SOCIETY

Polytheists: What do they believe in?

I?m looking at a polytheist. I know this reads as if I were talking about an alien creature, but my poor brain tends to associate polytheism with weird people who take to the mountains for bucolic rituals, dressed in robes and sandals.

But the young man sitting in front of me is, in fact, a far cry from the stereotype. Nothing about him suggests that he belongs to that unknown percentage of the Greek population who describe themselves as followers of the ?Greek religion,? which is how they like to define their cult.

We first spoke on the phone on the occasion of a demonstration for the protection of the Altar of the 12 Gods, remnants of which were unearthed during works on the southbound tracks of the ISAP electric railway near the Ancient Agora in the center of Athens. The man never lost his cool during our discussion, even when he insisted that the government?s decision to rebury the remains (at least for the time being) was outrageous.

It was after our third or fourth chat on the phone that the man actually told me he was a polytheist — I was intrigued.

Greece?s polytheists — or ?dodecatheists,? as the Church rather disparagingly calls them — are not weirdos who snub Christ or Muhammad for the sake of Dionysus or Pan. Also, their numbers are growing although there are no exact figures as the movement has not been officially recognized.

Our discussion originally revolved around the basics of polytheism, as it were. I soon realized that the theological aspect of polytheism is based on a broader value system and view of the world that is inspired by a close relationship to the natural world. There is no holy book, hence there is no such thing as hard principles or a strict moral code or separation between good and evil or punishment in the afterlife.

Belief is rather flexible and there is room for different interpretations. One polytheist, for example, may believe in the Homeric notion of Hades while another may believe in reincarnation following Orpheus? circle and the Pythagoreans.

The values of a polytheist — like justice or bravery — emanate mostly from philosophical concepts tied to specific deities. You are free to worship any deities you chose. Apart from the 12 Olympian gods, one may worship Dionysus, Asclepius or Pan, who are not considered lesser gods. Choice is deeply personal and it depends on your personality and lifestyle. If you, like most polytheists, live in Athens, then it?s more likely that you will worship the goddess Athena rather than Pan, the cloven-hoofed god of the flock.

The close relationship with nature and rural life means that there are many celebrations throughout the year. They celebrate equinoxes and solstices, while other celebrations date back to antiquity, including the Olympic, Heraean and Nemea Games and the Anthesteria and the Great Dionysia festivals.

The young man sitting across the table takes part in a ritual every Sunday. ?Our rituals are related to the countryside. Every other Sunday there is a ritual at the Sanctuary of the Muses below the Philopappou monument.?

There is no dress code. ?You are free to do as you like. Some polytheists feel they are obliged to dress in an ancient Greek style but not everyone sees it that way.? As for the polytheists? political backgrounds, some tend to associate polytheism with nationalist or right-wing groups. ?There are all sorts, from far left to far right. I don?t belong anywhere, but I do blame the left for allowing the right to hijack the symbols of our ancient civilization.?