Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

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Minoan Bell Jar Goddesses: All the funny hats

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

When someone says "Minoan" many people immediately think of the snake goddess figurines from Knossos. But there are other goddess figurines from ancient Crete that are just as interesting, maybe more so. Case in point: the Poppy Goddess shown at the top of this post.

She wears a crown with three poppy seed pods that have visibly been scored so the latex will ooze out, part of the process for making opium, which the Minoans appear to have used ritually. Like all the other bell jar goddess figurines (so called because of the shape of their skirts), she has her arms raised in a gesture that looks a lot like the Minoan sacred horns.

All the bell jar goddesses date from very late to post-Minoan times (after the destruction of the Minoan cities, but there were still people living on the island, doing their best to carry on their traditions in spite of chaos and hardship). And they all have striking similarities: Their skirts are wheel-thrown jar shapes and their torsos and heads are hand-sculpted. They all have 3-D breasts. They all have their hands raised in a sort of "sacred horns" gesture." And they're all wearing symbolic headdresses.

Where it gets interesting is the differences. Here's the Poppy Goddess with a few "friends" in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum:

 

Minoan Bell Jar Goddess Figurines

"Museu arqueològic de Creta a Heràkleion, foto feta per J. Ollé el 6 d'agost del 2005" by Jolle~commonswiki is licensed under CC BY 3.0

 

Besides the fact that these are pretty large (there's a woman standing to the left of the display for size comparison), they all have different things on their headdresses. The one on the far left has a pair of birds flanking sacred horns, and her hair is arranged so it looks like a mountain peak viewed through the horns. The figurine next to her has snails on her head. Yes, snails. No, I haven't figured out the spiritual significance of that, but I'm sure there is one (the ancient Minoans, like the modern French, ate snails, so there's that). To the Poppy Goddess' right is a figurine with a bird about to take flight from her head.

Horns and birds seem to be the most common symbols on the bell jar goddess headdresses. Then there's the Poppy Goddess, the one with the snails, and even a few with wriggly snakes on their heads (makes me think of Medusa - maybe the Minoan figurines are a precursor?). If you're aiming to have a look at these in person, most of them are in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete.

These figurines were typically found in shrine settings, so we can be pretty sure the Minoans used them the way we modern Pagans use goddess figurines - as focal points for devotion. But there's another possibility as well, that this pose can be used as an ecstatic body posture. Ecstatic body postures are poses that help to induce altered states of consciousness for spiritual journeying; they're a type of shamanic tool, if you will.

Most of the Minoan ecstatic body postures I've explored have been ones that were used by worshipers, as depicted in the votive figurines people left as offerings at the peak sanctuaries and cave shrines. But my experiences with the bell jar goddess pose suggest to me that it's meant to be used by a priestess, to call down the goddess for trance possession. Raising my arms in that pose in ritual makes it feel like I'm slipping on a garment as the goddess descends, smooth and easy. I think my next set of experiments with this pose might involve making reproductions of some of the headdresses and seeing if I can "tune in" to specific goddesses or aspects that way.

There's a lot of tech, for lack of a better term, that ancient cultures used but that we've lost along the way. The only way to retrieve it is to experiment and see what works - and what doesn't. But we should always keep something in mind: No matter how fun and exciting this experimentation is, its purpose isn't entertainment. It's meant to help us create a closer connection with the divine.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

 

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I'm an artist, writer, and lover of all things ancient and mysterious. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a passion of mine since a fateful art history class introduced me to the frescoes of Knossos back in high school. My first book was published in 2001; one of my most recent works is Labrys and Horns: An Introduction to Modern Minoan Paganism. I've also created a Minoan Tarot deck and a Minoan coloring book. When I'm not busy drawing and writing, you can find me in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

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