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ODE TO THE PAST (with the occasional nod to the present)

The Neo-Pagans

In ancient Greece, people worshipped the 12 gods of Mount Olympus. You know the ones: Apollo, Athena, Artemis, Ares, Ephestos, Poseidon, Hermes, Hera, Hestia, Demetra, Aphrodite, and the big guy himself, Zeus.

This polytheistic religion was an early form of paganism that involved such rituals as animal sacrifices, experimentation with reality-bending substances, burnt offerings, group chants and orgies—all in the name of pleasing, or placating, the deities. In return, the gods and goddesses would grant the people gifts—say, winning a big battle, or getting lucky at love.

It worked then, so why not now? A group of Greeks have resurrected this ancient form of worship and are holding rituals in temples all over the country. They call themselves Ellin.a.i.s. (the word means “Greeks,” but it’s an acronym for Sacred Society of Greek Ancient Religionists) and their calling card is the Dodekatheon, or 12 Olympians.

In 2007, the Ellin.a.i.s. held a rite at the Temple of Olympian Zeus, a major (I mean, major) temple smack in the middle of Athens. It was almost like live theater. The neo-pagans, who believe in their right to worship in a country steeped in the dogma of Orthodoxy, dressed the part (white and blue robes, olive-leaf wreaths), burned some wine and incense as an offering, released two doves to the wind, and chanted up a storm. In 2009, they gathered at the Parthenon and appealed to the goddess Athena for wisdom and peace.

Remarkably, all this is done in the middle of the day without an attempt to conceal the group’s practices (if anything, they’re pretty open about it, hoping for some good PR). In the case of the Parthenon gathering, the group paid admission to the site and convinced the guards (in Greece, there are many ways of convincing) of its innocent intent.

It’s obvious why the church, which enjoys a huge influence on Greek culture, has a problem with this. But the government (namely, the ministry of culture) does, too. Archaeological sites are sensitive and rightfully protected. Holding rites at thousands-year-old temples must be controlled, if not banned altogether, so as to not disturb the fragile artifacts.

According to the group’s Wordpress page (written in Greek), the group is still active, though they have not held such large-scale demonstrations lately. But it could happen at any time. My novelist’s mind is more than a little intrigued …
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