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?

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Are those things really horns?

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

While the labrys (the double-bladed axe) is certainly iconic of Minoan civilization, so is another symbol-cum-ritual-object: the sacred horns. (See the image at the top of this blog post.) Found on the rooftops of the temple complexes and peak sanctuaries of ancient Crete as well as in the frescoes and other art, this unique symbol was christened the Horns of Consecration by Sir Arthur Evans a century ago. But are they really horns? And even if they are, what do they stand for and how were they used?

Over in Ariadne’s Tribe, we’ve been discussing this issue for quite a while. One issue we’ve noticed is that the sacred horns don’t look at all like real cow or bull horns.


Minoan rhyton in the shape of a bovine head



Now, the Minoans were pretty good artists. Their depictions of people and animals in frescoes, on pottery, and on seals were very realistic. I’m pretty sure they were capable of making the sacred horns look like real bovine horns if that’s what they were trying to show. So what could this 'sacred horns' symbol really be?

Several researchers have noted the similarity between the Minoan sacred horns and the Egyptian horizon-plus-sunrise hieroglyph symbol, the akhet. I’ll admit, at first I wasn’t too keen on this connection, even though several of the folks in Ariadne’s Tribe did their best to convince me. It was only when I started researching the related hieroglyph, the djew, that I began to understand how the two might be linked.


Akhet and Djew hieroglyphs


The djew is essentially the akhet symbol without the sun: It is the mountain that marks the place of sunrise on the horizon. It’s meant to depict the low mountains that rise on either side of the Nile valley. More specifically and symbolically, it is the Cosmic Mountain, a concept whose function is the same as the World Tree in other mythologies. The root of the Cosmic Mountain reaches into the Underworld, while its peak reaches into the sky. In other words, it connects the different layers of existence.

When I reached this point in my research, I decided it was time to do a little meditation to see if I could get the bits and pieces to connect. I figured the Minoan sacred horns had a connection, at some level, with the idea of the Cosmic Mountain, but the horns just don’t look like a mountain (or even a pair of mountains) to me – they don’t look at all like rounded, wavy shapes the ancient Minoans used to depict mountains. So I focused on the symbol of the horns and asked for any information I was allowed to have that might clue me in about their real nature and purpose. What response did I get?

The symbol is the Gate of the Sun.

That one rocked my head back a bit. And it made perfect sense. Just as the akhet and djew are echoed in the pylon gates of the ancient Egyptian temples, so the Cosmic Mountain – the place of the sun’s rising and setting on the horizon – is echoed in the sacred horns, the Gate of the Sun.

During our discussions in Ariadne’s Tribe, we had touched on the possibility that the sacred horns were used for astronomical sightings, since they’re generally located along the edges of rooftops. I now suspect they were specifically used for sighting the place of sunrise and sunset as the sun moved along the horizon over the course of the year.

Identifying the sacred horns as the Gate of the Sun ties in another possibility as well: the idea of a Day Sun and a Night Sun, the sun as it soars across the sky during the day and the sun as it moves through the Underworld at night. The idea is not uncommon in ancient religions, from the Egyptian Ra in his solar barque to Shapash, the Canaanite sun goddess who journeys through the Underworld.

So if the horns are the Gate of the Sun, then who is the sun? A goddess? A god? If Dionysus is a solar year-king, as we suspect, then perhaps the sun itself is a goddess, his mother, even. But we’ve already identified Dionysus’ mother as Rhea, the Earth Mother goddess of ancient Crete.

This is what happens when you explore ancient religions, especially those that don’t have written texts for people to argue over. Each bit of the puzzle that we think we’ve put together brings up even more questions! But we'll keep on peeling off the layers, and with some persistence and the gods' grace, we'll figure it out bit by bit.

In the name of the Bee -

And of the Butterfly -

And of the Breeze - Amen!


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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.


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