Newsweek, Jan. 8. 2007)
From my own observations growing up in public schools, college and university, and from working many years as a teacher, one simple fact became overwhelmingly clear at all levels: Most students hated school! They only attended because it was compulsory. They did everything they could to get out of actually studying, from watching TV and not doing homework as kids, to partying all night in college. Their interests centered around their friends and relationships, not around actually learning anything.
Many of them barely scraped by, some by cheating (often in elaborately creative ways) , and many simply dropped out as soon as they could. When I was in high school, one of the most popular songs proudly proclaimed:
Don’t know much about history
Don’t know much biology
Don’t know much about a science book
Don’t know much about the French I took
. . . . . . . . .
Don’t know much about geography
Don’t know much trigonometry
Don’t know much about algebra
Don’t know what a slide rule is for.
(Sam Cooke, “Wonderful World, ” 1958)
So what was wrong with all these U.S. schools? How is it possible that generations of students could come away from classes in history, science, geography, literature, foreign languages, and mathematics feeling bored out of their skulls—believing that these were terminally dull subjects with no relevance whatsoever to anything they considered important in life?
How could such fascinating studies as natural history, evolution, astronomy, cosmology, geology, archaeology, paleontology, anthropology, psychology, sociology, biology, and all those other wonderful “logies” fail to engage the interest of young minds—even in the passionate era of the ‘60s?
How can students and their families sit idly by, unprotesting, as “controversial” books and essential topics of study are systematically removed from their school libraries and classrooms by illiterate religious fundamentalists and corrupt politicians?
In lamenting the sorry state of our public schools, and the many failures in our American educational system, analysts have blamed just about everything--television, video games, teachers, parents, the home, society, politics, lack of funding, and “the younger generation.” And all of these may indeed be factors. But few seem to have considered that perhaps the entire concept of education as it is presented today may be fundamentally at fault.
And I think this is the core of the problem. School and education is no longer viewed by students, or the public, as something special, something to aspire to. Learning is seen more as a distasteful and onerous drudgery, akin to working in a factory (as in that Pink Floyd song) . Something one must do, perhaps, but hardly as something one would want to do. This is clearly, an untenable situation for public education.
Harry Potter and the X-Men
And then (drum roll) along came Harry Potter! After numerous rejections by short-sighted publishers who couldn’t imagine any reader interested in stories taking place in a school, Scholastic Inc. had the good sense to publish J.K. Rowling’s delightful Harry Potter series, and the rest is history. The Harry Potter books have become the biggest-selling books of all time. With seven novels and movies, and more toys, games, clothes, ancillary books, and other tie-ins and spin-offs than you can wave a wand at, Harry Potter is the greatest literary phenomenon ever known.
And here’s the truly important thing: These books are being most eagerly read by kids! Clearly something is happening here, and understanding it may be the key to an entirely new concept in education.
Every kid (and many adults as well!) who reads Harry Potter wishes more than anything that they could attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The very fact of its exclusivity makes it irresistible, to say nothing of the lure and wonder of forbidden and arcane knowledge it promises. Magic and Mysteries, spellcraft and sorcery, hidden history, secret societies, wands and wortcunning, bedknobs and broomsticks, bell, book, and candle, things that go bump in the night…everything that the mundane (“muggle, ” in Rowling’s parlance) world doesn’t know about, or believe in. Hogwarts epitomizes all the reasons why Halloween and Dia de los Muertos are the most popular holidays of the year for kids (and many grown-ups!) . Embracing the dark, rather than fearing it, is exhilarating and liberating!
Consider also the enduring popularity of the “X-Men” comics, Marvel’s best-selling series—which began publishing in 1962, and have spawned an ongoing animated TV series and three feature-length movies. As with the Harry Potter stories, the X-Men saga centers around a very special school for mutant misfits with various uncanny abilities and powers: “Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Children.”
Young people find the lure of secret societies and esoteric associations irresistible. They yearn to be on the “inside” of an exclusive group, to access forbidden knowledge and arcane secrets unknown to their parents and their contemporaries. “Knowledge is power, ” they know, and “with great power comes great responsibility.” The enormous appeal of the classical “Hero’s Quest” in literature and films bespeaks its intense relevance to every adolescent. They identify with Harry Potter; Frodo Baggins; Luke Skywalker; Dorothy Gale of Kansas and Oz; Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy of Narnia—and every other young hero and heroine of every story, as they discover who they truly are, and what they are truly here for. For the Quest is always and ultimately to discover one’s own life mission and destiny.
And every Hero’s Quest story begins with a wise mentor figure—the “Wizard”—imparting crucial knowledge to the young hero that he or she must know in order to fulfill their destiny. And this is where the idea of a very special and exclusive school of mystical knowledge and arcane wisdom enters the picture.
One of the most learned men of all time, Confucius (551-479 BCE) , became the first private teacher in history. Such was his reputation, that people sought him out to teach their sons. Confucius took any student eager to learn, and along with the regular subjects, taught his personal wisdoms on developing responsibility and moral character through discipline.
In ancient Greece, (long acknowledged as the seat of philosophy and wisdom) , the value of educating their children was recognized very early on, with some households engaging their own teacher. Through the first centuries CE, Roman families often had educated slaves to teach their children. (Teaching Through the Ages: http://historyeducationinfo.com/edu1.htm)
The first known school of philosophy (meaning “love of wisdom”) was Plato’s Academy in Athens, founded in 385 BCE. Plato was Socrates’ greatest student. Later, in 335 BCE, Aristotle opened his “Peripatetic” philosophical school at the Athens Lyceum. Other “Mystery Schools” were founded by Pythagoras and others.
In fact, all early schools and academies were really exclusive “Mystery Schools, ” and in that very mystique lay their appeal.
In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church took charge of teaching the sons of nobility, entrusting that charge to monasteries or specially designated learning “centres.” Many of these centres evolved into the distinguished learning institutions of today, including Cambridge University, whose first college, St. Peter’s, was founded in 1284.
With the establishment of higher learning in the early 1700s, the curriculum of college preparatory and universities broadened considerably. However not all things were equal inside the schoolroom. In 1749, Ben Franklin’s concept of an academy of learning consisted of an English school and a Classical school. The Latin master had a title, and the English master had none. The Latin master made twice the salary, and the English master had twice the students.
High school, originally known as “terminal” school, came into existence in 1821, in Boston, for boys 12 years and older. Once more, law entered the educational fray, dictating that towns of over 500 families must have a high school with the prescribed curriculum. Towns with over 4, 000 inhabitants were required to teach Latin and Greek, as well as other extra subjects.
Agriculture boarding schools enjoyed a very brief existence in the 1820s and 30s, having been established in the country to fulfill the needs of “idle and morally exposed” children from the city.
At the beginning of the 20th century, parents and the general public began to demand more practical and useful curriculums, and in so doing, may have helped elevate teaching to a respectable profession. (Teaching Through the Ages: http://historyeducationinfo.com/edu1.htm)
Unfortunately, this demand and trend towards a universal education diluted the mystique of learning itself. When a thing is available to everyone and mandated by law, it ceases to be regarded as something special; it becomes “common.” What is needed today, I believe, is to restore the wonder and mystique that once surrounded the very idea of education.
The Grimoire and the Grey School
In 2002, I convened the Grey Council—an assembly of two dozen respected and learned mages and sages, elders and teachers. Council members follow many different paths, but all hope to spark the imagination, beauty, and power of the minds of seekers everywhere. We worked together over the year 2003 to weave our best lessons into the Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard (New Page Books, 2004) . It was specifically designed for all the Harry Potter readers who might want to seek further, and explore the genuine “Wisdom of the Ages, ” as once taught in the ancient Mystery Schools, and imbedded in traditional “Classical Education” into more recent times. For wizard literally means “wise one, ” and wizardry is, pure and simply, wisdom. Much like the term philosopher means “lover of wisdom.” And it certainly seems that the present world could use a great deal more wisdom!
The Grimoire, however, was only the first phase of a long-range Vision to make available the Wisdom of the Ages for a new generation and a new Millennium. It is both an essential handbook of Apprentice-level Wizardry (like the Boy Scout Handbook) and a basic textbook for a full seven-year academic curriculum of Wizardly studies. Thus, its lessons begin very simply and become more complex as students advance.
The book was an instant success, encouraging our publishers, New Page Books, to commission several sequels and spin-offs, of which four have since been published, with many more in process. The next phase of the Vision was to establish an on-line School of Wizardry to serve as a larger context for the Grimoire and wisdom teachings, and where all the readers whose appetites had been whetted could go for further study.
And so, on August 1, 2004, the Grey School of Wizardry opened its virtual doors. Designed for students of all ages over 11, the Grey School provides an extensive seven “year-level” program of studies, at an Apprenticeship level. Graduates will be certified as “Journeyman Wizards.”
The Grey School was incorporated as a non-profit educational institution in the State of California on March 14, 2005 We are currently awaiting our IRS Determination Letter for our 501 (c) (3) .
Taking the Grimoire’s basic curriculum as a starting point, the Grey School of Wizardry offers additional classes, lessons and practical exercises, links to other websites with specialized materials, etc., and many color graphics and images which could not be reproduced in the printed book. Class materials and interactive lessons are designed and taught by highly-qualified faculty members and lectors, presently numbering about 40. Over 200 classes are currently available, in 16 Departments, and new ones are being added continually.
Courses offered in the Grey School provide a grounded classical education in history, mythology, geography, mathematics, literature, natural history, general science, astronomy, chemistry, physics, zoology, botany, and even Latin—with Greek to be offered shortly. The performing arts are included as well, with classes in poetry, music, theater, and illusion. The wonderful thing is, with the mystique of enrolling in a magickal “School of Wizardry, ” our students are eagerly studying all these subjects which would bore them to tears if they were taking them in a mundane public school!
The Grey School is highly interactive, and includes not just study materials, but four Elemental “Houses” (Sylphs, Salamanders, Undines, and Gnomes) in which young students may socialize with each other. Each House has a faculty Head and student Prefect to moderate the forums, etc. A similar set of four Elemental Lodges (Winds, Flames, Waters, and Stones) have been created for adult students, who now comprise ¾ of the student body.
We have a diverse selection of social forums, clubs, and a student-run newspaper. The forums provide a venue for people to gather. The Great Hall includes areas for General Chatter, Challenges, a Bardic Circle, and much more. Office forums provide access to the Administrators and other positions. Houses and Lodges have their own forums, plus separate Youth and Adult forums for mingling. There are Departmental and other forums as well.
Clubs allow members to explore interest in a special area outside of Classes. They also provide venue for students and faculty to socialize, share information and plan projects related to their club’s theme. Every club has a Faculty Advisor as well as student officers.
The Grey School publishes a quarterly school newspaper, Whispering Grey Matters, with its own forum area in the Great Hall. All students may submit their original work (essays, poetry, photos, artwork, etc.) for consideration. Staff members also gather news from the Administration, Departments, clubs, and other sources.
As of the Grey School’s second anniversary (Aug. 1, 2006) , the student body (748 students) represents 49 of the United States (all but Delaware) , a number of US military bases, two American Embassies, and 15 countries: Australia, Austria, Canada (7 provinces) , Chile, France, Germany, Greece, Mauritus, Puerto Rico, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela. Our northernmost student lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, while our southernmost resides in Santiago, Chile. Our students’ ages range from 11 to 72.
In January of 2006, the Headmaster and Headmistress toured Australia on behalf of the Grey School, and the following July the School held its first annual Conclave at a park in Oregon. Several regional Conclaves are already being planned for 2007. Other Grey School assemblies, events and presentations are happening all around the U.S., and in other countries as well. The Grey School is really taking off!
Many students and faculty members are now beginning to dream seriously of a physical campus—ideally a castle like Hogwarts, or a large country estate like Prof. Xavier’s. A perfect facility could be an old monastery or retreat center, providing classrooms, dormitories, offices, staff residences, kitchen, dining room, meeting hall, library, laboratories, gardens, etc.
The enrollment and tuition fees for the Grey School are very low, as we have wanted to make this education available to all including impoverished students. We even have a specially-funded scholarship program for those who are unable to meet even these low rates. Additional funding has come through small donations, sales of school-related items, and royalties on Grey School textbooks that are being published by new Page Books. But stipends for teachers are currently all less than $200 per month, and all are greatly underpaid for their dedication and work. We would like to compensate our faculty more appropriately, and we would like to acquire a suitable facility for future offices, classrooms, and residences.
As Oprah Winfrey said about her new school for impoverished girls in South Africa: “I understand that many in the school system and out feel that I’m going overboard, and that’s fine. This is what I want to do. I wanted to take girls with that ‘It’ quality, and give them an opportunity to make a difference in the world.” (Newsweek, Jan. 8. 2007)
And this is what we want to do with the Grey School of Wizardry—to find students who have unique potential that is not being addressed by their experiences in public schools, and give them the inspiration and information that will enable them to go out and make a real difference in the world. This is true education. For the difference between wisdom and stupidity is really all about considering the consequences—”unto the seventh generation, ” as the Hopi proverb says.
In closing, here’s what one of our students had to say about the Grey School Vision:
By Stacy, Prefect of the Society of the Four Winds
Ten years from now: Over a hundred have graduated to Journeymen Wizard, and another thousand Apprentices continue in training. The pendants we wear are no longer merely logos of the school we attend, but the symbol of our Order. And our symbol is not just recognizable to those whom we call brother and sister, but to the greater world, both Magickal and Mundane. We are respected as honored and reliable sources of wisdom, guidance and hope to the communities we live in. We are recognized in congress, the military, in covens and conclaves, and through our deeds we are recognized as an organization devoted to helping influence the evolution of the world.
Teaching Through the Ages: http://historyeducationinfo.com/edu1.htm
Copyright: (c) 2007, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart
Location: Santa Cruz, California
Bio: Oberon Zell-Ravenheart is a renowned Pagan Elder and Wizard. In 1962, he co-founded the Church of All Worlds, and he has been involved in the founding of several other major groups and alliances. First to apply the terms “Pagan” and “Neo-Pagan” to the newly emerging Nature Religions of the 1960s, and through his publication of Green Egg magazine (1968-2000) , Oberon was instrumental in the coalescence of the modern Pagan movement. His first book was Grimoire for the Apprentice Wizard (New Page Books, 2004) . He is Founder and Headmaster of the online Grey School of Wizardry (www.GreySchool.com) .
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