Sunday, October 25, 2009

Behind the Pomp: Pagan ceremonies & the Olympic torch

I was so thrilled to see the images of the Olympic torch being lit in Greece on Thursday. As you may or may not know the 2010 Winter Olympic Games are here in Vancouver this February. Representatives from Vancouver, tourists and dignitaries from around the world were witness to the ceremony that took place at the Temple of Hera where a theatrical group lead by an actress playing a high priestess made some prayers to Apollo and Zeus and passed the "sacred" flame and an olive branch to a Greek runner. I though the visual was lovely and I let my brain imagine a real ceremony and meaning behind the words, many moons ago. The eternal flame portion of the games was created for the 1928 Amsterdam games. Detailed in this article:

According to recent research by Bob Barney of the University of Western Ontario's International Centre for Olympic Studies, the mystical flame has its origins not in glorious Greece but in the rites of Freemasonry, and its belief in the regenerative power of fire.
"Jan Wils, the architect of the Amsterdam stadium, was looking for inspiration," Prof. Barney says. "And so he turned to his lifelong infatuation with the Masonic order."

When you get down to the nitty gritty of it all, well, this ceremony is a fabrication. The actual torch relay portion of the Games in which the flame is carried throughout the host country originated during the Berlin 1936 Olympics when the Nazis ruled Germany. In short they fabricated it. They admired the strength and power of Ancient Greece and even conveyed some propaganda about Greece's sacred sites being created by Nordic immigrants.

Does this remove the meaning for me? Well, I can't say I'm a huge Olympics bandwagon girl anyway. I think that each year they become less about the ideals of peace between nations through the glories of sport and become more corporate and more political. I still feel misty when that Canadian national anthem plays...but I don't put much stock in that feeling for long.

The interest in this story for me was that somewhere deep down we still feel our pagan roots. Some dramatist somewhere thought, how lovely to put some stunning women in gowns, with simple stones, and a modest fire container and have them pray to the old gods. And the result is something that visually struck me and probably many others who aren't pagans as well. I wish those priestesses would have been real ones and I wish that the ideals that the Olympics represent were real too. I hope they are real for the athletes because they are the ones that I care about when it comes down to it. They dedicate themselves to their sports and work very hard to make their dreams a reality. Apparently the only pagan ceremony that happened around the Olympic games in ancient times was the sacrifice of 100 oxen on the altar of Zeus.

Somehow I doubt that would move us to the same degree.


TMCPhoto said...

Hi Jen,

I agree with you, we all feel those roots to one degree or another. Those that are pagan are blessed that they have that connection all the time.

I did see you at the Spiral Dance last night but didn't get a chance to come over to say hello and introduce myself, I had transit trouble getting there and then we left early, maybe another time.

Bridgett said...

That was very beautiful...and definitely struck me as a very pagan ceremony.

Thanks for sharing this...

The Greek language is so lovely.