This is the second in a series about the MMP pantheon. Find the list of the full series of posts here.

We're on a journey, working our way through the Modern Minoan Paganism pantheon one deity at a time. This time, we're discussing another of our three mother goddesses: the Sun goddess Therasia. (Yes, I capitalize Sun just like I capitalize the names of other stars like Sirius and Aldebaran. I also capitalize Earth, just like I capitalize the names of other planets like Venus and Jupiter. Respect.)

You can learn more about Therasia in this blog post, but today what we're exploring is her iconography: where we can find her symbols in Minoan art.

Up top, you can see my line drawing of a Minoan fresco from Akrotiri. It shows a goddess receiving an offering from a monkey. We know she's a goddess because she's seated - seated female figures in Minoan art are goddesses. And we know which goddess she is because of the images that surround her.

To her right, a fabulous griffin looks on as she receives saffron threads from the monkey. The griffin and saffron are two bits of iconography that lead back to the Bronze Age Mediterranean Sun goddess. Saffron is especially symbolic because of its color duality: the deep red flower stigmas and styles turn a sunny golden yellow when soaked in water. Those are the Sun goddess' two colors: the bright yellow of the daytime Sun and the deep red of sunset and early sunrise.

The griffin, a mythical creature that's a combination of a lion and an eagle, shows up a lot in Minoan art, sometimes with wings and sometimes without. Among the most famous Minoan griffins are the ones that flank the central seat in the Throne Room of the Knossos temple complex:

Knossos Throne Room griffin

Image CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There's also this fanciful one from a late Minoan larnax:

Griffin on late Minoan larnax

Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

One interesting aspect of the Knossos Throne Room is that when the frescoes around the central seat were reconstructed, the artists left out the large red palm trees that flanked the "throne." The date palm is one of the Sun goddess' symbols, just like the griffin is. So the original frescoes in that room pointed strongly to the Sun goddess being the original occupant of that seat. Here's the Ashmolean Museum's reconstruction of one of the palm trees (on the right) contrasted with the incorrect fresco reconstruction on the left:

Ashmolean Museum Throne Room reconstruction

Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Interestingly, traces of dark red pigment suggest that the seat was originally painted red all over - another clue to whose throne it really is, or was, since Minoan religion appears to have changed somewhat over time, especially during the last couple of centuries when the Mycenaeans occupied Crete.

So when you see palm trees, griffins, and saffron crocuses in Minoan art, bear in mind that the image may be referencing the Sun goddess. Once you learn to "read" the symbols, it's amazing what stories they tell!

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

 

Top blog image: Fresco scene from Akrotiri, original art by Laura Perry from The Minoan Coloring Book