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 Melissae: A Bit of Minoan Honey

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

The Melissae are a bit of a mystery, of both the lowercase-m and capital-M variety. Today I'm sharing a roundup of what we know about these Minoan honey/bee goddesses/spirits, both from historical sources and via our shared numinous experiences in Ariadne's Tribe.

Linguistics and Myth

Let's start with the tidbits we know from classical mythology and linguistics, information that has filtered down from pre-classical times in fragmented and garbled form.

First of all, the etymology goes around in a circle since no one really knows where the Greek word root for honey (meli-) comes from. It's not an Indo-European root, though it was borrowed into both Greek and Hittite, which are Indo-European languages. There's a good chance it comes from the Minoans, though obviously we have no proof of that at this point since we can't read Linear A yet.

In classical Greek, the word melissa (μέλισσα) means both bee and honey; meli (μέλι) is also used to mean honey in classical Greek. In modern Greek, the two have been separated, so that meli means honey and melissa means honeybee.

So who is or was Melissa?

The version that has come down to us via the Hellenic Greeks says that Melissa was a nymph, in other words, a nature spirit who taught humans how to keep bees and use honey. It's pretty likely that her position as a nymph in classical times is a sort of "demotion." This happens when one culture overtakes another and downgrades the other culture's deities in order to incorporate them into the pantheon in a non-threatening position (if you win the culture war, you get to demonize and otherwise diminish the other guy's deities - this is a longstanding human practice around the world, very visible for instance in the way the Bible demonizes the Pagan deities of the Levant).

This is the same process that happened to many of the Minoan deities: In Greek myth, Ariadne and Minos are human even though they were originally Minoan deities, and of course our beloved Minotaur was thoroughly demonized.

So if Melissa was described as a nymph in classical times, she was probably a goddess in Minoan times, a thousand years earlier. She is connected with a classical-era figure named Melissos, whose name is simply a masculinized version of her own (so probably later, with Melissa being the earlier version). The classical version of Melissos' story is deeply intertwined with Minoan mythology, suggesting that it was put together from fragments of Minoan myth that survived the Bronze Age collapse.

So Melissa comes from Minoan-era Crete and has something to do with honey and honeybees.

In classical times, some of Demeter's priestesses were titled Melissae. From the Wikipedia entry about Melissa: "From Porphyry's writings, scholars have also learned that Melissa was the name of the moon goddess Artemis and the goddess who took suffering away from mothers giving birth. Souls were symbolized by bees and it was Melissa who drew souls down to be born. She was connected with the idea of a periodic regeneration."

This connects Melissa with both Therasia and Eileithyia in the Minoan pantheon (yes, Therasia is a Sun Goddess, as Artemis was originally - I recommend Patricia Monaghan's excellent book O Mother Sun! as an excellent source for information about the old Eurasian Sun Goddesses and how they were "demoted" or otherwise made to disappear in later times).

Numinous Experience and Spirit Journeys

We've taken the bits and pieces that have come down to us through classical times and brought them to our altars and shrines, asking the deities to guide us. Obviously, there's no way to prove whether any of our experiences directly correspond to the way the ancient Minoans interacted with the deities or how they viewed them. But what we've learned works for us, as modern Pagans, and gives us a strong sense of connection back through time to the Minoans.

First of all, the Melissae always show up in the plural for us, much like a hive of honeybees. They are the guardians of the spirits and ancestors who dwell in the Underworld, and are the ones who help those spirits be reborn every time a baby is born into this world (here's the connection to Eileithyia, the Minoan midwife-goddess).

Many of us experience Ariadne as the leader of the Melissae, the Queen Bee, so to speak. As such, she is the one ultimately responsible for taking care of the Underworld spirits. This idea dovetails back into the probable Minoan precursor to the Eleusinian Mysteries, with Ariadne taking the role that Persephone has in the Greek Mysteries (though Ariadne undertakes her job willingly and with love rather than being abducted - have a look at the beautiful, inspired version of this story in Charlene Spretnak's lovely book).

The Melissae's appearance is often accompanied by a sound like a large beehive buzzing. This is a common feature of spirit journeys around the world and across time, and lets us know that we're entering new states of consciousness. You can see this concept depicted in the Minoan gold seal ring from the Isopata tombs at Knossos:


Isopata Minoan gold seal ring

"Minoischer Siegelring 03" by Olaf Tausch is licensed under CC BY 3.0

The Melissae bring us the buzzing of the hive, the sweetness of honey, the sacred intoxication of mead. They guard the spirits of the dead - we'll be among those spirits one day, of course - and guide us in our relationships with the ancestors and the Underworld.

May they pour out their blessings upon you.

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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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