Pagan Paths

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, loving goddess of ancient Crete who lives on in the hearts and minds of the modern world. The myths of ancient Crete, her people, and their deities twine through our minds like the snakes around the priestess's arms in those ancient temples. This is not a reconstructionist tradition, but a journey of modern Pagans connecting with Minoan deities in the contemporary world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

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Walking the Minoan Path: Easier Said than Done

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I’m delighted to be writing this blog for you every month about walking the Minoan path. I thought I’d start by letting you know how I got to this place, this most unusual practice within the varied world of modern Paganism. If you work with Ariadne and her tribe on a regular basis, or would like to, I would love to hear from you. For me, it started with a few pretty pictures…

I was captivated by the art. I sat there in my ninth grade art history class, staring at the beautiful frescoes from the temple-palace at Knossos, their colors still vibrant after so many thousands of years. Those images touched a place deep within me and awakened a yearning for connection, not just with the culture of ancient Crete but with its gods and goddesses as well. That was the moment I first set foot on the Minoan path.

Taking the next step wasn’t so easy. I made a beeline for the school library in search of information about the Minoans and their wonderful world, but came up empty. There was no Internet back in those days, and the bookshelves offered nothing but a footnote or two in plodding histories of ancient Greece.

It wasn’t until college that I finally found enough information to sink my teeth into, and even that was pretty sparse: a couple of books about Sir Arthur Evans’ excavations at Knossos, complete with blurry black-and-white photos of some of the finds, and a slim volume about Michael Ventris’ decipherment of Linear B, one of the writing systems used in ancient Crete.

I practically memorized those books, but all they did was leave me wanting more. The Minoans were real people; they ate and drank, loved and hated. Most of all, they worshiped. I desperately wanted to know about their religion, their beliefs and practices. What had gone on in those huge buildings? Every time I looked at a photo of the throne room at Knossos, I got goosebumps. Who had sat on that throne? I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn’t the king Sir Arthur Evans imagined. Something was calling me, but I couldn’t identify it. I moved forward in life with a huge empty space inside me, wondering if it would ever be filled.

Then, in the early 1990s, I was wandering through a bookstore one day and happened upon two volumes that changed my life: Minoan Religion by Nanno Marinatos and The Chalice and the Blade by Riane Eisler. Jackpot! I bought those books on the spot and pored over them until their pages became worn and dog-eared. Slowly I worked my way through their bibliographies, reading the books Marinatos and Eisler had used in their research. My friends thought I was crazy.

By that time I had become active in the pagan community and had begun working my way through the Wiccan degrees with a local group. During our regular rituals I happily invoked deities from the Celtic and Norse pantheons, goddesses and gods whose names I had heard for years, whose cultures felt familiar. Then one day I was given an assignment, a requirement I had to fulfill in order to complete my work toward the second degree. I had to write a year’s worth of seasonal rituals and a lifetime’s worth of rites of passage. I could choose the pantheon; that part was entirely up to me.

For days I dithered, vacillating between the Celtic and Norse pantheons, occasionally considering the Egyptian or even the little-known Slavic deities. All that time, something…someone…was waiting patiently in the background, waiting for the obvious to dawn on me.

Five days in a row, five different people mentioned Crete and the Minoans to me, totally out of the blue.

I took the hint.

Yes, I relented. The Minoan pantheon it was! Then came the really uncomfortable part. I had lots of archaeological information about ancient Crete, but even Dr. Marinatos’ book with its title ‘Minoan Religion’ really said very little about what the Minoans believed and how they worshiped. I was going to have to rely on my intuition. Yikes.

I’ve known a lot of reconstructionist Pagans over the years – Norse, Celtic, Hellenic. I really admire the amount of work it takes to do all that research and create a living tradition out of the existing literature, art and architecture. But it’s really the literature that provides the foundation for those reconstructionist traditions, and it’s literature that we have exactly none of from Crete. We can’t even read what they wrote in their native language; Linear A has yet to be deciphered.

So I asked Ariadne to help me. And of course, she did, though I will admit to being a bit thick. Sometimes it takes several tries for the gods to get through to me. Back then, I really didn’t trust my inner voice much at all. But eventually I managed to complete the assignment.

What I ended up with was something of a hybrid between modern Wiccan-style practice and ancient Minoan religion. There are just some things we don’t know, among them, the names of the deities in the Cretan language. All we have is what has filtered down to us through the Greeks.

We do know that the Minoans made offerings at shrines…in their homes, in the temples, on mountaintops and in caves. They brought food, wine, flowers, even little clay figurines. They gave thanks for good times and asked for help in bad times. They had big festivals at various times of the year (we don’t know exactly when) that involved mystery plays performed at the temples, with priests and priestesses enacting the Minoan mythos. They worshiped a broad collection of goddesses and gods in many forms, from human to animal.

I took that information and crafted it into a set of rituals that satisfied my teachers. Then slowly, over the course of several years, I enacted most of those rituals. It was then I learned that the gods weren’t always as pleased as my teachers had been. Thankfully, the Minoan deities were gentle with me…a table collapsing here, a goblet cracking there, an invisible force knocking a knife out of my hand. Fortunately, no one was ever injured and I learned to take the hints to heart and adjust my rituals accordingly.

So I’ve been walking with Ariadne since then. Sometimes I need a big, formal ritual. Sometimes I just sit and listen to what she has to say to me. She and her tribe understand that we no longer live in the same world the Minoans knew, but they remind me that we humans have always faced the same issues: life, death, meaning and change. And the gods have always walked alongside us, offering their help. All we have to do is listen.

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As a Pagan artist and writer, Laura Perry aims to make ancient spiritual traditions relevant and powerful for modern women and men. She has been fascinated by the Minoan society of ancient Crete since her high school art history teacher introduced her to the colorful artwork of this amazing ancient culture, and has even tried her hand at translating the ancient Cretan script, Linear A. And no, she didn't do any better than anyone else has.

Comments

  • Laine
    Laine Saturday, 28 June 2014

    This was such a tease!

    Please, please, please provide more information about your path! I've always felt a powerful pull to Minoan civilization - like you, from seeing the art at an early age. The tug is deep and whenever I witness the Snake Goddess it's like trying to remember a word that is on the tip of my tongue but not coming through. Do you have a website or a book of your own devoted to it? I need to know more!

  • Laine
    Laine Saturday, 28 June 2014

    I found your website and your book! :P I was so excited I hadn't even checked. Great stuff!

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Saturday, 28 June 2014

    I've just started a Facebook discussion group about Minoan spirituality, if you'd like another resource for learning and sharing. It's here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1502335483312496/ Please feel free to join if you're interested.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Monday, 30 June 2014

    Sculptor Alvin Felch once said to me, "If you had to pick a time and place in the past to go back and live in, would it not be Minoan Crete?" It's hard to disagree.

    For years now I've had a picture in my head of the winter solstice Festival of Lamps in Knossos: the windows and parapets of the temple-palace flickering with rows of little clay oil-lamps, a la Diwali or Hanuka.

    May they shine again in our day.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Tuesday, 01 July 2014

    Wow, Steven, what a beautiful image! Apparently the throne room at Knossos aligns to the solstices, and given their wealth and imagination, I'm sure there were all sorts of wonderful celebrations.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 01 July 2014

    I hadn't heard about the solstice alignment: intriguing.

    Probably we should envision the courts hung with swags of greenery, too. That's pretty universal at times of celebration throughout the Mediterranean world.

    Personally, I'm convinced that we haven't seen ancient art until we've looked at it by firelight. We People of the Switch tend to forget that.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Tuesday, 01 July 2014

    Lucy Goodison wrote about the solstice alignment in Potnia, the journal of the Proceedings of the 8th International Aegean Conference. The reference is: Goodison, Lucy. “From Tholos Tomb to Throne Room: Perceptions of the Sun in Minoan Ritual.” In Hagg, R. and R. Laffineur, eds., Potnia, 77-88, 2001. Other people have riffed off of her work, but hers is the original academic source.

    I wonder what kind of greenery the Minoans would have used. Myrtle was sacred to the goddess. I can definitely see the Winter Solstice as a 'green' time for the Minoans. The Mediterranean climate gives a different set of seasons than the northern temperate zone, so the 'dead' time in the Mediterranean is the summer, when everything dries up and turns brown. The rains come in the autumn, when everything greens up and 'lives' again.

    Firelight...yes, that's a very good point. I wonder if tourists' experiences of various ruins would change if the electric lights were lower in wattage and positioned where torches and oil lamps would have been.

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 01 July 2014

    Bay, olive, palm, willow...

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Tuesday, 01 July 2014

    I can see using any of those except willow; it's deciduous, so not available as greenery at Midwinter. But the others - yes! Now I'm picturing the temples and people's homes all decorated, with lamps in the windows!

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Tuesday, 01 July 2014

    There'd be different greens for different occasions, I'd imagine. Probably (to judge from contemporary usage) cypress for the Feast of the Dead...everybody has a Feast of the Dead!

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Tuesday, 01 July 2014

    I was thinking mainly of Winter Solstice, since that's the one you mentioned in the comment above. I'm sure the Minoans had a Feast of the Dead. The earliest evidence of religious practice on Crete comes from the beehive-shaped communal tombs that date back to at least 3,000 BCE - from those we have the remains of what appear to be funeral feasts that coincided with the harvest. So yes, Feast of the Dead, definitely!

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