Over in Ariadne's Tribe we have a list of recommended books about Minoan spirituality and related topics. One of the books from that list that I find myself pointing out frequently to anyone who is interested in Modern Minoan Paganism and/or goddess spirituality (besides my own books, of course) is Charlene Spretnak's classic work Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths. Originally published in 1978, this amazing little volume is still in print, and with good reason.
Ms. Spretnak addresses herself to nine goddesses, eleven if you count the Moon Triad as three separate ones: Gaia, Pandora, Themis, Aphrodite, the Moon Triad (Artemis, Selene, Hecate), Hera, Athena, Demeter, and Persephone. She offers some fascinating information about each one, detailing where they originated, what their early worship was probably like, and how the Hellenes and other later cultures "demoted" them from their original places of honor and power. It's both enlightening and a little sad to discover how these goddesses were purposely tarnished over time. But this book helps to polish them back to their original glow.
I've talked before about the names the ancient Minoans used for their gods, here and here, and the difficulties of trying to figure out what those original names were. All we really have to go on is the administrative texts written in Linear B by the Myceneans (or their Minoan scribes). So all that information is filtered through the lens of the Mycenaean Greeks. Case in point: Dionysus.
He's very apropos for today - Winter Solstice - since this is his birthday in the Minoan sacred calendar, when he is born to the great mother goddess Rhea in her cave at sunrise. If you want to view the Minoan pantheon in terms of hierarchy, you'd have to say Rhea is at the top (at least, of the earthbound and Underworld gods - the ocean goddess Posidaeja and the cosmic goddess Ourania could be considered to be "above" her but that's another blog post).
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Minoan deity names in Linear B, the script the Mycenaean Greeks used to write their language toward the end of Minoan civilization. We still can't read Linear A, the script the Minoans used to write their native language, but the Mycenaeans borrowed so much of Minoan religion and culture that their texts give us a lot of information, even if most of them are just inventory lists of donations to temples.
Last time, I mentioned Atana Potnia, the early precursor to Athena who was apparently worshiped at Knossos. But we have quite a few more names of gods and goddesses, some of whom are manifestly Minoan and some of whom look to be a part of the blended Minoan-Mycenaean culture that lasted for several centuries before the Late Bronze Age collapse of cultures around the Mediterranean.
The description of my Facebook group Ariadne's Tribe states that Modern Minoan Paganism isn't a reconstructionist tradition. That's true. Reconstructionist traditions use texts from the original culture to figure out what the religion looked like back then, and we don't have any Minoan texts that we can read. Linear A, the script the Minoans used to record their native language, is still untranslated. But we do have something close that has been deciphered: Linear B.
I know, the names of these scripts are maddeningly non-descriptive, but they tell us one thing right up front: Linear A came first, with the Minoans, who were one of the indigenous peoples of Old Europe and who inhabited Crete beginning in Neolithic times. Later, during the Bronze Age, the Mycenaean Greeks (who were an Indo-European people) came down through the Greek peninsula and met up with the Minoans. They learned a lot from the Minoans, including how to write (they were illiterate before contact with the Minoans).
Many women are drawn to the image of the Sacred Marriage—perhaps especially those raised in Roman Catholic or Protestant traditions where sex is viewed as necessary for procreation but nothing more, and who learn that the naked female body as symbolized by Eve is the source of sin and evil. In this context, the positive valuing of sexuality and the female body found in symbols of the Sacred Marriage can feel and even be liberating.
Where I live in the northern hemisphere, the wheel of the year is turning inexorably toward Samhain, and my thoughts of course turn toward the ancestors and the Blessed Dead.
Like many other ancient cultures, the Minoans held their ancestors in high regard and honored them in their spiritual practice. But they didn't celebrate Samhain. I'm sure many people in ancient Crete did a little something to honor their ancestors on a regular, perhaps daily basis the way I light a candle on my ancestor altar every evening. But their big ancestor celebration happened at harvest time, which in the Mediterranean occurs in the spring. So...not Samhain.
Birds of all kinds are a common theme throughout Minoan art. We find them in natural settings and in ritual art, and in some very interesting combinations that suggest the Minoans worshiped a Bird Goddess.
In many cases, the artist depicted the birds with naturalistic realism, to the point that we can often identify the specific species. These images include swallows and partridges: