The Minoan Path: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

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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Laura Perry

Laura Perry

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.

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Baking from Scratch, Minoan Style

Have you ever tried to bake a cake from scratch? Not terribly difficult, right? But what if you didn’t have a recipe? That’s pretty much what we’re doing over at Ariadne’s Tribe these days. Bear with me here and I’ll do my best not to flog the metaphor too badly.

Reconstructionist traditions like Hellenism and Ásatru rely on written texts from earlier times for a lot of their information. The Hellenists have all the works that have come down to us from the classical writers, many of whom were devoted to the Hellenic deities themselves; the Ásatru folks have the eddas, the sagas and more. Though the ancient Minoans left us their writing in the form of Linear A, we can’t read it; in fact, we don’t even know what language the script records. So, essentially, we don’t have a recipe. But we’re good cooks, at least, I’d like to think so.

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Meet the Minoans: Zagreus

A few weeks ago I wrote about Dionysos, one of the major gods within the Minoan pantheon. Today I’m going to explore the character of Zagreus. He is sometimes considered an aspect of Dionysos and sometimes viewed as a separate deity. The tapestry of Minoan spirituality is a complicated thing, and it’s often difficult to tease out the individual threads, but I’ll give it a go and see what we can discover about this interesting, and ancient, deity.

In his seminal work Dionysos: Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life, Karl Kerenyi identified Zagreus with the ecstatic Dionysiac festivals in which wild animals were torn limb from limb by crazed worshipers. Kerenyi connected Zagreus’ name with the Greek term for a trapper – a hunter who catches live animals rather than killing them. But the etymology of the name can also be traced back to a root meaning torn or dismembered, another thread connecting this intriguing god with those Dionysiac rites. Just to be clear: Zagreus is not the same as the Hellenic god Zeus, even though their names look somewhat alike. In their effort to create an ancient ancestry for their deities, the Greeks made Zeus the son of the Minoan goddess Rhea and said he was born on Crete, but he is a later deity and not the same as Zagreus.

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Meet the Minoans: Eileithyia

Though she is not as well-known as some of the other Minoan deities who made their way into the later Olympian pantheon, Eileithyia, the divine midwife and goddess of childbirth, was profoundly important to the ancient Cretans. There is some speculation that Eileithyia is actually her Minoan/pre-Greek name, which is unusual among the deities from Crete; we know most of them only from their later Greek epithets. In the Cretan dialect her name is Eleuthia (e-re-u-ti-ja in Linear B), which may connect her to Eleusis and the mystery religion celebrated there. A goddess of birth could certainly have a place in the transformational ceremonies of a mystery religion. The meaning of her name is disputed, though it may have its roots in the term ‘to bring’ or ‘to deliver,’ which would make sense for a goddess of childbirth, or possibly in the word for ‘to aid or relieve.’ She is sometimes depicted as multiples – the Eileithyias – rather than a single goddess, and sometimes as a dual goddess, one who either slows labor or speeds it, depending on her attitude toward the laboring woman. To me, her multiplicity links her to the oldest female deities such as the Fates and the Mothers (Meteres or Matrones).

The Minoans worshiped Eileithyia at a cave near Amnisos, the ancient port that served the city of Knossos. Archaeologists have found evidence of her continuous worship in that cave beginning in Neolithic times, so she is one of the oldest Minoan deities. According to legend, she was born in that cave, making her a part of the living landscape of the island, much like Rhea. In the cave archaeologists have found figurines of women in childbirth, nursing babies and in prayer postures. These votive offerings women made to this goddess tell us what they wanted from Eileithyia, which is pretty much the same thing pregnant women have always desired and still hope for: a safe and fast delivery of a healthy child who nurses strongly and grows well. In this way, Eileithyia ties us to our ancestors going back through the generations and the millennia.

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Meet the Minoans: Dionysos

In the interest of giving equal time to both sides of the Minoan pantheon, I’m going to alternate between goddesses and gods in the Meet the Minoans series. Up this time: Dionysos, god of passion and parties. At least, that’s how most modern folks see him, but he’s actually far more complicated than that. Let’s take a look.

First of all, the symbols usually associated with Dionysos tend to be, shall we say, less than civilized. He is often depicted dressed in leopard skins (or panther skins, the panther being the melanistic or black leopard), accompanied by leopards or riding in a chariot pulled by them. His staff is the thyrsos, a fennel stalk wound round with ivy and topped with a pine cone. If he’s not in the mood to wrap the ivy around the handle of the thyrsos, he wears it on his head as a crown. He hangs out in the wild woods and caves with satyrs and maenads who like to have wild sex and tear baby animals apart with their bare hands so they can eat them raw. Not exactly a city boy, if you see what I mean.

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Meet the Minoans: The Great Goddess Rhea

I decided I wanted to begin a series of posts about the gods and goddesses of ancient Crete, and I figured I’d start with Ariadne, since she is the deity most strongly associated with the Minoans in popular culture. But I just couldn’t manage to get going with the writing; then Rhea asserted herself, popping up online and in conversations, and I realized she should be first. She was the Great Mother Goddess who presided over the Minoan pantheon in much the same way that my maternal grandmother was the matriarch of my extended family. So it’s appropriate to begin with Rhea. We’ll be starting at the top, so to speak.

Please bear in mind that our knowledge of the Minoan deities comes down to us from the later Greeks, and is filtered through their religious and cultural perceptions, which were different from the Minoan worldview. In order to understand any Minoan god or goddess, we have to dig underneath the writings of Greeks such as Homer and Diodorus Siculus to find our way back to the earlier levels.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Crocus-gatherer-from-Akrotiri.jpg

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…

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    There'd be different greens for different occasions, I'd imagine. Probably (to judge from contemporary usage) cypress for the Feas
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    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 Feas
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    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
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Bay, olive, palm, willow...
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    Lucy Goodison wrote about the solstice alignment in Potnia, the journal of the Proceedings of the 8th International Aegean Confere

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