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 not a reconstructionist tradition, but a journey in relationship with Minoan deities in the contemporary world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

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Who were the gods of ancient Crete?

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

The description of my Facebook group Ariadne's Tribe states that Modern Minoan Paganism isn't a reconstructionist tradition. That's true. Reconstructionist traditions use texts from the original culture to figure out what the religion looked like back then, and we don't have any Minoan texts that we can read. Linear A, the script the Minoans used to record their native language, is still untranslated. But we do have something close that has been deciphered: Linear B.

I know, the names of these scripts are maddeningly non-descriptive, but they tell us one thing right up front: Linear A came first, with the Minoans, who were one of the indigenous peoples of Old Europe and who inhabited Crete beginning in Neolithic times. Later, during the Bronze Age, the Mycenaean Greeks (who were an Indo-European people) came down through the Greek peninsula and met up with the Minoans. They learned a lot from the Minoans, including how to write (they were illiterate before contact with the Minoans).

The Mycenaeans took the Linear A script and altered it a bit to fit their own language. This is similar to the process the Preslav Literary School used to convert the Greek alphabet into the Cyrillic script, used for Bulgarian and Russian. We haven't been able to translate Linear A because we don't have enough text to do a decipherment. But we have a lot more Linear B texts - hundreds of tablets, in fact - and in the 1950s, Michael Ventris and John Chadwick were able to decipher it.

Why am I bothering to give you all this background about these writing systems? Because Linear B was first used in the last century or two of Minoan civilization, before the major towns and temple complexes were systematically looted and burned (no, we're not sure who did it, but the Mycenaeans are the prime suspect). In addition to Linear B tablets from mainland Greece, we also have quite a few from Knossos and Chania on Crete. And many of these tablets contain the names of gods and goddesses as well as the titles of priests and priestesses of these deities.

This is one of the ways we can look back in time and see that many of the deities in the Greek pantheon originated in Minoan Crete, as part of a pre-Indo-European pantheon there. We can also see that there was a blending of Minoan and Mycenaean culture and religion for some time before the Minoan cities fell. This explains how the Minoan gods and goddesses were folded into the Greek pantheon. This kind of borrowing is common throughout history and around the world, and as we tease out the layers going back in time, we can figure out where it all started.

Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing the deity names and priesthood titles from the Linear B tablets. But for this first installment, I'd like to leave you with one of the "biggies" from the Linear B tablets found at Knossos: Atana Potnia.

  

Atana Potnia

   

This is probably the earliest reference we have to the goddess Athena, who was known in different parts of Greece by the name of the city she presided over (she was Athena in Athens, Mykene in Mycenae, and Thebe in Thebes). This suggests that, from her earliest times, she was a guardian of cities. The word "potnia" is usually translated as "Mistress" but I prefer the translation "Lady," in much the way modern Wiccans refer to the goddess as the Lady. So this is Lady Atana.

I find it interesting that Plato identified Athena with the Egyptian goddess Neith. One of Neith's symbols is a shield shaped like the number eight. Figure-eight shields are found throughout Minoan art, including this fresco from the Knossos temple complex as well as a number of seal stones:

  

Shield fresco Knossos

  

So there are connections to be made from ancient Crete forward into Greece, and connections we can make with our own spiritual practice in the modern world. It's all a wonderful adventure.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

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Tagged in: Athena Crete Goddess Minoan
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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