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?

Find out all about Modern Minoan Paganism on our website: https://ariadnestribe.wordpress.com/. We're a welcoming tradition, open to all who share our love for the Minoan deities and respect for our fellow human beings.

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Ancient Crete Was No Utopia

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

One of the dangers of having an ancient civilization as the focus of our spirituality is the tendency to view that culture through rose-colored glasses. That’s especially tempting when it comes to ancient Crete and the Minoan civilization that flourished there during the Bronze Age.

There are so many positive aspects of Minoan culture: Women had high status, and the Goddess was revered. Minoan cities and towns had paved streets, enclosed sewers, and flush toilets. The Minoans appear not to have had any sort of military, choosing instead to invest all their energy and wealth into what was probably the largest merchant fleet in the Mediterranean at the time, so their society was prosperous and relatively peaceful.

The temples appear to have been sources not only of local government and religious leadership, but also of food security. The temples kept huge food stores on hand. They put on large communal feasts for the local community, and it's likely they provided grain and other food staples to the people to ensure that no one went hungry.

So yes, there are plenty of good things to think about, positive lessons we can learn from the Minoans and apply to our modern lives and spiritual practice.

But there are some not-so-great things, too. For instance, like the other Bronze Age cultures around the Mediterranean, it's probable that the Minoans owned slaves. We know for certain that the Mycenaeans owned slaves; they’re listed in the Linear B tablets as gifts to the temples – human beings donated as offerings from their owners.

It's possible that, alone among the cultures of the region, the Minoans chose not to own slaves, but we can't be sure. Being a non-slave-owning people would have set the Minoans apart from other societies of their time in a profound way. Since we don't hear even a peep about such a thing in the fragmentary myth and legend from later times, we have to at least consider the possibility that the Minoans had slaves.

Though the Minoans appear to have had a far greater degree of gender equality than other Bronze Age cultures in the area, they were not a fully egalitarian society. They had socioeconomic classes, and the Minoan cities show clear evidence of both very poor and very wealthy people. The Minoans didn't start out that way, but the divide became greater over time, until a huge gap between the wealthiest and poorest people developed.

Another thing: The Minoans didn't have a military and appear not to have gone to war at any point, though they probably had a merchant marine or something similar to help protect their trading fleet. But they weren't totally separate from the armed conflicts of the day. In fact, they made a good portion of their wealth by selling bronze blades: swords, daggers, spearheads, and so on. They sold to everyone all around the Mediterranean, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and probably further afield as well. So they traded in weapons, even if they didn't use them in an organized military fashion themselves.

People like to think of Minoan society as completely peaceful and non-violent by modern standards, but this is far from the truth.

Animal sacrifice played a major role in Minoan religion, as evidenced by the many examples of it in the art from ancient Crete. The blood from the slaughtered animals was caught in special containers and used for ceremonial purposes (we’re not sure exactly how it was used, but blessing people, objects, and fields is an educated guess). So this was not a bloodless society, not by a long shot, though it was totally normal for their time period. That's something to keep in mind: the Bronze Age mindset was different from our modern worldview, so we shouldn't judge them too harshly.

There’s also some evidence that the Minoans practiced human sacrifice. This is an even more contentious subject than animal sacrifice. It crosses more boundaries and pushes more buttons for modern people, and we would love to believe that our ancestors never did such a thing. There are a handful of archaeological sites with evidence that may or may not show human sacrifice (Anemospilia is the most well-known of these). But these are far from definitive, and they appear to show isolated incidents that occurred during times of natural disaster.

What’s more likely is that certain types of human sacrifice were a regular part of the Minoan religious scene. Tantalizing bits of Minoan mythos have floated down to us via the Greeks and Romans, suggesting that at Knossos (and probably the other temple complexes as well) a priest played the role of the god-king, allowing himself to be sacrificed at the end of an eight-year reign in a reenactment of the myth of the dying-and-reborn god. He would then have been replaced by another priest who reigned for the following eight years.

It’s tempting to write this off as some sort of classical-era PR campaign against the Minoans, or perhaps a garbled remnant of a myth that we’ve accidentally taken too literally. I thought that for years, until I began dredging up past life memories from ancient Crete. Then I began talking with other people who also had memories and visions from that time and place.

When it’s just one person, even if that person is me, I certainly question the accuracy of the dreaded Unverified Personal Gnosis. But when dozens of people report the very same thing, it goes from being UPG to being something called Multiply Corroborated Gnosis (MCG) or shared gnosis, a method the Norse Pagan community has used to great effect to tease out bits of their spiritual practice that can’t be found in the texts or the archaeological record.

And for ancient Crete, what MCG says is that the Minoans did practice human sacrifice for at least part of their history. It’s horrific, it’s heart-rending, but it’s there, and we should be honest and face it since there does appear to be something to it. The priest-kings gave their lives presumably because they believed in what they were doing. We have some MCG evidence suggesting that the priesthood, both men and women, were also sacrificed after performing certain kinds of special divination, as well as some priestesses committing ritual suicide at the end of their term of rule over a temple complex.

From our modern perspective, this is profoundly unsettling. We want to be able to look up to the Minoans, to hold them in high regard because they had such a deep and powerful spirituality that it reverberates right through the centuries down to us. But it’s never that simple. Every culture, every spirituality is complex, full of layers we have to tease out one by one. And the Minoans had their own worldview in which all the things they did were acceptable to them. We can't really understand their mindset from four millennia away, but we can do our best to accept them as they were.

We’ll probably never understand the mindset that drove the Minoans to make the choices they did. We don’t live in their world. But we can believe they made their choices based on what they thought to be right and true, even if those values differ from ours.

What choices will we make in our modern world based on what we believe to be right and true?

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

 

And of the breeze, amen.

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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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