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Minoan Epiphany: Come on Down!

Have the gods ever appeared to you? If the artwork is any indication, they seem to have put in a few appearances to the Minoans of ancient Crete. The image at the top of this blog is of the Isopata ring, a gold seal ring from a Minoan-era tomb near Knossos. The scene shows four women, presumably priestesses, dancing ecstatically in a field of lilies. Interesting stuff floats around their heads: snake-like serpentine lines, a beehive, and... a small female figure. She is dressed like the other women, in a flounced skirt, but she's tiny; her hair and skirt are flying out as if she is moving quickly through the air. She is, perhaps, a goddess who has been invoked in this ritual.

The interesting thing is, figures like her show up on several other seal rings, as does a small floating male figure who holds a spear. And all the artwork depicts ritual settings, so I think the identification of these floating figures as deities is a pretty sound one. For instance, this ring from the Minoan port city of Amnisos has a floating goddess hovering over a boat full of people and being greeted by more people to the left:


Minoan seal ring from Amnisos


This one, usually called the Ring of Minos, shows a similar female figure floating near a priestess who is seated on a shrine:


Ring of Minos


And this one, dubbed the Epiphany Ring, shows a male figure floating in mid-air between a shrine and a priestess or worshiper who is performing the Minoan salute:


Epiphany ring


We call these "epiphany figures" because we think they're instances of the gods appearing to the Minoans, perhaps as internal mental images, perhaps as mass visions. It looks like they're floating or flying, so there's some idea that maybe they came down from the sky. But as far as we know, the Minoans didn't have a "heaven above" the way Christians do. So I suspect that, instead of coming down from the sky, the gods came down from their sacred mountaintops to appear in the Minoans' ritual space. The Minoans had plenty of peak sanctuaries where they worshiped their gods and goddesses, and where they apparently thought those deities lived (or at least, hung out part of the time). So I'm betting that, if these deities descended from anywhere, it's from those mountain peaks.

These four seal rings are just a sampling of the many epiphany figures in Minoan art. So I'm thinking, having the gods actually show up at your ritual was really a thing in ancient Crete. If ecstatic trance was also a thing the Minoans did (and that appears to be the case) then this isn't surprising. I can only imagine what it must have been like to participate in one of those rituals.

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 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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