The Minoan Path: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

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As Solstice Dawns in Knossos

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Travel with me, across the world and back in time, to a Winter Solstice morning in ancient Crete. We are among the special guests, the important members of the community who have been invited to join the priests and priestesses of Knossos to witness a most sacred event. The gathering begins in the darkness before dawn.

The air is crisp and cold as we join the others waiting in silence in the great plaza at the center of the temple. We stand in the dark, pressed close together, listening for that special sound – the blast of the conch shell that announces the first glimmer of the Winter Solstice sunrise over the land to the east. Our breathing generates tiny clouds of steam that are barely visible as the sky begins to lighten from deep black to dark blue. Then, as the first rosy fingers of light stretch up from the horizon, the triton sounds, its call echoing around the stone-paved plaza. Though we are still surrounded by dimness and cannot see the Sun over the tall temple walls, we feel its presence as the process of dawning begins.

Still in silence, we turn our attention to the wall before us. The panel doors slide open to reveal a small room. Its walls are painted a deep blood red, the color vivid as the light from the oil lamps flickers around the room. Along the right-hand wall stands a carved stone chair, flanked by vibrantly painted griffins and leaning palm trees. Under the loving gaze of the fabulous creatures, beneath the shade of the fronds, sits a woman, heavily pregnant. She spreads her knees and arches her back, crying out in the agony of labor.

We know who the woman is and where she has come from, for we have grown up with tales of her from earliest childhood. She is the Great Mother Rhea who has traveled from her cave in Mt. Dikte on this holiest of mornings to perform the holiest of acts. The divine midwife Eileithyia kneels at her feet, comforting her and encouraging her as the labor progresses.

As her cries grow louder and more insistent a drumbeat begins, the double-thump rhythm of the heartbeat. It begins quiet and slow but as the Great Mother’s birth pangs intensify, the beat grows louder and faster. Our own heartbeats hasten as well, our breathing growing ragged as we feel ourselves drawn into the Great Mother’s agony and ecstasy.

As we cluster together in the courtyard, the air grows lighter and we can begin to see the first tinges of color in our surroundings. Now the drumbeat speeds up and is joined by the hiss of sistra. In a moment low chanting merges with the sound as it rolls through the early morning, rattling us to the core.

Then, before we realize what is happening, a sunbeam slices across the top of the temple wall, shooting above our heads and encasing the throne in a magical golden light. At that moment the Great Mother cries out, her voice piercing the morning, and we hear a baby’s first gasp.

As we stand, frozen in place, unable to move or breathe, she lifts him up and holds him in the blessed light of the Midwinter dawn, her son, our Dionysos. He offers a quiet cry and we all raise our hands to our foreheads in the age-old salute of one living thing to another, one sacred being to another. For on this morning we are all the Great Mother giving birth and we are also all her infant Dionysos, born anew with the dawning sun.

The conch shell sounds its echoing blast to announce the god’s arrival in the world once again. And as we watch, the panel doors slide closed once again, allowing mother and infant their privacy. We lift our faces to the dawn, feeling warm sun on skin, wiping away tears of joy as we disperse in silence, back to our homes where our families await us for the celebration of Midwinter.

In the name of the bee

And of the butterfly

And of the breeze, amen!

Last modified on
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.

Comments

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Friday, 19 December 2014

    Laura, I feel as if I've known this story all my life, though I first read it just now. I'll never see the Griffin Throne the same again. Thanks and happy feast of Lights.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Friday, 19 December 2014

    Thanks very much Steven. Blessings to you and yours.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Friday, 19 December 2014

    Steven, it just occurred to me that you would appreciate the symbology of the throne itself. If you look at Fig. 43 in Marinatos' Minoan Religion (p. 54) you'll see an accurate front view of the throne. All at once it looks like a baby's head crowning between a woman's legs, and also the opening of a cave mouth (Rhea's cave at Mt. Dikte where Dionysos is born) and also the Solstice sun rising between the double peaks of Mt. Juktas. Magic.

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