Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

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The Two Worlds of the Minoans

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

For us modern folks, it can be hard to understand the worldview of ancient people. They didn't know about outer space or the heliocentric view of the solar system, but they did their best to understand the world given the information they had at hand. In fact, the pre-Indo-European inhabitants of Europe didn't even think of the sky as a separate realm the way Indo-European cultures did. So what does that mean in terms of the way the Minoans viewed the cosmos?

You're probably familiar with the three-worlds cosmos that many pre-Christian Indo-European cultures had. The Norse version is especially popular, given that J.R.R. Tolkien adapted it for his own imaginary world. In the three-worlds view, the 'top' or upper world is the sky; the middle realm is the Earth and the area right above it where people and animals live; and the lower realm is beneath the Earth - the Underworld.

But this three-worlds cosmos is based on the Indo-European notion that the sky is its own separate realm, the place where the Indo-European sky gods (Zeus, Dyaus Pitar, Tyr) lived and ruled. But before the Indo-Europeans spread their culture through Old Europe and added this third realm to the worldview, the cosmos looked a little different. There were only two worlds.

Have a look at the graphic I've included with this post and you'll see what I mean. The Minoans, like many other people who had no contact with the Indo-Europeans, viewed the cosmos as a giant sphere. That makes sense - after all, that's exactly what it looks like if you don't have access to a telescope. They visualized this sphere as being divided in half by the plane of the Earth's surface.

The upper half of the sphere, including everything on top of the Earth's surface, was part of the Upperworld. This is the daylight world we all share. The lower half of the sphere was the Underworld, the realm of the Ancestors and, in some cultures, the abode of unpleasant and downright dangerous beings.

Some ancient peoples thought that the sphere turned around the Earth's surface over the course of each day - in other words, they thought the Underworld slid up above the Earth at night, allowing people to see the Ancestors' hearth fires (the stars). This interpretation of the night sky was common from the Stone Age onward, across multiple cultures and continents, and is one reason some cultures feared the night and shut their windows tight against it - it appeared to them that whatever creatures might be living in the Underworld 'came out to play' at night.

The Egyptians held to this two-world cosmology, with their sun god riding across the Upperworld during the day and the Underworld at night in his solar barque. Like other non-Indo-European cultures, they viewed the sky as an integral part of the Upperworld and not a separate realm of its own.

One consequence of this two-worlds cosmology is the idea that any hole in the ground (cave, crevice, etc.) is a passageway between the Upperworld and the Underworld. For the Minoans, this meant that caves gave direct access to the Ancestors through the body of their Earth Mother Goddess Rhea. This is also the concept that allowed oracles such as the one at Delphi (which is demonstrably pre-Greek) to flourish in caves: these holes in the ground provide access to realms we cannot normally reach, and that are dangerous for anyone who is not properly trained.

The next time you watch the sun set or rise, try to envision the sphere that the ancient peoples saw, and imagine it sliding up or down, carrying the Two Worlds with it. Then you'll be a little closer to viewing the universe the way the Minoans did.

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Laura Perry is a priestess and creator who works magic with words, paint, ink, music, textiles, and herbs. She is the founder and Temple Mom of Modern Minoan Paganism. When she's not busy drawing and writing, you can find her in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.


  • Bruno
    Bruno Wednesday, 25 February 2015

    "The upper half of the sphere (...) is the daylight world we all share" This is not quite correct. Like in the Allegory of the Cave, the upper "Day" is not were mortals abide, but on the Cave, or the Underworld. Secretly this was an orphic conception: the "Day" in mythology is actually the Upper Surface where Gods, heroes and daimons dwell, the "celestial" part being of course the domain of the Gods.

    "Plato made full use of this Orphic conception, and in his Gorgias he quoted "a certain philosopher," who said, "We are dead and the body is a tomb."

    The Underworld as Hades (gr. "invisible") means that the Demiurge is in the world as if invisible, i.e., not an objective principle, but abstract.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Wednesday, 25 February 2015

    The worldview to which I am referring predates the Orphics by a good millennium (the Minoans flourished ca 2500-1450 BCE) and is not comparable to their cosmology, though theirs may ultimately derive from the earlier, pre-Indo-European Two Worlds cosmology in some regards.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Wednesday, 25 February 2015

    For more information about the timing of Minoan civilization versus Greek civilization (and other cultures worldwide) please see this post:

  • Bruno
    Bruno Wednesday, 25 February 2015

    I´m pretty sure that it is comparable. Like in egyptian mythology, symbols are not what they seem to be...

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