MOORPARK : Witchcraft Class at College Draws Overflow Crowd

The class begins like any other, with the instructor admonishing his students for tardiness and encouraging quiet and order for his lecture.

But move past the introduction, and John Baker's course turns toward the supernatural. He brings out the blindfolds, the incense and the chanting drummers.

"We're not learning spells or sacrificing babies," said Baker, an instructor who wears his hair to his shoulders and dresses casually for his course on witchcraft at Moorpark College.

The class, officially called the Anthropology of Magic, Witchcraft and Religion, attracted almost 100 students a night during its first two sessions, 20 more than allowed.

Throughout his lecture Tuesday night, Baker had to stop frequently to turn students away who wanted to enter the crowded room.

"Nobody knew the response would be this great," Baker said. A specialty class at the community college ordinarily attracts about 30 students, he said.

This class has not been offered at the school for more than 10 years.

The course explores less traditional religions, including the New Age movement, Jamaica's Rastafarian culture and the American Indian revitalization movement.

"We're trying to look at why every society around the world has some kind of system of belief for looking at the supernatural," Baker said.

During Baker's three-hour sessions, the classroom becomes a testing ground for such religious practices as dancing, drumming and chanting.

On Tuesday, Baker had his students blindfolded as he passed around objects for them to touch, such as flower petals and silk. In the background, his aides played with wind chimes and wafted various scents under the students' noses.

The exercise was designed to expose the students to a different reality, one affected by lack of sight, he said. "Merely by shutting your eyes, you open up a whole new world to your other senses."

The course has attracted a variety of students, including returning adults and other instructors.

"I'm re-evaluating my own spirituality," said Elane O'Rourke, a Moorpark philosophy instructor.

Baker's students will be required to keep journals and to participate in a guided imagery experiment in which they mentally transport themselves to a different place and time.

"I'm trying to get them to look at the world differently from the way they normally do," he said.

"It's very nice to turn people on to pleasure."

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