Paganism emerging as a popular religion in Prague

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Saints guard the entrances to prayer altars at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. (Photo/Casey Lemmings)

Upon first sight of the city skyline, the Prague Castle is an unmistakable silhouette, with the towering spires of St. Vitus Cathedral soaring into the skyline. Yet the origins of the site seem an unlikely match for the imposing cathedral grounds. Dating back to the 8th century, the grounds served as a site for pagan worship. Remnants of the pagan culture can still be seen in the architecture today, including the original rotunda that used to be a site of reverence to the pagan gods. The religion pre-dated Christianity in the Czech Republic, and today it’s making a comeback.

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Dr. Pavel Hosek is Head of the Department of Comparative Religion in Prague. (Photo/ Casey Lemmings)

“It’s probably the most popular trend of spirituality in Prague,” said Pavel Hosek, head of the Department of Comparative Religions at Charles University and part of the Protestant Theological Faculty. Hosek studies religion as a changing movement and compares religion over time, history and culture. “[Paganism] is an emerging spirituality which tends to be synchronistic and eclectic.”

Approximately one-third of Czech Republic residents do not define themselves as religious, but more than half of them, according to a 2011 religion census, consider themselves spiritual, believers in divination, or connected to the occult. Hosek also estimates a 75 percent decline in affiliation with the Catholic church.

Hosek attributes these low numbers to a rise in neo-paganism in Prague. This aversion to organized religion combined with the “fierce, individual spirit of the Czech Republic,” he said, which creates an interest in the pagan faith in Prague. “Organized religion is not comparable with the more de-institutionalized, new-pagan sort of spirituality which appeals to people much more,” Hosek said.

Jakhub Achrer is a native of Prague who is a practicing Wiccan for 12 years. Wiccan is a religious sector of paganism, with an emphasis on witchcraft. “The pagan religion is so old, we have few real texts to go on,” Achrer said. “It’s really what you make it, what you are seeking spiritually.”

According to Hosek, since there is extreme distrust of organized religion in the Czech Republic, present-day paganism in Prague means returning to the roots of the country’s civilization. Hosek adds, growing spirituality is a “return to Mother Earth,” and that those who practice are seeking a higher connection with nature.

For Achrer, the Wiccan faith means meditation in nature. He travels to a forested area that is reverent to him and presents an offering of incense and herbs. “I’ve been going to the woods since I was a small child,” Achrer said. “It’s an experience that I’ve never felt anywhere else.”

Despite the individual practices of paganism, the religion in Prague has a strong community. The Czech Pagan Society, the largest pagan organization in the Czech Republic, hosts events in Prague for pagans to meet one another and exchange ideas. The most recent event in May was the celebration of pagan spring, taking place at Sokolovna Řepy, a concert venue in Prague. Pagans do not evangelize their faith, Achrer said, but sponsor events such as these concerts to educate the public about paganism in an unobtrusive way

Miroscav Dobry, owner of Prague’s first pagan store, Wulflund/Drakkaria, educates others about paganism and the preservation of nature as a member of the Pagan Federation. His current project with the federation will erect a statue of Cernunnos, the supreme Celtic god, at the site of Prague’s oldest Celtic settlement, Oppidum Zavist. Once the final donations are processed, they will begin construction of the statue this year.

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Carvings of Celtic gods can be purchased at Drakkaria. These statues are placed throughout the house to serve as guardians over the household. (Photo/ Casey Lemmings)

Dobry believes the popularity of paganism will grow in Prague, as long as practices continue to emphasize the focus on nature. He says that nature and natural forces influence practicers to consider paganism as a spirituality.

“There could be over tens of thousands of pagans one day,” Dobry said. “Once you are doing it, you will stay [with the religion].”