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?

Find out all about Ariadne's Tribe at We're an inclusive, welcoming tradition, open to all who share our love for the Minoan deities and respect for our fellow human beings.

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Meet the Minoans: Dionysus

There are so many Minoan deities to get to know! Up this time: Dionysus, god of passion and parties. At least, that’s how most modern folks see him, but he’s actually far more complicated than that. Let’s take a look.

First of all, the symbols usually associated with Dionysus tend to be, shall we say, less than civilized. He's often depicted dressed in leopard skins (or panther skins, the panther being the melanistic or black leopard), accompanied by leopards or riding in a chariot pulled by them. His staff is the thyrsus, a fennel stalk wound round with ivy and topped with a pine cone. If he’s not in the mood to wrap the ivy around the handle of the thyrsus, he wears it on his head as a crown. He hangs out in the wild woods and caves with satyrs and maenads who like to have wild sex and tear baby animals apart with their bare hands so they can eat them raw. Not exactly a city boy, if you see what I mean.

Vineyards may be fairly civilized enterprises, but the grape harvest and winemaking are ancient sacred activities with a wild side. And wine brings on that most Dionysiac of states, drunkenness and uncontrolled passion, both joy and rage. In a ritual setting this amounts to sacred madness and ecstasy. A couple of interesting tidbits: Dionysus is the original miracle-worker who turned water into wine. And wine was used to represent his blood in Dionysiac ceremonies.

A deity of conjoined opposites, he represents the non-rational aspects of the human psyche at both ends of the spectrum, the god-like parts within us as well as our deepest animal nature. In other words, he exists beyond the bounds of the civilized world. But there's far more to him than just simple wildness. He is, ultimately, a shamanic god whose purpose is to help us break through the boundaries of the ordinary in order to experience the numinous. One clue that he’s more than just a pretty face: his many pretty faces. The legends tell of him showing up as a young man, an old man, a girl, a goat or a serpent. Very shamanic, that kind of shape-shifting.

Dionysus is called ‘the twice-born’ – in every version of the myths, he has at least two, and sometimes more, births, but these weren’t always conventional out-of-the-mama events. As the Greeks had it, he was the son of Zeus and a female figure, either a human woman or a goddess such as Persephone or Demeter. Diodorus Siculus said the Cretan version of the story is that he was born of Persephone/Kore, who is a virgin (i.e., young and unmarried) goddess. In Ariadne's Tribe, we consider him to be born of the mother goddess Rhea, no father involved.

But Dionysus was also torn apart and then put back together again, a typical description of shamanic rebirth in tales around the world. Sometimes Rhea reassembles the torn-apart bits of Dionysus for him to be reborn; sometimes the parts are boiled before he's put back together again. He is also depicted simply traveling to the Underworld, where he stays for three nights before returning. Aristophanes’ play The Frogs has him traveling to the land of the dead to bring back a poet (Aeschylus) so he can revive Athens’ cultural life. In other words, if you want ‘born again,’ Dionysos is your guy. Joseph Campbell calls him ‘the ever-dying, ever-living god of bread and wine.’ Modern Pagans often classify him as a dying-and-reborn god.

Dionysus was born at Winter Solstice, a particularly sacred time in ancient Crete which is still the occasion of his festival in some regions. The modern Kukeri festival in Italy, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria and Spain can be traced to ancient Dionysiac festivals and is a UNESCO protected cultural heritage event that occurs every January.

According to some versions of Dionysus’ story, a star appeared atop a fir tree (remember the pine cone on top of the thyrsus?) at the moment of his birth. Whenever I see a Christmas tree, Dionysus is one of a multi-layered group of deities I think of.

As with so many deities and pantheons, there's a great deal of overlap and echo/reflection among the gods. To me, it’s part of the multi-dimensional web that connects them (and us) all. "Individuation is problematic," as we like to say in the Tribe.

Hidden in a cave (Mt. Dikte on Crete was one location attached to this facet of his story) Dionysus was nursed by the Minoan goat-goddess Amalthea. Those goat-kids the maenads tear apart and feast on are symbols of the god himself, a type of frenzied communion.

The maenads celebrated their relationship with Dionysus by figuratively, or sometimes literally, whipping themselves (and each other) into an intoxicated frenzy, dancing, screaming, and participating in the aforementioned feasting on animals they have torn apart with their bare hands. They dressed in animal skins and carried the thyrsus, just like their god.

This kind of frenzy puts a person in a different state of mind, allowing them to communicate with the Otherworld – the gods, the ancestors. In other words, it’s a shamanic trance state. Drink, drugs, music, drumming, dancing, and similar activities are all traditional paths to shamanic trancework

You can see the Dionysian connection with Minoan religious practice in the maenads’ handling of snakes; sometimes they even draped them around their necks and wore them like jewelry. They sported not just ivy wreaths but also helmets in the form of bull heads. The snake-handling part makes me think of the famous Minoan female figurines holding snakes.

Dionysus is mentioned by name in the Linear B tablets. Apparently the Greeks discovered him on Crete and liked him enough to import him into their pantheon. They called him "Cretan Zeus," figuring he ought to be at the top of the Minoan pantheon, even though it's likely the matrilineal Minoans had mother goddesses as the head of their family of deities. Cretan Zeus was sometimes shortened to simply "Zeus." This causes some confusion when people hear about, for instance, the cave on Crete where "Zeus" was born. But this isn't Olympian Zeus - it's Dionysus, the Cretan Zeus. Only much later, in classical times, was he syncretized with a similar ecstatic god from Phrygia to become the multi-layered deity many people are familiar with. But he started out on Crete.

He’s one of the oldest deities from Crete. Shamanic practice predates more ‘civilized’ religious traditions, so we can be pretty sure Dionysus will take us right back to the beginning. And that’s a good place to start.

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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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