“I Still Worship Zeus” is a new documentary from Jamil Said which focuses on the tens of thousands of Greek men and women who continue to practice the religion of ancient Greece. Yes, the deities of Mount Olympus still have an avid following and this film provides a rare glimpse into the continuing controversy surrounding this theological devotion.
Many people have assumed that the religious practices of ancient Greece gave way to Christianity and disappeared entirely. Indeed, most western scholars refer to this religion in terms of mythology rather than theology. Even many average Greeks believe the ancient faith is extinct.
But to the surprise of many, including supposedly in-the-know academicians, the worship of Zeus, Hera, Poseidon and the Olympus crowd continues in both intense private ceremonies (complete with sacrificial foods and wine) and in less-than-inspiring public ceremonies (where people wear togas and walk about to the beating of a drum while chanting prayers).
“I Still Worship Zeus” captures the very rare ceremonies of this sect and explores why people would embrace a religious practice which is supposed to be dead. The answers range from ethnic pride to a greater sense of serenity in putting trust in the Olympus gods. The practitioners do not offer derogatory commentary against the Greek Orthodox Church, and at one point a clearly intrigued Orthodox priest can be seen as an observer at a ceremony for the ancient gods. But the Greek government is clearly not amused by this and has repeatedly refused to sanction this practice as an official religion. In a nation which is more than 97% Christian, it would seem there is little reason to fear competition from a relatively small number of ultra-traditionalists who pray with cries of “Greetings to Dionysus!” There are actually more Muslims in Greece than Greeks practicing the ancient ways.
On the down side, the pacing of this 70-minute film is a bit leisurely and many of the people interviewed here are not identified by name. We meet “Martial Arts Instructor” and “Chiropractor” but they have no name – only one woman has her face obscured while on camera, while everyone else speaks in clear close-ups. Also, there could’ve been a more extensive explanation on just who the 12 gods of Olympus were (are?) – it is a bit difficult to understand how someone like Poseidon or Athena could hold such appeal some 2,000 years after their halcyon days.
However, “I Still Worship Zeus” is a fascinating and cogent exploration of the persistence of faith over the centuries. Greetings to Dionysus, indeed!