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Ecstatic Body Postures: a book review

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Today I’m reviewing an unusual book: Ecstatic Body Postures: An Alternate Reality Workbook by Belinda Gore. What on earth does a book like that have to do with Minoan spirituality? Well, the Minoans left us a wide array of artwork that depicts ritual postures, from the one-armed ‘Minoan salute’ to a woman who shades her eyes with her hands to the Poppy Goddess who holds her arms up in an ‘American football touchdown’ type of gesture. Over the years I’ve often wondered if these postures were meant to do more than just symbolize certain aspects of Minoan religion. In fact, like many other ritual postures from around the world, they appear to be designed to induce particular states of mind, especially trance states in which we can receive healing, learn about ourselves and the divine, and undergo spiritual changes for the better.

The introduction to this fascinating book was written by the late Dr. Felicitas Goodman, who founded the Cuyamungue Institute in New Mexico. The institute is dedicated to exploring the effects and practical uses of ritual body postures that are evidenced in figurines that go back in time as far as the Stone Age. The book is essentially a collection of the institute’s work over the years in a well-organized, easy to comprehend format. It details 39 different postures, including several that are attested in Minoan art, so I was particularly interested in trying them out.

The first chapter of the book describes the process of rediscovery of this method of achieving altered states of consciousness. We hear so much these days about exploring trance states through hallucinogens, both natural and synthetic, and it’s true that our ancestors (including the ancient Minoans) used the power plants available to them to induce altered states during religious ceremonies. But it’s also possible to enter these kinds of conditions without the use of chemical aids.

Drumming alone is enough to induce a light trance state in most people. The rhythmic repetition of multiple frequencies of sound has a balancing effect on the human brain, bringing the two hemispheres in sync. Adding ritual postures deepens the experience significantly, and each posture brings a particular flavor and intent to the process.

Chapter two gives a detailed description of how to use the ritual postures. While you’re not likely to be harmed if you just play around with these body positions, if you seek a profound and meaningful experience, I strongly recommend following the author’s instructions in terms of relaxation beforehand and using drumming to help lead you into the trance state, as well as copying the postures exactly. I’ve been a dedicated practicing shaman for more than twenty years and I encourage you to take this information seriously: this is not a party trick but a method for achieving a deep level of healing and understanding.

The remainder of the book (chapters three through nine) details the postures one by one. Each description is accompanied by an image of the figurine(s) or statue(s) from which the posture is taken, including information about the culture it derives from. I was fascinated to discover that many of these body positions are found in totally unrelated cultures from around the world and across time. They appear to tap into something truly primal that is basic to humanity, regardless of location or age.

The author describes the discovery and exploration of each posture through workshops at the Cuyamungue Institute and Dr. Goodman’s personal research. In each case, participants experienced strikingly similar effects from each position, even when they undertook them individually (a group setting can cause ‘bleed-through’ from one person to the next, generating matching experiences among everyone present). Each posture is described in detail in order to assure the reader of achieving a successful outcome. It’s important to copy the postures exactly. Oddly enough, this is a sort of technology based in the human nervous system and body, and not just a nebulous feel-good routine, so attention to detail is vital.

I’ve been working with the postures in this book for a couple of months now and am quite pleased. I’ve been using the Singing Shaman posture for years – it was shared with me by one of my first shamanic teachers – but the rest were new to me. I haven’t tried them all yet; that will happen slowly, over time, as I need them. But the ones I have tested out have provided me with experiences every bit as profound as any other shamanic work I’ve done. I’m sure I was influenced by expectations based on the descriptions in the book, but every journey I took with one of these positions ended up being largely similar to the descriptions Ms. Gore provides, though a few took interesting turns along the way. And they all worked ‘as advertised’ for healing, divination, deepening of spirituality, and so on.

I do recommend following the author’s instructions and only trying out a handful of these postures at first, leaving a healthy span of time between them, even if you’re a seasoned practitioner. Not only is the Otherworld seductive – it can be much more interesting than the mundane world – but these positions are sneaky in the way they create quiet but profound change in the lives of people who use them. Too many at once, and you’ll be running to catch up. You’ll likely find two or three that speak to you right away, and as life throws the occasional curveball at you, others will come in handy over time.

This is a truly unique book, one that provides a valuable resource for anyone interested in shamanic work, ancient spirituality, or just plain healing and connecting with the divine within. You don’t have to have any shamanic training to use the postures, but you should follow the directions exactly if you have no prior experience, and I don’t recommend deviating too far even if you’re very experienced. These positions are an ancient technology that has served humanity for millennia. They are a true treasure and I’m thankful the cultures that used them left us so many figurines and other artwork so we could rediscover them ourselves.

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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