When I was a young student in school studying ancient mythology, I always loved the fanciful tales and colorful characters, but couldn’t help but wonder why we call ancient Roman and Greek religious practices mythology and ancient Christian practices religion. If Christianity had not had such a powerful or successful PR machine behind it, we might all still be praying to Athena and worshiping Zeus, and the world’s few remaining pagans might not seem strange at all.
On Monday September 1st, a small group of pagans braved opposition from the Greek government, Mother Nature and religious protestors to hold an ancient prayer ceremony at the foot of the Parthenon. Paganism was outlawed in Greece by the Roman Empire in the 4th century, but has made a comeback in recent years, appealing especially to women, who find its female, nature centered practices appealing.
The small band of Pagans gathered to protest a museum being built at the foot of the Parthenon, and to pray to Athena, the ancient Greek goddess of wisdom and patron of Athens, for her to protect the Parthenon from further destruction, according to High Priestess Doretta Peppa.
The Pagans who gathered at the Parthenon belong to Followers of Ellinais, a local group that performs pagan weddings and other ceremonies. The group objects to the recent removal of marble pediments from the Parthenon and hundreds of masterpieces from a tiny museum on the Acropolis which are meant to be re-housed within the sprawling gallery being built beneath the ancient citadel.
Pagans are not the only group opposing the museum, however, as many historical organizations have also been concerned that sculptures and other art pieces could not be safely removed.
Polytheists like Pagans, according to Peppa, believe the God of monotheistic religions like Christianity and Islam are remote authority figures, too far removed from humanity and nature. Pagan leaders in Greece say that because Orthodox Christianity is the official religion, those who believe in Olympian gods are often harassed.
While the Monotheistic God is not as old, and is no more realistic than the Olympian Gods, he is given greater credibility because of modern acceptance of the Christian, Judeo, and Islamic dogma. The evolution of religion itself can be seen in the history of the Parthenon, which was first built between 447-432 B.C. at the Acropolis to serve as a temple to Athena, but was converted into a Christian church in the 5th century A.D. It later became a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Athens in 1456 and is now a museum.
The event on Monday was “…the first prayer ceremony on the Acropolis since [the] Parthenon was converted into a church,” pagan leader Peppa said
If you have any doubt that ancient mythology was a serious religion you are mistaken. Ancient people believed, feared and prayed to their gods with the same intensity of faith that the devout entertain today. When Spartans went to the Oracle before deciding weather Sparta should fight a war, they were consulting the conduit to their gods, and were bound with all the tradition of the most devout Christian, to follow the counsel they received.
I am still waiting, today, for someone to explain why the monotheistic god of today is more relevant or more rational than Zeus or Athena was to the ancient peoples of the world. If the Ancient polytheistic religions had survived, however, modern people would most likely be arguing over which Olympian God was the true god of thunder, or some other such nonsense.
It is somewhat easier I suppose, but no more sane, to live in a world where we argue over the veracity of one supernatural imaginary god than a whole pantheon.
Sources: Artinfo, Sept 2, 2008, CNN, Anthee Carassava, Sept 1, 2008,