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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in ancient history
Minoans and history and untidy pigeonholes

When we learn history in school, we're given pictures of maps with clear lines drawn to separate the different empires, cultures, and nations. We're taught that one set of people lived within this little box on the map and another set of people lived within the next box over. But history isn't that neat and tidy.

Take the Minoans, for instance. Their culture centered on the island of Crete, just south of Greece, during the Bronze Age. They were a pre-Indo-European people (they weren't Greek) who became quite wealthy by importing raw materials and exporting fancy finished goods like bronze blades and dyed woolen cloth. But in order to do all that trading, they had to move around.

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Archaeological Dating: A thorny issue, even for the Minoans

I've been a big fan of archaeology ever since I discovered the ancient Egyptians back in grade school. Indiana Jones aside, I think it's absolutely fascinating that we can dig up the remains of civilizations from centuries ago, put the pieces back together (mostly) and get a glimpse into those long-ago lives.

Ah, but there's the big question: Exactly how long ago did it all happen?

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs

b2ap3_thumbnail_cavepainting.jpgOur ancestors told stories; stories that entertained, that showed people how to live, and that explained how the world was ordered. They sat around campfires, and around the work they were doing at the moment and told stories and sang songs. As People became more numerous, they gathered in cities and the stories got bigger, the presentation more formal and particular. The telling moved beyond just one person and others played roles. The stories of how the world was created were acted out yearly and with precision. On flaw in the performance and the players must start again least the world not function as it should.

The priests would enter bringing with them the sounds of chanting and the smell of incense. What storytelling lost in intimacy, public performance made up for in created spectacle. The grand theatre of the temple, housing statuary, and carved with reliefs of the doings of the gods, the choice of time of day, the smell of the sacrifice, and the sound of human voices raised in praise, all enveloped the participants. It allowed them to step out of ordinary time and join in the creation of the world, the crowning of the god-king, and the sparking of the fertility by which humanity survived. And whether around the fire or in the temple grounds, such participation bonded the people to each other and invested them with meaning and purpose. Such is the definition of ritual.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Toilet Snobs and other Modern Problems

There is a certain kind of mindset that says that we, the current oh-so-modern inhabitants of the world, are the epitome of social and biological evolution, that we are an improvement over everything and everyone who has come before us. This concept was very popular in Victorian times thanks to Social Darwinism, a misapplication of the concept of evolution to social and cultural contexts. It was simply an easy way for well-off white Westerners to feel superior to non-whites, non-Westerners and pretty much every single culture that had come before them. So it came as quite a shock to Victorian society when Sir Arthur Evans uncovered the ruins of Minoan civilization and discovered complex architecture, beautiful naturalistic art and (gasp!) enclosed sewers and flush toilets. It turns out, ancient Crete wasn’t alone in this kind of ‘modernity.’ Almost every house in the ancient Indus Valley cities of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa had flush toilets attached to a sophisticated system of sewers.

The concept of linear cultural and social evolution, of simpler and cruder things leading to more complex and elegant things, derives from the Judeo-Christian worldview that offers a beginning (creation) and steady progress to an end (Judgment Day). This viewpoint colors our expectations of ancient cultures and our interpretations of what we find. But many cultures around the world, especially the ancient world, had a non-linear view of history. They did not see a straight path from beginning to end so much as an ever-spiraling cycle, like the seasons but on a larger, almost epic, scale. I think this circular/spiral mindset is more helpful than the linear one as a lens for viewing ancient cultures. It allows us to recognize the ups and downs of history and prehistory, the fact that people have always been intelligent, ingenious and adaptive.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Who were the Minoans' neighbors?

A few weeks back I had a lovely chat with Goddess Spirituality leader Karen Tate on her radio show. We talked about Minoan Paganism in particular and the ancient Minoans in general. One issue that came up in the conversation was where, in the timeline of the ancient world, the Minoans fit. Many people seem to think they came after the Greeks and copied much of the Greek pantheon, but the truth is actually the other way around. All those ancient cultures are so far removed from us in time that it can be difficult to get a mental picture of how they all fit together. So I thought I’d tease out some of the details and help you picture the world of the ancient Minoans – not just Crete but all the cultures and civilizations that were alive and kicking at that time.

I apologize for going all History Teacher on you here, but I’m going to start with some dates, just for reference. I promise I won’t throw too many numbers at you. Though the island of Crete has been inhabited since prehistoric times, what we think of as Minoan civilization didn’t arise until around 3500 BCE; at that point the people had farms, towns and tombs but no big buildings. The heyday of the Minoans with the big temples, the fancy tech (enclosed sewers, flushing commodes, multi-story buildings) and the beautiful artwork ran for just a few centuries, from about 1900 to 1400 BCE. After that, the culture declined, the Mycenaean Greeks took over the political arena and the civilization that we think of as Minoan pretty much ceased to exist. You can thank a combination of natural disasters, encroaching Greeks and pure bad luck for their cultural demise.

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Magic on the Altiplano, Mystical Sacsayhuaman, Lake Titicaca: Peru

 I was in my dining room sorting out bills when the phone rang. “I’m just looking into booking a ticket to Lima, do you want to come, my friend said?” I immediately responded with, “Yes.” Then I called my New York boyfriend and left a message. In three days we were off, and tour guides hired. What a thrill. I had always desired to go to Peru knowing I had a spiritual home there to be discovered, uncovered and analyzed. What would my insights be this time?

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In part one of this two part series, I wrote about personal patronage in the ancient and modern context. Today, I want to talk about professional patronage (i.e. Apollon as the patron of the arts, and thus prayed to by artists). Personally, I think the only thing that professional patronage shares with the practice of personal patronage is its name--and we will get to that in a second. 
The interesting thing is that none of the academic sources at my disposal make mention of this practice under the term 'patronage'. Patronage in the context of ancient Hellas seems to focus on the non-lineal bond between two people--a patron who took care of a client or slave in a material, financial, or emotional way. 'Patron' to mean the support, encouragement, or privilege that a deity bestows upon those practicing a profession or living in a city is a Christian term, which refers to patron saints. Patron saints are regarded as the tutelary spirits or heavenly advocates of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person. Taking this description would give you, for example, Athena as the patron of Athens--but outside of Christianity, the proper term is 'tutelage'; a tutelary deity.

A tutelary, or tutelar, deity is 'a guardian, patron, or protector of a particular place, geographic feature, person, lineage, nation, culture or occupation'. Both tutelary and tutelar can be used as either a noun or an adjective. As such, Athena is the tutelary Goddess of Athens, or the tutelar of Athens--but because we are so used to 'patron(ess)', 'tutelar' does not have quite the same ring to it.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Matt G
    Matt G says #
    This doesn't sound right to me. When I look at Catullus' "Carmina" in his first poem he addresses "patrona virgo" specifically in
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you that is a helpful distinction.
  • Jamie
    Jamie says #
    I think I will use the term 'tutelage' from now on, as the commonly-used modern Pagan term "Patronage" really does not seem to app
  • Elani Temperance
    Elani Temperance says #
    I would mot certainly encourage the use of 'tutelage' as opposed to 'patronage' when discussing ancient practices I should clear

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