Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

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Minoan goddesses: Who is Potnia?

We don't know for certain what the Minoans called their gods and goddesses since we can't read Linear A, the script they used to write their native language. But we can read Linear B, which is an adaptation of Linear A that was used to write Mycenaean Greek way back in late Minoan times. And one of the most common goddess epithets in the Linear B tablets is Potnia.

So who is she? She is many goddesses. Let me explain why.

The term Potnia isn't actually a name. It means "lady" or "mistress" in pretty much the same way that Wiccans refer to the goddess (any or all of them, and/or the ultimate One) as the Lady. It's a title, a form of address that was used for a number of different goddesses.

So in the Linear B tablets we have Atana Potnia, who may be a precursor to the classical Greek goddess Athena, though there is argument over this. We don't really know what Atana means, and since the name shows up on clay tablets from Knossos, it probably doesn't refer to the city of Athens. In Modern Minoan Paganism, our shared gnosis traces this particular goddess back to a Minoan one whom we call Potnia Chromaton - Lady of the Colors, a Fate goddess associated with weaving, spinning, and dyeing. But Potnia Chromaton isn't an ancient name, though it does follow the ancient pattern of calling a goddess "Lady of...."

More well known, perhaps, is Potnia Labyrinthos: Lady of the Labyrinth. This is probably one of Ariadne's epithets, since she was originally a Minoan goddess  and not just a girl with a ball of string. I composed a chant to her for ritual and labyrinth-walking.

The Linear B tablets also give us Hippeia Potnia, who is possibly the Lady of the Horses. The Mycenaeans introduced horses onto Crete in late Minoan times; before that, oxen were the draft animals used to pull wagons. So the Lady of the Horses is probably a Mycenaean goddess, not a Minoan one.

Then there's Sito Potnia, Lady of the Grain. This is an epithet of the ancient Grain Mother, who was Rhea to the Minoans and Demeter to the Greeks, and many other names in other locations.

In The Iliad, the epithet Potnia Theron shows up: Lady of the Animals. Though Homer's works weren't compiled until after the Bronze Age collapse, their contents probably go back via oral tradition to the time right after the fall of the Minoan cities. So this epithet might have been known to the Minoans. Of course, there's argument about who, exactly, Potnia Theron is. In Modern Minoan Paganism, we associate this epithet with the goddess Britomartis, a.k.a. Diktynna.

The term Potnia also occurs without a modifier in the Linear B tablets. In these cases, we simply don't know which goddess is being referenced, though presumably whoever wrote it down did, back in the day -  maybe the scribe was recording donations made on a specific festival day dedicated to a particular goddess. In later Greek times, the title was applied to several different goddesses (Demeter, Artemis, Persephone, Athena, Gaia) though later on, the epithet came to mean just Kore/Persephone.

So, in the end, there is no "goddess Potnia." It just means the Lady, in other words, the Goddess. We could reasonably use it as an epithet for a number of different goddesses, just like we see in the Linear B tablets and Homer's works. In the case of Potnia Chromaton, we've created a new epithet for Modern Minoan Paganism. This is a process that has gone on throughout time, as spiritual practices grow and evolve.

So hail Potnia: all of them!

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

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Tagged in: Crete Goddess Minoan potnia
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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