Oxford University – The Real Hogwarts!

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Have you ever found yourself in a particular place and suddenly felt completely at home? I couldn’t identify this pervading feeling at first, but when I visited the University of Oxford in Oxfordshire, England, a couple of years ago, for some strange reason it felt amazingly familiar. I had never been there before and yet, that indecipherable feeling of connection could not be shaken off.

The architecturally gothic buildings and the streets thronged with bustling students, the jovial camaraderie and the many fairy-like gardens and little shops sporting old tomes and coloured school uniforms… I just couldn’t put my finger on it. Until I started visiting specific places of interest that is, and then all the pieces of the puzzle magically made sense.

Oxford is Hogwarts. It is Diagon Alley. It is Lyra’s parallel Oxford from Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials Trilogy’. It is Terry Pratchett’s ‘Unseen University’ on Discworld, J.R.R. Tolkien’s playing field, C.S Lewis’ inspiration, and Lewis Carroll’s domain. Traces of Wonderland and Narnia permeate the streets. Oxford – the place where so many literary titans met, conversed, evolved, were influenced, and created their master works.

We left our car in a small parking area outside the city proper and took a bus which left us on Magdalen Street, where the first thing we saw was Balliol College. This is the oldest of the 38 constituent colleges which make up the University of Oxford.

When one speaks of this University, one must keep in mind that the different colleges or communities in which students live and study all present different outlooks and approaches to learning, having their own various idiosyncrasies, sports teams, coloured uniforms, patron saints, facilities, and academic prospectus. And yet they all make up one University – 38 different parts of one great whole, as well as a number of academic departments divided into four divisions. Is this starting to sound a little bit familiar?

Balliol College, founded in the late 13th century, had long existed as a medieval hall of residence for students. There is, in fact, evidence that teaching took place here as far back as 1096AD, making Oxford the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Moving on towards the iconic Bodleian Library, I passed outside the enchanting Sheldonian Theatre, built in the 17th century. Its eight-sided cupola is truly a sight to behold. However, I had no time to enjoy any of the music concerts or lectures taking place within.

As we walked away from the theatre, I chanced to look up and for a moment, thought I had been suddenly transported to Venice. This is because I was passing under Hertford Bridge, also known as ‘the Bridge of Sighs’, which joins the two sides of Hertford College. Although popular for supposedly being a replica of the eponymous Venetian Bridge, it actually looks more like the Rialto Bridge of the same city.

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My target, however, was the second largest library in Britain – the Bodleian Library, which is famous for containing each and every book published within the UK. Over 11 million volumes housed on 120 miles of shelving to be precise. Are you impressed yet? I was all agog even before going inside. When I stepped over the threshold, I was flabbergasted – it was Hogwarts! Literally.

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The Bodleian Library was used as part of the set through-out four of the Harry Potter movies, not just as a library, but as the infirmary, as well as serving as the Hall where Professor McGonnagal teaches the students to dance in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

No trip to Oxford is complete without a visit to Christ Church College

Duke Humphrey’s Library, which is the name of the oldest reading room within the Bodleian, was used for the scene where Harry Potter enters the Restricted library under his invisibility cloak with a lamp to steal a book in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

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Here, one can also find a section of mysteriously chained books, which are known to have inspired Terry Pratchett’s depiction of the magical library within his ‘Unseen University’ of wizards. And what about the magnificently vaulting ceiling within the interior of the Divinity School, a medieval building which is attached to the library itself? Definitely not to be missed.

Just a side-note… the official head of Oxford University is called the chancellor, while the vice-chancellor is the one who organises central administration and the in-house professors are generally called ‘Masters’. Readers of Terry Pratchett should find themselves familiar with this state of affairs. The coat-of-arms of Oxford University, an open book with a crown underneath it and two above it, funnily looks a lot like the coat of arms of the Unseen University too.

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Moving on down Catte Street, I soon visited other well-known Oxford Colleges, such as All Souls, Queens, as well as Magdalen College, where C.S Lewis, author of the famous Narnia books, was a tutor, and Exeter College, where I could admire the bust of one of its most famous past students, J. R. R. Tolkien.

On the other hand, unfortunately I did not have the time to visit the cloisters found at New College, which were used as the backdrop for certain scenes of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Needing a break and something to eat after all this walking and awe-inspiring sightseeing, I paused at the Oxford Covered Market, centred in the middle of the city. This historic market goes back to the 18th century. It offers a plethora of fresh food stands, artisans’ products, traditional stalls, greengrocers, bakeries and handcrafted knick knacks. Truly a landmark in its own right.

After some well-merited refreshments, we walked on down Wheatsheaf Yard towards Christchurch Cathedral, which serves as both the College Chapel and Mother Church for the Diocese of Oxford. The gothic long-spired building, with its colourful stained glass windows, vaulted cloisters and intricately carved ceiling, is truly one of a kind.

A short walk south of the cathedral brought us finally to Christ Church College, which, for me personally, was the climax of my trip to Oxford University. I definitely know which college I’d wish to attend if I could be an alumna of Oxford University! ‘Welcome to Hogwarts’… so says Prof McGonagall as Harry is about to enter his school for the first time. And those same steps we see on screen are the same steps which actually lead up the dining hall at Christ Church College.

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The Meadow Building, built in the Venetian Gothic style popular during the Victorian period, dominates our view as soon as we enter this college. The courtyard also gives one a view of Bodley Tower, whose picturesque stone staircase was portrayed magnificently throughout various Harry Potter movies. Up the magical staircase we go to the dining hall at Christ Church College. The first thing we see on our immediate right as we enter the hall is a portrait of Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, famed author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The large stained glass windows around the hall and above the fireplace sport a myriad of Alice in Wonderland figures – from Alice herself to the white rabbit, and even the mock turtle. It was while Dodgson was rowing on a small boat near Magdalen College with the Dean’s three daughters, of which one was called Alice Liddell that he first started improvising the tale we all love and know so well.

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Christ Church Dining Hall was the inspiration for the Hall in Hogwarts, with its wood-panelled walls, its long long tables and its tiny lamps. The movie was not actually filmed in it, but a perfect replica of the place was reproduced within studio.

The many portraits lining the dining hall in Christ Church also played an important part in J. K Rowling’s novels. The table at the far end, known as ‘the High Table’ and used by senior members of the college, was also perfectly replicated as the table where Professors at Hogwarts dine and make speeches.

No trip to Oxford is complete without a visit to Christ Church College, just as no tourist worth his salt could drive off without spotting the small store known as The Alice in Wonderland Shop. Located just in front of Christ Church College, this colourful Wonderland emporium stands on the historic spot pre-viously filled by Alice Liddell’s favourite candy shop.

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The shop is full of Alice in Wonderland merchandise – different decks of cards depicting characters from the story, tiny china tea-sets, replica pocket watches, figurines, tea cosies, books and much more. If, like me, you’re an Alice aficionado, prepare your cheque book!

This article of mine was published on The Sunday Times of Malta on 23.10.2016 – http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20161023/travel/Oxford-University-the-real-Hogwarts.628830

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New House – New Rituals!

The amount of work to be lavished onto a new house is amazing. Apart from all those painting jobs, plastering and moving about of furniture, which still go on and on long after you have restructured the place to your tastes. After all the workers have gone, and you have purchased as many soft furnishings as you can to make the place comfortable and homey. After you have finally gotten rid of all the package boxes, put your clothes in the wardrobe and your millions of stockings in drawers. After having finally put all your many many books on their shelves, and then re-arranged them again and again, in order for them to make some sort of sense – according to author, subject and reachability…

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Yes, after all this – there is still work to be done, especially by someone like me, who sensitive, emphatic, and naturally aware of negative energies, cannot rest until she feels that the house is REALLY free of any previous occupants – be they physical, spiritual, emotional or even just psychic residues.

So, I spent the last three weeks carefully writing quite a long ritual to banish, cleanse, bless and protect my new home from all the negative thoughts and feelings, all the pain and suffering, all the stress and anxiety, and in other words, anything at all, left over by the previous couple – who were selling the house due to their divorce after 16 years of marriage. Ouch! Yes, I’m pretty sure there must have been a lot of bad feelings flying around this house. I could actually feel them sometimes too.

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I took my time with this ritual because not only was it the first one I was doing in the house, but also because, in a way, it was also the most important one, since it would not only have an unconscious impact on me, but also one on my partner and on our relationship. My boyfriend is not a Wiccan or a Pagan, he is an atheist, and yet I’m sure he’s been unconsciously feeling the tension and negativity in the house too. It has been becoming more and more apparent this past month, and I could’nt ignore it any longer.

A further issue was that our neighbours, the ones with the maisonette directly below us, are always fighting in a really bad way. The wife is always crying, and they are always swearing and saying awful things to each other. We get to hear everything because our bedroom window is directly above their internal yard, which they always leave open. They fight almost every day, and their fighting is the first thing we hear each morning when we wake up, and sometimes the last thing we hear before going to sleep at night too. This does not help the general atmosphere, no matter how many times my boyfriend says that seeing the difference between their relationship and ours (which is very loving, happy and balanced) makes him feel kind of aloof in a sniggering kind of way. So, my ritual also incorporated putting on layers of protection on each window facing their place, in order to keep their negativity out of our lives.

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I performed the ritual succesfully last weekend. Finally. And I must say, I really physically felt the actual difference immediately afterwards. The house needed to breathe and so did I. And even though I had known this would have an effect, I never actually knew the amount of bad energies coursing through my poor home, before I actually got rid of them, and could appreciate the change in atmosphere.

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Immediately after that, I bought our first plant! I am so happy and excited about it! I plan to slowly construct a roof garden in future, and though this is a house plant, it is still the start of that venture. I had two other plants before this one, one in my old apartment and one at work. Both died. Let’s hope this one doesn’t. It’s a dieffenbachia, which, I am told, are quite hardy. So, fingers crossed.

Next up is Imbolc! I must still declare and bless my sacred space and altar, not to mention re-purify all my tools, so I must try and incorporate that into the Imbolc ritual as well. Another lengthy one! Ah well, quite worth it considering the effects of the last one!

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The Legend of the Mermaid Melusina – Men who break their word, and women who continue to love them

Some people say that women often find partners whose character resembles that of their father. Such, indeed is the story of Melusina.

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Melusina was the eldest daughter of a mermaid who had married a human man for love. The mermaid relinquished the freedom of the seas, gave up her scales and gained two normal legs, gave up her whole life, to become a mortal woman and live with the man she loved.

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She diminished, from sea-goddess of bream and wave, to mere woman of hearth and home. In return, she asked her husband for one thing only, that he not gaze upon her or his newborn child, whenever she gave birth, and that he give her one day in which to be alone with the child on that day. He consented, dazzled with her beauty and drunk with her love. They lived many happy years together, and were blessed with two daughters. One day, the man’s brothers and father asked him why his wife wanted this time alone and what sorcery she was performing on their children. The man became suspicious and fearful, distrustful of his wife, he broke his word, and hid in their chamber, while his wife was giving birth in another one. After the birth, his wife came back into the room with the child and started bathing her while giving her all the ocean-wide magic of the water.

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The man gasped, and she turned with tears in her eyes, knowing that their life together had ended. For he had betrayed her. He had broke his word and put others before his own true love.

The mermaid kissed her husband one last time, donned her scaly tail and went back to her watery home, leaving with her three daughters forever.melusina2a

Time passed and her youngest daughter, Melusina, began to question her parentage. Melusina was a half-goddess, mermaid while in the water, human maiden when she was dry. She was 15 years old, curious and bold, with a hundred questions. Pestering her mother until she told her the story of her father’s betrayal. Enraged at the falsity of this beast called man, whom she had never seen in her life, Melusina went to find her father. She spied him napping beneath a tree, bound and gagged him and took him prisoner. She wanted to make him pay for betraying her mother, for making her so lonely and sad throughout the last years, and for being a human man, and so different from his own daughters. She took him to a sea-cave, tied him to a stalagmite, and left him there while the tide came in, and the sea swirled angry and foamy around him.

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After the deed was done, she went  back to her mother and told her that the man who had betrayed her, the man who had left her broken-hearted and alone, had been punished. Melusina expected her mother to be pleased, what she did not expect was that her mother still loved her father. The ocean goddess’s wrath was indomitably, her anger unstoppable. In her sorrow and rage, she punished Melusina casting her out of the sea. With flashing eyes, she cursed her:

‘As I was betrayed by the thing I loved most, so shall you be. Your scales and power will diminish and you will try to escape from your human skin in vain. Only on moonless nights will you be able to be your true self. But beware, should anyone born of mortal woman see you in this guise, your body shall be ripped from you forever, and you will see only Death’.

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Alone and afraid, Melusina wandered around the wild forest, weak with hunger. Her face full of tears, her white feet bleeding and hurting, she finally found a lake where she rested and bathed in the light of the stars. The Duke of Poitou, who was riding home with his men, had stopped by the lake to drink, and saw the beautiful girl, naked and singing, glorious in her beauty, lounging amidst the fireflies.

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Entranced, he asked her to go back home with him and become his wife. Alone in a strange world, Melusina accepted, knowing she would need someone’s protection and a place to sleep, even though she distrusted all men. Like her mother before her, she asked the human Lord for one thing only, that once every month, on the dark of the moon, he would leave her alone to bathe and be in solitude, and like her father had done, he also accepted.

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The years passed, as years will, and Melusina gave her Duke many sons. Unfortunately, all her sons had scales, fish eyes, or gills. They were all deformed, and thus the Duke was never really happy. He could not understand his wife, who walked slowly and stared off into the distance as though at another world. He could not hear what she heard, or see what she saw. Her eyes were beautiful and enigmatic, full of mystery and pain he could not comprehend. In time, he became obsessed with the idea that his wife had a secret lover, whom she met at the dark of the moon. One night, when the moon was hidden, he hid behind a tapestry and saw his wife in her bath, her long irridescent tail glistening in the candle light, while she combed her long luxurious hair. Aghast, disgusted and horrified, he did not make a sound, until he could get away. A day later, news came that his youngest brother had been killed. While he was grieving, his wife went to comfort him and in anger and pain, he blamed her, shouting in front of everyone ‘It is your fault you demon! You serpent! You corrupted my sons with your blood and now even my brother is lost to me’. Melusina, deathly white, fell in a cold faint.

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When she came to her senses, her husband was sorry he had said those words. Sorry he had betrayed his love and been so cruel. Sorry he had said anything at all – but by then it was too late. Melusina’s raging watery nature broke forth from its cage until it consumed her. Her scales took over her whole body, the colors so blinding, that no one could look directly at her, until finally her body was consumed in agony. Her lamentations and screams could be heard all over the kingdom, and her husband qualied then, knowing that her blood would forever flow in the veins of his descendants.

When, on his deathbed, he anointed Melusina’s first son, the son with the mismatched eyes and webbed fingers, as his heir, the whole castle heard the mysterious disembodied wailing of Melusina, cursing and crying out, testament of the betrayal and fickleness of men. When, years later, the son died, leaving everything to his son after him, the same wailing could be heard. Throughout the years, each time a son of Melusina’s was about to die, the whole of Lusignan, whom in his youth its Duke had named after his beloved wife, rang with the agony and loss of the mother of the line. As it still does. As it always will.

Such is the curse which comes from betrayal.

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