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.