IT TOOK more than 1600 years, but the ancient Greek god Zeus has been honoured once again, pagan style, by a tiny group of worshippers at an ancient temple in the heart of Athens ...
About 200 people attended the ceremony organised by Ellinais, an Athens-based group campaigning to revive ancient religion. The group defied a ban by the Culture Ministry, which had declared the central Athens site off-limits.
"Our message is world peace and an ecological way of life in which everyone has the right to education," said Kostas Stathopoulos, one of three high priests overseeing the event, which celebrated the nuptials of Zeus with Hera, the goddess of love and marriage ...
Ellinais, which has 34 official members - mainly middle-aged and elderly academics, lawyers and other professionals - was founded last year. It won a court battle for official recognition of the ancient Greek religion and is demanding approval for its offices to be registered as a place of worship - a move that could allow the group to perform weddings and other duties.
SCENE: Utter darkness, except for a strange emanation surrounding HIGH PRIEST VORGOX, centre stage, glowering grimly through the darkness at the audience.
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: (In the tone of one who is gargling through gravel, most easily achieved by giving the actor gravel to eat before the performance - a pair of dentures may be required for this to occur) Brothers of the Abysmal Service, Fraternity of the Dark Rites, Comrades of the Satanic Ritual - let the BLACK MASS BEGIN!
(Lights up on a stage filled full with a crowd of cowled figures massed about HIGH PRIEST VORGOX. One of them sticks up her hand.)
1st PERSON: Wait, wait - you did just say brothers, didn't you?
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Yes.
1st PERSON: Well, what about sisters? You know, Equal Employment Opportunity, EEO, and all that?
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: We don't believe in feminism - because we're EVIL! (Laughs evilly, sound of organ chords from somewhere, causing everyone to look around the Satanic Chambers confusedly.)
1st PERSON: Screw this! (Exiting, muttering common feminist phrases) Misogynists! Reprobates! Nematodes! Troglodytes! Loxolophodonts! (etc, etc.)
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: So, as I said, BROTHERS of the BLACK MASS, let the...
2nd PERSON: Wait, wait... what's all this about a 'black mass'?
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Well, what of it?
2nd PERSON: Oh, I don't know - just a little matter of the inherent racism in such a term. Wouldn't it be better if it was 'Mass for People of All Creeds, Colours and Ethnicities'? You know? A little sensitivity could take you a long way.
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Coincidentally, I'd like to take you a long way away, too! GUARDS! (Enter two winged monkeys, or kung fu artists, or whatever the producers have available at the time, who proceed to carry off this 2nd PERSON) Bollocks to your sensitivity, you squirmy little puke-eater! We're Evil! Worshippers of the Infernal Lord! We have nothing to do with your petty concerns! THROW HIM IN THE DUNGEONS!
2nd PERSON: (Screaming as he is dragged off) No! You... you can't do this to me! I'll write to my Federal Member! I... I'll... I'll do an expose on Indymedia! I'll WRITE TO THE AGE! NOOOOOOOOO!!!!
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Yeah, yeah, tell it to someone who gives a flying fuck. Now - BROTHERS of the BLACK MASS - let the SATANIC RITES ...
3rd PERSON: Woooah, woooah, hang on just a minute. 'Satanic Rites', you say? I thought this was a convention for Anglican Ministers to discuss hymn singing arrangements for...
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Oh, for Damnation's sake, NO, despite the obvious and ASTOUNDING similarities between the two conventions, this is in fact a meeting of SATANISTS. Got that? SATANISTS!
3rd PERSON: Oh, righty-ho then. Wrong place. Toodle-pip! (Leaves).
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: And for the record, all Baptists, Pentacostals, Catholics, Orthodox worshippers, Coptics, Mormons, Jehovas Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Arians, Gnostics, Muslims of the Shi'ite, Sunni and Sufi variety, Voodoists, Buddhists, Jews, Jains, Hindus, Animists, Worshippers of Odin (pulling out a scroll and reading a list of religions from it that is somewhat longer than this scenario: about five and a half hours longer, to be precise) ... followers of the Ultimate Light, Thetan Enlightened, New Jerusalemites, Zaarians, and members of the Australian Greens, you lot can bugger off now. We're Satanists, not a namby-pamby garden party.
(Everyone but HIGH PRIEST VORGOX and five others exit).
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Oh. So it's just you guys, is it? Right then. Fair enough. (Mutters) We could have done with a few new recruits. (Aloud) Righty-ho. Let me just read the role. (Pulls out another scroll from within the obviously voluminous folds of his robe.) Zogmar ... Craggax ... Mogyar the 3rd... Xonx and Vakmosh the Crusher, welcome back. (They all nod as he reads their names out. He attempts to fold the scroll back up as a map, fails, then stuffs it back into his robe nevertheless.)
ALL: Hi, boss!
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Er, right. So, lads - what have we got on the agenda tonight, then?
(CRAGGAX shifts his heels about, MOGYAR the 3rd stares at his feet and coughs)
VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER: Um, boss, we thought you had to tell us what to do.
XONX: Yeah, you, like, called the meeting, being closer to Satan's Infernal Heart ...
ALL: Damned be his name!
XONX: So, you've got to tell US what to do, boss.
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Yeah. Quite right. (Under his breath) Snitches! (Aloud) So, tonight, we were going to hold a nice little sacrifice. Nothing too difficult. Offer up a soul or two, if possible, to our Dark Lord...
ALL: (In hushed tones of awe) A sacrifice!
VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER: I've got a puppy we can sacrifice! A real cutie!
MOGYARD THE 3rd: Ooh, or I can get us a nice little lamb - very cheap! And still alive!
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: No, no. What are you talking about? The Dark Lord will not be appeased with such unimportant things! No! He requires nothing less than blood and brains: a human soul is his wages! It's got to be a human sacrifice or nothing, boys!
ZOGMAR: Er, right.
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: It's got to be one of you!
VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER: Um... no problem, then. But what's it all in aid of?
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: (Airily) Oh, nothing much. We'll just be asking the Dark Lord to end the Iraq War and bring our troops home ...
ZOGMAR: What in Hell's name are we doing that for, boss?
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Oh, come on. Don't look so glum - it's All in a Bad Cause! I mean, Satanists we may be, but we certainly don't support George Bush and his Illegal and Immoral war! Now then, to business - I nominate YOU, Vakmosh, to be the sacrificial victim, and YOU, Zogmar, to be the sacrificial, er, victimiser. You can use THIS. (Pulling out a sinister looking knife perfect for victimising purposes from his robe.)
ZOGMAR: Right. (Taking knife.) Hey, wait! Where are you going?
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Oh, I'll just be watching the telly for a little while. This is strictly between you lads and Satan. Call me when it's over.
CRAGGAX: (Shaking Vakmosh the Crusher's hands) So long, Vakmosh! Nice knowing you! Love to stick around for this wonderful event in your - er - death, but just can't stand the sight of blood. Too icky by half, don't you know! (One by one the others extrictate themselves in a similar fashion until it's just VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER and ZOGMAR left)
ZOGMAR: Okay, Vakmosh (pointing to the table with the knife) if you could just pop up on that table over there, and I'll invoke the Dark Lord, and it will all be over ...
VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER: Oh, all right, then ... ! (Climbs on to table and lies himself down)
ZOGMAR: (Raising the knife far above his head and appearing to go into a trance state) Malleus Maleficarum, Satanus Invocatorium ...
VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER: Wait!
VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER: Just getting comfortable. That's all. Okay then, back to it.
ZOGMAR: (Attempting to get back into trance state) ... invocatorium, preludium, quaaludium, and odium on the melodion...
VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER: Wait!
ZOGMAR: (Wipes sweat from his brow with the knife, discovers he is doing it with the knife, and snaps back to a tense position) WHAT?
VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER: If you're going to kill me... don't be too rough!
ZOGMAR: Okay, okay, Vakky... got it... not too rough! (Returning to trance state) Er ... invocatorium nickelodeon ipso facto ergo demonstradum (Voice has risen to a fever pitch. He is now about to plunge the knife downwards into VAKMOSH'S heart when in bursts HIGH PRIEST VORGOX)
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: Sorry to burst in on you like this, strangely in the manner of a dramatic denoeument! Did everything go well?
ZOGMAR: Er, yes boss. He's nice and dead now!
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: He doesn't look too dead!
VAKMOSH THE CRUSHER: (Who has taken the sacrificial knife off Zogmar and has just blown his nose on it) Yes. Don't you know, I thought it was going to be so hard, but he was kind. He killed me softly.
HIGH PRIEST VORGOX: You mean... (steps up to centre stage)
Strumming my pain with his fingers,
Singing my life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song,
Killing me softly with his song,
Telling my whole life with his words,
Killing me softly with his song ...
(All join hands to sing the chorus)
I heard he sang a good song, I heard he had a style.
And so I came to see him to listen for a while.
And there he was this young boy, a stranger to my eyes.
(The curtain closes on this peaceful, if dramatically complex scene, as the light of a new, happier day dawns in the east, or the west, or wherever the stage lights happened to be located at that particular time)