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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Does Aphrodite have Minoan connections?

UPDATE: In the time since I originally wrote this post, we've connected with the goddess who could be described as the Minoan counterpart to Aphrodite. We call her Antheia. I've included clarifying notes in square brackets throughout this post to update the information.

I'm regularly asked if there's a counterpart in the Minoan pantheon to some foreign deity or other. It's a game many of us play, trying to make connections and see where beliefs and practices were similar around the ancient world. Even the ancients did it, especially the Greeks and Romans, trying to figure out which of their deities each foreign one was equivalent to.

One of the most common ones I'm asked about is Aphrodite. If you think about it, she is pretty likely to have some kind of Minoan connection: She dates back at least to the Bronze Age, the time the Minoans flourished. Her mythos tells us that she's from Cyprus or Kythera, both islands within the Minoan sphere of influence (Cyprus even had a script that derived from the Minoans' Linear A), places we know they traveled to and traded with. This "early Aphrodite" was probably much more complicated than her later depiction as a shallow sex/love/beauty goddess suggests.

So today I'm going to share some (admittedly rambling) thoughts and ideas about her. None of this is hard evidence, by any stretch, but comparative mythology isn't a hard science anyway. Let's start with Aphrodite's story from Hellenic times and work our way back.

Aphrodite was born from the foam on the water when Uranus' genitals were cast into the sea by Cronos: let's parse this out. First, Uranus' castration by Cronos is the mythological rendering of a later culture overtaking an earlier, established one, just like Zeus' takeover from Cronos is the mythical version of the Indo-Europeans taking over from the earlier non-IE culture (the Titans were the gods of the Pelasgians, the people who lived in Greece before the Indo-Europeans arrived).

So Aphrodite shows up at the juncture where the two layers of mythos intersect, but she's specifically born *fully formed* from the combination of the sea (goddess?) and Uranus' genitals, which sounds very much like a symbolic retelling of deities mating, if you ask me. Though if it's set during an era of one culture conquering another, that mating might not have been consensual on the part of the goddess who belonged to the earlier mythic stratum. Clearly, it wasn't consensual on Cronos's part, either.

But what if this story is a garbled version of Aphrodite's origin tale, one that involves a sea deity and/or a cosmic/star deity being her parents? [UPDATE: In Tribe mythos, we now consider Antheia to be the daughter of both Posidaeja, the Sea Goddess, and Ourania, the Cosmic Goddess, from an era of matrilineal culture when descendance was traced through the mother, not the father.] Or what if she *is* the sea goddess, the pre-Indo-European one? Her continued association with the sea makes me wonder. Is she possibly the Cyprian version of the Minoan sea goddess, the one we call Posidaeja in Ariadne's Tribe? If that's the case, she would have to be from the same mythic stratum as Posidaeja, in other words, the deities of Old Europe, the settlers who came down to the eastern Mediterranean basin from Anatolia in successive waves during Neolithic times, millennia before the Indo-Europeans got there. [Narrator: That was not, in fact, the case. Antheia and Posidaeja turn out to be two distinct goddesses.]

The question is, which layer does she belong to? Cronos is a Titan, so he's part of the Old European mythos, but Uranus (and Gaia and so on) must be even older if they're being overthrown (having a couple of sets of deities hating each other is a good clue about the friction of those deities' cultures). The Greeks considered Uranus and Gaia to be "primal gods" from before the Titans, suggesting a terribly old layer. We know that successive waves of people migrated into Europe from Paleolithic times onward, so having a layer older than the Neolithic population isn't surprising. So it looks like Aphrodite comes from either the old "original" layer of European mythos, or perhaps from the hybrid culture that must have sprung up as new waves of people came in during the Neolithic, bringing their own gods with them.

Aphrodite's cult is usually said to have been profoundly influenced by the worship of Astarte/Ishtar, which was in turn based on the older Sumerian worship of Inanna. But none of these are sea goddesses, and her association with the sea is her most constant characteristic, regardless of anything else, consistent over the millennia. So if she has some connection with Astarte and company, it's probably a later one, added on as her popularity spread and cultures intermingled.

The Greeks paired Aphrodite's parents, Uranus and Gaia, as a primordial couple: cosmos and earth, the sources from which everything else sprang, including the deities. This doesn't compare easily to the Minoan framework in which we find the Earth Mother Goddess Rhea involved: the land/sea/sky triplicity. But we do believe the Minoans had a cosmic or universe deity; we call her Ourania, the feminine counterpart to the Greek Uranus. So we have the same basic components in Minoan mythos, but not in the same setup as the Greek story (and just in case you think I'm not making sense here, I'd like to remind you that the Minoans were not Greek).

Perhaps the original mythical worldview was different for the Neolithic and earlier inhabitants of Anatolia, where the Mediterranean populations such as the Minoans appear to have originally come from. In other words, maybe they started out with earth-and-cosmos as their preliminary mythic backstory, but then it might have changed as the populations migrated into new environments (yes, this often happens with mythos). It would make sense for the people who moved down into the islands to have the land/sea/sky setup, rather than just earth and sky/cosmos, because the sea is such a major element in the Mediterranean landscape. Maybe Aphrodite's birth is a way of talking about how the sea became such a big part of their lives as they settled in their new environment.

So maybe there's a connection between Aphrodite and the Minoans, going back to the ancestors of the people who settled the Mediterranean during the Neolithic. Aphrodite is pretty clearly a sea goddess, and from that it's obvious where her later characteristics come from: water = emotion. Seawater evokes salt tears. Seafood is aphrodisiac (look, there's her name!). And sex involves lots of, erm, fluids.

So our lovely Aphrodite is perhaps a sea goddess, a very ancient one. Certainly the Minoans knew about her. Maybe Aphrodite is a regional name for the greater Minoan sea goddess, or maybe she's a stand-alone who was born in the cultures of those islands in her stories. We may never know for certain what her oldest characteristics were, but connecting with her in ritual and meditation via sea imagery might be a good way to start; seashells have been one of her icons for millennia. I have a few that I think I'll put on my altar and see what happens when I call her name.

Image: Marble statue of Aphrodite, Greco-Roman era, from Gortyna, Crete

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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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