It’s that time of the every-four-years once again. The time when I’m going to stay up way too late every night for two weeks because there’s just so much to see and it never ends, and even if the American station isn’t showing anything interesting I can still watch whatever the Canadians are showing instead. (Living near an international border is great for television watching!) Yes, the Olympics have returned again.
So what do the Olympics have to do with ancient Indo-European culture? Wait, I don’t really have to answer that, do I? The Olympics were one of the four quadrennial games of ancient Greece, and while these modern Olympics can’t be considered to have an unbroken lineage from those ancient games, well, we in ADF don’t claim an unbroken lineage to any of those old cultures either. But just as we in ADF do our best to learn about the Ancients and adapt their ways into something that is meaningful to us, so the Olympics try to fill the role of those ancient games in the modern world. Some of the changes would shock the ancients (“What, they’re letting women watch the games? What, they’re letting women COMPETE in the games???”), as I’m sure some aspects of our rituals would shock them as well. (“What, they’re inviting the dead and the gods at the SAME TIME???”). But seeing the countries of the civilized world (at least we hope that every country at the games is civilized!) come together in the spirit of unity and competition, I think that they would appreciate our continuation of their tradition, even if we don’t explicitly call upon the Greek gods any more.
Of course, being a Hellenic neo-Pagan myself, how can I not love the opening ceremony and the lighting of the Olympic flame? Yes, yes, I know the running-with-the-torch thing started off as a Nazi propaganda piece, but if the Nazis can steal the ancient pagan symbol of the swastika and make it their own, I say the modern world can take one of their symbols and make it something good. In Greece, the initial flame is kindled by focusing a mirror onto a torch, using the rays of the sun. How cool is that? I’d consider trying to kindle our Grove Flame using a mirror, but very little sunlight reaches our fire circle in May when the leaves are on the trees. And then the flame is taken around the world and is used to kindle a cauldron at the site of the games. It’s like a pagan ritual is being broadcast on television to billions of people and they don’t even realize it! Or, well, maybe they do and they’re not terribly concerned about it. Which is also cool.
I hope you all get a chance to enjoy some of this year’s modern Olympic celebration, at least in the virtual TV-watching sense, and I’ll see you here next week.
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF
A Tour of Ancient Olympia: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/Olympics/site.html
The Olympic Flame and Torch Relay: http://multimedia.olympic.org/pdf/en_report_655.pdf