The Minoan Path: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, loving goddess of ancient Crete who lives on in the hearts and minds of the modern world. This is not a reconstructionist tradition, but a journey of modern Pagans 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?

To join the discussion of ancient Minoan culture and modern Minoan Paganism, pop on over to our Ariadne's Tribe group on Facebook.

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Laura Perry

Laura Perry

I'm an artist, a writer, and a lover of all things ancient and mysterious. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a particular passion of mine since a fateful art history class introduced me to the frescoes of Knossos many years ago. My first book was published in 2001; my most recent work is Ariadne’s Thread: Awakening the Wonders of the Ancient Minoans in Our Modern Lives. When I'm not busy drawing, writing, and editing, I enjoy gardening and giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

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Minoan Midsummer: Layers of Religion

Religion isn’t a static thing. We don’t invent a religion once and leave it as is for centuries. Cultures change, people change, and spiritual practice changes, too.

Minoan civilization lasted for centuries. Just the “palace” periods, the times when the big temple complexes were being built and rebuilt, lasted about 500 years. Minoan civilization as a whole lasted more than two millennia. And during that time, the spiritual practice in ancient Crete changed and grew.

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The Colors of Minoan Life and Art

The Minoans loved color. The vibrant colors are usually the first thing people notice about Minoan art; the second thing they notice is how natural and realistic much of it is. That naturalism and realism might lead people to wonder about some of the color conventions in Minoan art. So much of Minoan art is realistic, it's kind of jarring when something is the wrong color.

If you have a look at the Bull Leaper fresco at the top of this post, you'll see that the two athletes to the right and left have white skin (not a natural Caucasian peachy color or a natural light tan, but literally white). The central bull leaper is a deep reddish tan, like a bad sunburn. This is due to a set of rules in Minoan art that says women always have white skin and men always have reddish tan skin. If you've ever had a look at Egyptian art, you'll see something similar there: The men always have reddish tan skin and the women always have yellow skin (with a few special exceptions like Osiris, who occasionally appears green because mythology).

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Walking the Labyrinth

When I tell people I follow a Minoan spiritual path, one of the first things they ask about is the labyrinth. Often, all they know about the labyrinth is what they've heard from the Theseus-and-the-Minotaur story. The thing is, the Greeks invented Theseus as a culture hero centuries after Minoan civilization had ceased to exist, so the Minoans never even knew about him. In Theseus' tale, the labyrinth is a deadly maze full of confusing twists and turns, impossible to escape with the help of Ariadne's thread. In reality, the labyrinth is very different from that.

If you have a look at the labyrinth design at the top of this post, you'll see that it has a single path that leads unerringly to the center. Sure, there are twists and turns. These are designed to disorient the person walking the labyrinth so they can enter altered states of consciousness and reach their own inner spiritual understanding. But there's only one way in and the same way back out. This is called a unicursal (one-route) maze. And it's not a tricky trap. It's a spiritual tool.

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Faking History: Minoan Spirituality on the Line

Figuring out ancient people's spiritual practices is hard. Even if we have written records that they've left us, they're not around any more to tell us how to interpret them. And in the case of the ancient Minoans, we can't read what they wrote, so all we have to go on is archaeological finds. And if those archaeological finds aren't genuine, then what we figure out about their spirituality may be wrong as well.

That beautiful ivory-and-gold snake goddess at the top of this post is probably a forgery. A century ago, when Sir Arthur Evans excavated the temple complex at Knossos, the world went "Minoan crazy." Museums clamored for items to display to bring in bigger and bigger crowds, and many unscrupulous folks were more than happy to oblige. This one's probably a forgery, too, based on carbon-14 dating:

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A toast to the Minoans!

It can be hard to figure out what kinds of rituals and traditions people of the past had, especially if we don't have any written records of them. But sometimes art can help. The image at the top of this post is part of the Camp Stool fresco from Knossos, the largest of the ancient Minoan cities. It shows a banqueting scene that includes ritual toasting, a common activity in many societies from that time. Here's a reconstruction of the whole fresco, with two rows of people participating in toasts and possibly libations (poured offerings) as well:

  

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How history changes: The Minoans and their neighbors

History changes, I'm telling you. OK, the things that actually happened way-back-when don't really change, but our interpretation of them sure does. It's amazing how much our understanding of ancient Minoan culture has changed in the century or so since Sir Arthur Evans first uncovered the ruins of the temple complex at Knossos.

For instance, Evans was caught up in the ancient Egypt craze that had been bubbling along for decades as early archaeologists began uncovering Egyptian artifacts and translating Egyptian hieroglyphic texts. He considered Egypt to be the high civilization of the ancient world. So when he discovered that the Minoans - who flourished at about the same time as Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt - had complex architecture, paved roads, enclosed sewers, and other markers of a 'proper' civilized society, he assumed they had borrowed it all wholesale from Egypt.

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Sealed with a ... seal

When I was a kid my mom used to write my name in permanent marker on the tag inside my jacket so everyone would know it was mine. We monogram pillowcases and purses; we register the serial numbers of electronics with the manufacturer. We sign deeds to homes and titles to cars. There are many, many ways to identify things as 'ours' these days, but have you noticed that they all involve writing?

In ancient Crete, most people couldn't write. Sure, they had a writing system, the famous-but-still-undeciphered Linear A (and a hieroglyphic script to go along with it, also still undeciphered). But as was common in the ancient world, only the scribes and perhaps a few wealthy people knew how to write. Writing simply wasn't necessary for most people in their daily lives. But it was necessary for the big temple complexes - they had to keep track of all the donations people made, how much each plot of farmland and orchard produced every year, and so on. So they wrote things down on clay tablets and probably also on papyrus as well, though none of the perishable papyrus has survived as far as we know (I'm still hoping for a secret cache in a sealed jar somewhere). But the Minoans also did the ancient version of writing your name on your jacket tag: They used seals.

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