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The Minoan Sacred Year: A Modern Pagan Calendar

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Most modern Pagans are familiar with the eightfold Wheel of the Year: the solstices and equinoxes and the points halfway in between. But that's a modern construct. It also doesn't match the unique seasons of the Mediterranean region, where Crete is (and where the Minoans lived).

So in Modern Minoan Paganism, we've worked out a sacred calendar based on the Mediterranean seasonal cycle. We've combined information from Minoan artifacts and ruins, archaeoastronomy, the few fragments of myth that made it down to us via the Greeks, and a bunch of shared gnosis. That gives us a set of festivals that work for us as modern Pagans but that still reflect what we think went on among the Minoans in Bronze Age Crete.

Honestly, I suspect the Minoans' sacred calendar was really full, like the Greeks and the Romans. They probably had lots of local festivals as well as the big ones that were celebrated across the island, and possibly all over the Aegean. What we have thus far in our modern version keeps us busy throughout the year but isn't so full that we can't manage to squeeze these all in between our nine-to-five jobs and other obligations.

As I mentioned above, the Mediterranean climate has its own unique seasonal cycle. Instead of spring-summer-autumn-winter, it really only has two seasons: rainy and dry. This cycle affects the whole Mediterranean basin. There a few other areas that have Mediterranean climates as well: southern California, South Africa, and parts of Australia, for instance.

In these places, the "dead time" is the summer, the dry season. The rains stop, the weather gets really hot, plants turn brown and crispy and water goes away - creeks dry up entirely and rivers slow to a trickle. Then the rains come in the autumn, softening the soil so farmers can plow their fields and plant their crops. The crops grow throughout the mild rainy winter and are harvested in the spring. This is the opposite of what most people in the northern hemisphere are used to, but that's how it works in the Mediterranean.

So our sacred calendar begins at the new year. Like the people in medieval Europe who celebrated the new year in the spring, the Minoans appear to have started their year at the beginning of planting and growing season, which for them was the autumn. We think they may have had a multi-week-long "holiday season" around that time, and we've built that into our modern calendar. So here you go, the sacred year of Modern Minoan Paganism:

Feast of Grapes: August 31. The grape harvest happens at the end of summer, though the actual date would have varied in ancient times (and can vary for you if you grow grapes). This is a time for honoring Dionysus, who dies with the grape harvest and descends to the Underworld. It's a good time for scrying in wine as well.

The Mysteries: September 1-10. The Eleusinian Mysteries appear to have had a precursor in Minoan Crete. For the Minoans, the story involved not Demeter and Persephone, but Rhea and Ariadne. Charlene Spretnak's book Lost Goddesses of Early Greece offers a beautiful, inspired version of this tale in which Ariadne descends to the Underworld willingly, no abduction involved.

The New Year: Autumn Equinox. In the Mediterranean, the rains come and the farmers plow their fields and plant their crops. Everything that was dead and dry springs to life again. We like to imagine Ariadne returning from the Underworld with the first green sprouts in the fields.

The Sacred Birth: Winter Solstice. The earliest celebration at this time of year was probably the self-rebirth of the Minoan sun goddess, whom we call Therasia. But by late Minoan times, they appear to have been celebrating the birth of Dionysus to the mother goddess Rhea at the Winter Solstice. A fatherless sacred child born in a cave, surrounded by animals, his birth heralded by a star. Sound familiar?

The Blessing of the Waters: the first full moon after Winter Solstice or January 6, whichever you prefer. This is a rite to connect you with your local water, preferably fresh water but the ocean works, too - ultimately, all the water on Earth is part of a single cycle. This festival can also be used to celebrate the coming-of-age of young men or to choose a particular man for a sacred position.

The Harvest: Spring Equinox. This is the end of the growing season in the Mediterranean, time for all the field crops to be harvested. The famous Mediterranean circle dances, as well as the Crane Dance that's associated with Ariadne and the Labyrinth, probably began on the ancient threshing floors of Crete. This is a time for thanking the ancestors and dining with them, something the Minoans appear to have done at the tombs near their cities. It's also the time when Ariadne returns to the Underworld to take care of the spirits of the dead.

The Blessing of the Ships: early May, at the heliacal rise of the Pleiades. Crete is an island, so obviously boats and ships were important to the Minoans, from tiny fishing boats to enormous trading ships. The heliacal rise of the Pleiades signals the beginning of sailing season (the winter winds have stopped by that point) so it's the time to ask Posidaeja to bless your ship/boat, your sailors/fishers, and your voyage, even if you'll just be going out on the local lake to do a little fishing.

The Height of Summer: Summer Solstice. Like the Winter Solstice, this festival developed a lot of layers over the centuries of Minoan society (the Minoans, like the Egyptians, simply added on to what they already had when new bits of religion developed or were imported). As Modern Minoan Pagans, we have the option to celebrate this festival by honoring the sun goddess Therasia, or the sacred marriage of Ariadne and Dionysus, or both.

So there you have it, the sacred calendar of Modern Minoan Paganism. It has taken several years to develop this, and I'm sure we'll continue adding to it over time. That's what happens with living traditions.

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; 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.

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