Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan pantheon. Modern Minoan Paganism is not a reconstructionist tradition, but a journey 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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The Minoan Threefold Goddess: The Great Mothers

The Triple Goddess is a major component of modern Paganism, but the Maiden-Mother-Crone triplicity doesn't appear in ancient Crete. The closest we can come to that kind of "life phases" division is a Younger and Elder Goddess, exemplified by Rhea (the Great Mother) and Ariadne (the daughter). This mother-daughter duo is the possible origin of the Eleusinian Mysteries, whose sacred pair of Demeter and Persephone are well known in the modern Pagan world (check out Charlene Spretnak's inspired book Lost Goddesses of Early Greece for more on this subject). I like to think of this twofold goddess as Maiden and Matriarch, the two stages of womanhood in a society in which women's ability to birth children for men wasn't their primary function in life.

But there is a Minoan triplicity associated with the Goddess. It doesn't have to do with the life stages and fertility functions of women, but with the world around us and how the Sacred Feminine manifests in it. It's the ancient threefold division of Land/Sea/Sky. This triplicity unfolds around each and every one of us every day of our lives.

The Land portion of this trio is Rhea, the Earth Mother Goddess of the ancient Minoans. Like Earth Mother goddesses from other cultures, she is the land itself - her body is the island of Crete - the Earth from which all life springs. If you think about it, the landscape "parents" each and every one of us in many ways. As our bodies renew our cells one by one, the material of our physical being is replaced by the material of the landscape in which we live: We become one with the Mother.

I've always loved what medieval visionary Hildegard of Bingen wrote about the Earth as Sacred Mother. I use these lines sometimes in ritual that focuses on Rhea:

Holy persons draw to themselves all that is earthly...

The earth is at the same time mother,

She is the mother of all that is natural,

mother of all that is human.

She is the mother of all,

for contained in her

are the seeds of all.

The Sea is a natural focus for the people who live on an island like Crete. It's the second part of the Land/Sea/Sky triplicity. The Minoans built their civilization on trade, sailing their ships all around the Mediterranean and to points beyond, asking the goddess Posidaeja for her blessing as they rode the waves. Posidaeja's name is attested in the Linear B tablets. We can't know for certain whether that particular name goes all the way back to the beginnings of Minoan society, but it's a good bet the sea was always important in Minoan spirituality. It does look very much like the Greeks gave Posidaeja a mythological sex change operation and ended up with their sea-god Poseidon.

The sea penetrated all aspects of Minoan life and art. I love the squiggly octopi and other sea life on Minoan marine style pottery - the realism of Minoan art always takes my breath away. Throughout the ruins of Minoan temples, cities, and towns, archaeologists have found shrines and altars filled with real seashells as well as reproductions made from stone and ceramic. We even find triton shells depicted on Minoan seals.

The third aspect of the triplicity is Sky, and more specifically, the Sun. Patricia Monaghan's excellent book O Mother Sun! traces pre-Indo-European Sun goddesses across Eurasia and beyond. After a great deal of research, journeying, and meditation, we discovered (rediscovered?) the Minoan Sun goddess, whom we call Therasia.

She is the heat and the light of the Sun, the force and energy that drive the cycles of life on Earth. She reaches the height of her power at Summer Solstice, scorching the Mediterranean with her heat, then wanes until it is time to rebirth herself at Winter Solstice. Many Minoan buildings and tombs were oriented to the sunrise on particular days of the year, so Therasia's presence was literally built into Minoan architecture. 

The members of the Minoan pantheon don't fit neatly into a human-style family tree the way some pantheons do. Still, in order to relate to them, it's helpful to anthropomorphize them a bit (or gynopomorphize, I suppose, in the case of goddesses!). 

Land, sea, and sky exist all at once, together, timeless... and so the goddesses as well. I often think of my own ancestors as the Mothers or the Grandmothers, the Ones out of whom all the people arose. And so I've begun to think about the Minoan Triplicity in a similar fashion. Mother Earth. Mother Ocean. Mother Sky.

The Mothers.

 

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 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, you can find me in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

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