The Minoan Path: 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. This is not a reconstructionist tradition, but a journey of modern Pagans 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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Taking Myth Literally: How it trips us up

All my life, I've heard people complain about the Christians who take the stories in the Bible literally rather than as allegory or symbolic storytelling. A few days ago, I realized that Pagans sometimes do the same thing, and I think they probably have for centuries, right back into ancient times. Case in point: the Labyrinth.

The Greeks, who are ancient to us but who lived centuries later than Minoan civilization, figured that the Labyrinth must have been an actual physical structure of some sort. And they assumed that the Minoan inventor/smith god Daedalus, whom they viewed as a mortal man, had built it. The Greek historian Herodotus, who lived a solid millennium after the fall of Minoan civilization, wrote about a huge temple building in Egypt with hundreds of rooms and winding passageways, and he called it a labyrinth (yes, it's a real thing - archaeologists have found it). Then, when Sir Arthur Evans unearthed the ruins of the Minoan temple complex at Knossos a century ago, he was sure he had found the original Labyrinth, the famed home/cage of the Minotaur, built by Daedalus.

So here's the thing: Yes, the temple complex at Knossos is, well, complex. The building itself covers 6 acres and was originally three to four stories tall. It must have been quite impressive back in the day, all whitewashed and gleaming in the Mediterranean sun. The thing is, the building probably wasn't the Labyrinth. Archaeologists have now abandoned the idea, even though some of them continue to search for some kind of building or other structure (cave tunnels, perhaps) that fits the description.

So if the Knossos temple complex wasn't the Labyrinth, was it ever actually a real building? I don't think so. The one major bit of mythology that's regularly associated with the Labyrinth is the Crane Dance. Cranes hold a special place in many ancient spiritual systems: They're liminal creatures, living along the border between land, sea, and sky. In other words, they symbolize shamanic journeying, walking between the various worlds. And one of the most effective ways to shift into a trance state is to participate in certain kinds of movement and dance, especially if there's a strong drumbeat in the background. Anyone who has ever danced around the fire at a drumming circle or gone to a rave will know what I'm talking about.

So I'd like you to consider the possibility that the Labyrinth isn't a thing, but an experience: a pattern to be walked or danced in order to reach a particular spiritual state. The symbol, the unicursal maze that we see carved on stones and stamped into coins from various times and places, is just that: a symbol. It reminds us how to move, how to make the journey from here to there and back again (the "and back again" part being especially important - you may have heard the saying, "The difference between the shaman and the psychotic is that the shaman knows the way back").

In a sense, it's a bit of spiritual technology, one that's powerful enough to have persisted for millennia and even wormed its way into the architecture of Christian cathedrals. As a spiritual tool, walking the Labyrinth can help us remedy the occasional emptiness of our modern ecstasy-deprived society. It can help us "find ourselves," as the gurus from the 1960s would have said, and face our inner darkness, our personal Minotaurs.

The Labyrinth doesn't need to be a building. It's so much bigger than that.

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 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; my most recent work 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.

Comments

  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham Wednesday, 12 July 2017

    Lovely - we just worked that myth at Reclaiming's California Witchcamp -

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