Ithaca, NY — If you’ve ever wanted to learn about vampires or the stars, now’s your chance: the Tompkins County Public Library, (101 E. Green St., Ithaca, NY 14850) is setting up a special outpost for Wizarding Instruction for the duration of Wizarding Weekend.
Several magical professors have made the journey to teach a variety of classes for adults in TCPL’s Borg Warner Room. We were able to send owls to a few of them below and get a sneak preview of their classes. For the full class list and lesson times, please visit tcpl.org.
Gail Wood, a Wiccan priestess and a librarian, will give a brief introduction and overview of the art of reading tarot cards at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 29.
She has been reading tarot cards for over 30 years, and said that she uses it primarily as a way to help understand herself.
“I do believe that the universe can speak to us through it,” Wood said. “It helps me reflect on my own questions, and when I read for other people I encourage them to think of it that way too, as a tool to help them grow.”
The class will touch briefly on the history of tarot, then focus on getting attendees familiar with the deck and different ways they might read a set of cards. Wood suggested that the two most common ways to read the cards are from a knowledge point of view, and from an intuitive approach.
“I encourage people to take an intuitive approach: what do these images say to you and what do you think it means to you in your life,” said Wood.
Wood will lead would-be diviners through the deck and then break people into groups to read for each other.
“I’m hoping to reduce the mystique for people who are new to tarot. There are 78 cards, and you can be intimidated by how many there are,” Wood said. “You can look at an image just like looking at a piece of art.”
It is art, she said, and many of the decks are beautifully artistically rendered. Wood’s favorite version is German in origin, called the Anna.K deck. She personally owns more than 100 decks, but insists that number is “amateur” compared to some people she knows.
Above all, “I don’t want people to be afraid of it,” she said. “This is something approachable, Come and be ready to have some fun.”
David Kornreich a visiting physics professor to both Ithaca College and Cornell University, will teach “Under the Baleful Influence of Saturn,” a class about the motions of the stars, moons and planets and what they mean in the wizarding world at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 29.
“A lot of astronomers will have a reaction when someone calls them an astrologer; we don’t like to be confused. Once upon a time, astrology and astronomy were the same thing. I’d like to delve back in a fun way into the reason of why that is,” Kornreich said.
The class won’t just cover some basic astronomy, but also the human history behind it.
The planets move among the stars in regular patterns, and people tend to see their lives in regular patterns. It was natural step, he said, for people to take those patterns and apply it to their own lives to tell their future.
Trying to understand the motions of the planets was the bulk of astronomy for more than a thousand years. Astronomy has always played a roll in the major arcana in the wizarding world as well.
“If you wanted to be able to divine the future, it’s the primary way to do it. And it led to physics, which is the real way to divine the future,” Kornreich said.
Kornreich is a computational cosmologist. When he does research, he does two types of computer modeling: he studies the orbits of the stars and galaxies, and he also models the dynamics of super-massive black holes and their galaxies.
“I think that people today maybe don’t look at the sky so much. I hope when they leave the class they’ll want to look up and be more familiar and be able to pick out a planet or two,” he said.
Attendees will draw the orbits of some planets and Kornreich plans to help them figure out where the planets are on that day, as well as the day they were born, and where the same planet might be 10 years from now.
“If it’s a nice clear day, maybe we’ll take a telescope to look at the sun. Maybe we’ll tell some futures,” he added.
Defense Against the Dark Arts
Michael Labrecque, a librarian assistant at TCPL, will give a lecture on the history of vampires in folklore and literature throughout the ages.
“I’m going to be talking about the differences between types of vampire, as far as the real world is concerned,” Labrecque said. “The literary version of the vampire is completely different from the vampire in folklore; how did that come to be?”
Labrecque studied English literature in college, which is when he became interested in the literary vampire vs. folkore phenomenon.
“At the end of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” a classic collection of horror folklore aimed at children, “there are appendices where they explained where they came from, actual scholarly reference material. I found that more interesting than the stories themselves,” said Labrecque.
The folklore figure of the vampire, he said, is more fascinating and universal. In his understanding, the folkoric vampire came about as a way of dealing with anxiety regarding mortality, embodied in a threatening being.
Contrary to popular culture, the folklore representation doesn’t have the concept of the vampire as living forever, he said. “It often has an expiration date of 40 days, in some cases. You don’t get that obsession with immortality and beauty.”
Despite there being a lull in vampire popularity (as far as Twilight is concerned), he wants attendees to become aware of a richer, deeper tradition that he said does not typically factor into the literary and fictional vampire, intentional fiction as opposed to naïve fiction.
The segment will end with practical ways to defend oneself against a vampire based on folklore tradition.
“I want to get people interested in research of the belief. Vampires don’t ‘suck,’ but they do bite,” he said.
Jennifer Whitmore and Amanda David, practicing herbalists at Bramble in Ithaca’s Press Bay Alley, will co-teach Herbology 1010: Basics and Foundation on Sunday, October 30 at 3:30pm.
Whitmore and David’s mission, during Wizarding Weekend and beyond, is to connect people with the plant world around them, even in their own backyard.
“A weed is only a weed if you feel like pulling it out of your garden,” said Whitmore. “Other people might eat it, or use it in a salve or a tea.”
In keeping with Bramble’s consistently local model, the class will focus on identifying and utilizing 10 bioregional plants, such as dandelion, red clove, burdock and nettle.
“We already are very Harry Potter-esque,” Whitmore joked. “Everything we use in our day to day work as herbalists is going to seem like a prop to an average person — glass bottles, mortars and pestles, and baskets of herbs.”
The magic, she said, is when you put the plants and the people together.
“It’s kind of like a heritage. There’s so much first-person handing down of knowledge compared to other things you can learn. You study with people rather than texts,” said Whitmore.
She wants those who attend her session to gain familiarity with the plants so that they feel confident to branch out and try plant identification themselves.
Would-be herbologists can look forward to hands-on examples of plants, as well as information on where to find them and how to use them, followed by a lively question and answer session.
More than anything else, Whitmore hopes the class will help build a knowledge base for students to go out and experience how amazing herbology/herbalism can be on their own.
“It’s empowering, not having to rely on someone else for everything,” she said.
Whitmore will also hold an Herbology Class for Kids and Families at 2:30pm, Friday October 28.
Wandlore: A Complex and Mysterious Magic
Greg Laslo, wandmaker and owner of the Hungarian Wand Shop, will be selling wands and giving a presentation on wandlore at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, October 29.
“I want them to understand that the wand needs them as much as a wizard would need a wand. It’s not just a decorative stick, it’s something that’s a part of you,” he said.
Laslo spoke of this integral relationship, referencing a quote from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. When Harry’s wand is broken, it was like a part of his best magic had just been taken from him. Although it hadn’t injured him, it was worse than having a scar on his head and bones removed from his arm.
To him, a wand is much more than a tool for dueling. Someone who has a wand uses it for everything in his or her life, from cooking and cleaning to defending the people they love. Above all, the wand learns from the wizard.
Much of his presentation, he said, dives into the deeper aspects of how wands react and learn: “…what they learn from the people who used them, how important it is to have the right wands, the way that wands are passed and matching them to the person that’s going to own them.”
Laslo will showcase charts to demonstrate the wand motions for certain spells, but his favorite part of his presentations is answering fan questions and engaging in theory discussions: from what Luna’s want might have been made of, to his personal theory that Snape had two wands to keep his double-life a secret.
The Hungarian Wand Shop will have a vendor’s booth selling wands during the entire weekend. Laslo and his son make the wands themselves. They make well-known wands that correlate to specific characters and wands from the Pottermore website, but they also create their own original designs and do custom work.
At the booth, wizards can choose their wand based on a favorite character, wood, house color or preferred magical core, but Laslo can also help a wand choose its owner. Most wands are $20 – $25, and come with a carrying bag.
If you know someone who would adore a custom wand but may not be able to afford one, you can nominate him or her for his Wishing Wands project. Simply email him (firstname.lastname@example.org) a short message about the nominee, and every few weeks he and his apprentice choose a wizard in need and send a wand to them, anywhere in the world.
“It’s sort of my way to give back to the fans who make what I do possible. I’m not just a guy making wands because people make wands. I’ve read the whole series probably a dozen times,” Laslo said.
“I love the conversations, and making the wands gets me to be around other Harry Potter fans. If you want to come and talk about something we’re both excited about, I love to do it. I love when people can stump me with a question I’ve never thought about.”
Feature photo by Jeff Lower