This is the second in series spotlighting some of the signatories to A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment. Today, we are sharing an interview with Jakub from the Czech Republic. If you would like to be interviewed for the Global Eco-Paganism Series, contact me at allergicpagan [at] gmail [dot] com. And don’t forget to sign “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” at ecopagan.com.
What do you call the religion you practice?
I call it Wicca. Others would probably call it Traditional Wicca, Initiatory Wicca, Gardnerian Wicca, you name it. I have also been practicing some form of general polytheistic paganism during the years. So, it’s not just Witchcraft. I do libations to Gods, honouring the ancestors, connecting with local spirits of various places, very simple things. But pretty much everybody does that. The good thing about pagan traditions is that they are open-ended.
Where do you live in the world?
I live in Prague, in a small flat in a moderately big concrete building. Sixth floor that is. Right next to the building is a small park. There is a place down there few meters from the doorstep. You need to descend few steps and there you are. Trees and bushes overgrown so they create a small temple. There is a crossing of very short paths leading nowhere. They are made of square tiles. To me and my wife it is like a shrine, so we go worship there from time to time. Apart from that, it’s Prague no matter the direction you look.
What is it like practicing your religion in your part of the world?
I come from the Czech Replubic. After 50 years of nazi/communist regimes in this country, people have become indifferent to others and to anything that happens around them as long as they can drink beer and complain about it. So I can say I had no problems with the issues others may have encountered, such as intolerance. Nobody cares what I do.
So having dealt with this part of the question, I can tell what one of my American friends from the Viennese coven always says. Being pagan in the Czech Republic must be a hell lot of fun! And it is! There are few communities naturally forming around certain paths and certain values. So I can’t speak of those which I don’t know very well. Ours is one of the oldest. 11 years now. It consists of druids, wiccans, witches, polytheists, reconstructionists, shamans and others. Hell, we even have one gnostic Christian joining us from time to time. It has all formed around so called Bohemian-Moravian Witches’ Conference and other related activities and events.
We are running a non-profit organisation called The Czech Pagan Society. It’s very open, people come and go, there is no hierarchy, no bullshit, no drama, just normal human beings. And things happen. Small events. Big events. People do rituals together in different settings, different groups. They go hiking together sometimes. Or just get drunk. Or have children. There is usually lots of laughter, lots of pisstaking, lots of silliness and somewhere in that chaos a depth of spiritual sharing occurs as well. We have our own pagan songs and chants and stories that are now becoming a history of our movement. Our events are regularly visited by people from other countries. They seem to enjoy them. I guess I can call myself lucky to have the Czech Republic as a place of my birth. Being a pagan here is indeed lot of fun and an endless stream of inspiration.
Are there many others like you?
If “like you” means Wiccan, then sadly no. There are very few of us. About five I guess. Wicca is a very slow path and requires lot of time to grow properly. Some of us also left to other countries where Wicca is more established. I can’t blame them really. It’s not so easy to walk that path if you need to travel long distances. Yet there are many solitary and eclectic witches practicing some form of wicca. Some of them I am proud to call my friends. I think there are at least forty or fifty pagans I know for some time. And of which I know that they practice their religion seriously and regularly. Plus there are hundreds others considering themselves pagan with a large variety of degree of involvement and interest. So, I would say, given the circumstances, there are many people.
Oh yes. With my family around, I have no choice but to interact with pagans every bloody day! Well, I am joking here really. Yes, now that our son is almost one year old, we started to take part in some of the pagan events again. I have about 13 or 14 years of experience of interaction with pagans. During that time I have experienced the worst nightmares and the best experiences of friendship, love, sharing and deep passion for the divine and nature. I can tell numerous stories that could easily make a book or two. So I will try to generalize it and to share few brief observations.
I think paganism attracts people that often have issues. Sometimes I think they consider it a cure for psychological and social problems. We may not aware of those motivations when we begin our paths. All that is a good soil for misunderstanding, drama, power struggle, we all know it. Most of us have been there at some point, I think. So it has been my experience that all these things are present, usually in newer groups that haven’t overcome them yet. On the other hand, there is a potential to work with that and to gain insight into our own driving forces and our relations to others. I meet people and I see them grow and grow close to me as I grow and develop myself. And it has been a miraculous time so far. Sometimes people just amaze you by the level of insight they have.
What I love about this pagan community is when you know someone let’s say three years and never really connect (with my introverted nature this happens very often — it takes years to me to open to anybody), but then suddenly at some unexpected point you sit next to each other and communicate on a deep level, and you realize how amazing this individual is. Or you meet someone, after spending a year in another country working hard to learn something, and then you just stare in amazement at the level of spiritual work they can pull off. And then you also see people that never change, pulling the same bullshit year after year, being stuck with their issues and you just ask yourself why. And the only thing you can do is to stay calm and look away. Sad people. Nothing you can do.
Over the years I realized that one of the greatest values is integrity. The ability to stick to your path and not to bend it to the wishes or liking of others just to please them. The ability to enjoy differences of spirituality and opinion while keeping your own. A shared opinion is not a prerequisite for a shared love and spirituality. We are learning that slowly and I am happy for it.
Do you interact with Pagans online? How?
Yes. I write articles for a magazine called Kolovrat. It is an online magazine of the Czech Pagan Society. I also communicate via Facebook every now and then, but with little pleasure. And I prefer to do it on a face to face basis rather than involving myself in the big discussion groups. The Czech Facebook paganism is very different from what I know from the real world. The people that practice pagan religions on regular basis and the people with whom I share my journey rarely post anything. They mostly don’t even visit Facebook groups and pages. It’s a different separate world, really. The Czech pagan cyberspace is full of drama and theatre and it reeks of attention seeking. It gets tiresome very quickly. True communication is hard to find there. It’s a mess and always have been such. But I guess it’s also normal and universal. We had Yahoo groups and forums back then. But it has always been the same everywhere and every bloody time. And yet I can’t help it. There can be genuine seekers that can be put off unless they see that the pagan communities also live offline and away from this all. So one needs to be present somehow.
There isn’t any. Or if you accept my theory that atheism is also a religion, then I am a raised atheist. Or that strange new religion whose myths are the movies, Hollywood, and politics, the priests are the doctors, prayer is advertisement, and the gods are money, success and growth.
How did you transition to your current religion? Tell us a little about your faith journey.
It all started at the university. I was an orthodox materialist. And one day I had a mystical experience. Life was never the same afterwards. Once you see that and put it into a perspective, there is no way back. So I started my path as a Zen Buddhist. It took few years. I spent endless hours meditating, mostly in the Korean Kwan-Um school, and with their teachers. I was fiercely dedicated to what I had experienced earlier and to becoming a better person, to being helpful to this world. There was one particular moment when someone brought a flower into the meditating room and put it into a vase. And at that very moment I knew there is a world outside to which I need to connect. Otherwise, I had been sitting here there vain. So I started to look for a spirituality native to this land. And I found Wicca. I never looked back. Interestingly, I still practice zazen, the very essence of Zen. I have yet to find a better technique of teaching the humility and beauty of the present moment which is the very divine creation to me.
What makes your religion a good fit for you?
Looking back at my life, it couldn’t have been otherwise. Wicca is what I am. It is the mysterious part that speaks to my soul, but it is also the celebratory part that makes me enjoy it tremendously. It is the connection to the land. It is a religion that evolved in Europe and is native to this land. It allows self-expression and provides a proper framework for it. It is a unique combination of wisdom of the ancient Greece and the Dionysian mystery and of the religious aspects of other European cultures. As such it is exactly what I need. I have always been close to nature, the inner world and to creativity. Wicca for me is like an eight lane motorway to all these things.
How do you practice your religion?
Being a father now, I have much less time and money to travel to work with covens in Austria. But I do that nevertheless. Being a little cut off from the power house of the large Wiccan community has its downsides, but it made me draw inspiration and energy from other sources. Nature. The Gods. The Trees. The simple everyday practice. And then there is the eight festivals. What can I tell you? Everybody knows the Wiccan framework more or less. I do exactly that.
Very much so. I try to slow down. Whatever happens I slow down and look at things from a more distant perspective. I try to cultivate happiness. Time and space are vast, all these little things matters little. That does not mean I don’t get pissed off at times. Oh hell yes. And the little small things are also those that matter the most. When I go to work, I connect to the trees nearby. I say hi to the chestnut tree on the right. I grin at the birch tree on the left. I enjoy the insights into human relationships and motives, but don’t misuse them. I try to stick to my own, not judge anyone. I try to live for now, this very moment. My ideal day sees the future being devoured by the present and the present being dissolved into the past. But also there are mornings I would rather die than get out of bed and do something. You know, those mornings after late pub-moots or after some serious drinking at a gathering. We all have been there. What can I say. Paganism is very bad for your kidneys and liver sometimes.
Is your religious identity a secret? To what degree? Why?
Not at all. Everybody knows. My family. My colleagues at work. I never talk about it unless I am asked though. The issue usually comes up after people know me already, so it’s more or less easy to explain. It was much easier before, though. The older I get the harder it is to explain what am I actually doing and why. Have I become really that weird?
What is the thing you love the most about your religion?
The connection and interlinkage of everything. The absence of artificial boundaries between sacred and profane, sexual and asexual, divine and human, material and spiritual. The connection between people themselves and between people and the Gods.
What is one thing you would like to change about Paganism or the Pagan community?
Globally and generally … I think I would like the bigotry, ignorance, intolerance, racism, fascism, communism, white supremacy and other similar forms of idiocy go back where they came from.
How does earth, land, or place play a role in your religion?
It is important. But I don’t think it is as important as in other pagan traditions, such as Druidry, Asatru or Slavic Reconstructionism. These are all closely linked to the place and to the ancestors. Wicca has a syncretic side to it that allows it to adapt to various landscapes. Many traditions have their sacred space and spirituality closely integrated into a certain area. While I believe Wicca carries the temple with itself and it can take many forms.
Does environmentalism or other activism play a part in your religion? How so?
To some extent. Yes. But I can’t really tell more, because I am an environmentalist by profession. So I have no idea what was before and what was after I became Wiccan. It’s been hard to tell the difference between the religion, the work and the life lately. But it’s definitely there, that I can tell.
How did you find out about “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment”?
Facebook. I signed it the very minute I saw it. And reposted it via other channels.
Why did you choose to sign it?
Anything that raises an awareness about what is going on and what is the real relation between humans and the world is a good thing. We need to look around and think. And do something.
What part(s) did you find most compelling? What would you have changed? What other concerns did you have, if any?
“We are connected to our families, through links of love, to their relatives, and so on to the entire human species. Our family tree goes back further than the rise of humans, including all mammals, all animals, and all life on Earth. The entire Earth is our immense and joyous family reunion.” This part says it all. It is not about us taking care of the Planet which is somehow ours like a garden property outside our house. We are the very Planet. And we need to save ourselves and stop ignoring the facts. The waste, the toxic substances, the pollution, the greenhouse gases: they won’t go away because we pretend they don’t exist. Of all the bad things, ignorance is the worst, I believe. It is ignorance that we need to get rid of. Now. Before it’s too late for us.
If you would like to be interviewed for the Global Eco-Paganism Series, contact me at allergicpagan [at] gmail [dot] com. And don’t forget to sign “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment” at ecopagan.com.