The Sacred Flame
In a golden lantern on a golden plane, the Olympic Flame was flown across the continent of Europe and is now upon British soil. It was lit by the sun's stolen rays in Greece a week ago. Special permission had to be granted for the ‘symbolic naked flame’ (actually four of them) to fly British Airways, flanked by its own guards, surrounded by priests and priestesses. The ritual is mesmeric: the Princess Royal carried the Sacred Flame off the plane, and the sporting god Sir David Beckham (as he was erroneously honoured) lit the waiting cauldron. Lord Coe bowed respectfully; Mayor Boris quipped irreverently. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg formally welcomed the Flame, supported by members of the armed forces and dignitaries from the four corners of the Kingdom.
It is cultic – a kind of national puja. There is a sense of national offering to a deity, in an ancient ceremony which stretches back to the time of Plato. There’s been some muttering that whole thing was invented by Goebbels for the 1936 Berlin Games. But that is not quite true: the ancient Greeks used fire and torch relays (lampadedromia) as part of their Olympiad: it is all shrouded in national myth, but the tradition certainly predates the Nazis.
And so now it begins its 70-day 8,000-mile journey around the British Isles, to be lauded and honoured by millions of people in hundreds of communities, united in their worship of Prometheus. The Sacred Flame is pure light; the light is knowledge; knowledge is power. It will reach its cultic climax on 27th July, when the Flame will be used to ignite the ceremonial cauldron in London's Olympic Stadium, when we shall see clearly and know completely, and all nations will be united for the good of humanity.
The people yearn for their god: religion is not dead.