Birds of all kinds are a common theme throughout Minoan art. We find them in natural settings and in ritual art, and in some very interesting combinations that suggest the Minoans worshiped a Bird Goddess.

In many cases, the artist depicted the birds with naturalistic realism, to the point that we can often identify the specific species. These images include swallows and partridges:


Realistic Birds in Minoan Art


There are many other birds that aren't shown in natural settings, but in the context of rituals and sacred settings. Here, for instance, birds are sitting on top of the labryses in a funeral rite depicted on the Hagia Triada sarcophagus.


Hagia Triada sarcophagus detail


And these lovely birds (doves, I think) are perched on top of columns in a similar way:


Doves on Pillars


In addition to these realistic-looking birds, the Minoans produced some very imaginative ones. For centuries on the island of Thera (modern name: Santorini), in the Minoan-colony city of Akrotiri and nearby, artisans produced jugs and pitchers that had eyes painted on them so the spouts became beaks and the jugs became birds:


Bird shaped jugs from Thera


This combination of bird imagery with a vessel from which liquids are poured is interesting, especially since libations were such a big part of Minoan spiritual practice. In ancient Crete, libation pitchers often included breast symbolism, suggesting a connection with the Mother Goddess and her ability to nurture and nourish her children. That makes this particular rhyton all the more interesting, since it has both wings and a beaked face but also breasts from which the liquid pours:

Breast rhyton with bird characteristics


This suggests to me that the Bird Goddess was connected with the Mother Goddess, perhaps an aspect of her in some way. This bowl from Phaistos and its matching offering stand show female figures with bird beaks, so once again we have the human-plus-bird iconography:


Bird goddesses on bowl from Phaistos


Who was this Bird Goddess? What was her name? How did the Minoans worship her? These are questions we may never be able to satisfactorily answer, but we can certainly explore these images and do our best to connect with her through meditations and spirit journeys. We can't go back in time but I'm pretty sure the gods can come forward with us. How will you seek the Minoan Bird Goddess and what will she tell you when you find her?

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.