The last significant revival of classical paganism in Hellenic lands came in the reign of Julian the Apostate. Now, it seems that there’s another underway. The South African Mail & Guardian reports that thousands of devotees of the Greek gods of antiquity are gathering in Athens to ape the half-remembered rites of millenia past. Unlike the prior revival, this one is not driven by any meaningful numbers of Hellenes, but by foreigners, most of whom hail from the secular West.
There’s a sad irony in this: even as the modern West loses its grip on the faith that created and sustained it, its people still feel the need to turn to something to sustain the basic needs of the soul. Through most of the 20th century, the alternative was politics; in the 21st, if anything, it’s a base paganism of the self. For a few, that means a fitful grasping for the dead predecessors of the Christian world. There’s no defensible basis, even by the elastic demands of faith, for this recourse: even the haze of historical forgetting and the claim of definitive revelation are denied the new adherents. But with the demise of orthodoxy in Western societies, we see popular observers, who in earlier times might know better, conflate the dumb reflexes of infantile superstition with legitimate faith. Note, for example, the clueless Duncan Black and the hapless Digby assert, without apparent embarrassment, the compulsion to respect the public dignity of astrology. This is where secular leftism leads.
In the place of the authentic trappings of authentic faith, the new pagans must mimic the rites of a belief that is often demonstrably fake at best, and horribly consequential at worst. How long, for example, are the new Hellenic pagans going to refrain from re-creating the human sacrifice of Mycanaean times or the Dionysian rites? For all the ennobling mythos of Greek paganism, there’s a reason it was so readily abandoned for an alternative perceived as altogether more sensible, loving, and humane.
The Orthodox hierarchy of Greece is upset about the pagan gathering, as well it might be. “What their worshippers symbolise, and clearly want, is a return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past,” says Father Eustathios Kollas in the story. True enough. But it’s not within the power of Greek Orthodox Christianity to bring sanity to the West. Only the West can do that. Until it does, it will send forth increasing numbers of its own to worship dead gods of antiquity and stone.