One might think the Czech Republic would be teeming with occultists, mystics, and magicians. After all, at one point in history it was the center of the Universe for alchemy and magic and even John Dee spent time here along with Edward Kelley. The Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, was extremely interested in the occult and gathered many alchemists and occultists in Prague in the 16th Century. Apparently, however, Dee and Kelley didn’t impress the Emperor and instead found favor with a Bohemian Count instead.
Rudolf patronized natural philosophers including the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler. He was also the earliest recorded owner of the mysterious Voynich manuscript. Rudolf even performed his own alchemical experiments in a private laboratory. According to Wikipedia, when Rudolf was a prince, Nostradamus prepared a horoscope which was dedicated to him as ‘Prince and King’. Rudolf gave Prague a mystical and magical reputation that persists to this day, with Alchemists’ Alley on the grounds of Prague Castle a popular tourist attraction.
Then, there is the Golem brought to life by the Rabbi of Prague, Judah Loew ben Bezalel to defend the Prague ghetto from anti semitic attacks. Wikipedia again has the story..
To protect the Jewish community, the rabbi constructed the Golem out of clay from the banks of the Vltava river, and brought it to life through rituals and Hebrew incantations. The Golem was called Josef and was known as Yossele. It was said that he could make himself invisible and summon spirits from the dead. The only care required of the Golem was that he can’t be alive on the day of Sabbath (Saturday). Rabbi Loew deactivated the Golem on Friday evenings by removing the shem before the Sabbath began, so as to let it rest on Sabbath. One Friday evening Rabbi Loew forgot to remove the shem, and feared that the Golem would desecrate the Sabbath. A different story tells of a golem that fell in love, and when rejected, became the violent monster seen in most accounts. Some versions have the golem eventually going on a murderous rampage.
The rabbi then managed to pull the shem from his mouth and immobilize him in front of the synagogue, whereupon the golem fell in pieces. The Golem’s body was stored in the attic genizah of the Old New Synagogue, where it would be restored to life again if needed. According to legend, the body of Rabbi Loew’s Golem still lies in the synagogue’s attic. Some versions of the tale state that the Golem was stolen from the genizah and entombed in a graveyard in Prague’s Žižkov district, where the Žižkov Television Tower now stands. A recent legend tells of a Nazi agent ascending to the synagogue attic during World War II and trying to stab the Golem, but he died instead. When the attic was renovated in 1883, no evidence of the Golem was found. A film crew who visited and filmed the attic in 1984 found no evidence either. The attic is not open to the general public.
Then there is the more recent master of magic Frantisek (Franz) Bardon who wrote several books on magic. He was born and lived in Opava close to the Polish border and worked as a stage magician in Germany and the region before WWII. Persecuted by the Nazis who, apparently were intent on using his magical skills to their advantage but he refused, he almost died in a concentration camp. Unfortunately, he was equally popular with the Communist regime after the war and did eventually die in Brno Castle prison.
Despite this rich occult history, I have found the Czech Republic to be sadly lacking in anything mystical or magical. Perhaps communism took its toll or perhaps I simply haven’t found it yet (I have lived here 7-years tho!), but compared to Britain, where in the right place at the right time, you can FEEL the magic, the Czech Republic seems rather rather lacking. Yes, there is lip service played for the tourists but anything truly and deeply esoteric seems to have long gone.
Originally published at http://asterothsdomain.com/2013/03/21/prague-and-magic/