Remember that strange story a few years back about all of those Brits who wanted to write "Jedi knight" or something like that in the official census form slot for "religion"? That's what I thought of when someone sent me this fun report from the Guardian, knowing that I would be interested in this religious twist in Greece. The headline: "By Zeus!" The reporter (I love this first name): Helena Smith. And here's the anecdotal lede:
It was high noon when Doreta Peppa, a woman with long, dark locks and owlish eyes, entered the Sanctuary of Olympian Zeus. At first, tourists visiting the Athenian temple thought they had stumbled on to a film set. It wasn't just that Peppa cut a dramatic figure with her flowing robes and garlanded hair. Or that she seemed to be in a state of near euphoria. Or even that the group of men and women accompanying her -- dressed as warriors and nymphets in kitsch ancient garb -- appeared to have stepped straight out of the city's Golden Age.
To the astonishment of onlookers, Peppa also began babbling Orphic hymns, before thrusting her arms upwards into the Attic skies and proceeding, somewhat deliriously, to warble her love for the gods of Mount Olympus. But, then, for the motley group of modern pagans coalesced around the temple's giant Corinthian columns, this was a special moment. Not since the late fourth century AD, when the newly Christian Roman state outlawed all forms of pagan worship, had a high priestess officiated on the sacred site.
Oh my. It isn't hard to write a colorful report about a "trend" like this one. Peppa is, of course, a former advertising executive, and clearly knows have to play the media game.
The Guardian is more than willing to play along with this "very, very big thing."
So big, that like a thunderbolt from the deity himself, the one-hour ceremony has achieved the near-impossible task of unnerving Greece's powerful Orthodox church. Since Peppa's performance 10 days ago, hierarchs have redirected the venom they usually reserve for homosexuals, Catholics, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, masons and the "barbaric" Turks at the "miserable resuscitators" of the degenerate dead religion. In fire-and-brimstone sermons priests have slammed the "satanic" New Ageists and fulminated against their idols.
For years, Orthodox clerics believed that they had defeated Greeks wishing to embrace the customs and beliefs of the ancient past. But increasingly the church, a bastion of conservatism and traditionalism, has been confronted by the spectre of polytheists making a comeback in the land of the gods.
Well, alright then. That tells us quite a bit about what the Guardian thinks of the Orthodox hierarchy. It does not tell us much about the beliefs and practices of the 2,000 hardcore believers in the old gods or their 100,000 allies. We get a few flashes of color, which is fine, but not much, uh, meat about the doctrines and beliefs. Oh, and how about some commentary from a real, live Orthodox leader? Is this a news story?
For example, check this out:
"If you are brought up with Greek mythology, the idea you are the descendants of the ancient Greeks and imbued with the importance of ancient Greek culture, you have all the pre-requisites for such an inclination," says Nikos Dimou, the acclaimed author of a tongue-in-cheek bestseller, The Misfortune to be Greek.
Ninety-eight per cent of the population may officially be Orthodox Christian, but in many ways Greeks remain bonded to their pagan past. "OK, the ancients had hubris, but the concept of sin was totally unknown to them, as indeed it is in modern Greece," Dimou says. "Greeks today don't observe many of the 10 commandments. Their outlook on life and values are much nearer to pagan ideas than those of the austere Judaeo-Christian faith."
Now I, for one, can think of some interesting questions that a reporter could have asked after someone says something like, "Greeks today don't observe many of the 10 commandments." If you were standing there with a pad and pencil, what would your next question have been? Go ahead, ask it.
A fun, yet important, topic. I would have been nice to have seen a bit more serious content, woven into the fun stuff and the anti-Orthodox sermonizing.