Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, loving goddess of ancient Crete who lives on in the hearts and minds of the modern world. Modern Minoan Paganism is not a purely 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?

To join the discussion about ancient Minoan civilization and Modern Minoan Paganism, head on over to our welcoming community at Ariadne's Tribe on Facebook.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Moon, Stars, and Questions

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

It’s always tricky, reconstructing ancient religious practices. We may or may not have reliable sources of information and from a distance of centuries, it’s hard to tell what really happened way back then. It’s especially tricky when the only written records we have were recorded by people who weren’t exactly friendly to our chosen culture, as I discussed in a recent guest post on a friend’s blog. This is the case with the ancient Minoans. Most of the mythology we know about from ancient Crete comes down to us from the Hellenic Greeks, who lived a thousand years after the collapse of Minoan civilization and whose male-centric culture held radically different values from the egalitarian Minoans.

So how can we connect with the spirituality of a people who lived so long ago and about whom we have little reliable information? We take what we have and build on it using our own experience of the numinous – the divine. This is one case in which we must simply say, if it works for you, then do it. But we must also remember that what works for one person may not be  satisfying for another, so respect for a diversity of views needs to hold high priority. My friend Nimue put this especially well in a recent blog post.

One Minoan deity whose identity I’ve been grappling with lately is known by the Greek epithet Asterion, which means ‘the starry one.’ The few references we have to this deity come from Pausanias, a Greek traveler and geographer who lived in the second century of this era; Pseudo-Apollodorus, the pen name of a Greek or Roman author who lived in the first or second century BCE; and Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian who lived in the first century BCE. Bear in mind that all three of these men were born more than a millennium after the fall of Minoan civilization, and the Minoans left no written records that anyone back then (or even now) could read. So all the Greeks had to work with was the traces of Minoan mythology that were passed down in oral folklore, plus a few tantalizing fragments of Minoan artifacts. The world of ancient Crete was as lost to them as it was to us ‘moderns’ until Sir Arthur Evans began his excavations at Knossos just over a century ago.

So…Asterion. One view is that he is the Minotaur, the Moon-Bull of the Minoan pantheon who was later demonized as a monster by the Hellenic Greeks. This view is supported by a single entry from Pausanias’ Description of Greece: “In the market-place of Troizenos [in Argolis] is a temple of Artemis Soteira (Saviour), with images of the goddess. It was said that the temple was founded and the name Soteria (Saviour) given by Theseus when he returned from Krete after overcoming Asterion the son of Minos.” (Description of Greece 2.31.1) The Hungarian scholar Karl Kerényi popularized this view based on Hellenic-era Greek coins (minted a millennium after the fall of Minoan civilization) that had labyrinth designs coupled with images of bulls and stars. Of course, these coins may have been inspired by the garbled remains of Minoan tales rather than any accurate information; we simply can’t know for sure.

Now obviously, if Asterion as the Minotaur works for you, then use it. It’s certainly a reasonable interpretation of the scant and nebulous information we have, and the whole point of spirituality is to practice it, not just to read and talk about it. However, this correlation doesn’t work for me, at least not cleanly, and that’s because of the information we have from Pseudo-Apollodorus and Diodorus Siculus, coupled with what I know from my spiritual practice with the Minoan pantheon.

According to the listings on, Pseudo-Apollodorus and Diodorus Siculus wrote the following about Asterion: “A son of Teutamus, and king of the Cretans, who married Europa after she had been carried to Crete by Zeus. He also brought up the three sons, Minos, Sarpedon, and Rhadamanthys whom she had by the father of the gods.” (Apollod. iii. 1. § 2, &c.; Diod. iv. 60.) There is no mention of this Asterion being vanquished by Theseus, nor is the Minotaur ever described in the Greek myths and legends as having a wife, especially not a goddess. It’s a good idea also to bear in mind that the Greeks often equated the Minoan Dionysus with their Zeus because Dionysus was the most prominent male deity in the Minoan pantheon. The Greeks were also liable to ‘demote’ the deities from other pantheons into mere mortals, as they did with the goddess Ariadne, who becomes a human maiden in the Greek tale of their culture hero Theseus, and the Minoan god Minos, who becomes a human king. So any 'king of the Cretans' mentioned in Greek writings is liable to have been a god in the original Minoan version.

Where does that leave us with regards to Asterion? I have the sneaking suspicion that Asterion was originally an epithet applied to the Minoan Dionysus, who had a bull form: Zagreus, the Dismembered One – the shamanic bull sacrifice. A thousand years on, the Greeks may have had trouble teasing out all the different bovine symbolism from the long-dead Minoan civilization. After all, there was the Minotaur, Zagreus, and the Moon-Cow as well (who morphed into both Pasiphae and Europa in later mythology), not to mention all those disembodied horns atop Minoan temples and shrines and the dozens, maybe hundreds of horned bovine pitchers and figurines.

Why would a name that means ‘the starry one’ be more closely associated with Dionysus/Zagreus than with the Minotaur? For starters, the name Minotaur literally means Moon-Bull (mino-tauros). The Moon isn’t a star, though it does shine a lovely silver in the night sky. Now, since the Minotaur already has his own very visible emblem in the sky, he doesn’t need another one. But Zagreus…he’s a bull without a Moon, so to speak. I suspect that if any deity in the Minoan pantheon was associated with the constellation Taurus, it was him. I believe it was Zagreus, not the Minotaur, who was slain when the Minoan priestesses and priests sacrificed bulls and bull calves in their rites. Such a sacrifice is depicted on the Hagia Triada sarcophagus (see the image at the top of this blog) and may have involved shamanic journeys to the Underworld to assure that the soul of the deceased reached his intended destination. Considering that the Minoan Dionysus is a psychopomp as well as the god of the grape harvest, this makes sense to me. And it also makes sense that the Greeks would confuse and conflate the various Minoan bull deities simply because they only had fragmentary information available, a thousand years after the fall of Minoan civilization. 

Creating a modern spiritual practice based on scant and scattered evidence is tricky at best, but for me, it’s an activity worth pursuing. And I’ll repeat what I said above: The most important thing is to find what works for you.

In the name of the Bee -

And of the Butterfly -

And of the Breeze - Amen!

Last modified on
I'm an artist, writer, and lover of all things ancient and mysterious. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a particular 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, I enjoy gardening and giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.


  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 16 December 2015

    I like Asterion as the sky-bull/constellation Taurus. Have you tried seeking personal communication with Asterion yet? I know some people are uncomfortable with personal gnosis, but if you know nine other people who are working with the Minoan godforms and six of you come up with the same information about Asterion I think your on pretty safe ground, at least for contemporary Minoan practice.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Thursday, 17 December 2015

    No, I haven't, mainly because I only recently came up with this correlation. I've been grappling with the identity of Asterion for a while now but I couldn't clarify who I thought the epithet really belonged to. My next step will be to try to reach him in meditation and ritual. I'm completely open to personal gnosis, especially if it comes in the form of multiply reproduced experiences (that's usually referred to as multiply corroborated gnosis). One of the things we're doing in Ariadne's Tribe is sharing our experiences and seeing where they overlap and reinforce each other, then exploring in those directions. That's the challenge in creating a functional modern Minoan practice, since we have such a small amount of physical evidence to go on.

  • Please login first in order for you to submit comments

Additional information