It is not often that our School is mentioned in the media, since we do not welcome journalists into our domains. We are not ambitious, and, even more importantly, we would rather not waste on interviews the time reserved for our studies. Still, since the opening of Ostentum a few journalists did succeed in weaving their way past our magical barriers. In recognition of their remarkable perseverance and professionalism we post their work here, on our website. The articles are arranged in reverse chronological order.
Novgorod Newspaper, Jan 4, 2007
THE HALL OF UNFOLDING WINGS
…A child is seated on a chair with a tall, pointed hat placed on their head, the drums are rolling and… a small badge with an emblem of one of Ostentum Houses (Uhlwissen, Flammenor, or Cervus) appears magically inside the strange hat.
The students have spent the longest time searching for a hidden pocket or a double bottom in the hat, struggling to understand how the little button gets there if the casket with the rest of the them is standing on the table for all to see.
– However, – says Professor Terra, giving a small smile, – recently one of our older kids finally solved the puzzle…Personally, I prefer to think of it as the Hat making the final choice.
– Where does your Hat get such a gift of unparalleled intuition? A latest innovation in the area of headgear and extrasensory perception?
– I’ll tell you a secret. Our Sorting Hat has some counselors – the child’s parents as well as myself – I am in charge of our School’s admissions and I meet with the parents to discuss the talents and inclinations of our prospective student.
So, no miracles, after all?
Yet the School we have taken upon ourselves to present is, in fact, Ostentum School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in St. Petersburg.
PENDING MINISTERIAL APPROVAL
‘I’ve wanted to be a magician since I was 8. I’ve bought so many books on magic and wizardry. I like it that you’ve opened a school like this. It’s a pity I can’t get to go to your school, because I live in a different city. I’d like it very much…’
The books about Harry Potter became not so much a literary, as a social and psychological phenomenon. That is hardly accidental. Thrown together, the protagonist’s worldview and ethics constitute a simple and sure key to its popularity. The sense of honor, friendship and nobleness, inherent in Potter and his friends, is of special importance to children. So is the setting of the book – a sharp contrast to the familiar technocratic world. The book is not for those who believe only in what they can measure and touch with their own hands…
– Those who come to our School to turn desks into elephants leave fairly quickly, – explains the School Manager Olga Kosulina (Professor Terra). – The path to the mastery of magic, as we see it, is a lengthy process of honing one’s consciousness and abilities. You can call it psychology, or magic, or esotericism – the essence remains the same. Ostentum School subjects likewise help our students to learn cultural awareness and adequate assessment of any life situations. Far be it from us to estrange children from reality or to mystify them. Joanne Rowling is a wonderful writer and in her books about Harry Potter we have found a readily available form, a mold we could use to shape what we wanted to talk about with the kids for some little time. We used the playful entourage (the cloaks, the heraldic, the deans and their houses, the tournaments) and the school subject titles, and filled them with a new, hardly so different, meaning. Since the Russian Ministry of Education has not as of yet standardized the program of education for all Magic Schools, we felt free to create and to develop our own standards.
Ostentum School has been open to students since 2002. The study sessions take place on Sundays. The School accepts children between 7 and 14 years of age.
Shortly before the school year begins, a prospective student receives a letter written in emerald ink and containing an invitation to The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Next, there is an Opening Ceremony where the new students are assigned to their Houses by the magical Sorting Hat. There are three Houses in Ostentum.
Uhlwissen (its emblem – an owl) – a House for those interested in intensive learning strategies, including fast information processing, fast reading and comprehension, developing eidetic, visual and processual memory, analyzing semantic structures. The majoring subject is Applied Magic. After two semesters students begin to give 5 to 7 correct solutions to new tasks and puzzles (as opposed to 1 or 2 they could provide before their training began).
Flammenor (with salamander as its symbol) – a House for those interested in developing their visual thinking, sensory and creative skills. Students work to sharpen their perception and the ability to intuit information. The core subject if Transfiguration. Here’s an example of an exercise that we use in class to train the accuracy of visual thinking. We call it The Cubic Fly. Two or more players imagine a cube 3x3x3. Inside the central cell there sits a fly. The players take turns to give commands to the fly, which can move up or down, left or right. After each command the cube is ‘passed on’ to the next player. If the player has given a command that will take the fly out of the cube space, he or she is drops out.
Cervus (with a deer on its coat of arms) – is a House of Health and Harmony. Students concentrate on psychotherapy, methods of focusing attention and dealing with stress. They study culture, philosophy and psychotechniques of physical and emotional dynamics. The main subject if Magical Dynamics. The course program for our second year students includes, for example, shooting a real bow on the ‘Dynamo’ Stadium.
(By the way, some little time ago the core subject had a different name – Flying. It was changed because we grew tired of children asking when they were finally going to fly on broomsticks. We had to explain: Ok, kids, let’s imagine you go out into the street, you straddle a broomstick and start ‘flying’. Where will it take you? That’s right, to the madhouse!)
There are quite a few ‘virtual’ schools of ‘witchcraft and wizardry,’ but only three with actual physical attendance – in Austria, in Switzerland, and in St. Petersburg. In the past, we received invitations to open branches of Ostentum in Kiev, Moscow and Rostov. Certainly, after a visit to Ostentum and some training teachers would be able to offer duplicate courses in a different city; yet that in itself is hardly enough, the teacher must have much more information than the contents of the course, he or she must be an expert in their ‘area.’
The hardest thing about creating schools of the likes of Ostentum is finding the right teachers. All our alumni are unique personalities with rare combinations of various fields of experience. Professor Bruce (Magical Dynamics), for example, is a semi-professional tennis player and fencer. He does water sports (canoe, technodiving), and alpinism (Elbrus, Mont Blan, Jungfrau, Grindelwald). At the same time he is a painting restorer, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a participant of many archeological and ethnographic expeditions. Professor Eidan Green is a hereditary specialist in traditional herbology and healing. Professor August Wilhelm is an anthropologist, psychologist, a musical instrument expert, and a professor at the Philological Department of St. Petersburg State University.
The world of Ostentum was forming gradually.
In our very first season, besides the core subjects we had History of Magic, Herbology and Potions, Magical Creatures, and Defense against the Dark Arts. In the next season we introduced Signs and Symbols. Professor Grace, the teacher of the latter, recollects:
– We were studying various aspects of culture: symbolism in visual arts, rituals, religion, alchemy, hermetism, heraldic and flags, and the children had a few surprises in store for me. At one time I showed them a picture of St. Francis and St. Andrew and asked who they were. Adam and Eve! – my students told me. ‘Well,- I reply, – Do you mind pointing out which is which, since they are both bearded…’ That’s child spontaneity for you. Another instance: we were talking about swastika. I was explaining that this was the sign of the sun, waiting every moment for the students to interrupt and tell me that this was not a sun at all, but fascist insignia. Yet the children remained silent. I asked them if they knew who Hitler was. Silence again. So, you can say, that in our lessons we cover the cultural sine qua non.
Professor Terra adds:
– In my class with sophomores (9-10 years old) I gave them an exercise for visualizing: I was asking them to use their mental ‘screen’ and draw a five-point star with a single flourish of a beam of light. Then I inquired matter-of-factly if anybody knew what the symbol meant. Silence. Nine- and ten-year-olds do not even know that not so long ago this was the symbol of the Soviet Union, let alone the Star of Mars, the pentacle or the popular mason symbol. As you can see, Signs and Symbols is a must for most today’s kids.
By contrast, Defense against the Dark Arts almost did not make it.
– Apparently, we have lived up to the books’ tradition, – the professors suggest humorously, – In Hogwarts, none of the Defense professors held up for more than a year. In our schools the same goes for one semester. In the end, we have divided the primary contents of the course (safety rules and ethics, such as limitations for working with one’s own psyche) between all other subjects, and gave up on Defense against the Dark Arts as a separate entity. We decided that the course does not agree with our School’s doctrine, since we do not favor intervention and active influence. Man does not control the powers of nature, but cooperates with them – the influence should be justified and never aggressive. We would rather have no ‘attacks’ to defend against in our School. By the way, one of the teachers of this course began his first lesson by asking the children:
– In your opinion, what should you learn to defend yourself against?
– Against mom, – answered several students.
Something for the parents to consider.
Soon the School program was enriched by Charms. In the lower-level classes the tasks is simple: if you want to work with spells, first learn to pronounce them correctly – we help our students with their phonetics. In upper-level classes, the professor acquaints the students with the foundations of rhetoric and linguistics. Children analyze simple situations and come to understand that one word or phrase becomes a potent spell, if charged with will and emotion. They learn to use these powers carefully. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, a simple heart-felt ‘Good luck!’ can give a boost of energy and lightness for the whole day; in much the same way one can exclaim ‘Go to hell!’ with a little too much enthusiasm and end up wishing they’d contained the impulse…
Since last year, we have a new subject – Social Magic. At one point, the professors at our School realized that many of our students lack elementary breeding and tact required not to rummage through somebody’s bag or not to interrupt in mid-sentence. As an emergency measure, we have introduced playful Social Magic for our freshmen.
We also have English language as part of our program. A miracle professor manages to spend all 45 minutus of a lesson talking only in English, and in such a way that everybody understands. The course legend is – Ok, you’ve come to Hogwarts for real, now, how are you going to study and make friends there? The number of hours reserved for language study in Ostentum is insufficient for the students to start speaking English fluently. However, the course has a clear objective – to make away with the language barriers and prove that studying a foreign language could be real fun.
The syllabus of Herbology and Potions includes a section on Aromatic Potions that requires enhanced safety procedures: when the entire class is working with oil essences it is difficult to make sure no one touches their eyes; so we’ve made Aromatic Potions an elective. As for Herbology and Potions as a whole, it turned out to be one of the highlights of the Summer Camp Sessions: all practice and almost no theory. The children delightedly dash back and forth with herbariums and prepare complex ‘potions’. One kid (who had to leave early for a different camp) even enlisted his mother in the process. He made some kind of potion and left it on the windowsill with detailed instructions and a schedule for stirring the substance.
For some time we also had Latin. It was the kids’ own idea, but soon they started moaning and now it has become another elective. Music is likewise among our extracurriculars. The professors are strongly against the stereotype that some people have musical abilities and others are tone-deaf and should not even try. As a result, we have developed a unique music course program for our School.
The elective of Honorable Duel (Fencing) was devoted to traditions of honor and integrity in sparring. Professors stood at the ready, their nerves somewhat strained, since the children easily got ‘enthralled’ and went on the offensive. ‘One thrust – and you’re out on this course!’ The teacher has changed and the course is now taught on the basis of aikido.
…Finally, after sitting-in on the lessons, some parents came to the professors and asked for an adult course, so now we have that as well!
UNSPANKED AND BLESSED
Torn out of their context, some lessons may appear strange. For instance, one mother cancelled their membership at our school, because one afternoon when she came to pick up her child she saw a picture of a crescent on the blackboard next to the words ‘mosque’ and ‘jihad.’ The lesson was essentially part of a course section on the signs and symbols of Christianity; and Islam was introduced by way of comparison and contrast.
The mother went directly to the School Head Master and exclaimed dejectedly: ‘I come in and what are they doing – Islam!’ None of our subsequent arguments succeeded in making the worried mother accept the reality of cultural diversity and the advantages of taking a larger view.
Some lessons, especially practicums, take on a somewhat singular appearance – yet the children appear quite at home.
A lesson on Transfiguration. Senior year. The current theme is typologies.
– Let us look at another example of a typology and examine the dichotomy of mages vs. muggles from J. Rowling’s books. The mages here are those who notice the wondrous in their lives, who take a creative approach to this layer of reality. The muggles, by contrast, are the people who view fantasy and fairytales only as fiction. As you can see, this is an example of classification by the viewpoint, or worldview. Please, notice that this classification does not say anything about ethics or intellect: both mages and muggles can be kind or mean, smart or less so.
The homework after this lesson was for the students to create their own typologies. Here are some of the less expected results: ‘A blond vs. not-a-blond,’ ‘Sherlock Holmes – not-Sherlock Holmes.’
From typologies with antonymic polarity the class proceeded to more informative ones.
– Please choose three colors – one, with which you are most comfortable, another – the least comfortable, and finally – a neutral color. Now, think of a person, with whom you are going to work or spend time together and picture him or her as a color on your mental ‘screen.’ This will help you to predict how easy it will be for you two to get along.
– Similarly, the typology can be based on color intensity. For example, imagine you have to choose whom best to ask for help out of ten people available. If you personal color for responsiveness and empathy is green, then you can picture all these people on your mental ‘screen’ as variations of this color. Who is the greenest one, let me see… This one – not so much, this one – hardly a shade of green, while this one – yes, as lush as a little lawn!
Any typology is a look from a particular set of coordinates. It is not the ultimate truth and not a label to put on the person once and for all; and our students are informed of this right away.
In the class for second-year students the space was crammed with dragons: above the friendly Chinese and Japanese species soared the Iranian and European ones with questionable reputation…
To claim familiarity with the world of magical creatures, one needs to do more than cite their kinds – dragons, salamanders, phoenixes, griffins, basilisks, sphinxes, manticoras, and the like – one has to differentiate between the different subspecies and provide accurate drawings of them as well!
– What does the pearl signify for the dragon?
– Anyone remembers which element of nature the yellow color belongs to in China?
– Everybody knows who Buddha is?
Children are all different. While one girl excitedly tells the class about Siddhartha Gautama, the boy in the back is toying with his pen, lost in his own thoughts. Perhaps, he is imagining himself in the Hall of the Roaring Dragon in a Japanese palace?
– Learn to interpret the images! – Professor Skald incites the children. – What, in your opinion, does a unicorn with scales signify? And a dragon with many eyes?
– Look, look! There is some kind of hand there! – shouts a boy (who, it would seem, has slept through most of the lesson). He is looking at one of the renderings of George the Victorious.
– This is a representation of the Divine blessing to St. George, smiting the snake, – explains Professor Skald.
The next thing I saw in a couple of minutes was a class with the troublesome third-year gang, whom it would do some good to be spanked by that same divine hand.
– A person who does not keep their word is not worthy of this school, or of any decent society!
It was an interesting lesson, with unfolding one’s wings behind the back, with guessing each other emotional states, with meditations on the elements of nature, during which students could decide which element feels the closest to them: fire, water, air, or earth. Still, there were those who would not keep their word: not to interfere with the teaching process. A pair of impetuous students even had to take a walk in the school main hall. In this aspect, the students of Ostentum in their third year reminded me of your average troublemakers at a regular school.
The school bell rings, it is time for a break.
Braids, black gowns, folders in hands…
‘Ostentum’ in Latin means ‘a miraculous phenomenon.’ And isn’t it wonderful that the feeling of magic and wonder, which usually dissolves by the time the children are 7 or even earlier, is captured here to stay with us indefinitely. Look into the eyes of the professors at this School, there is much there that is unordinary and mystical.
We can hold on to that magical thread for our entire lives. There is more than one way to accomplish it – you could move to St. Petersburg, Austria, or Switzerland and enroll your child at a School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, or you could pause, listen up and hear for yourself the strange music in the air, passing it on to your child as a precious gift. You decide.
And here is a comment that appeared on the newspaper website on June 26, 2008.
– I was charmed by the magic and magicians ever since I read Harry Potter for the first time at the age of 7. Thanks to my mother, I was invited to study at this School, even if for a short time – I completed my first year and began the second. To be honest, I cannot quite remember the reason for which I had to leave Ostentum. What I remember well is the warm atmosphere there, and the children – my kindred spirits, if one can say so – and fascinating lessons that always left a lasting impression on the students, such was the diversity and appeal of the subjects ) I would like to say thank you to the founders of this wonderful School; to the teachers who help children not only to believe in fairytale and magic, but to prepare for their adult life as well.
P.S. I still keep my old notes from the lessons of Latin, Herbology, and Defense against the Dark Arts, the letters, the photos, and the quills that squeaked in a funny way when we used them for writing )
AFISHA Magazine, Dec 2003, #20
Under the section ‘Education’
SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY ‘OSTENTUM’
‘They have Applied Magic right now,’ – explains professor Terra, opening the classroom door. Children in black gowns sit more-or-less quietly behind desks. They do not turn mice into frogs and do not use spells to paralyze each other – they are searching for an algorithm to solve a puzzle. The classroom hardly resembles the plush interiors of Hogwarts. An the magic wands are nowhere in sight, the same goes for broomsticks. That is because Ostentum is not Joanne Rowling fan-club or an association of role playing gamer. Yes, the Departments of this School sound quite Potter-Like: Uhlwissen, Flammenor, and Cervus. Yes, the professors of this school – psychologists, philosophers, and artists – have taken on sonorous ‘exotic’ names, such as Genzarius or Eidan Green. Yet they teach earthly wisdom. Not a bit of mysticism. ‘Ostentum’ in Latin means ‘wonder.’ And a wonder it is that children from 8 to 13, busy with their studies Monday through Saturday, are willing to spend almost all of their Sundays, studying ‘magical’ subjects. They learn to juggle little bags of peas as part of their ‘Magical Dynamics’ (body-oriented practices). With their eyes closed, they imagine the workings of an hourglass, during a lesson of Transfiguration (visual thinking and sensory perception). They master the methods of logic and train their memory in their classes of ‘Applied Magic.’ They listen to University-style lecture (mostly on culturology). Here are some of the questions raised by other courses: ‘Magical Creatures:’ how did artists depict a unicorn? how to distinguish a Korean dragon from its Chinese counterpart? ‘History of Magic:’ how many different cosmogonies (myths of how the world was created) can you remember? what were the crusaders trying to bestow upon the infidels? ‘Defense against the Dark Arts:’ how to avoid conflicts? how to solve them?.. Genuine, scientifically precise knowledge is disguised under the fantasy subject titles. Only ‘Latin’ remains Latin, the most magical of languages.
‘Arguments and Facts – St. Petersburg’, № 16’2003
St. Petersburg has recently witnessed the opening of the first School of Witchcraft and Wizardly in Russia. It is called Ostentum, and some of the things that students learn here would come as a surprise even to Harry Potter.
Never stop believing in magic
The St. Petersburg School is made after the image of Hogwarts, where studies a hero of our time – Harry Potter. In the books about a young magician one can find clear indications of how such an establishment could be organized, so the founders of Ostentum did not have to reinvent the wheel.
– The school setup was intentionally borrowed from the books by Joanne Rowling, – says Acting Ostentum School Master Professor Terra, aka Olga Kosulina. – I believe she has come up with a convenient template for teaching ‘ordinary’ miracles to children. All we had to do was supply a name for our School, a motto, and the titles for our three ‘Houses:’ Uhlwissen, Flammenor, and Cervus.
Studying at Ostentum is a lot like attending Hogwartz. Before the school-year begins, the prospective student receives a letter written in emerald ink, which invites him or her to attend as freshmen. Attached to the letter is the list of things to bring to class. Young magicians study in black gowns. Their placement is handled by a ‘magical’ Sorting Hat. The students-to-be put it on their heads and when the hat is taken off it already contains a plastic button with the symbol of one of Ostentum Houses. Whence it comes, nobody knows. The students have thoroughly inspected the Hat for a false bottom or a hidden pocket – all to no avail. For them, the Hat remains authentically ‘magical.’ Ostentum, like Hogwartz, encourages competition between the Houses. Points are added for correct answers, and taken away for lack of discipline. And parents are ever surprised to see how well their children can behave themselves. Nobody wants to let down their House.
A real sorcerer has no need of a broomstick
The founders of St. Petersburg School have borrowed J.Rowling school subject titles as well. On the other hand, the syllabi are quite different from the original.
– We have 7 subjects, – explans Olga Kosulina. – Applied Magic, Transfiguration, and Flying are training courses where children play, move, and solve various puzzles… The other four subjects – History of Magic, Herbology and Potions, Defense against the Dark Arts, Magical Creatures – constitute more traditional lectures and seminars, where students listen, discuss, and take notes. We do our best to keep the homework small, so that it would not interfere with their assignments at the regular school.
Still, it seems that students keenly enjoy doing their magical homework. Nobody minds preparing a report, if it is about dragons. Let adults think that dragons are nothing but myth and fiction, for Ostentum students they are tangible creatures with specific characteristics. Any freshman can show you the difference between, say, a Chinese dragon and a Korean one. And students learn a lot more than that. Beneath the ‘magical’ cover-up one discovers the ‘real’ contents: mythologies, the history of humanity, the culture of communication, ethics, and social etiquette. Besides, each House has a core subject, which students study in greater depth. For Uhlwissen it is Applied Magic that helps students master logical thinking. Flammenor disciples major in Transfiguration, a program to encourage visual and creative thinking. Finally, Cervus students concentrate on Flying, delving into the amazing capabilities of human body. After all, straddling a broomstick is hardly the only way to fly…
How to make a magic wand
Unfortunately, many of the things one can learn at Ostentum are not taught in regular schools. As a result, parents are sometimes at a loss as to what exactly their children study at the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Some of them even suggested starting an adult course to keep the parents posted and enable them to answer the tricky questions of their kids.
– When the parents learned that their children are going to construct ‘magic wands’ in their next class, they inquired what kind of magic these artifacts would contain, – remembers Olga Kosulina. – Of course, the wand does not enable you to transform teapots into mice, yet any of our graduates can count on the wand’s help for lightening the mood at a gathering, for focusing on an important task, or even making their life more colorful and exciting. Whether to call the nature of this effect psychology or magic – is entirely up to you.
Wizards do not need drugs
The kids are simply not interested in such silliness. The word ‘psychology’ is a bit hazy for their taste. Magic, by contrast, is something they can imagine and relate to, especially after reading about Harry Potter. So the students are willing to accept what is happening at Ostentum as ‘authentic’ miracles.
In their classes, the children learn to listen to what their bodies tell them, to write in sympathetic ink using quills, and even to ‘read’ the images projected by another person. Remarkably, children handle such challenging tasks much better than adults. Recently, in a Transfiguration class, professor Terra asked the students of each House to identify the object, hidden in a closed paper box in front of them. The students could not touch the box, they had to ‘see’ it with their minds. After a minute or two, students from one of the Houses decided that their box contains a pack of juice. Soon a second House announced that they have a rubber ball in their box. The third House got the most difficult object, so they were able to guess its nature only after combining their efforts with the whole class. First, the students determined the color of the object, and only afterwards succeeded in ‘sensing’ that it was a toy car.
– Ostentum School is not, by any means, an alternative to secondary education, – asserts Olga Kosulina. – Rather we provide complementary education, offering information and skills not provided by the standard school program, though just as vital as Maths or English. We sincerely hope that our graduates will be harder to trick or lure into a sect than the average person. Moreover, they will not need stimulants to enjoy their lives. Everything that the person requires for a full and colorful existence is already provided inside your consciousness. All you need to do is learn to use your ‘internal resources.’ And our graduates will have some training in that area to fall back upon.
By the way
At the present moment, there are plenty of web-resources connected to Harry Poter in one way or another. They range from elementary game pages to fan-clubs to virtual schools of witchcraft and wizardry where you sign-up and study on-line, learning magic tricks and the like. This is all very well, yet we would like to point out that, so far, there are only two brick-and-mortar schools in the world where you can learn real magic. One is here, in St. Petersburg, and the other – in Austria.
(Translated from Russian into English by Irina Poroshina)