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: The Great Goddess Rhea

I decided I wanted to begin a series of posts about the gods and goddesses of ancient Crete, and I figured I’d start with Ariadne, since she is the deity most strongly associated with the Minoans in popular culture. But I just couldn’t manage to get going with the writing; then Rhea asserted herself, popping up online and in conversations, and I realized she should be first. She is the Earth Mother Goddess, one of three mother goddesses who presided over the Minoan pantheon in much the same way that my grandmothers were the matriarchs of my extended family. So it’s appropriate to begin with Rhea.

Please bear in mind that our knowledge of the Minoan deities comes down to us from the later Greeks and is filtered through their religious and cultural perceptions, which were different from the Minoan worldview. In order to understand any Minoan god or goddess, we have to dig underneath the writings of Greeks such as Homer and Diodorus Siculus to find our way back to the earlier levels.

Of course, we don’t know what the Minoans actually called Rhea, though Ida is a strong contender; more about that name in a bit. The Greeks called her Great Mother, Mother of the Gods, and Mother of All, and so she was - and still is. She is the mythical creator of the Milky Way, that beautiful white band of stars that looks as if it might have been made by a spray of milk from the goddess’s breasts. While modern Pagans often think of cups and other vessels as womb-symbolic, the Minoans frequently conceptualized containers of liquid as breast-symbolic. Breast and udder imagery abounds in Minoan art, underscoring the idea of the mother as the source of nurture and nourishment, both literal and symbolic. 

Though in later Greek mythology Rhea is described as having several children fathered by the god Cronos, he is not necessarily depicted as her constant husband-consort; in other words, she was probably not originally part of a god-goddess pair, but stood on her own. That is likely the way the Minoans viewed her, much like her Phrygian counterpart Cybele, and unlike the later Greeks, who insisted on giving most goddesses ‘husbands.’ The Greeks classified her as one of the Titans, the primordial gods born directly from the union of the sky (Ouranos) and the earth (Ge). To them, she was ancient, far older than the gods and goddesses of Mount Olympus.

Rhea’s sacred place on Crete is Mount Ida, the island’s highest peak. Its name is thought to derive from one of her epithets, a word that some scholars think may be the Minoan word for "mother." In the sacred cave on this mountain, Rhea bore her son, the infant Dionysus - whom the Greeks confusingly called Cretan Zeus - hence all the stories about "Zeus" being born in caves on Crete.

Across the ancient world, caves symbolized the womb of the Earth Mother; the Idaean Cave was a site of religious pilgrimage in the Bronze Age and is still accessible today. This same myth is also associated with a cave on Mount Dikte as well as one on Mount Aegaeon, two more peaks in the mountain range that rises from the center of the island of Crete. Yes, there were competing sacred caves of Rhea in Minoan Crete.

If the mountain cave is her womb, then Rhea can be considered to embody not just the earth in general, but specifically the island of Crete. An interesting note: Mount Ida is visible from the ancient Minoan town of Phaistos, so the temple there likely included a focus on Rhea alongside other deities.

Later writers, especially Roman ones, conflated Rhea with Cybele, Ops, and Magna Mater (mother goddesses of the Mediterranean world) so it can be difficult to tease out the qualities the Minoans saw in her. All these deities have a few characteristics in common, so that’s probably a good place to start. They were all considered to be the mother, or ancestress, of many gods or whole pantheons, and also of certain people, including ruling dynasties of various states. She was one of the triplicity of mother goddesses who headed the Minoan pantheon, but for the later Greeks she receded into the background with the rest of the Titans, who were considered to be ‘of the past’ (unfashionably old-fashioned, if you will). The Greeks said that Rhea never moved to Mount Olympus with the rest of the gods, but stayed on Crete to be near her sacred cave, again suggesting that the ancients associated her specifically with the island and not the earth in general.

Though later writers often referred to her as a fertility goddess, we think that to the Minoans her focus was more on the land itself, the Earth as a sacred, living thing, a source of life, both physical and metaphysical, more than a dispenser of resources to be used or sold.

If you want to compare her to another goddess, Demeter is a good choice. Demeter is probably pre-Hellenic, a remnant of the pantheon that belonged to the people who lived in mainland Greece before the coming of the Indo-Europeans. And she's a Grain Mother goddess - just like Rhea. In fact, the unnaturally white skin on female figures in Minoan art is a reference to the Grain Mother and her gift to humanity. Her story as the Grain Mother is enshrined in the Mysteries, the Minoan precursor to the Eleusinian Mysteries.

In Minoan art she is often depicted accompanied by lions. A seal impression found at Knossos shows a goddess on a mountaintop, flanked by a pair of lions and worshiped by a male adorant who stands at the foot of the mountain. 


The Greeks said that, while Rhea chose to live on Crete, she occasionally journeyed to Mount Olympus for special occasions. On those occasions, she traveled in a chariot pulled by a pair of lions. So her lions stuck around as part of her long-term symbology, even after the LBA collapse.

I have worked with Rhea a good bit over the years, and I have found her to be far more complex than I originally expected an Earth Mother type goddess to be. She has a dark side that we modern Pagans are often uncomfortable approaching. It’s reassuring to think of an all-embracing mother goddess who gives life to us all; it’s not so comforting to think about her as the ‘eater of the dead,’ the one to whom every living thing must return when its time on earth is used up. The darkness of the womb is also the darkness of the grave.

One of the first rituals I ever performed involving Rhea was an autumn equinox harvest ceremony. I was already familiar with harvest-king sacrifice rituals, having participated in John Barleycorn type ceremonies on several occasions. But this was different. Instead of the people ‘reaping’ the grain god, this was Rhea, Mother Time herself, drawing our attention to the mortality of every living thing, including (and perhaps especially) us. The Grim Reaper was the goddess herself, forcing us to face the reality of the cycles of life and death on the Earth, the living world she embodies. Here is how the ritual put this concept, in the words spoken by the High Priestess:

What has been given, we have taken in gratitude and love. Let us give thanks for the bounty of the divine as we enjoy the harvest throughout the winter months. Let us remember what is given up, that we may have what we need.

We may think of the ancients as being obsessed with death – witness the extensive tombs and pillar crypts of the Minoans, not to mention the funereal buildings and accessories of other Bronze Age societies – but what Rhea taught me is that it’s not so much an obsession as an acceptance. Like it or not, death comes to everyone. The Great Mother assures us that, whenever it comes, she will welcome each of us back into her arms just as joyfully as she led us into this world.

To me, that’s Rhea – steady as a rock, grounded as the Earth itself. She helps keep me steady and grounded no matter which part of the cycle of life and death I’m facing at the moment. Her voice echoed in my head as my five-year-old daughter died in my arms. I can’t honestly say her presence made the event any easier to deal with as it happened, but it did help me keep perspective as I worked my way through the stages of grieving. At that time she also reminded me that one of her titles is Pandora, the All-Giver.

You’re probably familiar with the later Greek version of her story, in which her box contains all the bad things of the world with only hope for redemption. There is a lesson here: Rhea Pandora’s vase (pithos – a large storage jar, the original version) did originally contain all the bad things, but it also contained all the good things as well. Pandora is the giver of all – birth, death, and everything between and beyond.

You might think of Pandora's pithos as the original magical bottomless cauldron, shared with humans millennia before the idea of a Bag of Holding came to light. What's in that pithos not all pretty, but it’s all a natural part of the system, and I’m grateful for it - all of it.

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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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