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Adventures in Sort-of-Reconstruction: Modern Minoan Paganism

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Modern Minoan Paganism is something of a hybrid, combining reconstructionism (to the extent that we can) with a lot of do-it-yourself methods: shared personal gnosis, shamanic journeying, psychic archaeology. We're not trying to revive the exact religious practices of the ancient Minoans because, to be honest, we really can't. And there are all sorts of obstacles in our way, even if we did want to revive "the real thing."

We can't read the Linear A script that the Minoans used to write their own language. Yes, someone or other comes out with a supposed "translation" every few years but they're always wrong; any well-trained linguist will tell you that we simply don't have enough text to do a proper decipherment. There are a few things we can tell about the script, but we honestly can't read it so we don't Minoan texts to go by (yes, I'm positively envious of the Norse and Irish reconstructionists and all their historic texts).

We do have a lot of hard objects, from tiny cups to multi-acre buildings, that have survived the millennia since Minoan times. Between the artifacts and the remains of temples, tombs, and homes, we have a pretty good idea how the Minoans lived, worked, ate, and played. Thanks to residue sampling, we even know how they cooked! (I recommend you to Minoan Tastes for a bit of living history along those lines.)

Of course, there's always the danger that we'll accidentally use a forgery as the basis for our reconstruction. I've recently been reading archaeologist Alexander MacGillivray's excellent biography of Sir Arthur Evans, titled Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth. It turns out, some of the artists and diggers he hired to reconstruct the frescoes and other works of art at Knossos also ran a thriving business in Minoan forgeries. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised - ancient Roman artists made fake Greek artifacts for unsuspecting buyers way back then and the antiquities market is still packed with fakes of all sorts even now. It's nothing new. But it gets to be a problem for developing a modern spiritual practice when we can't tell what's really from Crete four thousand years ago and what some talented but ethically-challenged artist created in his workshop a few years back.

For instance, the work of art at the top of this post is my modern art rendition of a gold seal ring found at the Isopata tomb near Knossos. It's a genuine Minoan artifact with documented provenance (and a really pretty piece of highly-skilled metalsmithing):

Isopata gold seal ring

 

But there are two other famous rings that were probably forged by Émile Gilliéron and his son, the talented artists who helped reconstruct much of the Minoan art that we're familiar with today. The so-called Archanes ring, which conveniently supported some of Evans' theories about bull-leaping, is one of them:

 

Archanes Minoan gold seal ring

 

The other is the Ring of Nestor, which handily reinforced Evans' view about tree-and-pillar worship in Minoan Crete:

 

Ring of Nestor

 

Then there are all the chryselephantine (ivory-and-gold) figurines that were made in workshops in Knossos during the early 20th century and exported to museums and private collections everywhere. Like this one:

 

Fake Minoan goddess

 

So we can't even trust the artifacts in museums to tell us how the Minoans really did their thing. And that's not even counting the issue of genuine artifacts being labeled "ritual objects" by anthropologists who wouldn't know a Pagan religious practice if it bit them... well, you see what I mean.

And then there are the practices we don't want to revive, like human and animal sacrifice. And the things we can't replicate - I certainly can't afford to build a two-acre temple complex and I don't have quite enough local Minoan-y friends to put on a full-blown Mystery play for a large public audience.

What we're left with looks a lot like what the ordinary Minoans probably did in their own homes, at their private shrines and altars. Personal devotion, offerings and libations, maybe the occasional small ritual with a few friends (some of the larger Minoan homes have what look like pretty good-sized shrine rooms). In a sense, we're both the priesthood and the congregation, all at the same time. Our modern society isn't organized the same way as Minoan Crete, but we do still have some things in common. It's those commonalities that build the ground for our modern spiritual practice. And if we listen, really listen, to the gods and goddesses as we do our thing, they'll guide us along the way.

We're not reconstructing ancient Minoan religion, exactly. You might say we're walking along the same path but in our own way, in modern clothes, with the deities of ancient Crete beside us.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

 

 

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I'm an artist, writer, and lover of all things ancient and mysterious. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a particular passion of mine since a fateful art history class introduced me to the frescoes of Knossos back in high school. My first book was published in 2001; one of my most recent works is Labrys and Horns: An Introduction to Modern Minoan Paganism. I've also created a Minoan Tarot deck and a Minoan coloring book. When I'm not busy drawing and writing, I enjoy gardening and giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

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