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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Crete

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Bulldozing History

Modern Minoan Paganism harks back to the Minoan civilization of ancient Crete: its beautiful towns, its sprawling temple complexes, its sacred caves and mountaintops. We know about the ancient Minoans - the way they lived, worked, and worshiped - because of a century's worth of efforts by archaeologists to uncover the remains of this fascinating ancient culture.

But sometimes these irreplaceable traces of ancient civilization are endangered by the modern desire for profit. A luxury holiday resort development that was turned down by the Greek government in 2011 has now received approval and will soon begin construction in Cavo Sidero, the beautiful wild peninsula on the northeastern coast of Crete. I understand the reasoning: The Greek economy is still in dire straits and anything that will bring in tourist income looks like a saving grace.

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Snakes! Why did it have to be snakes?

When I mention the Minoans of ancient Crete, the first thing that comes to mind for many people is the famous Snake Goddess statues. For us modern folks, they are icons of this ancient civilization. But what, exactly, do they represent? If we're really honest, the answer to that question is, "We're not sure."

There are many theories, of course. I think that falls under the rubric of "Everyone has an opinion." But we simply don't know for sure because we don't have any Minoan-era documents that tell us anything about these figurines. Linear A, the script the ancient Minoans used to write their native language, has never been deciphered. And the few documents we have that are written in Linear B, the script that records Mycenaean Greek from the time toward the end of Minoan civilization, don't say anything about snakes.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • tehomet
    tehomet says #
    I was lucky enough to visit Crete, many years ago. I got chatting to a local guy and he mentioned that the one thing he knew about
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    Wow, how interesting! So the reverence for snakes has come all the way down to the present day, even if it doesn't look quite the
Minoan Ecstatic Postures: Saluting the Sacred

If you participate in ritual, you're probably familiar with the idea of sacred postures. Many modern Pagan traditions include gestures such as the "Osiris pose" (arms crossed over the chest with hands on the shoulders) or the "Goddess pose" (arms raised to the sides with hands up and palms facing forward). Ancient religions included sacred postures as well. One of the most famous is the Minoan salute, shown above, with the right arm raised and the loosely-curled fist placed with the back of the hand against the forehead (all images in this post are from Wikimedia Commons).

Those of us who practice modern Minoan Paganism have worked extensively with the Minoan salute. Like other sacred postures, if held for a while, it will induce a gently altered state of consciousness. Belinda Gore and the folks at the Cuyamungue Institute in New Mexico have studied the effects and uses of ecstatic postures for years; I reviewed Belinda Gore's excellent book on ecstatic postures a while back. It turns out, the use of ritual postures goes back to the Stone Age and each one induces an altered state with a slightly different focus. And the Minoans had a whole collection of postures they used, not just the famous salute. Over in Ariadne's Tribe, we've been experimenting with these postures for a while and sharing our experiences so we can have an experiential window into ancient Minoan spirituality.

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Grandmother Ocean: constant inspiration

The ancient Minoans revered the sea, and that makes perfect sense. After all, they lived on an island just south of Greece. Granted, it's a fairly large one as islands go: about 260 km (160 miles) long and 60 km (37 miles) wide. Still, the weather on Crete has always been mediated by the sea. And the Minoans plied their trade, becoming the wealthiest merchants of their time, by sailing large ships around the Mediterranean and even out the Straits of Gibraltar, up the Atlantic coast of Europe.

We've come to call the Minoan sea goddess Posidaeja, the feminine name that's the probable precursor to the god-name Poseidon. The island of Crete rises up out of the water, born from the sea if you will. Its weather and all the life on the island are directly influenced by the Mediterranean that surrounds it. You can tell how important the sea was to the Minoans from its presence in their art and their sacred spaces; seashells abound on Minoan altars and shrine shelves.

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What's the big deal about bronze?

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.

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Are those things really horns?

While the labrys (the double-bladed axe) is certainly iconic of Minoan civilization, so is another symbol-cum-ritual-object: the sacred horns. (See the image at the top of this blog post.) Found on the rooftops of the temple complexes and peak sanctuaries of ancient Crete as well as in the frescoes and other art, this unique symbol was christened the Horns of Consecration by Sir Arthur Evans a century ago. But are they really horns? And even if they are, what do they stand for and how were they used?

Over in Ariadne’s Tribe, we’ve been discussing this issue for quite a while. One issue we’ve noticed is that the sacred horns don’t look at all like real cow or bull horns.

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Minoan Cosmetics: Do It Yourself!

Many people in the ancient world used cosmetics: lotions, oils, and creams to moisturize the skin; perfumed oils for their scent; and color cosmetics (makeup) for lips, cheeks, and eyes. You’ve probably seen the colorful images of the ancient Egyptians with their black eyeliner, and they weren’t alone in wanting a little personal adornment. The Minoans were no different. Residues found in containers from a number of ancient sites in Crete give us an intimate look into the personal habits of the Minoans and can allow us to make our own cosmetics in very much the same way as they did.

If you have a chance to visit one of the museums that house Minoan artifacts, you’ll find a number of pottery and stone cosmetics containers listed as containing residues. These include the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno in Crete; the British Museum; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There are probably others as well. So let’s get on with the details and recipes, shall we?

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