Ariadne's Tribe: Minoan Spirituality for the Modern World

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan family of deities. Ariadne's Tribe is an independent spiritual tradition that brings the deities of the ancient Minoans alive in the modern world. We're a revivalist tradition, not a reconstructionist one. We rely heavily on shared gnosis and the practical realities of Paganism in the modern world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

Find out all about Ariadne's Tribe at We're an inclusive, welcoming tradition, open to all who share our love for the Minoan deities and respect for our fellow human beings.

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The Crane Dance: Walking the Worlds

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

The Labyrinth may be the most well-known and widespread symbol to come out of ancient Minoan spirituality, but it's a static image. What if it were to come alive, to move, to dance? We think it did so on ancient Crete, and it still does today in Greek folk dances. And the motions of this sinuous dance have many layers of meaning. Let’s explore some of them. Maybe we’ll be inspired to set our own feet moving. 

The Labyrinth-in-motion I’m talking about is known as the Crane Dance or Geranos Dance (the word geranos is Greek for ‘crane’ – the bird, not the construction equipment). The Greeks immortalized it in their version of the story about the Labyrinth and the "monster" Minotaur, a story that's Greek, not Minoan, but hey, we work with what we've got. Please keep in mind as you read the following that much of the Labyrinth-and-Minotaur story is a purposely altered version of Minoan myth and that Ariadne, Minos, and the Minotaur were originally deities, not humans or monsters.

You’ve probably heard the story I'm talking about. But the part that focuses on the Labyrinth and is set on Crete leaves out a bit that's supposed to have happened later on.

The island of Delos is fairly close to the Greek mainland. Theseus and his friends were most of the way home when they stopped there to celebrate their victory. Our hero went to the temple of Apollo and made a sacrifice there, also dedicating to the god a statue of Aphrodite that Ariadne had given him. Bear in mind, the Greeks plastered their own deity names on the gods of other cultures so they could understand them better. I suspect Aphrodite is one of the  Minoan goddesses, perhaps Antheia, the Tribe goddess we consider to be the Minoan face of Aphrodite. It’s also interesting to note that the Greeks considered Delos to be Apollo's birthplace. So this isn’t just any temple to Apollo – it’s the original, real, best one. 

According to the legend, the altar in this temple was built by Apollo himself out of the horns of goats (Amalthea, anyone?). It was around this altar that our hero led the youths in a dance that mimicked his journey into the Labyrinth and out again. Some versions of the story describe the dancers imitating the motions of the crane, which is so large and ungainly that it supposedly has to take eight running steps before it can lift off in flight. So the dancers would take eight steps, then leap on the ninth. The dance is often described as snaking back and forth, or spiraling in and out, or both.

That’s what the Greeks had to say about the Crane Dance. Unfortunately, the Geranos Dance as it's known in modern Crete and Greece is an early 20th century creation. We don't actually know what the Crane Dance actually looked like back in the Bronze Age. But let’s see if we can tease out what it might have meant to the Minoans. 

The Greeks believed that dance itself originated on Crete. In fact, they believed that Rhea, the Minoan Earth Mother, had invented it when she taught the Kouretes to dance so they could guard her infant son Dionysus in the sacred cave where he was born. Many early dances were dedicated to Dionysus, who eventually came to be the divine patron of drama as well as dance, though we've found that his brother Korydallos is also quite the Dancer.

To this day, Greek folkloric dancers say that all the circular/winding/sinuous dances originally came from Crete. Why circular? Two possible reasons. 

First, it appears that many ancient Greek and earlier Minoan dances were performed on the circular threshing floors where grain was processed after the harvest. Once the work was done and the area was cleared, the people celebrated the harvest with dances that necessarily conformed to the shape of the floor. This may connect circular dances to the harvest celebrations of the ancestors the Minoans held. In The Iliad, Homer describes a fancy dance floor just like the one Daedalus made for Ariadne at Knossos. Perhaps this is a later, ritualized version of the original threshing floor. 

The second reason for circular dances is equally practical: if you’re dancing around an altar of some sort, the dance is going to be circular. You're dancing around the altar. And if you wind inward toward the altar then back out again, the dance will take on a spiral or labyrinthine shape. 

So what does the Crane Dance mean? We can’t know for sure, since symbolism changes significance over time, but we have a few educated guesses. 

We know that the Minoan temples on Crete were built with careful astronomical alignments, much in the same way that Stonehenge and other structures were aligned to celestial events. The Minoan buildings mark the solstices and equinoxes, risings of the Moon at certain points in its cycle, the appearance and disappearance of Venus, and the heliacal rise of several different stars. And those are just the ones we’ve already found; there may be more that we haven’t discovered yet. 

So we can say with confidence that the Minoans were like many other ancient societies, watching the movements of the stars and planets and timing their religious events to those motions. We’re also pretty sure that they used these astronomical events to construct calendars – a solar year, a lunar calendar, and an eight-year cycle that neatly combines the movements of the Sun, the Moon, and Venus. This eight-year cycle may be the source of the legend about the king being sacrificed every ninth year, and it looks to me like it’s echoed in the eight-step-then-leap portion of the Crane Dance. Also, I find it interesting that the ‘tribute’ Athens paid to King Minos came in the form of fourteen young people, a number equal to half a moon cycle. Numbers are never neutral in mythology.

Something else I find interesting in connection with this spiraling dance is the fact that the Minoans appear to have envisioned the yearly motion of the Sun as a spiral. We know now that the Earth revolves around the Sun, but if you don't know that, it looks like the Sun spins around the Earth in a big circle, going ‘under’ during the night and coming back up the next morning.

The Sun shifts in the sky from day to day throughout the seasons, rising farther and farther south in the winter until it reaches its southernmost limit on the horizon, then turning around and rising farther and farther north in the summer until it reaches the limit in that direction. Then the process begins again. If you visualize the Sun’s motion as continuous from one solstice to the next, going around the Earth in a constant circuit, it looks like the Sun draws a giant spiral around our planet, from north to south and back again, as the seasons move along. 

So if the spiral depicts the Sun’s motion, including its journey through the Underworld at night, then a spiral dance depicts the Sun’s motion throughout the year, from one solstice to the next. I find it intriguing that the Labyrinth story moves from Crete to the temple of Apollo on Delos, since one of Apollo’s major aspects is as a Sun god (though that's not how he started out - and the Minoans had a Sun goddess, not a god).

The Greek dance called the hyporchema was performed as part of Apollo’s worship among the Dorians during classical times and is considered comparable to the Geranos dance so… Sun symbolism again. Also, the altar in Apollo’s temple is described as being made from the horns of female goats. On Crete, the goat-goddess is Amalthea, who nursed the infant Dionysus. And one of Dionysus’s aspects is as a solar year-king – he's the divine child who is born at the Winter Solstice and emerges from hiding in the cave at Summer Solstice. 

Speaking of caves, in some versions of the Labyrinth-and-Minotaur story, the Labyrinth is in a cave. Remember I said there are lots of layers to this? So where does the cave lead us? 

The cave is the Underworld, the place the Sun journeys through during the night, the Great Mother's womb from which her Divine Child (and the soul of every new child) is born. The spiral connects the Upperworld with the Underworld, bringing together the two halves of each day.

In classical times, the people of Delos performed the Geranos dance after dark, carrying torches as they wound back and forth in their spiraling or serpent-like path, the serpent being a denizen of the Underworld, of course.

In Ariadne's Tribe, we have a lot of shared gnosis about a particular experience: coming into a dark room, lit only with torches and oil lamps, to see the floor covered with writhing snakes. As we look, the snakes shift around and organize themselves into a pattern, and the shape of the Labyrinth emerges on the floor.

The Labyrinth is a spiraling path that invokes the Underworld, a path downward and inward, a gateway that allows us to reach that deep inner space in an orderly fashion, without getting lost. It's a safe doorway, and hence the spiral dance is a powerful but safe act. 

If we look back at Rhea and her cave, we can see how going into a cave, especially a multi-chambered one that has a labyrinthine feel to its layout, would take you down into the Underworld. The cave and the Labyrinth are also both metaphors for the human subconscious and unconscious mind, which is the ultimate gateway to the ancestors and the gods. But it’s a dark and unknown place. We need torches and a map. The Crane Dance is a set of instructions for navigating this area – into the Labyrinth and back out again – safely in the company of others who also seek to make the journey. 

There are so many layers of meaning and significance to the Crane Dance; which ones speak to you? Would you rather spiral around a Sun altar at midday with the light pouring down around you, or snake your way around in the dark, torches held high, the hiss of a sistrum keeping the beat as you journey through the Labyrinth?

However you dance the Labyrinth, I wish you well on your journey.

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Laura Perry is a priestess and creator who works magic with words, paint, ink, music, textiles, and herbs. She's the founder and Temple Mom of Ariadne's Tribe, an inclusive Minoan spiritual tradition. When she's not busy drawing and writing, you can find her in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.


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