Keep your eyes open for the October issue of The Blue & White, coming soon to campus. Until then, Bwog will honor our heritage/amorous affair with our mother magazine by posting highlights of the upcoming issue online. Among the treats to look forward to: a debate on the merits of Times New Roman, an examination of Columbia’s updated sexual assault policy, and a critical analysis of the logic behind Barnard’s Nine Ways of Knowing. Here, contributor Somala Diby, in preparation for Halloween, seeks out magic and the occult on Columbia’s campus.
It’s that time of year again. The time when girls parade around as sexified bunnies and magic floats through the air. But for those of you looking to indulge in genuine supernatural spookery on campus, Columbia has few options.
One finds a glimmer of the existence of the occult the Columbia University Science Fiction Society’s annual mock virgin sacrifice. CUSFS President Suzanne Walker CC’12 has inherited the responsibility of overseeing the annual event, in which a “small, scrawny boy” (the virgin) is carried to the Sundial, whereupon he is stabbed and the adherents of Cthulu, the Lovecraftian demon-god, are stained with a red food coloring-corn syrup mix. “This is where I’m revealed to be the queen of geeks at Columbia. It’s fun and ridiculous,” says Walker.
Psychology major Nina Torres CC’12, on the other hand, takes her occult rituals more seriously. According to her and the University Chaplain’s office, Nina may be the only Wiccan student on campus, and has been actively practicing for over a year. Despite its common pop culture portrayal, the religion’s brand of magic is not a mere recitation of Latin incantations. The use of magic in Wicca involves the philosophy of positive reinforcement, and more closely resembles philosophical elements of the best-seller The Secret than of some shallow spell book. “It’s a vehicle for achieving the things you want and putting those things in mind,” says Torres. “By strengthening the powers of your mind, you’re able to better manifest the things you desire in life.”
This idea should be taken in tandem with the Wiccan Rede, the faith’s single rule: “An harm at none, do as ye will.” Simply put, the Wiccan is never to will harm upon anyone. “Wicca is about understanding the union of yourself to nature, and doing harm to nature or to others is basically doing harm to yourself,” says Torres.
The lack of prominent occult objects, figures, and organizations at Columbia is emphasized by Torres’ struggle to have Wicca acknowledged by the University, which holds that an individual does not constitute a religious group and therefore is ineligible to register as such. Torres’ rituals often involve the burning of incense and candles—which is prohibited in campus facilities—and also require altars. Because the University cannot yield her a space to pray, she has resorted to practicing in secret for the most part.
If you were out on College Walk the night of October 11th, however, you might have stumbled upon Torres and a group of non-Columbia Wiccans, with whom she meets weekly, gathered around the Sundial performing the October Full Moon Ritual. Wicca does indeed involve rituals, but they hold much more meaning than they are normally given credit for. The straight-to-DVD horror movies depicting possessed girls chanting around a pentagram couldn’t be less like this ceremony on College Walk. Eighteen steps long, it offers a chance to meditate on the full moon—which represents energy or a goddess—to produce positive changes in one’s self-development.
Sadly, the small world of Wicca is the most intensive example of real “magic” at Columbia. “If the occult has a strong presence at Columbia, [it is] very hidden,” says Walker. Her words couldn’t hold more truth. With the exceptions of the lone Wiccan, CUSFS, and a handful of anthropology courses, apparitions of the occult on campus are few and far between. For those still pining for a potion to brew or spell to cast Halloween night, perhaps Ricky’s Underground will oblige. Magic on campus, however, will prove a dead end to most who seek it.