Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

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Happy new year! (No, I haven't lost my mind.)

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

And no, I don’t have a faulty calendar. Let me explain.

The Mediterranean region is lovely: a marvelous sea surrounded by sun-kissed lands all the way around in a huge oval that reaches from the Atlantic to the Levant. But one thing this area doesn’t have is four seasons. Those of us who live in the temperate zones are so used to spring, summer, autumn, and winter that we often forget there are other climates, other seasonal cycles. The Mediterranean has a very interesting set of seasons, and this cycle had a powerful influence on Minoan religion since the island of Crete lies in the middle of the wine-dark sea.

Instead of the ‘standard four’ seasons, Mediterranean climates have essentially two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season, which roughly corresponds with summer in the northern temperate zone,  is the ‘dead time’ of the year around the Mediterranean. It’s searing hot out, there’s no rain at all, and everything turns crispy-brown and, well, dead. The soil dries up, hard and cracked. On Crete, all but the largest rivers dry up and disappear. 

Then autumn comes.

The rains begin again. The plants perk up and turn green. The soil softens and the people plant their crops. Yes, that’s right, in the Mediterranean, autumn is planting time even in the modern day. The crops grow happily through the mild, wet winter and are harvested in the spring. You don’t have to travel to Australia to find backwards seasons!

What this means is that the Autumn Equinox is the agricultural new year in the Mediterranean, in much the same way that Spring Equinox was celebrated as the new year throughout northern Europe for centuries. Until late Minoan times, Autumn Equinox was the new year all around, not just for the farmers. (Towards the end of Minoan civilization, the folks at Knossos may have begun celebrating their new year at Winter Solstice, but that didn’t necessarily spread all over the island – the towns were largely independent of each other.) The autumnal new year probably involved a several-weeks-long holiday season, much as our modern winter holidays lead up to our new year.

You see, it’s likely that the Eleusinian Mysteries – the enactment of the story of Demeter and Persephone – began in ancient Crete. And unlike northern Europe, in the Mediterranean Persephone disappears into the Underworld during the summer and emerges in the autumn, bringing new life with her. The Minoan holiday season probably began with the Feast of Grapes – the grape and olive harvest in late August or early September. Soon after that, the heliacal rise of the stars Arcturus and Spica marked the beginning and end of the ten-day-long Mysteries. And right after that came the Autumn Equinox. So it was quite an exciting time, a big holiday season leading up to the new year.

Now, I live in the southeastern U.S. and for me, Autumn Equinox is Harvest Home, with apples and pumpkins and haystacks. But I find it helpful to remember that the small region where I live isn’t the whole world. And each place has its own geography, its own yearly cycles, its own spirit. The Minoans lived in the Mediterranean, and that seasonal cycle informed their religious practice and their calendar.

And as my first priestess so often reminded me, you can start anew at any time. Just decide to do it.

So if you’re in the southern hemisphere, I wish you a glorious Spring Equinox. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, I wish you Autumn Equinox blessings. And if you live in a Mediterranean climate, or just wish you did, I offer you a happy new year!

In the name of the Bee -

And of the Butterfly -

And of the Breeze - Amen!

Last modified on
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.


  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch Wednesday, 23 September 2015

    It would seem that the old Canaanite New Year was an autumnal festival also, which of course survives in the Jewish calendar's cluster of festivals at this time of year (Rosh ha-Shana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot). If the Children of Asasara were anything like the Children of Ashera, they would have decked their homes with greenery and eaten lots of sympathetically-magical sweets. I wonder if the Minoans knew the New Year as the "head of the year" as well?

    In the only surviving Canaanite language, let me wish you Shana tova u-metuqa: A good year and a sweet one.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Thursday, 24 September 2015

    It's a pretty sure bet that they used greenery decorations as soon as the rains started, but the several-week-long celebratory season begins in late August, when everything is still crispy-dry and brown. Perhaps the people grew plants in their gardens - carefully tended and watered by hand - that they used for the decorations. It's not until late September most years, equinox or after, that the rains are significant enough on Crete for anything to start growing again. I'm not sure how that squares with the beginning of the rainy season in the Levant.

    Libations were prominent in Minoan religion - check out the thousands of rhytons that have been found at Minoan archaeological sites. I'm reminded of the old ritual of the water libation at Sukkot, which is also a festival that celebrates the return of the rains. I suspect many Mediterranean cultures had something similar.

    Shana tova to you as well!

  • Markos Gage
    Markos Gage Thursday, 24 September 2015

    Apologies, but I’m going to call this out. The Hellenic archaic new year is based on the Egyptian calendar of the rising and falling of the Nile, the peak of summer. This period coincides with the peak of Sirius, the Dog Star, and the dog night, where dogs bark on the hottest night of the year. Summer Solstice.
    After that night it was said that the cool winds bring the relief from the heat and marks the new year. So the archaic new year is in summer.
    Over many centuries the new year changed, but even in the Roman period they marked religious festivals based on the summer solstice.
    If we want to regurgitate the now out of date (mis)information of Evans, I’d recommend reading “Dionysos, Archetypal Image of Indestructible Life” by Carl Kerenyi, chapter 11, Light and Honey. In that chapter Kerenyi accurately illustrates the origination of the Hellenic (Minoan) archaic new year, using myth and known natural phenomena as a backup.

  • Markos Gage
    Markos Gage Thursday, 24 September 2015

    Actually the chapter is 2. I misread my Roman numerals :)

  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Friday, 25 September 2015

    The Minoans pre-dated the Hellenes by centuries. Educate yourself.

  • Markos Gage
    Markos Gage Friday, 25 September 2015

    I’m well aware of that, thank you.
    I used Hellenic as a descriptor for the land and associated cultures. I never said the that the people we refer to as Hellenes were contemporaries of Minoans.
    I just pointed out that the archaic new year is after summer solstice.

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