The summer solstice, 21 June, is just one of the many important dates in the calendar for numerous followers of old religions, and it's a one-of-a-kind time for human being in Greece that worship the country's pre-Christian gods.

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"I love the energy this location has," says Exsekias Trivoulides who has pitched his tent on what the considers to it is in the divine site of mount Olympus.

Trivoulides is a sculptor who studied art background and classics, and these days, that is life his passion.

Along through a couple of thousand rather he is taking component in the Prometheia festival, which celebrates the old Greek hero Prometheus, who helped humans by stealing fire from the gods.

It's the most important annual festival for followers of The Return that the Hellenes - a motion trying to bring back the religion, values, viewpoint and means of life of ancient Greece, an ext than 16 centuries after that was changed by Christianity.

"People desire to identify with something in the previous - wherein they come from - so regarding know where they space going," claims Trivoulides. "If friend don't know your past, girlfriend don't have actually a future.

The festival starts with six runners - in complete Greek fight gear - gyeongju the six miles (10 km) up mount Olympus, house of the gods, your shields and also long spears clanking together they go.

But as they set out native the small village of Dion at the basic of the mountain, passersby hardly seem to notice - they are offered to them.

It's a telling sign of how much they have come already, in a nation where 98% of the general public are stated to identify themselves together Orthodox Christian.

In 2007, an official of the Orthodox Church described them as, "a grasp of miserable resuscitators the a degenerate dead religion".

These days, relations have actually improved, according to Tryphon Olympios, the philosophy professor who started the Return that the Hellenes motion in 1996.

The economic dilemm in Greece need to be a time of reflection around the worths that must govern a society, he says.

They don't actually pray come Zeus, Hera and the others. They check out them as representations of values such as beauty, health or wisdom.

The followers room an odd mix. Over there are brand-new Age types who revere ancient traditions, leftists that resent the power of the Orthodox Church, and also Greek nationalists who see Christianity as having ruined everything the was truly Greek.

As the modern ancients relax in your camp in ~ the base of the mountain, a couple of sell ideology books, CDs, food and jewellery. Some wear modern-day clothes, others tunics, and also a few sport a wreath.


Over the course of the three-day event, there space public prayers, two marriages, and also a naming ceremony, wherein followers choose an old name - choose Calisto, Hermis or Orpheus - and "cleanse" themselves of their modern Christian ones.

None of these rituals is officially recognised through the Greek state. The best bone the contention because that those connected is the they space prevented indigenous praying at ancient temples, and struggle to gain permission to build their very own temples, i beg your pardon in Greece needs the approval of the neighborhood Orthodox bishop.

In an effort to formalise their status, the umbrella team the can be fried Council the Ethnikoi Hellenes is marketing to obtain their type of ancient worship classed as an "ethnic religion" that Greece.

But it's one idea few Greeks would support, states Victor Roudometof, a professor of sociology at the college of Cyprus, and an skilled on religion in Greece.

Although many Greeks just actually attend church a couple of times a year, the Orthodox religion is a "cornerstone" that Greek identity, the says.

Those that worship the ancient Greek gods space widely regarded as no an ext than "interesting curiosities", that adds.

"I don't think you have the right to roll the clock back," claims Robert Parker, a professor of ancient background at the university of Oxford.


"You can't import an ancient religion into a totally different environment and also social system."

He has actually two indigenous to define those that attempt to perform so - the an initial is "kooky", the second, "ridiculous".

Parker clues to historic inconsistencies. Prometheus, because that example, was only a relatively minor figure in ancient Greek religion, that says, and also never had a major festival specialized to him.

Other historians say these teams are idealising an old religion the had tiny to execute with values or morality.

"The whole point of that is the you save the gods sweet - you scratch their back, lock will scrape yours," claims Peter Jones, co-founder of girlfriend of Classics.

"You create a quid agree quo relationship... It is merely an acknowledgement of the gods, in the hope that the gods will help you," that says. "Values and virtues are entirely meaningless in ancient terms."

Animal sacrifice was by far the most important component of any old Greek religious ritual, through the neck of a live bull slit through a knife in ~ the altar exterior the temple.

The ancient Greeks were additionally famed because that drama and tragedy, and a night-time torch-lit theatrical manufacturing Prometheia is the main occasion at the mount Olympus festival.

The power combines standard drama v lessons around what the ancients need to teach us, every these century later.

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Followers are all too conscious they are viewed as outsiders by part in society, however insist that mindsets in Greece room changing.


"In the beginning, they were making jokes, then they were ignoring us, currently they room interested," states tax manager Persis Argyros, who has actually been affiliated since the begin of the movement. "We came to be too big to ignore."

No-one has accurate numbers for the number of followers, yet numbers have swelled because their first gathering on the hill 17 years ago, and the movement claims to have actually hundreds of hundreds of supporters.

It's clean they are in their aspect here top top Olympus. After ~ the present closes, the Hellenes dance and also frolic under the moonlight.

Matthew Brunwasser was reporting for The World, which is a co-production of the civilization Service, PRI and WGBH