Yule Wishes

Blessed and Merry Yule to you all,
Dear People of the Pagan ways.
Where golden leaves used to fall,
only blank page of snow now stays.
And so I wish you all the best
in whatever fills that void.
May your spring is also blessed
and summer is cheerfully enjoyed.

May the child of promise brings you light,
Dear People of the Pagan ways.
May be peace where once was fight
and hope for all is set ablaze.
May it shine within our heart
in this new cycle of the year.
Hand in hand let’s now depart
without sadness and without fear.

To renewed sun form what was old
let us walk now and keep our trust,
for none of us know what was fortold,
and when our bodies will turn in dust.
Our souls will always shine through dark,
as we celebrate each autumn fall.
So may new year rises from that spark.
Blessed and Merry Yule to you all!


One of the Fragments - The Czech Pagan Society

Referring to some older articles of this blog is slowly becoming a habit, so I am going to do that again. One of the first blog posts described the Czech Pagan community as fragmented and did so in a positive manner. At least as far as I can tell. One of the best things about this fragmentation is that there is no standard or requirement of what a pagan group should look like and therefore there is quite a lot of variety and freedom. My wishful thinking in this blog post is the wish to be able to describe various parts (fragments) of the Czech pagan community. It's only a half-way whish though, because such ability would imply being a qualified and objective person, willingness to work with many various groups and to spend time with them and to very much care about the whole picture. My lazy way out is simply to describe what I am familiar with and that is an organization called The Czech Pagan Society and maybe some other day.... groups that are in some way related to it. However there is a problem of an obvious lack of objectivity here.

I had a long period of unwillingess to do anything in the Pagan public area, some time between 2007-2011. A few years before this era I mostly started to do this stuff for the simple reason that there was nothing like that available for myself. The nice bunch of people that got together during BMWC events (more about these in some other blog post, not sure if it is that interesting) and similar links eventually started to work under the PFI umbrella and things were looking promising. So I was quite happy to put energy into my life instead and became a happy visitor of events and a passive supporter. After a few years this bunch of people decided to continue doing their thing outside the PFI umbrella again (January 2012) and they eventually picked me up to the team for some reason. So that's why I have the chance to watch things quite closely now. Therefore I am not talking from an objective position, because I am the part of this thing from the very start. Yet I am also not the driving force or the one who makes decisions at the moment, so hopefully there is still enough distance to see the drawbacks and future pitfalls. One may even consider this blog post being a bit of a PR. Well, I think it is in some way.

So, how would I describe this organization? It is supposed to provide a platform for people of various pagan paths or interests who have the need to meet new people, are open to sharing, learning from each other and have good time while doing so. It's focused on doing things. This involves events in nature, public rituals, workshops, pub-moots and similar events. The main objective is to provide space for people to socialize, get to know each other and find out about various approaches. There is no training program or any spiritual guidance associated with this. There is nothing that could possibly substitute the frameworks of individual paths or schools, such as OBOD.

The group of 13 people that is running it consists of people from various backgrounds, including education (teachers), civil service, military, information technologies and others. It has got a long history that goes back to 2004 and through many obstacles I think it settled down and works on a very simple basic principles. These came naturally through learning by doing.

One of the key aspects is that the organization tries to be civil, deliberatley avoiding the pagan stereotypes of the "unemployed hippy", "gothic/vampire special snowflake", "esoteric new ager", "ultra-conservative nationalist" and few others. The common sense is something that wasn't always with this group, but now it seems to be one of the things that stays and doesn't go away. I think it gradually became an essential basis that will become stronger as the people will grow older and older. Since I am well over 30 myself, the civil and modest approach is something I appretiate very much. From my point of view it is also nicely balanced by love for life, enjoyment, fun, and hilarity. Any environment where I can be a human being in the first place is a good one for me.

Another important aspect is the openness to various paths and paradigms. At least as long as they are sincere and non-agressive. This brings a diversity. Something I like as well. The whole thing was started by druids from ADF and OBOD together with ecclectics and initiated Wiccans. Groups/paths that have parallels, but have known issues or disagreements between each other as well. One of the reasons this is very healthy for an organisation like The Czech Pagan Society is the moderation it brings. The moderation I talk about is the fact that people mostly keep their religious paradigms to themselves, don't play the "who is better pagan" games. This creates a safe environment into which people of different paths and even people new to Paganism may feel welcome. Not because others agree with them, but because others don't need everyone else to agree with themselves either. That's something one does not see very often in countries that used to belong to the 'Eastern Block' and not everyone is able to see how this works and why it is a healthy way. Certainly it is not an aspect that is flawlessly kept, there certainly are exeptions, but the general direction seems clear to me. I am happy that this laid back approach is there in some form.

This leads me to another layer and that is the lack of religious paradigm and content overall. Which means that in essence The Czech Pagan Society is a "secular", non-religious organization. That is something that could be very much debatable, yet again I would mention it as one of the positive aspects. The Czech Pagan Society even goes that far as not having any ethical codex or declaration of believe. No "As you harm none, do what you will", nothing. The closest thing to this is our simple definition of paganism. I believe this makes CPS open to reconstructionist and more ethnic based paths as well as more ecclectic or even borderline traditions (is Wicca pagan or not - good question, right?).

One of the aspects I feel a bit ambivalent about is the way of how the entire thing works internally. There is of course this classic phenomena of "90 percent work being done by 10 percent people" slowly crawling in as it always does, but that's something not suitable for this weblog to be discussed, so I will just leave it at that. The whole structure grew on the basis of friendship, yet there are many questions I ask myself related to the future prospects. Notably the one that is connected to the necessary transformation of a small group in which people know each other on personal basis into a large group that has a strong element of anonymity in it and the role of friendship and links between people slowly diminishes. I don't think there is enough reflection in this area and at the moment the group is not ready to take this step in a conscious manner. Yet this is something that won't happen in a year or two, so there is enough time. Another problem I see here that there is a risk for people not feeling welcome, because they are in some way very different in the sense of social groups. But this is something I am not sure quite of. My uncertainty is both in terms how much this is actually true and how exactly is this bad.

I think the challenge which the Czech Pagan Society faces at the moment is learning how to communicate with it's members and how to enable them contribute to its activities. I can see this interlinked with the previous potential problem. Another aspect is the ability to reach out to others outside of the member base. I can feel quite a few weaknesses in this area and dealing with them won't be a simple matter. The Czech Pagan Society started half a year ago and took a direction which ensures creating a stable and active team in a very short time. Yet there are downsides and potential pitfalls that need to be overcome with proactivity towards the members that want to get more involved.

I feel a strong potential in this organization. I still see risks and ways how it could easily end up in mediocrity, but likely we will see this organization present in many years to come. So far, it has organized few pub-moots, workshops and some weekends in nature with various activities, either serious or just entertaining. I think there has been at least ten events in the first half year and that's not a bad start. There are plans for more and there is a steady flow of inspiration, presence and to some extend... a vision. One can only hope, because I myself can't imagine there isn't a platform like this. It just does not work. There must be an available environment supportive of paganism and witchcraft embracing various paths and  which is based on a common sense and tolerance. In the same time, whenever there would be some controversy in the media, one can easily say... well look, there is this society and it proves that pagans are just normal people, human beings with their families, jobs and daily problems everyone has. Of course, media love schocking issues and more likely depicts religious groups as mostly radical fundamentalist, but it's worth trying and explaining that pagans, druids, wiccans etc. are mostly normal people, pretty much like anyone else. Future might bring these challenges and we should be ready to tackle them.

To conclude I would like to invite the few visitors of my weblog into the galery of photos from our recent events. If you are interested you can find them here. Just click the images and the galeries will show up. More photos are on the Facebook page. That's all for now on this topic. I think I will write more in the future.


Czech Community Issues: Restitution of Curch Property

Let us begin this post with an ilustrative picture.

This poster depicts a right-wing politian giving 134 billion CZK (roughly 5,4 billion EUR) to a Christian Priest. In Czech language "miliarda" means a billion. The poster names the two Czech governing right-wing parties and explicitly says that these two want to give 5,4 billion EUR to the Churches. It actually uses the word "darovat", which is one of Czech words for "give", but usually used in birthday present situations, implying there is no other basis for the gift other than an affection for the person in question. Then it says "We refuse the Church restitution that create the debt of the state". The whole thing is signed by the logo of the Czech prominent left-wing party - the social democrats.

So, what is this whole thing about? In 1946 elections, 38 percent of our Czech nation thought it would be a good idea if we had a Communist government. Which we unfortunately had. For the next 40 years. A brief recount of the consequences could be found here. More details provide other Wikipedia articles, such as Economy of Cummunist Czechoslovakia and Religion in Czechoslovakia. In short, most of the private and Church property was stolen to become the property of the Czechoslovakian state. In Communist newspeak, the property was "nationalized".

The post-communist Czechoslovakia and The Czech Republic have managed to return most of the property to the families of the pre-1948 owners or to compensate them. With one exception this country haven't yet found a courage to deal with - the Christian Churches. And that's exactly what's on the table in our Parliament and what is a subject to numerous heated discussion across the country. The picture I have included into this post illustrates how much was the topic hi-jacked and twisted for the purposes of political campaigns. 5,4 billion EUR is a compensation for all property that is no longer available to be returned. By no means is this a present the government wants to give to the Churches, because it loves them as the poster suggests. The question as such is much more complicated and includes a financing model for Churches which eliminates national financing of Church salaries post 2030.

If you are interested in more information or articles on this topic, I would recommend this one. Or simply using Google search for "Czech Church restitution". There is a lot of it out there and most of the articles are not older than few weeks.

The relationship between the people and the Church has always been complicated in these lands. Hussite Wars of the 15th century is one of the examples in which this nation was not in exactly friendly mood. There is nothing surprising about the intensity of the debate ignited by the proposed restitution.

There is also nothing surprising about this topic invading the Czech pagan internet. Pagans like to bash Christians for various reasons. I don't believe this is a Czech speciality. I would even dare to say that the debates on this in The Czech Republic have so far been more reasonable than in other parts of the world, judging on the basis of books by some American authors (notably Starhawk and Raymond Buckland) and by articles on the internet. I suspect if Starhawk ever lived in this country, she would probably have shredded the Church Restitutions to pieces, because all the property originally belonged to the Witches in the first place. Right? Well, there is a bit of truth in that, I think. But one would hardly expect this to appear in a serious debate. Well, one would be wrong. I have recently seen quite a lot of bashing of Christianity in some of the areas of the Czech pagan internet world and the debate on the Church Restitutions seem to provide lots of efficient fuel to this phenomena.

The debate in the Czech pagan community resembles the billboard in the beginning of this post quite well. It is not mostly about various aspects of the whole process, but it seems to be also hi-jacked and twisted - mostly to serve either the anti-Christian agenda or the classical games of "who is better pagan". The general concern seem to based on morality principles and moral aspects of the history of the Catholic Church in this country. To be fair, many of them seem quite legitimate to me. Too many places one would consider sacred to the Old Gods have been plagued by Christian buildings or just crosses. Too many people suffered in the name of the Christian God and too many cultures were destroyed for the sake of "the one true God". Who would ever compensate them? Who would give me back the mythologies and traditions of my ancestors or compensate me for being robbed of them? I myself agree with the ethical dimension of those arguments. And I can see why they are so attractive. In the same time I find them very short-sighted. And I disagree with an assumption that pagans that have no principal problem with Church restitutions are not real pagans. That's something I consider to be very childish.

One of the parts of the legislative "package" seem to be a steady reduction of state financial support of the Churches. This suppoort is currently about 1,4 billion CZK (56 million EUR) per anuum. I have to say, I like this idea of the reduction, with the prospect of the end of the support in about 2030. I am all for the secular state. The less dealing between the state and the Church, the better as far as I am concerned. Quite frankly, after 20 years when I hear the Czech cardinal speaking bad about homosexuals, I can say to myself - I don't pay this guy from my taxes anymore, so whatever he says does not concern me in the slightest.

The most important aspect for me however is the dimension of legal culture. I believe that returning the property implies that what Communists did was an act of theft and confirms it as such. I believe that returning what was once stolen and a fair and transparent application of the law (even un-popular) is an inherent principle of the western culture. It is this western way of legal culture and democracy that allows me to worship and express myself as I want. Even though it maybe laughable to the majority. And this principles are so dear to me that returning the property to the Church is a very small price to pay indeed. Not returning the property or compensating for it because the subject in question is a Catholic Church would mean that legal culture has lost the battle, communist theft was a legitimate act of "nationalization" and our situation is not that different from the one in the Communist era. Or the one that just put Pussy Riot in jail. That would be a sad day for me.

Of course the law might not be perfect. Indeed I have written my opinion only based on the moral and emotional dimension. That seems to be main level on which the discussion in the pagan community takes place. Since I am neither a lawyer nor an expert I would leave it at that.


Can polyteism and Wicca overlap?

That's a question! The topic is so big, one can write a book about it. My intention is not to write a book about it, reason being that my answer to this question is that I simply don't know the answer. 

The problem of it is (as well as many other questions that has a word 'Wicca' in them) that understanding of the divine is vastly different between traditions and individuals, even if we talk only about the Wiccan world itself. When it comes to basic practices and principles of doing things, one can always say something general that is pretty much applicable to any particular lineage or coven. But when it comes to the beliefs in the Gods, one has to be much more careful. The reason behind this is, that in my view Wicca teaches you how to do things, but the way one interprets them is up to him/her. Who are the Gods and what are they? Question just as complex as the question "Who am I?". One does not simply find the answer in The Book of Shadows.

What I do know however is what are my opinions on an overlap of Wicca and polyteistic world view. More precisely, how do I percieve the divine. The reason why I want to elaborate on this issue using the basis of Polyteism vs. Wicca contrast is one specific observation. It seems to me that from all the possible ways of understanding the divine principles there are two particular ones that are often subject to heated debates and clash on regular basis. The question that best defines this contrariety could be put like this. Are all the Gods and Goddesses different faces of one God and Goddess (often a description for Wiccan beliefs), an ultimate divine principle or are they individual divine beings (an opinion I call a polyteistic paradigm)?

I think many of us spent lot of time thinking about this. I did too. Worshipping the Gods, doing sacrifices, conducting the rituals to their honor, enjoying their living presence and inviting them to our lifes and our hearts is the best answer I was able to come up with so far. However let's have a look at the second best answer, an answer that can be shared among us via internet.

I noticed that both paradigms often misinterpret each other and they are sometimes even used to invalidate different paths or to provide a feeling "we know it better". I have seen and heard quite a few proponents of both paradigms describing their view of the divine. There are few statements that often repeat themselves and several assumptions being taken as a definite.

Those  who are of the opinion that Gods and Goddess are various aspects of one God and one Goddess (Wiccans, ecclectics, Dianics, etc.) seem to perceive this opinion as the ultimate esoteric truth behind all religions, implying that all Gods and Goddesses are essentialy the same. Ofthen this 'same' has a name. The problem with this assumption is that it is being taken as standing above religion or transcending it. The logical consequence of this is that those individual religions that are transcended by this 'truth' are then necessarily below it and unenlightened. Their adherents are therefore living in delusions, not knowing the 'mystery' that their Gods and Goddesses are parts of some Great God and Great Goddess of someone else. Often someone they never even seen in their entire life. This might seem as an example of blasphemy if there was such a thing within Wicca, but in my opinion this way of seeing it needs to be given some thought.

First off all because many of these people are pagans as well, and therefore our potential friends and allies. How would I feel if someone told me that my Gods are just aspects of his God and that it's just my lack of spiritual insight that prevents me to see the obvious truth? Nothing special, I know. I would simply not be interested in his proselytising and eventually walk away. All of us who share this opinion do this mistake from time to time and to me it is the biggest weakness of it - the assumption that this is somehow more true than other interpretations.

I myself have no problem with this paradigm and there is a large part of me that finds it to be essential for my spiritual way. What I think is one of its best aspectcs is the inspiration towards spiritual goals, the potential to interact with a bigger whole through this and then a certain paralel or link to the animistic paradigm. Animism is a belief that everything has a soul. If all Gods and Goddesses are just one spiritual being transcending all then everything else is this spiritual being too. When we follow this logic further, there is no difference between the Gods and a heap of fresh dung. Or a river. A giant rock, a tree, a flower, the landscape around us. The Moon above it. Or Diana the Moon Goddess, The Great Mother. All this is essentialy a circle for me, in which monotheism and animism are close relatives. It may sound bizzare, I know.

Then on the other hand there is a polyteistic paradigm (wich is shared mostly by reconstructionist and related groups). From its point of view the Gods are separate individuals. Not only is Thor and Odin different from each other and they both have separate identity, but also the Norse Thor and Slavic Perun have separate entity, even though they share quite a few attributes. What I like about this paradigm is that the myths seem to come alive and that it makes the relationship to the divine much more personal and intimate. I am convinced that there is a part of a human being (at least mine) for which it is essential to percieve the divine as having human form, which is something one can easily relate to. In the same time it is polyteistic paradigm that is invaluable when one wants to put his/her spirituality into a context of certain culture. Suddenly all the myths, runes symbols come together and create a unique atmosphere.

The problem with this paradigm however is that it does not have much open space for inclusion of other faces and forms of the individual Gods and for certain questions related to our existence in this universe. The Gods seem to be separated from this world, since they live (in case of Thor and Odin) in their Asgard, not making the question of what is Midgard and how it relates to me easier in any way. Polyteistic paradigm seems to have a tendency to be definite, leaving the question of the essence of human beings and life itself no only un-answered, but even un-asked.

The proponents of polyteistic world view also seem to be very defensive about who and what the Gods are. Ideas such as the Gods being part of our nature and psyche freak them out completely. I have seen many articles and opinions dismissing anything just slightly different from a literal interpretation of mythology. This defensiveness might not be unprovoked, hence the assumption that certain deities transcend other deities, etc. But I see it as one of the biggest weaknesses of contemporary polyteism. I could go even that far that conserving the Gods and making them unchangeable strips them of their divine nature and makes them jump off the train of time and developement of a human race - essentially leaving them in the hands of the past again.

What is my position in all this? I am a practicing Wiccan and a polyteist. I am convinced this is perfectly possible. Why? Because the Book of Shadows does not really tell us what to believe in. Neither have it ever done any Wiccan I have ever met. In Wicca we are encouraged to develop our own understanding of divinity. And so I did. I would whole-heartedly encourage any other to do the same. Because trying to understand the Gods is a fascinating journey. Sometimes they seem individual indeed and sometimes some of them seem to be so big that they encircle the entire universe. There is much to explore in this life.

Yet in the same time I am of the believe that the Gods are the ultimate divine principle. So I acknowledge an existence of such thing as the Greater Divinity, however you want to call it. But I refuse to label it within myself in any way other than The Gods. Because all of them have an equal right to represent this ultimate divine principle, since they all posess its very essence. Therefore to me the believe that the Gods and Goddesses are made of a primal divine spark equals the one that they are separate entities. This necesarily creates many other questions for me and makes me change how my spiritual practice looks like over time.

It sure is a dynamic thing for me, similar to day and night, winter and summer. The Great Mother is the Mother Goddess of the cosmos, yet in the same time she is one of other Goddesses which I see important in my life and in my understanding of the divine and the universe. Could all the Goddesses be daughters of just one Great Mother? I think so. Could this Great Mother be represented by any of them? I think so. Does this mean that the Goddesses are not independent beings? I think it doesn't. At least I can't see how.

I don't actually believe this question even has an answer that would be independent on it s context. Therefore I don't think my view is better then any other and I am aware of its certain logical inconsistency. I definitely not think I will ever come to a definite answer and I don't even want it. Becasue the very best one is the spiritual life itself and I am more than happy with it. What is easy to comprehend by mind is often far from reality and the essence of a given thing. When it comes to politics, sicence, daily life, driving a car, I am fine with comprehensive schemes. When it comes to the Gods, I prefer life in its complexity.

So. The simple answer to the original question would be: In my case, pretty good. And how do you see the Gods?


How we almost had a Pagan Church. (Thanks Gods for the failures)

There is one specific topic that comes up in the Czech pagan world every few years. Although I don't find it that big, many people apparently do. Therefore my guess is that it could be interesting for quite a few. 

Even though there is a large variety among Czech pagans and there is virtually no chance they would be willing to come under one highly organized umbrella (see one of my earlier blog posts on this), for some reason many of us think this is a good way forward. I have few experiences and observations related to these ambitions I would like to share. Before I do so, I would like to clarify that the topic here are the past (and possibly future) attempts to register and establish a religious society recognized by state with the legal status of church. So this is neither about PFI nor is it about any other similar organization such as The Czech Pagan Society. The scope of this blog post is limited to the legal form of religious society, which is something many Czech pagans view as a next natural and logical step in our development.

I have two personal experiences with this matter. One goes back to 2003/2004 and the second one is relatively fresh. It is not older than few months actually. In both cases I have realized how ill driven they were and the only difference was that in the latter case it took me few minutes to come to the conclusion that I have 'nothing to do here'.

Both cases had some interesting things in common. They started on the basis on another activities that were already establishing themselves. In both cases more than one tradition or group started to work on something very specific together. It went slowly, bit by bit.  In the first case it was a pagan magazine, in the second case it was a discussion and contact group on pagan funerals. And suddenly there always came someone who wanted a big jump and to turn the natural flow of things into some monstrous project 'to rule them all'. That is to create a religious society for all Czech pagans and to start with the big things. In both cases these specific activities I mentioned were to some extent 'hijacked' and turned into a starting point for a pagan religious society. And therefore both activities also ceased to exist as the big ambitions vanished into nothingness. 

The first case was really interesting. The whole process started to develop around a pagan magazine which was a mutual project of Czech Asatru, Slavic reconstructioninsts and ecclectic wiccans. The Czech Asatru part was probably the most problematic, because it was this group from which came those people who were most supportive and also those who had strongest objections against such thing. The Slavic reconstructionists as far as I remember didn't have any strong feelings about it, but had a very good idea about terms under which they would cooperate. The ecclectic wiccans simply wanted to be done with the whole thing soon and do something meaningful again. So while all the endless discussions and arguments between all the super-important people (chiefs of clans consisting of two or three people mostly) went on, a christian friend of us wrote the entire documentation and pretty much did the entire work. All that was left to be done was getting 300 signatures and sending the application to the Ministry of Culture. And at that point the whole thing fell apart for good.

Actually, I didn't know it was for good when it happened. Our christian friend wrote the whole story down some years after and presented it as a lecture on the Faculty of Theology on the Charles University in Prague. The document is fun to read, but it's in Czech language only. 

It helped me to refresh my memory later and to really start to understand what it was all about. I was already 30 at that time and no longer naive. I think there were two complementary issues. The interesting one was a vast difference in approach. Majority wanted just to create some necessary bureaucratic minimum to keep the official authorities happy while enabling everyone to do officially what would otherwise not be possible. Others strongly disagreed and wanted a church-like structure with study programms, training, hierarchy, etc., but acted like it was exactly what the first group was saying. The other issue was of course the question of who will be the representative of what, etc. The usual phenomenon of power struggle. Which is essentialy the first question in its nakedness. Not that any of the groups mentioned would really know what they were doing at that time or what was really going on. 

After years I came up to a conclusion that the whole story was nothing else than a successfuly sabotaged attempt of creating 'One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.' So, good riddance I say.

Now, why do I say so? First of all, I have strong believe that paganism in its many forms should retain its tribal structure. And therefore anything that is done together and has a potential to affect many 'tribes' (groups, groves, clans, covens, whatever you have) on spiritual level cannot be forced, cannod be driven from above and cannot have any ... and this word is super important to me... ANY central authority in ANY way. It must be always perfectly clear that such thing is a charade for the authorities which would enable us to do what we want and be taken seriously by the establishment. There must always be the understanding  that it has nothing to do with telling other people what to believe in, what ethic principles are the right ones and how to worship the Gods. Translated to other terms, anything that serves to fulfill the needs of individuals (people and tribes - no matter how you call them) is the good way. Anything that serves to fulfill the needs coming from power hunger of either people or the entities assciated with them should be (and out of principle will be) doomed to failure.

I have seen many unspoken lies and cheap cover-ups related to this. Pretty much everywhere. And many people believe them. In all these situations when some things are not mentioned and you feel something is not right and people are made believe certain things. But when it comes to what really matters, the Gods seem to know this whole thing won't actually serve them and all their people. I think. But who knows what all the Lokis and other tricksters can do. But it is not just them. I believe many people with few years of experience of actually living in the 21st centrury seem to understand the basic equation here. 

In year 2012 I took part in a discussion evening on this topic. Most people seemed to be very concerned about who will organize and lead the whole thing. For some reason this is always the topic number one. Another concern was a 'rehabilitation of swastika'. Which is a connection I fail to understand completely. Getting rid of the far-right political agenda in the public pagan space would do the job much better as far as I am concerned.  Then there are the usual issues, such as officially recognized rituals, funerals, weddings and so on. Which are meaningful for many and I can clearly see why. 

I was also invited to a closed meeting on this. And as soon as I heard of 'using the potential of enthusiastic young people' and the need to 'stream-line them' I knew that this time I won't listen to this crap. I went off and never turned back.

Despite all this I believe this will happen one day. It can still take some 20 to 30 years. First of all, a significant portion of Czech pagans needs to grow up. This will enable them to no longer be impressed by people who are after power in the first place and to recognize declared motivations from the real ones. It will also open a space for a reasonable debate on the issue from which could slowly, bit by bit, naturally, emerge something big, meaningful and beautiful. Similarly to other topics meantioned on this blog so far, I am optimistic.


Few thoughts on the Priesthood

The Priesthood is a topic often debated. I wanted to write something about it. It is fascinating on one hand and it seems overwhelming and incomprehensible on the other. I realized I once written something about it. I think it was three years ago. So I read the article, rewrote it, shortened it. Hopefully corrected any major grammar mistakes there. I think the following text does not give many answers. It opens many questions instead. In that sense it pretty much reflects my own extent of understanding the term. You may also notice I somewhat imply being a Priest myself. That is because I am, but do I really know what it actually is? That is a completely different question. Another specific thing about this article is the way it is written. It is a pure speculation based on my own thoughts and experiences and the language is probably not very attractive. There also won't be any references. I won't bother with backing up my thoughts with evidence and reasoning. I would like to use the article as a starting point for some future blog posts about the topic, but I don't want to promise anything. Because the topic is so big, I don't want to blog often about it and I am not sure I am really ready to write another article on that.

Well, enough for the introduction, now to the topic.

Priesthood for me is the way the Gods choose their vessels to carry their power to inspire other beings and to manifest in a particular way. That is my simple definition. Now, the Priesthood that always returns in many forms, throughout the ages and that always is loyal to the mystery, to the love and to the knowledge of the Gods, I call the Eternal Priesthood. As such it is an open group of people that got into this territory through their actions and stay there not just in one life, but in future lives as well. They also that don’t know each other on a personal level, so it's not a group in the usual meaning of that word. This Eternal Priesthood to me is the essence of Priesthood as such, and if any debate on the topic should be meaningful, I prefer to start there. At the roots – with the Eternal Priests and Priestesses.

I believe that the path leading towards Eternal Priesthood is the love for the Gods and their creation and manifesting this love. On the opposite I believe it is the Gods who love people that understand them to a certain extent; exactly the same way human beings prefer to communicate and be present with people with whom they can share a certain level of mutual understanding.

I believe this is the way they ensure that they are not forgotten and lonely and it is through this special group they connect with the humanity. I am convinced this phenomenon has been here for thousands of years, it’s just the outer religious forms that are changed. It is the service and mysteries that stay. And I am not talking specifically about Wicca here. I am talking about all those more or less hidden aspects and schools within various religions. I have a strong feeling that Wicca in the form I have been initiated into is definitely not the only one.

To me, the service to the Gods means to manifest them in those actions and that way the Gods ensure their apparent presence in the human world. Enacting the mysteries is the way. The mysteries are the main way of communication and sharing, as far as I understand it. All those symbolic acts that are essentially the way we partake of the world of the Gods and becoming its part. It is the mysteries that make the Eternal Priesthood different from others. There is a vast difference in the level of communication (compared to prayer for example) and therefore a vast difference in understanding as well.

When it comes to the idea of reincarnation and having many lifes, I believe that there is a certain layer of the soul from which there is much deeper content and this content is preserved when we die and return to be reborn. The knowledge and experience of partaking of the world of the Gods and their presence is something that is below that particular layer and therefore it survives death and rebirth as a part of our souls.

When we are born in a new life and get older, it is this part that suddenly starts to communicate with us the way it is used to. We might have weird dreams or tendencies we can’t really understand. This part of us simply wants to join the Eternal Priesthood again and to continue its task. I believe that in certain cases the outer conditions may be stronger and may send us into a direction where we inspire others and where this part of us manifest in a beneficial or at least powerful and direct way. Maybe we must simply wait couple of lives before we find better conditions or do better decisions that would lead us into the family of the Eternal Priesthood again. But in most cases I believe the longing for this destiny is so big that it makes us search for it wherever possible. We would do all sorts of crazy things and deal with the strangest coincidences, just to make sure we answer the call the way it should be answered.

So far I haven’t actually learnt much of what the Eternal Priest must be. I believe that doing rituals and enacting the mysteries is the essential part of it. That is the deep level of sharing understanding and communication and presence. The Eternal Priest must also be the person of truth in the sense of being what the Gods require him/her to be. The actions of Eternal Priesthood that manifest the Gods are not only in rituals, but in the subsequent real lives too. That is the eternal challenge of it. In each life there are different aspects of reality in which one needs to learn to be true to the service to the Gods and in manifesting them. There is no end of it as the reality constantly changes and evolves and so must we.

To me, the Eternal Priesthood is also the link between the Gods and the broad community. The service to the community is the service to the Gods in that sense. And it does not end there. There is also a service to the world itself. It is through the Eternal Priesthood how the Gods make this world better and it is one of many ways how they made it move and evolve. There are many ways of this service and the Priests/Priestesses die and are reborn again to learn new and new ways of service that particular time and place requires.

In the smaller scope, we provide opportunities and crossroads, things like festivals, gatherings, workshops, public rituals, all sorts of these things tec. Why? Because we want to inspire people and support their own links between each other and the divine. That is one of our ways of external service. We are asked for advice or we listen to other people’s problems. We help people magically, sometimes. In what we do we try to manifest the Gods. Finding a way to manifest the Eternal Priesthood in the outer world is a very important task we all have. I myself haven’t yet fully figured it out. It is a multi-layered, multi-faceted thing that takes lifetimes to comprehend.

From my point of view, the concept of Eternal Priesthood and what lies behind it is a combination of two distinct, but intertwined things. Being a Priest is one thing and it means being the link and the vessel for divine power and doing the divine service, both internal (rituals) and external (service). Then there is the concept of eternity in it that comes with being a part of the mystery of the Gods. It is the experience and flesh of spirituality which is mystery – that is what makes Priest(ess) and eternal one. Although one does not become Eternal Priest through understanding only. There must be a conscious choice to take that path. However I believe that the choice comes naturally with the understanding. The understanding brings openness to the will of the Gods and the deeper the understanding is and the deeper is that link between us and them the closer we get to a threshold that means dedicating our future lives to the Gods.

Now speaking in terms of western Qabbalah, I believe that the layer beyond which we become Eternal Priests is the one between Tiphareth, Chesed and Geburah. Tiphareth for me is the sephira of individuality and of inner self. Everything of us that is below Tiphareth dies with our mortal bodies. All that is beyond Tiphareth stays and therefore the Eternal Priesthood must be part of that layer as well. In that sense it is a part of us that has nothing to do with ego or our physical body. In that sense, our Eternal Priesthood is the extended arm of the Gods that descends from the upper realms close to Tiphareth, but... different.

That leads me to a conclusion that it is actually not something we can consider as belonging to us and be owned by us. It is not. Eternal Priesthood transcends our being and is beyond it. It is bigger than us and our lives and is above them. Eternal Priesthood in its broader sense is a single entity for itself, a collective consciousness of all Eternal Priests and Priestesses on the entire universe. And is it us who choose the path of Eternal Priesthood or is it the Eternal Priesthood that chooses us? That is a question we can never answer just as we never know and understand Eternal Priesthood fully. It seems to me to be that kind of “Chicken and the Egg” thing. On some level I don’t believe thing this question really exists. Time works strangely there and the effect is the cause and vice versa.


Influential Literature on Wicca, part III.

This is the third and last post of the Wiccan literature series. (link to the first and second)

My guess is you are already tired from reading about books instead of people. And I must admit I am getting a bit tired of writing about them too. Becasue the topic is quite substantial and became huge throughout the years. Therefore I will try to squash the rest of the topic into one post only. It will be a bit more sketchy than the others.

There are only few things left now, that can be said about other books in terms of influence. But maybe the key thing here is a perspective again.

The most important factor is that I lost almost all interest in Wicca 101 books and similar about the years 2007/2008. In due time, considering the fact that I was initiated in 2004. The point is, that I myself don't consider these newer books important, because I might have lost interest in them myself. And in some cases I even did not notice their Czech publishing at all. So that is the first factor that makes my post very much biased. Another important thing is that about the same time I lost contact with most of the solitary wiccans or ecclectics. In fact, I haven't lost contact with the people. As time went, most of them actually decided to take a different route and usually became members of established druid traditions, such as OBOD and ADF or got initiated into the Wicca tradition. And many of them even forgot about the whole thing. In some cases, I might have pissed them off. Quite possible. Or they just could not bear the loss of illusions about the pagan community. (I can sympathise with that too). Or more of these things together. There are very few people that are still around after the eight or ten years that passed. Many other new and great people got involved however and the movement is growing and blossoming. And that's what matters.

For this reasons, I will not cover anything post 2006, with one exception. I am well aware of the fact that newer or other books could be much more influential than I think. I acknowledge I might be completely wrong in my perspective.

Now, what's next on the list. The third major influential book. A book considered to be the ultimate pagan book of our time by many people worldwide. Book read by thousands and thousands. To quote some of the reviews "the book that is perfect for anyone interested in Wicca, but wants to know what is it all about, without all the mumbo jumbo". This might also be a good point to practice your inner hearing and to imagine a sound of fanfare. (The Indiana Jones one might be appropriate.)

Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner written by Scott Cunningham. The book came out in The Czech Republic in 2002. It was published by Fontana, a New-Age company regarded absolutely terrible by many, both in terms of translation and lay-out as well. To give you an example, all books published by this company, have numerous half-page big advertisements in the text. I am serious. Poor Cunningham, really. And similarly to the other two books I already spoke of, the title of this one has been changed. In Czech it says: Celtic Natural Magic - Wicca. 

Yup. See for yourself:

So, that's how it looks like. I think going into the reasons for the title alteration is not really meaningful. Marketing is clearly above any consideration of the topic here. It's a shame. What can I say more.

The book inspired many as far as I can tell. Both in positive and negative way. I have seen numerous references and heard many people talk about it. The way it influenced the ecclectic movement wasn't that much in terms of concrete specific practicalities. I think it was mostly the way of thinking and general approach. It definitely created lot of encouragement that resulted that many beautiful and great things that happened and keep happening. I believe this book was a break-point for many, in the sense that they started to actually do something. That is always good. Isn't ritual the very essential way to express our spirituality?

On the other hand, this book also made many young people think that if they harm none and believe in dual deity in the same time, it makes them Wiccans and the rest is "mumbo-jumbo". I am not going to discuss this deeper. Perhaps that is all it takes for some of us. Again, I know I am a minority and it is a matter of opinion and with this one I beg to differ. Well, it's a matter of spiritual roots also, but that's not the point. The most unfortunate aspect of this thinking however is the lack of opportunity for developement and reflection. My impression from many blogs, discussions and websites from the 2004/2006 period was that many of us actually took an extremely simplified version of Wiccan paradigm (or philosophy if you wish) and decided that there is nothing beyond that is even worth of consideration. I find this to be very sad. And it's why I partly blame this book for the loss of interest in Wicca or paganism in general among many people here. Or perhaps in raising interest in huge numbers of young people who weren't actually seeking a religion or spiritual life in it in the first place. Hard to say. In all honesty, I don't like this book very much, even though I recognize its value.

There has been even published the sequel in our country, in 2008 I think. Under  the name Magical Wicca. Here we go.

Needles to say now, it was the same publisher. The reception of this book was positive and I think many people have read it and used it. I personaly don't like this book either, but again there are certain aspects in it, which I do like (the idea of prayers for instance). From my point of view, the problem with these two books is not the way they are written. It is the way they are usually understood. Scott Cunningham makes a very clear point in the sequel, that Wicca is not as simple as 'do it the way you like, no matter what'. He points towards the origin of the ecclectic movement and makes a clear statement that there are certain concepts and boundaries outlined by the Wicca initiatory tradition itself and that we should stick to the general way of thinking and using of symbology, ritual framework etc. Becasue that is the only way to keep the whole thing meaningful. My impression still is that many people in this country did not read this part at all.

The first book inspired me, however. It inspired me to write and publish a book myslef in 2005. It is called Wicca, the First Initiation and it is a story of how I got into the whole thing, vaguely resembling the Farrars book I wrote about in the first part. It was published by Volvox Globator, a company that often publishes literature on western mysticism, philosophy and similar topics. The book provides an alternative view on the subject and puts it into European perspective. It's not very descriptive, sometimes it's even stupid and there isn't that much useful information. But my guess is it was influential too, because many people I know have it and the reception of it was fairly ambivalent in pretty much equal mixture of love/hate. I am not going to comment on it further, because the level of bias would probably be very inappropriate. Yes, even for this blog.

Then there are few more books that came up later (I mean 2005 and onwards). They contributed mostly with practicalities and did not cause any major shifts in the movement I would have noticed. The only one of those I would like to mention is written by Silver RavenWolf. Funny name, I know.

Anyway, the book is called Solitary Witch: The Ultimate Book of Shadows for the New Generation. In Czech it is called simply The Book of Shadows. And it looks damn cool.

The Czech title on the cover says "Famous and Ancient Book of Shadows for Wisewomen and Witches". Well, anything I would say about these ajectives from my point of view would be probably cheap and unnecessary, so let's move on. This book was published by Pragma in 2006. I was quite amazed that despite the relatively high level of awareness and information in the community in 2005/2006 period, they still went for a title like this.  My overall  impression is that this book did lot leave much of trace in the ecclectic movement. Most people even refused to believe that this book is 'ancient', which is a good sign. Even teenagers (which this book clearly targeted at) didn't believe it. I haven't seen or heard many people referring to this book in any specific way - only as a general resource. I myself haven't even finished reading it, but quite a number of websites recommends it. So it probably has a value and it seems to contain lots of practical information that have been adopted and used.

To end up in positive spirit, the almost last book, read by many which I would see as worth mentioning, was written by Ly de Angeles. The name is Witchcraft: Theory and Practice. It is a bit older than the previous one. It was published by a New Age company called Dobra in 2003. The book looks like this:

The book itself does not explicitly refer to Wicca. But again, many people interested in the subject have it and read it. Some of them use the book as a practical resource and I believe it also provided a good alternative to the other books I have already mentioned. Quite a few of the grown-up ecclectic witches I know (or used to know) use this book as one of the main sources of information for their work. I personaly would call this book the very basis without any "mumbo-jumbo". It is the natural magic and witchcraft in its essence without the necessity of limiting itself by one particular tradition. I find the book very sensible and definitely consider it one of those that contributed to the overal down-to-earth approach which can be seen among many ecclectics in this country.

The very last one. Written by Anne Cameron - Daughters of Copper Woman. This one was somewhat influential in the Goddess spirituality area and I am very thankful it was published in The Czech Republic. I believe it is a very sensible alternative to the books by Starhawk or Suzan Budapest. I think it is remarkable book. And our version looks like this.

It was published by Stehlik in 2003.

So, to my knowledge, the Czech ecclectic movement has been mostly inspired by Buckland, Cunningham and Ly de Angeles. It could have been better and it could have been much worse. I myslef see it quite positive overall.

And with that I would like to conclude this super-long threefold blog post. I did not think it would be that long. But somehow I found myself writing about any tiny detail and expressing many unnecessary opinions based on nothing else than impressions. Well, sory for that. I think it won't be any better.

Rest assured, I won't review any pagan book for couple of years now.

So, again. If there is anything about the pagan community in the Czech republic or my opinions you would like me to elaborate upon in detail (whether it's Czech/pagan context or not), please leave a comment, or get in touch vie Facebook or e-mail, should you have my contact information. As long as it's interesting and not academic, I am most happy to blog about it.


Influential literature on Wicca, part II.

This blog post is a follow up to Influential literature on Wicca, part I. I talked about the first book on Wicca that has been translated to Czech language and published. This book was written by Stewart Farrar and was called What Witches Do. I also briefly described its elements that had the biggest influence and attempted to explain why I thought it was the case. 

What I did not mention yet was why the two words 'translated' and 'published' are important with relation to Farrar's books. There is one more book by Stewart Farrar that has been translated as well, but was never actually published. This book is called Witches' Bible, a well known book consisting of two parts which were originally published as two different books: Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches's Way. These two were translated by a guy called Martin K. from Zlín Region of The Czech Republic. The translation is hand-written and only few people ever saw it. I believe the translation was finished about the year 2005.

Not much has been published since 1996, the year when the Czech version of What Witches Do came out. It was few years later when the ecclectic/solitary wicca movement actually started to blossom. I myself would mostly attribute this phenomenon to a particular book written by Raymond Buckland. The book is called Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. It was published by Llewellyn in 1986. This book was translated and published by Czech publisher Pragma in 1998 and 2002. The Czech version of it looks like this:

The title says 'The Great Textbook of Witchcraft and Magic'. Again, there is an interesting alteration of the original title. And I believe that this time the change of the title could have largely contributed to the success of the book. The term Witchcraft alone would have probably not been interesting for so many people, given the circumstances of that time. Witchcraft as a term was not wide spread yet, but magic (as a term for western occult movement) was. The 'textbook' thing promised an easily accessible text which could provide much needed guidance for many. And it provided exactly that (I am deliberately not speaking of the substance yet). The most important factor however is that one of generic Wicca 101 books actually became the first Wicca 101 book in The Czech Republic. And therefore extremely popular. It got to the lists of recommended books of virtually all websites and blogs about Witchcraft. It caused a great impact in many aspects and I believe it was the trigger of many things and events that followed its publication.

Firstly, I would like to comment on the Czech translation as such. The quality of translation is average. It got some things wrong, but the text is quite readable. Which is more than can be said about translations by some other esoteric publishers. I am saying this even though I haven't actually read the original. Sometimes, one does not have to. The most notable translation specific of this book is using the word 'Sabbat' instead of 'coven'. The word 'Sabbat' is actually used in two different ways - to describe one of the eight festivals and to describe a coven. I am not sure if this really is a translation problem, but I believe it is. The translator of this book was not the first one who struggled with the word 'coven'. I myself and many others never bothered with translating this term. Throughout the years it found its place in the Czech vocabulary. Therefore various translations of it seem to be even more funny nowadays.

This also gets us to the first way of how this book affected the ecclectic movement. Many groups and in particular those who do not keep contact with the rest of the community, still use the word Sabbat to describe themselves as a group. Worldwide, there are many groups who claim to have ancient herritage, Wiccan lineage etc. and offer an initiation which they themselves never received.We have such groups too in our country. They are usually those who do not communicate with the rest of the world. And it is typical for these groups to use the word Sabbat in the context of this book. Because that is where their 'ancient tradition' actually comes from.

The second aspect is directly related to this. The book started an interesting trend of re-writing the history of European indigenous religions and traditions. Many people started to feel unhappy with a syncretic religion from 20th century (Wicca as founded by GBG) or mostly didn't even know there was one and started to parrot the funny stories from this book, about Wicca being 15 000 years old, 6 million Witches killed during witch hunts etc.

One of the best impacts of this book on the Czech ecclectic movement was spreading the ritual structure. Many groups and individuals adopted the ritual framework from it. Back in 2002 when I started to be interested in Wicca, I came accross this book. It drove me completely mad (and these were happy times, I tell you). I felt so great about it all. I started to collect and create magical instruments with so much enthusiasm! And eventually, I started to do solo rituals. The good thing was, that when I got invited by an ecclectic group (this one used to do rituals at Liberec airport during night) to take part in their ritual, the framework was exactly the same as what I knew and did before. And I believe this used to be and still is the case for many people involved in ecclectic/solitary Wicca.

This book is definitely one of the inspirations for the annual Bohemian-Moravian Witches' Conference, because it got together the individuals who actually started the whole thing. Everyone who used to come to the first 'conferences' knew this book very well. This book also served as a prominent resource for many websites and blogs about witchcraft. The Principles of Wicca Believes that were (according to the book) adopted by American Council of Witches were in almost all websites and known by everyone, despite them having little significance for Europe. Even though this book is in almost any witches' bookshelf in The Czech Republic, very few people actually adopted the Seax-Wicca tradition as their own permanently. I know of one group in The Czech Republic and one individual from Slovakia (but haven't heard about her for a long time). Yes, the book had an impact on Slovakia too, though quite a minor one compared to The Czech Republic. Overall the influence of this book seems to be slowly dissipating.

Before this book was published, I believe the Czech pagan community was mostly reconstructionist and very, very small. I firmly believe it is what triggered the developement of more ecclectic forms of paganism and the entire ecclectic/solitary wicca movement in our country. Many groups emerged, many friendships and cooperations started. No matter how inaccurate or out-dated it maybe, I think it is still the most significant book from the ecclectic/pagan point of view and a true milestone of such history. And to be fair, many people consider this one to be the best book ever published on this subject in The Czech Republic.

The golden era of this book ended about 2005/2006, after other books were published. I will tell you more about them next time.


Influential Literature on Wicca, part I.

I love to begin my blog posts with wishful thinking. So, this time I wish I was able to come up with 'Literature on Paganism' kind of post. Sadly, I am not that knowledgeble, even in Czech context. And I am too lazy to do a proper research. Therefore all I am going to talk about is the influential literature on Wicca. More specificaly, the literature that has been published in this country. Before I begin, few words about context.

Firstly, the word 'Wicca'. Yup, this one again. I am going to talk about literature about this topic in it's broadest sense. That means all the concepts, practices and beliefs I personally would not include under this term, but many other people would and have done so for decades. To be more specific, I will talk about literature which is not only about Wicca as a tradition, but also about its various ecclectic offsprings or generally other religious paths using this word as a part of their name, sometimes being referred to as 'solitary wicca', 'ecclectic wicca' etc. I will also include literature claiming Wicca is something else than the tradition itself, while dismissing the Wiccan concept of initiation and lineage. The most important reason for this is very simple. Becasue otherwise there won't be much to talk about. 

Secondly, the word 'influential' is important. Because there are some books that do not seem to have an impact. And then there are others, content of which seems to appear again and again in various places. I just keep stumbling upon many concepts, but also certain specifics and even misinformation from those books. The latter happens so often I have a feeling that Gods are making fun of us. It even happens in literature and with information sources which are supposed to be reliable, such as dissertations and encyclopedias. It happens to such extent that I sometimes wonder what the hell is this academic research about if it's unable to come up with accurate and relevant information? I guess the answer is one of the mysteries to unfold. So read on and wonder with me.

So, which are the most influential books related to Wicca  that have been published in The Czech Republic? Probably the first book worth mentioning that has been translated to Czech and published in The Czech Republic is a book called What Witches Do: A Modern Coven Revealed. It was written by Stewart Farrar in 1971. It was translated and published in the Czech Republic in 1996. In our country it looks something like this:

I must admit, I like the cover much more than the original one. Interesting thing about this book is the way how the title was translated. The literal meaning of the Czech version of the title is 'Witchcraft Today'. Sounds fairly familiar, doesn't it? Actually the full title is 'Witchcraft Today: Handbook of a Modern Witch'. I have no precise idea why the name of the book got changed. And it is not the only case. There are other titles that have been renamed in Czech versions, as you will find out later My theory for this particular case is, that more trivial name was chosen, because the topic was new at that time. Exactly like in mid 50s in England, when Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today was published. But I can only guess and speculate.

Anyway. This book is still probably the best and most accurate book on Wicca ever published in this country. Not all Czechs share my opinion, so of course it's a debatable one. One of the things could be the concept of the Oak King and the Holly King, I myslef can't wrap my head around. But I believe the problem is broader. I think most of the readers had a feeling that the book does not provide enough guidance on how to begin, where to look and what to do with all this. I think there is much truth in this opinion. I also believe that the title of the Czech version (especially the 'Handbook of a Modern Witch' bit) is misleading and actually contradicts the content of the book. In comparison with other literature, this particular book is everything but a handbook. It is very descriptive in some parts, but it does not provide any guidance at all. The main message for the seeker is: Do you want to get involved in the Craft? Well, start looking for a proper coven. Why I personaly like this book so much? Because I would tell people exactly the same answer. And that's probably why I am a minority.

No matter how much misinformation and exaggeration this book contains (in my opinion way more than a moderate amount), since 1996 until 2005 there hasn't been published anything about initiatory Wicca, and nothing that would be remotely so good or accurate. At least in my view. Interestingly enough this book did not cause much interest. I suspect it was not matching the expectations in the sense of what have I written in the previous paragraph. This book also did not affect the supposedly reliable sources of those times. Notably the Lexikon of Magic (1993, revised reprint 2009) by Milan Nakonečný that briefly describes Wicca as a hobby of American women in middle-age crisis. Also the Czech Society  for Studies of Sects and New Religious Movements was pretty much unaffected by literature or any other information sources. For a long time they presented Wicca as a branch of Satanism on their website. Even though this society always claimed to have deep knowledge of the issue based on academic research, when it came to Wicca, the literature (including this book) somehow did not make it through. But to be fair, both these informed about other topics very well and in a precise way, at least in my opinion. So apparently, these sources are good as such, it might just be a slow movement of information. To conclude, it was the community (mostly young people) that was affected by the literature first. And not just by this book. In fact, it was mostly by other books. But those came some five years later. 

To pay the right tribute to this book, there are few bits of 'information' in it that seem to live their own lives in the Czech pagan community and even in literature. You can guess three times, which are they. Well, I suppose you might need one attempt only. In any case, there are two thigs from this book that are repeated everywhere. First of all, Wiccan rituals involve sexual intercourse (you might wish to click the link, should you be confused about the meaning). The second repeated 'fact' is that, Alex Sanders was initiated into Wicca by his grandmother, which involved him being stripped naked (by his grandma, also naked) in his age of 7 (sory, no links provided for this one). 

Well, I have been recently asked to provide a feedback for an encyclopedia of religions which is under preparation by one of Czech publishers. These two things (sex & grandma) were written right there as the two basic characteristics of the Alexandrian tradition. Yes, in 2012 this still seems to be the information which Cezch authors dealing with religion consider to be most significant on this topic. I have seen these two 'facts' in numerous websites and forums throughout the years, but having seen this in contemporary serious  semi-academic work is perplexing. It almost seems that for some reason these two things are beloved and cherished by minds of the Czech people interested in religion or Paganism. I can only imagine why that is. You can do too. It's funny.

So as we can see, What Witches Do by Stewart Farrar indeed left its trace in the Czech knowledge-base on the subject. The good news is, that the probably best book ever translated (again, many people would disagree) was influential and that people were (and still are to some extent) interested in it. The bad news is, it was those questionable parts that people mostly took and made from it. The first is blatantly oversimplified and inaccurate in the context of initiatroy Wicca, and in my opinion is potentially dangerous outside of such context (and here I refer to the ecclectic non-initiatory part of the whole movement). And the second one is a plain fiction (at least as far as I can tell). Well, the book have been completely sold out since 2003 and most likely there won't probably be a re-print. Many pagans and witches have it in their bookshelves and in 2005/2006 there have been a pdf scan of it circulating among many people. To my knowledge there aren't any groups that do rituals based on this book. It serves mostly as a source of inspiration and information, but not as a ritual textbook. One exception to this is The Witches's Rune. There is a Czech translation of it. The rhytm seems somewhat severed and meanings are slightly altered. Nevertheless I have heard it being chanted in one ecclectic group at least. And I think it might be used by few others too. I have also seen it in multiple Czech websites in the past, so I guess it got pretty much adopted by the people in both solitary and ecclectic group ritual practise.

To draw a conclusion, I think this particular book did not actually started the popular/ecclectic/solitary wicca movement (however you prefer to call it) in this country, despite being the first one. But I can be mistaken in this. All the groups and people I managed to get in contact with back in 2002/2003 worked with other book however. At least that I can tell for certain. But as such this book had influenced and contributed to the ecclectic scene and is therefore one of those worth mentioning. 

In any case, I have a feeling that this is too much of a wall of text already. So I decided to split this topic in parts. Next time I will talk about much more important and influential books and authors. The two prominent ones are ... actually, I think I am going to tell you next time.


Paganism vs. mainstream society

One of my friends from Germany asked me to cover a specific topic on this blog. Actually, you can suggest a topic too. If any of those who read this are interested in certain topic related to The Czech Republic and Paganism, I am most happy to provide my opinions and observations. Just try to contact me either via FB, an e-mail or just a leave comment under this article. I will try to come up with something as long as it is not an academic topic, of course. Because I am not an academic. I am just a Wiccan HP who knows large number of people in the community and is somewhat delusional, thinking that people are interested in his writings - hence this blog.

So, here goes the first topic I was asked to elaborate upon a bit:

You are showing your face very publicly and in an obviously pagan context. Are you not afraid that you could encounter tolerance problems, for example if your neighbors or your boss happen to stumble over your blog?

Here in Germany the media still tend to make bad fun of us, or, far worse, call Pagans and Witches of all sorts devil worshippers or nazis, so I hesitate to publicly assotiate myself with terms like Paganism or Witchcraft. Although I see the necessity to step up and do some sort of public education, I can not afford to jeopardise my career, so this is a somewhat difficult topic and I am looking for input wherever I can find it.

One of the most important things related to this question is the recent history of The Czech Republic. This country experienced 40 years of communist dictatorship. This involved a long time of decay and atomisation of the society, of the economy, of the intelligence and moral values. This nation has actually quite a long history of degradation, denunciation, snooping, prosecution and peaching on one another. One of the parts of the Communist era was a prosecution of Christianity and of the Catholic Church. This prosecution involved confiscation of property, dissolving of friaries, executions, putting people in prisons or forcing them to work in concentration camps. Much of the Uranium of which the Soviet (now Russian) nuclear weapons were/are made, was mined by the Czech christian clergy and intelligence in 50s (if you click the link it takes you to a PPS presentation in English, with many pictures and data).

Another part of this was the new education system established by Communists. In fact the education system was pretty much the same, there was just a huge shift in paradigm. Children were brought up to frown upon any religion. In fact upon any beliefs that are not based on Communist propaganda. Even though the enslavement of people and their minds loosened during late 60' and mid 80', the scepticism towards Christianity and religion became a mainstream.

Obviously, there are other historical circumstances. But I believe this is the main reason, why the Czech society has very little interest in Christianity and is sometimes considered the most atheistic nation in the world. The recent history is also the reason why the society is atomised so much. So, two things can be said with relation to Paganism at this point. The Christian paradigm is way out from the mainstream thinking and therefore pagans are not generally considered Devil worshippers. Apparently, if people don't believe in christian God, where the Devil or Satan would come from, right? The second aspect is related to the atomisation of society. In this country, people don't really care about one another. This statement gets a bit problematic when we talk about small villages, but in relative terms I believe it depicts the social reality quite well. Especially in cities.

My another observation is that people of The Czech Republic don't think that much in terms of social classes. Definitely not that much as in England, for example. They still do put people in pigeonholes based on prejudices, but in reality it does not mean that much.

In the place where I work, most people that know me also know about my spiritual path. They gradually found out  about it and it happened after they got to know me as a human being and a colleague. In fact, they even borrow books from me from time to time (the last one was the book on Wicca by Vivianne Crowley). This actually involves my boss as well. Even though he is a christian. But the thing is, we are talking about intelligent, open-minded and tolerant people (which is by the way more than can be said about many pagans in this country). We are talking about people that don't judge others on the basis on beliefs, but on the basis of actions (if they judge at all).

When it comes to media, my experience is quite positive as well. I have mostly encountered a friendly attitude and correct informing. Me and some other people did few interviews for newspapers, magazines and TV. We even let the TV to broadcast a pagan wedding we did back in 2006. These were all presented in a serious fashion. No bullshitting about satanism, black magic and such. Whether this helped to set up a positive trend in media coverage or not, I don't know. It might have been just pure luck or possibly a lot of common sense of the people involved in the media. They might have just as well informed about other phenomenons in the community which could definitely provide more material for something shocking and entertaining. But it never happened. Thanks Gods. Nowadays, we are probably no longer interesting for the media.

To conclude this part of the blog post, I would say no. I am definitely not affraid.

Though things are not that simple. I have some concerns about the future. The Czech pagan community did quite well PR-wise so far, but I think it can do a lot of damage on itself in years to come. Many people haven't spoken or acted very carefuly lately. One of the risks I see at the moment is that the media will turn up on a wrong place at a wrong time. At the last Pagan Pride in Prague I have heard a talk about 'pagan principles' resembling fascist ideology and I believe there were more things media could have made a show of. Paganism in The Czech Republic has recently attracted a lot of people desiring attention and controversy. The good thing is, media are no longer interested in this topic. At least I hope they aren't, any time I hear about or witness anything I was referring to.

My concerns are also related to subtle threats either inside of the community or on the very border of it. Speaking of bad fun and name-giving, we (and here I refer to the part of community that includes ecclectics, Wiccans, druids and similar) have a long history of being somewhat harassed by 'neo-nazis' from time to time (but not just them). Using the term 'neo-nazi' in this case is not actually correct, because some of these people consider themselves pagans too and reality is more complicated than these vague categories. But since these attacks usually involve such words as "gay", "hippy" and "drugs", which have nothing to do with religion, but are used in neo-nazi political rhetoric, I think I can for once afford that blatant simplification. And when I speak of "harassment", it is mostly about bashing various groups on the internet. But not just that.

I remember the local branch of Pagan Federation International being subject of threatening from some people. There has been some attempts to accuse NCs of satanism or drug addiction as well. PFI has been bashed on internet zillion times and its very existence seemed to impose unprovoked anger on more people than how many members it actually had. The risks I see there concern mostly people that run events and are therefore visible as easy targets. That is where some damaged may be caused. We have already had a police investigation at the Czech Pagan Open Forum (the biggest pagan forum in the CZ, run by druids from ADF), almost certainly triggered by someone from the community with an intention to cause harm. We had articles or other texts on internet disclosing real names of involved individuals, making up all sorts of crap about them in the same time. Fortunately, this never got out of hand and no real damage has been done. But the paradox I clearly see here, is that in The Czech Republic, it is not the mainstream society that gives pagans hard times. It's the pagans themselves and the sub-cultures to which they are linked.

So to complement my previous conclusion, there are certain risks. They aren't developed as real threats. But the potential is there. We might end up in a situation in which pagans won't be attacked by christians fundamentalist, but by pagan fundamentalists. I always thought this can't happen in a polyteist environment. But apparently it could and to some extent even does happen. People are just human beings, susceptible to brainwashing, or just willing to harm others to prove their worth.

Which gets us back to the recent history of The Czech Republic. Our tradition of peaching and snitching on one another goes back a long time in history. The susceptibility to envy, brainwashing and fundamentalism is still prevalent in Czech population as a Communist heritage which won't die out that easily, since it also seems to inherent to human nature. In my opinion, this is the area where most of the risks for the future come from.

Another potential risk is the rise of political fundamentalism and extremism throughout Europe. There are some weird tendencies in this country as well, many of which are debatable from the point of view of democratic principles. I won't go into details or scenarios that come to my mind, because that would be too far in a direction towards politics and I want to keep away from that for the time being.

So. Overall, I am optimistic. But there are certain areas where I feel a bit concerned. They are related more to the inside than to the inside of the pagan society. They seem to be the part of the times we live in. I also think that there is much that can be done to mitigate them, but the entire thing seems kind of blurred to me.

So far, I haven't payed much attention to whom I tell about my path and I am really happy about it. Because I know that many of you people can't enjoy that luxury.


Pagan trans-boundary networking

This blog post is about cooperation and networking between pagan communities from different countries. It is mostly related to the case of The Czech Republic and Austria. If I wanted this to sound really cool I would have called it a case study. Sadly, all I can offer is a limited insight of a biased individual. I will talk mostly about situation in The Czech Republic (in my surroundings), why I think this CZ/AT case developed the way it did and which factors were not really relevant.

In absolute numbers, I am aware of quite a large number of individuals from The Czech Republic who have travelled long distances to meet people who share the same interests. We are talking about people with desire to learn, to share experience and to enjoy the pagan ways with people that speak different languages and have different cultural backgrounds. I know I am contradicting my prevous post here, but again... let's put the word "large" into perspective. I am talking about 25 people maximum. Most of them are my friends. That makes my perspective even more biased. For some reason, people around me are probably a minority which is attracted to meeting people from different countries and to learning from them. Me being a notorious travel-hater makes this even more of a paradox, but that's not the point. Now, let's add to this perspective.

One or two years ago we had a global country-wide census. It was considered a big thing among the Czech pagan community at that time, mostly because it was seen as a opportunity to make a first step towards recognition by national authorities. The local branch of Pagan Federation International even contacted  authorities dealing with the census with a request - to include "paganism" into the census as one of the religions. Other pagan groups followed with their individual requests for the same thing. Interestingly, this endeavour was an unquestionable success. And no matter how important this success was for the future developement (time will tell), one thing is for certain. We now know that there is over 800 people in this country willing co call themselves pagan. My opinion is that one should add a bit to that number because of various rogue individuals (whithout need of state recognition) who wrote "Wiccan" as their religion (yes, this is a confession) or any other of their specific paths. To get back to the point, my estimate based on this would be that less than 5 percent of Czech pagans ever travelled abroad with the purpose of meeting other pagans or to learn or just to make friends. Yes, I know that the assumptions I made here are so blatant that one can hear them scream from this page. The two main points are that in relative terms, the number is probably very little (so my previous blog post is still valid) and that what I am going to say is very subjective, because it is based on a small sample. 

So to be more specific, I know at least one guy with a good contacts with Slavic groups in Russia. I know about at least five ecclectics that learned about witchcraft abroad. I know few people that made contacts with Wicca in foreign countries and traveled there. And here I do not refer only to Austria. Netherlands, Germany and Poland are the first to come to my mind. Few others travelled because of their link to ADF, OBOD and druidry in general. Of course, people have individual links to other people from all over Europe, even the World. But I believe that these people are still a small minority.

I don't know details about other cases of cooperation between groups and communities from other countries, so my following thoughts might be completely uninteresting. Perhaps all this is that will follow is completely normal. Yes, I also know that the Wiccan world in Europe is a very fluid thing crossborder-wise, but that's outside of the scope of this blog.

My main observation is that the Czech pagan community never really managed to establish a strong link to any country, with the exception of Austria. I say 'my observation', because it can apparently much further away from the real picture than how would I be willing to admit. When I say 'strong link' I mean cooperation between groups of people which involves regular participation on various events abroad, a regular contact, a regular communication and cooperation between multiple people, even multiple groups, and through various links, not just individuals. Strong link also means that there is a constant stream of influence in both directions. Speaking in numbers, we are talking about approximately 30 or more people in total, from both countries.

In this particular case (The Czech Republic and Austria), this prominently involves two sister events - Broomstick Rally Austria and Bohemian Moravian Witches' Conference attended by multiple people and groups from the other country every year. The cross-attendance does not only involve Wiccans that usually organize these things. It also involves both OBOD and ADF druids, shammans, ecclectics, one entire hereditary witchcraft group and even one native American. Many of the friendships which started at one of these two sister events got completely independent and began to live their own lives - creating other events or cooperation when organizing them (such as Damh the Bard's concert every year, but there is more). There is actually more than five years of history of cooperation between these two sister events that started the whole thing. This phenomenon is unprecedented in this country and there is nothing similar to it yet as far as I know.

Now the good question would be: Why Austria? And it's a good question indeed. 

The Czech Republic has a historical link to Slovakia. This link involves similar culture, a very similar language and almost a century of being one country. One would assume that The Czech Republic and Slovakia would be the countries where pagan communities mostly cooperate. You might be surprised. It's not necessarily the case. There are individuals visiting events in the other country from time to time of course, and I believe this is mostly the case with Slavic reconstructionists (I still think there is some link hidden from my sight, but who knows) and Asatru some years ago. But until lately there has been no real and strong cooperation between groups I would have noticed. The first such events that popped in my radar (well, I have actually participated) was a joint event of Slovak PFI members and Czech PFI members. And to be fair, the Czech part was mostly organized by people running a website called Stezky pohanstvi. To conclude this point, yes things are moving slowly on this particular border, not without problems and some drama, but the direction seems promising.

When it comes to other neighbouring countries, there have been individual contacts mostly. To complement this recount, let me note that you might have read about a planned Wyrd Camp, which was a specific case of intended cooperation of many European PFI branches that did not actually happen in the end of the day. I myself wasn't really involved in PFI stuff at that point of time, so I am not going to provide any opinion on this.

The historical and political circumstances surrounding the Czech/Austrian border are definitely not the best ones. When I was a kid (and here I refer to the communist era, yes I am that old) I learnt about Austrian Empire in our history classes. You guess right, we were told it was bad, oh very bad indeed. We were also told that the Czech nation was enslaved and exploited and that our culture suffered great damage because of this. There might be a certain portion of truth in this (I had to say it, I consider myself a patriot too), but this image seemed to be quite hammered into the minds of my generation way more than necessary. And on the other side of the border, The Czech Republic is still supposed to belong to the Eastern Europe governed by communists or Russian mafia. One should better not mention such controversies as Temelin or Beneš decrees, but hey, there you go. I think Austria is probably the most unlikely case of friendship from this point of view. Yet it happened.

So, at least we have clarified what is more or less irrelevant in this equation. Languages, politics and political history surrounding borders. It's irrelevant at least to the people that are involved in this particular cross-country cooperation. It somehow appears to be a non-issue for druids, ecclectics and Wiccans. I have already heard people being perplexed, saying weird stuff about this Czech-Austria thing. So I can imagine how strange this must be for anyone unable to distinguish between nationalism and religion, but apparently it works despite these circumstances. Therefore my general conclusion based on this experience is, that geo-political situation and language do not necessarily imply a strong cooperation of pagan communities from two neighbouring countries and that they do not prevent them from developing it either. Apparently it is not about countries, languages, regions of Europe and cultures themselves, but about people and their relationships. 

The case I am speaking of is a prime example. The whole thing spontaneously developed around a particular Wiccan 'family' having its 'headquarters' in Vienna, but including people living in both countries. So in the beginning there was nothing else than a firm friendship and shared spiritual experience of few individuals. The current situation I have described earlier haven't developed over night. The two most notable periods of time are 2006 when Czechs started to attend Broomstick Rally and 2009 when people from Austria started to attend Bohemian-Moravian Witches' Conference. And it actually took 9 years to fully blossom, since the initial contact via Witchvox and PFI took place in 2003. Needless to say, without these two extremely useful means of networking, who knows what would or would not happen?

The following process however have been purely organic, with no particular plan, objective or intention, and got way beyond the Wiccan part of it.  One can say this just happened, because people have build more and more links and new friendships and that they were interested in activities of friends on the other side of the border. It also developed because of a core group of people from both countries that have kept regular contacts, but there are other important factors. The fact that there are active OBOD members or druids in both countries definitely helped. And in my opinion, a similar way of thinking and large amount of mature (well, not all the time, but you get the point) people from both countries contributed a lot as well.

I myself do not know whether this organic and spontaneous development that slowly builds up from very little, is the typical way how pagan communities of different countries (of different languages) form intense contacts. But the limited experience I have suggests that it is indeed a very stable, steady and healthy way how it could happen. I am deliberately not using vocabulary such as 'achieved', 'organized', etc. It seems to me to be something like that either happens or not, regardless any planning or concept.

Now few final words to this wall of text. Not only would it be cool to call this a case study. I think underlining this with a prognosis or vision of bright future would be even better. So where are we heading with all this? Well, for my part, I don't know. Yes, it's as simple as that. I can't wait to see my Austrian friends again and very much look forward to the next Broomstick Rally Austria. That's pretty much all I need to know. Nothing else matters.