'Our Gods and Goddesses Are Closer to Us'
How modern pagans are reviving the polytheistic religions of the ancient Greeks, Druids, Egyptians, and other civilizations.
BY: Kimberly Winston
This year, Andrea Berman will watch the Olympics for the first time in her life. But she doesn't care who will jump the highest, run the farthest or swim the fastest. She'll be watching the games-being held this year in Greece, their ancestral home-for any mention of Zeus, Athena or Apollo.
"I will watch it to see if anything even remotely resembles anything I would know as an ancient ritual and tradition," Berman said. "But I kind of have mixed feelings. On one hand it will be great to see ancient traditions represented. But on the other hand, I know what the country of Greece thinks of our religion and people there who want to do this do not have the religious freedom to do it."
"This" is worship the Greek gods. Berman is a Hellenic reconstructionist-a practitioner of the religion of ancient Greece. A spare bedroom in her Boston area apartment is decorated as a temple room with statues of Apollo, Pan, Artemis, Dionysus and Eros. And like all Hellenic reconstructionists, she knows the original Olympics were not just a massive sportsfest, but a religious rite central to the worship of Zeus, chief among the Greek gods.
Reconstructionists are a group of neo-pagans-people who look to pre-Christian cultures for their faith-different branches of which worship the gods of ancient Norse, Roman, Egyptian, and Druid peoples. And while scholars say their numbers are only a fraction of the neo-pagan community, they also say they are a vibrant illustration of the rejection of traditional religion in the United States. And, in a curious boomerang effect, they are part of a movement away from the more eclectic forms of neo-paganism, like Wicca, taken up by pagan pioneers in the 1960s and 1970s.
"Reconstructionist groups seem to be kind of in the middle," said Sean McCloud a professor of religion and modern culture at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte. "On the one hand they want to embrace a coherent religion where they are not making things up. On the other hand, it is not the religion of their parents."
That is certainly true of Berman, a 26-year-old web developer who was raised in a non-religious home by a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. As a young teenager, she practiced Wicca. By college, she was into Celtic spirituality, but moved to the Greek gods literally overnight when, she recalled, a god appeared to her in a dream and said, "I am Apollo. You belong to me."
On a Saturday afternoon in July, Berman, known in her faith as Kyrene Ariadne, dressed in a long silky skirt of blue roses to join three likeminded worshippers and a guest to mark the Bouphonia, or Greek new year. The two men and three women assembled in the hall outside the temple room and chanted together from a prepared script:
"Hestia, tender of the hearth, first among gods, you sit at the center; steadily burns your flame."