Ariadne's Tribe: Minoan Spirituality for the Modern World

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan family of deities. Ariadne's Tribe is an independent spiritual tradition that brings the deities 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?

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Ariadne's Tribe Family of Deities: The Horned Ones

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

This is one in a series about the deities in our pantheon. You can find the full list of posts in this series here.

Today we're going to focus on the Horned Ones: the Minoan gods and goddesses who take the form of horned animals - cattle, goats, and deer - and where we can find them in Minoan art. They come in god/goddess pairs: the Minotaur and Europa, the Minocapros and Amalthea, the Minelathos and Britomartis.

Let's start with the bovine Horned Ones: the Minotaur and Europa. Believe it or not, there aren't any images that we modern folx would easily recognize as the Minotaur until very late in Minoan times. We don't know whether that's because the Minotaur wasn't pictured as a half-man-half-bull creature earlier on, or because his image was considered too sacred to commit to art, or some other reason. But since we modern Pagans tend to think of the Minotaur as a bull-headed man, those are the images in Minoan art that point to the Minotaur for us. Images of actual bulls (no half-man-half-bull stuff) point to Tauros Asterion instead of the Minotaur.

So, for instance, there's a fascinating Minoan seal stone that shows a bull-headed man. You can find photos of the actual seal stone here. There are similar seals showing bull-headed human figures writhing or dancing, sometimes with other objects such as crotala (percussion instruments) and what may be a drop spindle. There are also a few odd ones that show a male human body with two bull heads. Dance ethnography research suggests that these seals depict a trance cult in which the participants shape-shifted into the animal deities.

The way we view the horned goddesses in Minoan art is a little different from the horned gods. Though the myths and popular culture point to animal-headed human figures for the gods, the myths tell a different story about the horned goddesses. In the fragments of the tales that made it through the Bronze Age collapse and down into classical times, we see the goddesses changing back and forth from fully human to fully animal - no half-and-half thing going on. So that's how we look for them in Minoan art.

So, for instance, we might see Europa (or her double/twin Pasiphaë) in this lovely faience plaque from Knossos that depicts a cow with a suckling calf:

Faience plaque from Knossos, cow suckling calf

Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Notice that this cow has long, curving horns. She's not a bull, yet many modern folx automatically assume that a bovine critter with horns must be a bull. It turns out, removing the horns from cattle is a modern thing. In the ancient world, you have to look for other clues to tell whether you're looking at a bull or a cow, since they all had horns. Here, the suckling calf tells us all we need to know.

What about the other Horned Ones? For the Minocapros, we can look to some seal stones that show half-man-half-goat beings, like this one who is writhing or dancing - those are crotala (clackers, a percussion instrument) next to him. Or this two-headed one, similar to the two-headed Minotaur image I linked above. Again, these probably represent a trance cult in which shape-shifting was a major part of the action.

And again, when we look to the goddess of the pair, we find Amalthea in either pure animal or pure human form. For instance, we have this lovely faience plaque from Knossos, probably part of a set with the cow one above:

Faience plaque from Knossos, goat with kids

Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Here, this mama goat is suckling one kid while another one plays in front of her. What wild horns she has!

And again with the Minelathos, we find seal stones depicting half-man-half-stag figures. This one shows such a figure writhing or dancing, with some kind of branches or leaves as part of the design. This might have been a plant or tree that was sacred to the Minelathos, or it might have been an herb that was used in the trance process. Another one shows a pair of half-human-half-stag figures, once again in the twisted pose that suggests writhing or dancing.

The Minelathos' goddess counterpart is Britomartis - the doe to his stag. We also know her by the epithet Diktynna, a name that associates her with Rhea's sacred mountain, Mt. Dikte. We can look for her in Minoan art in images like we see above, with female horned animals suckling their young. So this bead seal image fits the bill nicely. It's a fallow deer suckling a fawn:

Amethyst bead seal fallow deer suckling fawn
Image Public Domain from Arthur Evans' Palace of Minos, Vol. IV, Part II, Fig. 521

But there's another aspect to Britomartis that doesn't really have a parallel for Amalthea or Europa: the Huntress. This might be because deer are wild animals while cattle and goats are domesticated. Regardless, we can find Britomartis in images like this bead seal:

Gold bead seal from Thisbe
Image Public Domain from Arthur Evans' Palace of Minos, Vol. IV, Part II, Fig. 561

So keep a lookout for the Horned Ones in Minoan art.

In the name of the bee,
And of the butterfly,
And of the breeze, amen!

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Laura Perry is a priestess and creator who works magic with words, paint, ink, music, textiles, and herbs. She's the founder and Temple Mom of Ariadne's Tribe, an inclusive Minoan spiritual tradition. 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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