WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY: ÉLAINE GENEST

In a world seemingly absent of magic and wizardry it is easy to be spellbound by fictional stories like the Harry Potter series.

However, in Montreal, if it’s magic you’re looking for, you can enroll in a very real-life, non-fictional school of magic. But if you think you are enrolling in Hogwarts, think again. For one thing, it’s easier to get into.

“There are significant differences,” said Scarlet Jory from Crescent Moon School of Magic and Paganism in Montreal.

“In the Harry Potter world, you have to have this gift in you, whereas we say everybody already has this gift, we just have to learn how to tap into it.”

Montreal’s very own Pagan Study and Witchcraft School offers classes and programs for people interested in self-discovery. Founded by Jory in 1995, classes at the school are taught by five teachers, each with different specialties.

“I’m helping them find, discover, define, refine their personal spiritual paths,” explained Jory. “I’m not telling them what that path is supposed to be, that’s up to them to decide. I’m providing them with tools to work that out for themselves.”

“When people ask them ‘you’re going to some weird cult school, Crescent Moon?’ They just say ‘I’m working on improving my connection with my spirituality, this is a personal self-development program.’”

On weekdays the space inside the grandiose building is rented out to the film industry for events, but during the weekends Jory uses it to hold her magic and Paganism classes.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, three students sat around a dark wooden table. (It’s usually much more crowded. Five students were absent. Flu season.) Each student sipped on their rhubarb and peach infused tea while learning about sacred food, one of their last points on the class’ schedule.

The school has four levels of education, after that it goes into specializations such as chakra work, tarot reading, and teaching.

Level one classes explore theory and basic practices, like essay writing and meditation, that will be used as a foundation for further studies. In level two, students build on their past knowledge. “Level two is kind of like an extension of level one because it’s still a lot of theory and practice and foundational stuff, but it builds on what they have learned,” said Jory.

Psychology student Kassia Kowalyk is finishing her undergraduate degree at McGill University with a minor in Philosophy and Behavioural Science.

She wants to start a Masters in Bioethics in the fall. Two years ago, she stumbled upon Wicca while doing research about a new divine connection.

“I grew up in a Catholic household and was quite religious myself. As time went on, I became disenchanted with the idea of a transcendent God and the need for an intermediary between God and myself,” Kowalyk explained.

As a kid, she collected crystals and stones throughout her elementary years and found a deep connection with nature early on in her childhood. “Most people are curious and really want to know more,” she said about some of the reactions people have when she tells them her practice.

“I think most of the fear comes from ignorance and the fact that the religious education given to us in elementary and high school—at least the one I got—doesn’t really teach you about other religions apart from the large monotheistic ones.”

Jory recalls spending her childhood getting grounded for pulling the legs off spiders and devoting herself to the idea that nature is sacred, that Mother Nature has her own energy, and that humans are tied to the moon.

By grade 10 she was approached by a progressive, young nun who advised her to look into “women’s spirituality and Celtic roots,” as she put it. She began reading books about Wicca and Paganism after her interest deepened in a Magic, Religion and Witchcraft class in CEGEP.

By the time Jory was ready to graduate Concordia University in 1995 with a major in Classics and Latin studies, she discovered the government had removed Latin and Latin grammar studies from the elementary and high school curriculum the fall before her graduation, annulling her chances of getting a career once her university studies were over.

“I had a huge meltdown. I cried with my teachers, and then I came back to my paganism.”

To cope, she meditated at a full moon ritual to find answers. “I was not given advice. Let me tell you, I got out of that meditation very frustrated,” Jory said.

She fell short of answers that night until she fell asleep and dreamt of a veiled woman sitting in a white library, dressed in blues and whites with a book open on her lap. “She had pointed to a curriculum for a school of esoteric knowledge,” said Jory.

“I looked up at her, I laughed in her face, and I said ‘are you mad? We’re in the 20th century, what world do you think we’re in?’ And I walked away.”

“Advice: don’t laugh in the face of the divine,” Jory said.

That’s when she started speaking with more people about having her religion be visible to students. “I was upset that every other religion and culture had a club at Concordia but mine was not recognized,” said Jory. She then decided to establish a Pagan society at Concordia that later became the Concordia University Pagan Society.

“I went through all of the hoops to get this club recognized because I wanted my religion to be as valid as everyone else’s.” With the club, Jory was able to hold workshops and discover teaching others about this religion.

She took her first student at Crescent Moon School in 1995. “She was patient and she understood that I’m learning how to do this and that’s essentially where the school started.”

“People know me in this role,” said Jory. “If you ask Concordia Multifaith for someone pagan to speak to, they usually send you to me.”