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 shared 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?

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What's the big deal about bronze?

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

The ancient Minoans lived during the Bronze Age; you've probably heard that somewhere. But what, exactly, was the Bronze Age and why is it a big deal?

You may have noticed that periods of history (and prehistory) are denoted by the main substance with which the people of the time made their tools: the Old and New Stone Age (that's the Paleolithic and Neolithic), the Copper-Stone Age (that's the Chalcolithic Age, if you're looking it up in a history book), the Bronze Age, the Iron Age. We still use iron tools - those knives in your kitchen are stainless steel, a form of iron - though some people have tried to style us modern folks as the Silicon Age. Personally, I'd have a hard time making a sandwich with a silicon chip.

So what's the big deal about bronze? Why was it such a step forward from stone tools? First of all, copper blades are pretty useless, too soft to do a decent job, so even though people were using copper for decoration and trade during Chalcolithic times, they still used stone blades because they worked well for cutting and slicing. Several years ago, I learned to knap flint into Stone Age type blades and I can tell you, they're razor sharp. A well-made obsidian blade would work as a surgical scalpel. So during Chalcolithic times, people used copper mostly for decoration and still used stone blades for practical work.

Eventually people realized that adding a small amount of a second metal to the copper made the metal much stronger so it would hold a sharp edge and not bend when you used it. The addition of the second metal also made it melt more smoothly so it could be molded without difficulty. At first they added arsenic to the copper, but the dangerous side effects of working with arsenic soon became apparent and in most places they switched to tin. So they had a useful alloy, a simple combination of copper and tin, that worked well for making all kinds of items, not just blades. But if stone blades are so sharp (in my experience, much sharper than bronze blades), why did everyone switch to bronze?

Here's the thing: It takes a certain amount of time to knap a stone blade. Even if you're really good at it, you can only make a few a day. But once you know how to smelt metal, you can use an assembly-line process. You pour your molten metal into the molds, it hardens, and voila, you have a whole bunch of blades all at once, far more than the number of stone blades you could make in the same amount of time.

When people realized this, the number of blades and other bronze items skyrocketed. The image at the top of this blog post shows some of the bronze items the Minoans left as offerings in the sacred cave on Mt. Dikti. There are daggers and spearheads, the kinds of items we think of in terms of Bronze Age weaponry, but there are also household knives, decorative labryses (too thin to use as actual axes), safety pins, fish hooks, and tweezers. These are items that can't be made out of stone and, except for the decorative labryses, won't be functional if they're made out of copper.

There's one particular aspect of the Bronze Age that's especially important to know about the Minoans. It's kind of ironic, since every effort to paint them as a militaristic society has thus far failed. It appears they were actually a fairly peaceful society who put all their focus into their religion and trade. The interesting thing is, the item they traded in most, the one that made them so incredibly wealthy, was bronze, and specifically, bronze weapons: daggers and spearheads.

The Minoans sailed far and wide, even up the coast of the Atlantic to retrieve tin from Cornwall to add to copper and make their bronze blades. And they traded those blades to anyone who was interested in buying, everywhere they went. These peaceful, egalitarian people were effectively the world's first arms dealers. As my grandfather used to say, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

In the name of the Bee -

And of the Butterfly -

And of the Breeze - Amen!

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Tagged in: bronze Crete history Minoan
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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