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 an independent polytheist spiritual tradition that brings the gods and goddesses of the ancient Minoans alive in the modern world. We're a revivalist tradition, not a reconstructionist one; we rely heavily on sharedl 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 Modern Minoan Paganism on our website: https://ariadnestribe.wordpress.com/. We're a 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 MMP Pantheon: The goddess Ariadne

This is one in a series of blog posts about the MMP pantheon. Find the list of the whole series here.

Ariadne: most people have heard of her, with her ball of string, helping Theseus find his way out of the Labyrinth. If you've been reading this blog for long, you know the Theseus story is Greek, not Minoan, created centuries after the fall of Minoan civilization. Theseus was a Greek culture hero, not a part of the Minoan pantheon. Ariadne, though, is another story. She's a Minoan goddess. So where can we find her in the art of ancient Crete?

Of course, we associate Ariadne with the labyrinth. The tricky thing is, there aren't any labyrinths in Minoan art. There are some meander designs that look vaguely labyrinth-like and that may be the origin of the well-known Greek key design. But no actual labyrinths. Have a look at this coin:

Labyrinth coin Knossos 300 BCE

Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The coin says Knossos on it, so it must be Minoan, right? Actually, it's Greek, from about 300 BCE - a full millennium after the last of the Minoan cities fell. The Minoans didn't even have coins; they traded via barter.

So why don't we find labyrinths in Minoan art? It's possible they were considered too sacred to be fixed in any kind of permanent medium. Maybe the design was drawn in chalk or sand, or even flower petals, on the ground for the ritual and then removed afterward. We simply don't know. So although we call Ariadne the Lady of the Labyrinth, we can't find any labyrinths in Minoan art.

What can we point to when we want to say, "Look, there's a sign of Ariadne?" How about the labrys?

Gold Minoan labrys

Image CC BY 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This beautiful gold labrys is one of hundreds found in the Arkalochori cave on Crete. They were apparently left there as votive (offering) deposits. Just as Ariadne transforms from the growing grain crop in the World Above to the Queen of the Dead in the Underworld, so too the labrys has many layers of meaning that include transformation and change.

Where else might we find Ariadne? How about in joyous scenes of ecstatic dance? The scene on this gold seal ring from the Isopata Minoan cemetery at Knossos includes a small epiphany figure - a goddess descending on the central priestess as she dances. The tipoff that this might be a ritual focusing on Ariadne? The lilies that cluster around the dancers' feet. Those are Ariadne's flowers (I have fantasies about planting an outdoor labryinth where the lines are made up of rows of lilies).

Minoan seal ring from Isopata

Image CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Learning to read the iconography of an ancient culture can be difficult, even more so when we don't have any written records to help us. In many cases, we can't be sure what the ancient Minoans meant when they created their art. For instance, there's this intriguing little sculpture from Hagia Triada:

Hagia Triada swing figurine

Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Many of us consider this figurine to be an image of Ariadne, but we can't honestly know for certain that's how the Minoans saw it. The artist could simply have been depicting a delightful everyday activity. But then again, this could be a goddess hovering between the pillars of the sacred horns. Or maybe it's both - it's not an either/or world, after all. Maybe we can partake of Ariadne's essence when we swing, flying through the air like a goddess filled with joyful laughter.

We're modern people. We have no choice but to view Minoan art through modern eyes - they're the only ones we have. And when we look, we see Ariadne, and the other deities, shining out from the past, ready to connect with us in the here and now.

In the name of the bee,
And of the butterfly,
And of the breeze, amen.

Main blog image: Ariadne and the Labyrinth, original art by Laura Perry. You can find this and other artwork in my Redbubble shop.

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Laura Perry is an artist, writer, and the founder and facilitator of Modern Minoan Paganism. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a passion of hers since a fateful art history class introduced her to the frescoes of Knossos back in high school. Her first book was published in 2001; one of her most recent works is Labrys and Horns: An Introduction to Modern Minoan Paganism. She has also created a Minoan Tarot deck and a Minoan coloring book. 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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