The Olympics are in China this year, as anyone not living under a giant golden buddha knows. The yearly relay around the world, this year including 21 countries and dubbed the “Journey of Harmony” by China, has been in full swing. The Chinese government is hoping that the relay will draw attention to their nation, and display what a good and responsible neighbor they are, and showcase China’s sudden economic boom. This kind of thinking has historical precedent.
Needless to say, the Journey has not been Harmonious.
In an effort to do their part to free Tibet from Chinese oppression, the people took to the streets in Paris with a mind to douse the flame. Despite the protection of over 3000 police pulling torch duty, the flame was put out at least five times, and maybe more. But don’t worry, it’s really no big deal. See, wherever the flame goes, they keep a backup flame to relight it. You know, so it’s the same fire. Not like that nincompoop in 1976 who relit the Olympic Flame with his cigarette lighter. They had to put the fire out and relight it again with the right fire. This does ask the question though, what’s so special about that fire?
In ancient Greece there was no Olympic Torch, though there was plenty of Olympic Flame. See, the games were part of an overall ceremony to the gods (Zeus in particular) and the athletics were liberally interspersed with sacrifices, ceremonies, and incense. (Oh, and the athletes were almost all nekkid too! Too bad Women’s Jello Wrestling has never been an Olympic sport.) Anyway, fire was believed to have been stolen from Zeus by Prometheus, and since the games were a Zeus event, the Greeks put lots of it all over the place and kept it burning in his honor. (Apparently to the ancient Greek mind, thumbing your nose at a god and showing him what you stole from him is the same as worship.)
Finally, in 393 AD, Emperor Theodosius I, having already declared christianity the new State Religion, set the early bar for christian religious intolerance and ruled that the Olympics was a pagan festival and banned by law.
“Can’t we wrestle nekkid just a little?”
“No sir, it’s too pagan! Here, read this Jack Chick tract. It saved my life you know.”
The Olympics were re-instituted officially in 1859, though the flame didn’t reappear until 1928. It wasn’t until 1936 however, that Carl Diem and Joseph Goebbels (yes, that Joseph Goebbels) came up with the idea of the international relay carrying the torch all-round the place. It seems they were hoping that the relay would draw attention to their nation, and display what a good and responsible neighbor they were, and showcase Nazi Germany’s sudden economic boom.
Not that I’m drawing parallels.
So… every two years, just before this big relay gets started up, 11 women in Olympia, Greece, site of the ancient pagan Olympic Festivals, take the roles of the eleven priestesses (I am not making this up) and recreate the ceremony of the stolen fire by lighting the flame with a parabolic mirror. (Stealing it from the sky.) It is this flame, and this flame only, that must travel the world in the Olympic Torch and preside over the games in the Olympic Cauldron. To this end, a backup always accompanies the torch, so that it may be relit with the fire stolen from the sky. And that is why, despite the flame having been doused so many times already of this Journey of Harmony, Tibet is still not free. (You’d think three times would have been enough to liberate a place like Tibet, much less five!)
Today, when I look at folks who say that protesting a country with such an abysmal human rights record as China by attacking the torch is foolish… I don’t think about China’s growing global influence and what that kind of power has traditionally meant for our planet when in the hands of people with so little regard for human life… I don’t think about the nations of the world who might put economic interests above the lives of millions of individual human beings… hell, I don’t even think about the politics of the Olympic sound bite and what it means to our elections here in America and the future of our leaders and our country. No, I think of fuddy old Theodosius I and how far we have come. I think that we have gone from his times of religious intolerance to a day when even good christians can sit down in front of their TV sets and celebrate a Nazi ceremony to pagan gods.
… And here’s a great pic Lena took of a trio of woodpeckers near our house. The smaller, airborne birds are Downy Woodpeckers, and the larger, unconcerned fellow is a Flicker. They were having what looked like a housing dispute in the top of a rotted out tree. Well, the downies were anyway, the flicker could not possibly have cared less.