Ariadne's Tribe: Minoan Spirituality for the Modern World

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan family of deities. Ariadne's Tribe is an independent spiritual tradition that brings the deities 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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Let there be light! Lamps and lighting in the Minoan world

The Minoans were a Bronze Age people, so obviously they didn't have electric lights. So how did they light their living spaces?

With oil lamps.

Yes, they had beeswax (they were renowned beekeepers) and they also had linen and hemp cord that could have been used as wicks. But apparently no one thought to put those together. Beeswax may have been so expensive that people didn't go looking for new uses for it. Even once candles were finally invented, many centuries after the Minoans were gone, they were dreadfully expensive, a luxury only for the wealthy.

All the so-called "candlesticks" that have been found at Minoan sites turn out to be pedestal oil lamps, like the gorgeous porphyry one above, which is from Knossos. You can see the two openings on the sides where the wicks would have rested.

Pedestal oil lamps were a popular Minoan style. Here's a stone one from Archanes:

Stone pedestal oil lamp from Archanes

The pedestal style would have put the wicks up high enough that they threw light farther around the room. It's a practical and attractive design.

Shorter ones, like this steatite lamp, were also popular:

Steatite oil lamp

There were even long-burning designs with multiple wicks and a large central reservoir to feed them all. This one, made of limestone, is from Gournia:

Three-wick stone oil lamp from Gournia

Just as with jars, pitchers, and other vessels, lamps were made from both stone and ceramic. Stone lamps would have been much more expensive than ceramic ones. But since ceramic ones are more fragile than stone, fewer of them have survived for archaeologists to dig up.

Here's a typical ceramic oil lamp from Palaikastro. I like the "ramp" that held the wick; that's a clever design.

Round ceramic oil lamp from Palaikastro

A number of different fuels were used, based on availability and (probably) price. There is evidence of castor oil, olive oil, and safflower oil from different locations as well as in a few cases, beeswax being added to the oil, possibly to make it smell better. Wicks would have been made of flax, hemp, or similar plant fibers. This video from the Royal Ontario Museum offers some, er, illuminating information about Minoan lamp use based on research with lamps held by the museum.

So when you imagine the Minoans in their homes and temples, include in your mental images a few carefully placed oil lamps throwing gentle flickering light around the room.

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Laura Perry is a priestess and creator who works magic with words, paint, ink, music, textiles, and herbs. She's the founder and Temple Mom of Ariadne's Tribe, an inclusive Minoan spiritual tradition. 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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