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The Minoan Threefold Goddess: The Great Mothers

The Triple Goddess is a major component of modern Paganism, but the Maiden-Mother-Crone triplicity doesn't appear in ancient Crete. The closest we can come to that kind of "life phases" division is a Younger and Elder Goddess, exemplified by Rhea (the Great Mother) and Ariadne (the daughter). This mother-daughter duo is the possible origin of the Eleusinian Mysteries, whose sacred pair of Demeter and Persephone are well known in the modern Pagan world (check out Charlene Spretnak's inspired book Lost Goddesses of Early Greece for more on this subject). I like to think of this twofold goddess as Maiden and Matriarch, the two stages of womanhood in a society in which women's ability to birth children for men wasn't their primary function in life.

But there is a Minoan triplicity associated with the Goddess. It doesn't have to do with the life stages and fertility functions of women, but with the world around us and how the Sacred Feminine manifests in it. It's the ancient threefold division of Land/Sea/Sky. This triplicity unfolds around each and every one of us every day of our lives.

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More Than Meets the Eye: The Minoan Goddess Amalthea

When I talk about Minoan spirituality, people tend to recognize the names Ariadne and Dionysus, and maybe Rhea and Minos as well. But there's one that often leaves them shaking their heads: Amalthea. I actually had someone ask me one day if Amalthea was one of the characters from Game of Thrones. Um, no. LOL

Amalthea is a Minoan goddess who, like Ariadne and the others, was absorbed into later Greek myth as something less than divine (FYI the Minoans weren't Greek). But I promise you, she was originally a full-fledged goddess and not just a goat-herding foster mother of Zeus. In fact, you'll note that Zeus is a Greek god, not a Minoan one. Like the Romans, the Greeks enjoyed equating foreign deities with their own, both as a way to understand other pantheons and as a handy method for taking over those cultures and absorbing them. So when the Greeks say that Amalthea was the foster mother of "Cretan Zeus," they're talking about Dionysus, the Minoan god who is born in his mother Rhea's cave at the Winter Solstice. And Amalthea plays a role in that story.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    I haven't heard of Liny Srinivasan before, but I see that he has a page on academia.edu where he has posted some of his papers, so
  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    I'm slowly making my way through "Crete to Egypt: Missing Links of the Rig Veda" by Dr. Liny Srinivasan. The author's premise is

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs

It's been a busy month for the Third Wave Witch. I've been adjusting to having more structure in my life than I've had in more than a decade. With the (exciting, wonderful) new job has come the need to adapt to an actual schedule -- with a wake up time, a "get to work" time, and a "quitting" time -- as well as to make the internal adjustments that go along with not being quite as much of a free agent as I've been for the last few years. I've been very used to having near-total control over my own time, to following my whims throughout the day, to doing what I feel like doing at any given moment. (Essentially, I've lived much like a large housecat, but with opposable thumbs and a bank account.) In some ways it's been a process of taming myself. It's a strange feeling. I enjoy my job (and the financial freedom and career advancement it will provide). I am doing work I believe in, on a campus that is incredibly supportive and diverse. I even get to read more, now that I have a train commute each day. And I've also chafed at times, trying to find the sweet spot between structure and freedom.

Freedom has always been one of my core desired feelings, to borrow a phrase from the wonderful Danielle LaPorte. This desire for freedom is what kept me self-employed (and under-employed) for much of the last decade, caught on the adjunct treadmill. My only real experience with full time corporate work had been so negative and scarring that I wasn't willing to go back there. But over the last year it became clear that while I had much control over my time, the poverty wages I was earning as an adjunct actively hindered my freedom. A long and heartfelt conversation with my partner encouraged me to rethink what it mean for me to have freedom, to be free. 

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
The Many Faces of Minoan Dionysos

Most people are familiar with Dionysos as a vegetation god. In fact, that’s how he started life (so to speak) among humans, dying each year at the time of the grape harvest. In the Mediterranean, where Crete is located, that happens most years in late August or early September. So in many ways Dionysos is similar to the other dying-and-reborn vegetation gods we’re familiar with from the Near East, Europe and other regions. But as so often happens, cultures change over time, inventing or importing new ideas and layering them onto what’s already there. Something like that happened with Dionysos in ancient Crete.

Before we get to his details, though, let me explain a bit about how the Minoan pantheon works. Rather than having a particular slot in a human-style family tree, the Minoan gods and goddesses unfold out of each other in a multi-faceted fashion. In a way, all the deities within the Minoan pantheon can be considered reflections or facets of the Great Mother Goddess Rhea. But for practical purposes, they behave as individual deities with their own personalities and qualities. This henotheistic setup can make it difficult to tease out exactly which aspects go with which deity name, and to sort out whether two different names belong to two different gods or a single one. In addition, as Minoan society changed over time, more layers were added onto those already-complicated facets, and some of the deity names only come down to us in later forms, from languages and cultures foreign to the Minoans. I’ll do my best to untangle some of the bits about Dionysos today. I’ve worked with him for a long time and as far as I can tell, these aspects of him manage to work well together in spite of their apparent differences.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
What's in a name?

One of the issues we face when reviving ancient spiritual practices is that we often don’t know exactly what the original people called their gods and goddesses. In the case of the Minoans, we don’t even know what language they spoke, and their deity names have come down to us only through the Greeks. Today I’m going to toss out some thoughts about some of the god and goddess names from ancient Crete. Maybe, if we put enough ideas into the pot, we can brew up some useful bits for modern Minoan Paganism. Let’s start with Rhea, the Minoan Earth Mother goddess.

First of all, there is no generally-accepted etymology for the name Rhea. It may be the Greek interpolation of the native Minoan name for their Earth Mother goddess. The Greeks often attempted to transliterate the names of foreign deities into their own language, but as so often happens in this kind of situation, the pronunciation changes to feel more comfortable to the speakers. Through this process we ended up with the Greek name  Isis for the Egyptian Aset and Greek Osiris for Egyptian Ausar. The Greeks said Rhea was the Mother Goddess of Crete; even among the Olympians, she was still considered Cretan. I’ve always felt that her name, however it was originally pronounced, was the word the Minoans used for the island of Crete, which was the embodiment of their goddess.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Thesseli
    Thesseli says #
    I truly hope that someday Linear A will be translated.
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    I hope so, too. The biggest obstacle right now is that the amount of Linear A text we have is really too small to do any kind of d

Posted by on in Paths Blogs
The Milk of Human (and Divine) Kindness

We hear a lot about libations in various Pagan traditions. A libation is simply an offering of a liquid, poured out in either a casual or formal ritual setting. A casual example would be the nights my friends and family gather around the fire out in our orchard to celebrate the seasons. Once the fire is lit, I pour out the first bit of my drink (usually homemade mead) in thanks to the spirits of the land, my ancestors and the divine in general. A more formal example might be the pouring out of wine onto the ground or into a bowl during a Wiccan Sabbat ceremony as an offering to the Lord and Lady.

The word ‘libation’ often conjures up the image of an alcoholic beverage being offered – wine, mead, even beer in some contexts. But any liquid can be used for libations. I offer water to the land spirits where I live every morning. It is, after all, the liquid that is the base of life on Earth. We can be pretty sure the ancient Minoans offered wine and perhaps beer as well, in keeping with the spiritual and cultural traditions of the ancient world. But I think they also offered milk. Yes, you read that right. Milk.

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Topless Minoan Women: Not What You Think

The modern Pagan world is awash in womb symbolism and I can’t say I mind. After all, the feminine side of the Divine has been almost entirely ignored by the major religions of the past few centuries. OK, millennia. But the ancients didn’t always focus on the womb as the central symbol of the feminine, either divine or mundane. Take, for instance, the Minoans and their reverence for the breast.

You’re probably familiar with the frescos and figurines from ancient Crete that depict well-endowed women in open-front tops that display their breasts for all to see. We may feel that the exposed breasts found throughout ancient Minoan art are provocative but the Minoans probably didn’t feel that way. Just as the Victorians found women’s legs to be terribly sexy simply because they were normally covered and hidden, we respond the same way to women’s breasts. But in Minoan society women frequently went topless, just as men did, so that would have been an ordinary sight, and of course ancient women nursed their babies so that would have been common and not provocative or controversial either. It would not have been sexy so much as normal. But when the priestesses of ancient Crete bared their breasts in a ritual setting, that had deeper meaning as well.

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