Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan pantheon. Modern Minoan Paganism is an independent polytheist spiritual tradition that brings the gods and goddesses of the ancient Minoans alive in the modern world. We're a revivalist tradition, not a reconstructionist one; we rely heavily on shared gnosis and the practical realities of Paganism in the modern world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

Find out all about Modern Minoan Paganism on our website: We're a welcoming tradition, open to all who share our love for the Minoan deities and respect for our fellow human beings.

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A Minoan by Any Other Name

If the ancient Minoans were such successful traders with so many other cultures, why don't we hear about them in the writings of those other cultures? Because in the ancient world, they weren't called Minoans.

The term "Minoans" is a 20th-century invention. Sir Arthur Evans, the British archaeologist who unearthed the temple complex at Knossos, had been chasing a set of myths for years: King Minos, the Labyrinth, Ariadne and the Minotaur. Like Heinrich Schliemann, who wanted to prove the truth of the tales in Homer's epic works by digging up the real city of Troy, Evans wanted to prove the historicity of the myths about ancient Crete.

So when he found a huge temple complex with hundreds of rooms and corridors, he assumed it was King Minos' palace with the fabled Labyrinth. He reasoned that if the King was named Minos, the people and the culture could be called Minoan. He coined the term and the name stuck. (By the way, Minos wasn't a king, but a Minoan god.)

This is why, on a regular basis, I get people asking me where the empire of Minoa is located. Sorry, but there is no such empire. The modern name of the island where the ancient Minoans lived is Crete. The name the Minoans called it might very well have been Ida, which is also one of the names of the Minoan mother goddess Rhea and is still the name of one of the mountains on Crete sacred to her. But there is no empire of Minoa. There are several Aegean cities whose names have come down to us as Minoa but they're individual cities. And even though the cities themselves date to the Bronze Age, we can't tell for certain whether the name Minoa goes back that far because it wasn't recorded until much later.

If Evans coined the term Minoans in the 20th century, what were the Minoans called in the ancient world? We're not sure, but the current best guess is that they were called something like Keftiu, based on the term kftı͗w found in a number of Egyptian inscriptions. This is not the same as the "Caphtor" found in the Bible and ancient Near Eastern texts. There's still a great deal of debate regarding whether Keftiu is indeed the correct ancient term (whether it's what the Minoans called themselves or what other people called them).

One of the most puzzling clues we have regarding the identification of Crete and the Minoans as Keftiu comes from an inscription on the stone base of a statue from the reign of Egyptian pharaoh Amenhotep III. Conventional dating places his reign during the 14th century BCE, shortly after the fall of the Minoan cities, though those dates are contested as too recent by some scholars. Regardless, the inscription lists locations on Crete and other Aegean islands at a time when the Egyptians were still regularly trading with Crete. The locations on Crete inlcude Amnisos, Phaistos, Kydonia, Knossos. The thing is, Keftiu is also in this list, as if it were a city alongside the others. That's a bit confusing, to say the least.

So the honest answer is, we really don't know for sure what the Minoans called themselves or what anyone else called them. The term Keftiu has stuck in the popular imagination and a lot of people use it in preference to Minoan, partly because it feels more historically accurate (even if it really isn't) and partly because there's some objection to using a name based on the idea of King Minos, when there was probably never a Minoan king at all (Minos was a Minoan god who was "demoted" to the status of mortal by the Greeks, just like Ariadne and the Minotaur, Minoan deities who were also "demoted" in various ways).

A few people have tried to re-brand Minoan culture as Ariadnian, based on the idea that the goddess was the supreme deity in ancient Crete, but the name simply hasn't caught on, maybe because it's a bit awkward to pronounce. The term Minoan is fixed in the popular imagination and isn't going anywhere anytime soon, I'm afraid.

UPDATE: Some of us who practice Modern Minoan Paganism have begun using the term Idaean, after the Minoan mother goddess Ida (Rhea). Many ancient people whose pantheons were headed by a mother goddess or ancestress called themselves after that deity. We honestly have no idea whether the Minoans called themselves anything like this, but it's a possibility, and it certainly rings more true than "Minoan."

So the ultimate answer is, we can't be sure what the Minoans called themselves way back then. I suppose it doesn't matter what we call them, as long as we keep talking about them so they don't end up lost to history once again.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.


Recommended reading:

Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth by Joseph A. MacGillivray

The Dawn of Genius: The Minoan Super-Civilization and the Truth about Atlantis by Alan Butler (I promise the contents aren't nearly as sensationalistic as the title)

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Laura Perry is an artist, writer, and the founder and facilitator of Modern Minoan Paganism. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a passion of hers since a fateful art history class introduced her to the frescoes of Knossos back in high school. Her first book was published in 2001; one of her most recent works is Labrys and Horns: An Introduction to Modern Minoan Paganism. She has also created a Minoan Tarot deck and a Minoan coloring book. When she's not busy drawing and writing, you can find her in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.


  • Archer
    Archer Monday, 16 October 2017

    I really enjoyed this and look forward to learning more about the "Minoans". I love the way you combine mystery, historicity and imagination in your approach.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Monday, 16 October 2017

    Thank you! I try to make it clear where I'm speculating or working off gnosis (mine and/or that of others). But there's simply so much we don't know from the archaeological record, we have to fill in the blanks somehow.

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