The Greek gods are back

Or rather, are being worshipped again in Greece:

To the astonishment of onlookers, [Doreta] 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.

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. Last year, Peppa’s group, Ellinais, succeeded in gaining legal recognition as a cultural association in a country where all non-Christian religions, bar Islam and Judaism, are prohibited. As a result of the ruling, which devotees say paves the way for the Greek gods to be worshipped openly, the organisation hopes to win government approval for a temple in Athens where pagan baptisms, marriages and funerals could be performed. Taking the battle to archaeological sites deemed to be “sacred” is also part of an increasingly vociferous campaign.

But Ellinais, whose members range from elderly academics to young professionals, is not the only sect to practise the ethnic Hellenic faith. Those who claim to “defend the genuine traditions, religion and ethos” of pre-Christians say there are at least 2,000 hard-core followers and, nationwide, more than 100,000 sympathisers. Nationalist extremists, attracted by the creed’s emphasis on Hellenic glories, are helping to boost the revival.

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