Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan pantheon. Modern Minoan Paganism is not a reconstructionist tradition, but a journey in relationship with Minoan deities in the contemporary world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

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Minoan Ecstatic Postures: Beginning the Adventure

One aspect of ancient religious practice that’s not terribly familiar to modern Pagans is ecstatic postures. No, I'm not talking about what you do at the local nightclub when your favorite music is playing! But ecstatic postures are kinda-sorta related to that kind of experience. These are poses or positions of the body and arms that are designed to produce specific experiences during shamanic trance work. At least a dozen different Minoan ecstatic postures appear in the form of little bronze and terracotta figurines from ancient Crete. Many of these were votive offerings at peak sanctuaries and cave shrines, but some have been found in the temple complexes as well. 

A while back I reviewed Belinda Goodman’s excellent book Ecstatic Body Postures which includes a couple of poses that are found in ancient Crete. Reading that book was the inspiration for the shamanic work I’ve done since then that centers around the Minoan postures. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share with you my experiences using these poses. I encourage you to try them out on your own and let me know what you experience.

Before I begin detailing the individual postures, I’d like to talk a little about ecstatic work in general. If you’re interested in shamanic and trance activities, I encourage you to find a teacher who can guide you in person until you’re comfortable with journeying and trancing. If you don’t have access to anyone locally, I recommend Diana Paxson’s book Trance-Portation: Learning to Navigate the Inner World as an excellent reference for learning how to safely enter and leave trance states and do good work while you’re in them. Ms. Paxson is a Norse Pagan practitioner but she has written this particular book so anyone from any path can easily use it.

At the very least, if you want to experiment with ecstatic postures, take the same precautions you would for doing a deep meditation. Make sure you have a physically safe place where you won’t be disturbed by people, pets, or electronics. And always begin by clearing and protecting your space using your preferred technique (consecration, banishing rites, casting a circle, envisioning a sphere of white light, or something similar). You’ll be wide open during trance so it’s a good idea to have your working space protected from stray energy. 

My method for exploring ecstatic postures and using them for healing and other shamanic work is pretty standard. Since I rarely have anyone handy to drum for me, I use recorded drumming. If you have a trusted drummer to work with, that’s great. I love it when that happens. Some people prefer rattles to drums, but I generally find that the deeper tones of drumming will bring on a more profound trance state than rattles will.

I begin by protecting my working space, then I tell the drums what I’m going to be doing. Sometimes it feels a little silly to talk to a CD or an MP3 player, but that’s no sillier than talking to the actual drum when I have a human drummer to work with. I ask the drums to help me achieve my goals, then I spell out the purpose of the session in clear language. Once I’ve done that, I begin the actual trance work.

I turn on the recording or have the drummer begin. Then I assume the pose and begin by focusing on my breath. I focus through at least 60 breaths, and sometimes as many as 100, until I feel myself drawn into trance. This is something you have to learn to sense; it comes with practice. Then I assume the pose and begin the journey, seeing where the posture leads, who I encounter, and what I can learn.

Now, on to the postures. I’m beginning with the most familiar of the Minoan poses, the one known as the Minoan salute. The basic version appears in dozens of figurines from ancient Crete. It’s fairly simple: You stand up straight with your feet together. Your right hand is loosely curled into a fist with the back of your hand against your forehead. The figurines all show the back arched, either just slightly or really strongly, so I believe that’s part of the pose as well. I like to imagine that there's a beaming light that flows out of my heart, and I tilt my chest up as I arch my back.

So far, the basic salute has always led me to Rhea's cave in one version or another. That suggests that this posture is meant for healing and connection with the Great Mother. My most recent journey led me to a cave with a gigantic stone goddess who looked like the 'fat goddess' from Malta (I always think of her as the Abundant Mother). I've long suspected a connection between the Minoans and the people of ancient Malta, and this just adds fuel to that fire.

If you try the Minoan salute in trance journeying, I'd love to hear your experiences. The more we correlate our individual experiences, the better we can understand what these postures were used for and how they can be valuable parts of our modern spirituality.

Over the next few weeks I'll explore other ecstatic postures from Minoan art and share my journeys with you. I hope you'll join me in this adventure.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

One year ago on the Minoan Path Blog: The Many Faces of Minoan Dionysus

Two years ago: Walking the Minoan Path: Easier Said Than Done 

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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 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, you can find me in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.


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