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The Blessing of the Waters: Building Modern Minoan Paganism

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Since the Minoans aren't around anymore and we can't read the things they wrote (Linear A has not been deciphered), we have to build our practice of Modern Minoan Paganism based on whatever kind of inspiration we can find.

It turns out, there are still remnants of ancient rites that cling to life in the folk practices of Crete and other parts of Europe in this Christian era. You probably already knew this: the Christian church took over Pagan practices and renamed them, like the Irish goddess Brigit becoming a Christian saint.

I recently ran across an article about an ancient practice that survives in Crete and neighboring areas in a Christian guise. In this practice, on Epiphany (6 January) a Christian priest throws a cross into the water and a bunch of young men vie to retrieve it. Apparently the rite evolved from a much older one that involved blessing the spirits of streams, lakes, and other bodies of water. Dance ethnography also suggests that this might have been a way, in pre-Christian times, for people to celebrate the coming-of-age of young men and possibly also to choose a young man for special religious offices.

So when we got hold of this information over in Ariadne's Tribe, we were inspired to create a new addition to our sacred calendar. We're calling it the Blessing of the Waters.

Those of us who live in modern developed countries are spoiled about water. All we have to do is turn on a tap to get all we want, hot or cold. Now granted, the Minoans were pretty high-tech for their time: they had aqueducts that brought water into the cities and towns from Crete's mountain springs, and they dug canals to bring water to their fields. But still, they had to lug their water around in buckets. And they knew that in bad years, the springs would all but dry up in the summer, leaving them to hope they had stored enough rainwater in their cisterns to make it through until the rains started up in the autumn. During the hot Cretan summer, the smaller streams and creeks dry up completely and the rivers slow down to a trickle. Water is life.

So we want to honor the water, wherever we are. We'll hold the Blessing of the Waters in January. For those who don't mind overlapping with the Christian calendar, Epiphany (6 January) is the date. There is some evidence that these rites were originally associated with the Winter Solstice, so the first full moon after Solstice, whether it falls in December or January, is another option.

What happens in this rite? We go to the nearest body of water, whether that's a stream, pond, lake, river, or the ocean. If you live somewhere that's land-locked with no natural water nearby, you could put out a bowl to catch rain water and use that. Failing that, water from your tap will work. But don't use bottled water, even if it's natural spring water, because it's not local - it was imported from far away, and the point of this rite is to get in touch with your local water.

We make offerings: perhaps some incense and a song, perhaps some food that would be safe for the wildlife of the area (birdseed is a good choice). We touch the water and thank it, tell it how much we value it. Then we touch the water to ourselves - anoint your forehead, perhaps, or if you're doing the rite in a group, sprinkle the water lightly over all the participants. A small bunch of fresh herbs makes a great tool for this (it's called an aspergillum).

This rite could also be used for coming-of-age for boys, though obviously if you're going to have a young man jump into the water in January, you want to be sure he's healthy enough for it to be safe, and have plenty of blankets and hot drinks on hand for afterward if you live in the part of the world where January is wintertime. While the Christian version involves throwing a cross into the water to be retrieved, we think tossing a labrys would be a good choice. Again, making offerings to the spirit of the water and thanking it for its value in your life is a good idea.

If you're feeling intrepid, you could also use this rite the way we think it might have been used in ancient times, to choose a special young man for some sacred office. Thankfully, human sacrifice is out of fashion, but if you're looking for a dramatic way to pick a priest for your Pagan group, this fits the bill.

So this is how Paganism grows. It's a sure bet that we're not doing this rite exactly the way it was performed in ancient times. But times change, and I'm pretty sure the gods and spirits understand that. As modern Pagans, we're building a practice that works for us in our time. What is remembered, lives, even if it's in slightly different form.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

 

 

Image: The Cretan coastline and the Mediterranean sea (Pixabay, public domain)

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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; 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.

Comments

  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 16 January 2019

    I'm given to understand that in Venice there's a Great Blessing of the Waters to mark the beginning of sailing season; if Minoan Crete had such a festival, I would guess that that's when it would have occurred. I presume that this would be at the end of winter/beginning of spring, once the winter storms are over.

    I would also posit that such a festival would have involved sacrifices to Sea. In Jewish law, it's still forbidden to slaughter an animal near a body of water, lest anyone see and think that you're sacrificing to Yam-Nahar, god of the sea.

    Mwa-ha-ha.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Wednesday, 16 January 2019

    That would be a separate rite and would involve Posidaeja, the Minoan sea goddess, rather than the spirits of local streams and lakes. We think the Blessing of the Ships would have happened in early May, when the Pleiades rose - that's apparently when the sailing season began in ancient Crete. The original version of the Blessing of the Waters was specifically for fresh water - the spirits of springs, streams, and lakes. We've enlarged that to include the ocean since that's the only living water some of us have access to. And ultimately, Posidaeja is Mother-of-All-Waters, not just the sea, so there's a bit of overlap there. Individuation is a tricky thing beyond the human realm.

  • Alethea Leondakis
    Alethea Leondakis Monday, 18 February 2019

    I only discovered this yesterday, but I believe in 2015 or 2016, the Phaistos discus was decoded. Here is a link where it is read aloud. It sounds so lovely, I keep listening to it over and over. https://youtu.be/DY3b7iDEhhQ

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