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. Modern Minoan Paganism is not a purely 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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Ariadne was just a girl and other urban legends of antiquity

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

We like to think of the gods as having always existed, time out of mind. In one sense they are timeless, of course, but in another sense they are closely linked to the cultures and societies of specific eras. It’s important to know when each deity ‘showed up’ and in what culture they did so, in order to understand which versions of the myths are the original ones and which are later alterations.

That’s right, later cultures came along and changed the earlier versions of myths, in most cases because they were taking over a society and wanted to downplay or even demonize its deities in favor of their own. You may be familiar with the way the writers of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) depicted Asherah, Ba’al and other Middle Eastern deities as evil demons. You may also have heard about the ways the medieval Christian church condemned the European Pagan gods as evil spirits in the cases where they couldn’t manage to transform them into local saints. Well, these kinds of propaganda weren’t invented by the Judeo-Christian world; they’ve been going on as long as there have been people and pantheons.

This issue is especially important if you’re interested in Minoan spirituality, because most people’s information about the Minoan deities comes from later Hellenic Greek sources. That’s like getting your information about the Middle Eastern Pagan deities from the Bible. So I thought I’d tease out some of these stories and separate the later Greek disinfo campaign from the original Minoan myths.

I recently posted about the time differential between the classical Greeks and the Minoans. It’s easy to conflate all the ancient civilizations into a single mental category that just says ‘a long time ago.’ But they didn’t all happen at the same time, and in particular, the Hellenic Greeks came along centuries – almost a millennium – after the height of Minoan culture. And they did a bit of rewriting of the Minoan mythology in order to suit their own purposes.

Let’s start with the Theseus-and-Ariadne myth – you know, the one where Theseus is a great hero who travels to Crete and defeats the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne, who is essentially just a girl with a ball of string. Theseus is a Greek culture hero, invented as a tool for adapting Ariadne’s mythology to Greek values. He is not Minoan; he did not exist in Minoan times. To the Minoans, Ariadne was a powerful goddess in her own right who traveled to the Underworld and was, among other things, a conductor of souls and a guide for shamanic activity. Her Labyrinth is the path to your Inner Self and the Underworld.

And that horrible monster, the Minotaur? He’s the Bull-God who represents Ariadne’s consort when she takes on her guise as the nurturing and life-sustaining Moon-Cow, a goddess the Greeks later called Pasiphae or Europa. The Minoans revered the Minotaur; they didn’t hate or fear him. And no, in ancient Crete Zeus didn’t abduct and rape the Moon-Cow, either…that’s also a Greek rewriting of the story, to put the goddess in her ‘proper place’ of submission. To the Minoans, the goddess was always a willing and equal partner in her relationship with the god.

Speaking of Zeus…the Hellenic Greeks said Zeus was the deity born in the Psychro Cave on Mt. Dikte in Crete. Much like the Romans who followed after them, when the Greeks encountered foreign pantheons they often examined each deity and equated it with one of theirs. So when they saw Dionysos as the most prominent god in the Minoan pantheon, they equated him with Zeus and inserted Zeus into the tale of Dionysos’ birth from Rhea in her sacred cave. Though to the Minoans the concept of Dionysos hiding in the cave was meant to describe the sun’s ‘hiding’ during the dark part of the year surrounding the Winter Solstice (among other things), the Greeks used this plot point for their own purposes and said that Rhea had to hide Zeus there so Zeus’ father, Cronos, wouldn’t kill him as he had done with all his other children. So to be clear: Zeus is Greek, not Minoan. And he is not the same as Zagreus, which is one of Dionysos’ names in his shamanic/Underworld aspect.

Are you confused yet? The Greeks wanted you to be. They wanted you to think that all these deities came from them and not from a prior civilization that was possibly more advanced (at the very least, more egalitarian and peaceful) than the Greeks.

I just mentioned Rhea in the story of Dionysos; she was the Minoans’ Great Mother Goddess. To them she represented the Earth itself – specifically, the island of Crete. Each culture in the ancient world had its own Earth Mother goddess that symbolized the land that culture lived on. Rhea fulfilled that role for the Minoans. When the Greeks came along many centuries later, they had their own Earth Mother goddess – Gaia – who represented mainland Greece. Now, they couldn’t have someone else’s Great Mother competing with theirs, so they wedged Rhea into their pantheon and demoted her to the position of Gaia’s daughter or granddaughter, depending on which version of the story you read.

It’s hard to tell exactly how many of the Minoan deities the Greeks imported into their pantheon and altered for their purposes, in part because we don’t know all the names of the Minoan goddesses and gods in their original forms. It’s likely that Aphrodite is an outgrowth of one of Ariadne’s aspects, possibly in combination with some of the characteristics of a Near Eastern goddess. Poseidon probably comes from Posidaeja, the Minoans’ Grandmother Ocean goddess. Eileithyia, the Minoans’ midwife-goddess who safeguarded all women during childbirth, shows up in the Greek pantheon as a bitter old woman who helps ‘good girls’ (submissive, modest, quiet, all the usual chauvinistic characteristics) but punishes ‘bad girls’ (those who dare to speak for themselves and tend to their own needs) with difficult labor.

No, the Greeks were not evil, though I can’t say I would have enjoyed living in their culture. They simply did what every conquering culture has done throughout time – reworked the conquered culture’s mythology to suit their own purposes. So if we’re interested in Minoan spirituality, we have to tease out what was there before the Greeks came onto the scene. Then we can connect with the goddesses and gods of ancient Crete and give them the reverence they’re due.

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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 particular 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, I enjoy gardening and giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

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