Religious Ceremonies in Ancient Greece Were Fun Even for Atheists
History has taught us that the relationship between the ancient Greeks and their gods was based on the concept of exchange. During the past few decades, thousands of votive offerings have been unearthed from sanctuaries in Greece, which according to archaeologists was the ultimate way for ancient people to express their appreciation and gratitude to gods. Maybe that explains why religious ceremonies in ancient Greece were super fancy shows. As we already know, the Greeks loved art, music, and poetry so much that they often included art in their religious ceremonies to give a more dramatic and divine atmosphere to the whole thing.
They worshiped deities in sanctuaries located either in the city or in the countryside, depending on the deity’s nature and character. A sanctuary was a well-defined sacred space set apart usually by an enclosure wall. This sacred precinct, also known as a temenos, contained the temple with a monumental cult image of the deity, an outdoor altar, statues and votive offerings to the gods, and often features of landscape such as sacred trees or springs. Many temples benefited from their natural surroundings, which helped to express the character of the divinities. A major example would be the temple of Poseidon (God of Sea) at Sounion, which offers to this day a fascinating view of the blue waters surrounding the temple.
Due to the fact that the ancient Greeks worshiped more than one god, the priests had to be creative and come up with new ways to excite the masses so they would keep coming back with offerings for each of the gods. For that reason, they often hired engineers to create the so-called “automata,” mechanisms that were not really useful but which amazed the crowds. One such “automata” was automatic doors. Believe it or not, the ancient Greeks designed the first automatic doors in history and first used them within the altar at the place of worship. When a person made an offering to one of the gods, the doors of the altar opened, thanks to a fire being ignited within the altar.
This same idea was used to move statues inside the place of worship such as wooden birds and other animals. Also, holy water was sprayed on the worshipers from the temple ceiling through specially designed pipes, which offered them the illusion of divine grace. The four most famous religious festivals in ancient Greece included athletic competitions, multiple sacrifices of animals, and were held every four years at Olympia, Delphi, Nemea, and Isthmia in Corinth attracting visitors from every city-state of Greece.