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.