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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Faking History: Minoan Spirituality on the Line

Figuring out ancient people's spiritual practices is hard. Even if we have written records that have survived the centuries, the people who wrote them aren't around any more to tell us how to interpret them.

In the case of the ancient Minoans, we can't read what they wrote in Linear A, so all we have to go on is archaeological finds. And if those archaeological finds aren't genuine, then what we figure out about Minoan 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:


Minoan ivory snake goddess


In the early 20th century, hundreds of fake Minoan artifacts circulated among museums and private collections. Sir Arthur Evans ran a business in his workshops on Crete, creating copies of genuine Minoan artifacts as well as forged ones created from scratch.

He did this partly because there was huge demand for Minoan antiquities of all sorts, and both individuals and museums were willing to pay the going rate for them. Of course, he also took the opportunity to have his artists create fake artifacts that would support his theory that the Minoans were monotheists who worshiped a single Great Goddess (spoiler: like everyone else in the Bronze Age, the Minoans were polytheists).

The problem is, all these fakes make it difficult to reconstruct exactly what a real Minoan shrine might have looked like - what the people actually put on the altars in their homes, in the cave and peak sanctuaries, and the temples. Since we don't have written records from the Minoans, we have to build up a picture of their religion from the artifacts, and that means sifting out the fakes, which can be incredibly difficult.

The snake goddess is iconic of Minoan civilization, but did you know that these are two of only four or five snake goddess figurines we can be sure are genuine?


Minoan snake goddesses at Iraklion Museum


We know these are the real thing because we know where they came from, what layer of the ruins at Knossos they were dug up from. That's called provenance - the record of where an item is from. A lot of forgeries have stories like "a local kid found it while playing in the ruins" or something of that sort, if they have any kind of background at all.

Even knowing the two snake goddess figurines above are genuine, we can't be sure how they were used. Maybe they were part of a formal ritual and cult practice in the temple complex where they were found. Or maybe they were personal items, owned by a priestess or a scribe or even one of the temple artisans.

Many of us in Ariadne's Tribe use them to represent Ariadne or the Serpent Mother, two of the goddesses in our pantheon. That has meaning for us in the contemporary world, but we can't honestly say we're sure that's how they were used four millennia ago.

All we know is that they were used by the Minoans in one way or another, and maybe one day we'll find more ritual objects - or maybe translate Linear A - so we can better understand their original meaning and use.

I said there were a lot of forgeries floating around in the early 20th century, but the problem hasn't gone away. Many of the early fakes are still around in private collections, or even being auctioned off at Christie's (I feel sorry for whoever forked over $8000+ for this piece - I hope it was worth it to them).

Most private owners can't afford expensive scientific dating procedures like carbon-14 for organic materials like ivory and rehydroxylation dating for ceramics. And there isn't any kind of accurate dating method for metals like bronze, so those are still totally up for speculation.

So the one from Christie's that I linked above and this probable forgery that's currently in the Walters Art Museum can't be dated, at least not with currently available technology:


Bronze snake goddess


It's hard enough trying to reconstruct spiritual practices from three or four thousand years ago without having to become an expert in archaeological forgeries.

The general public relies on the professionals - the archaeologists and museum curators - to sift out the real from the fake for us. Unfortunately, due to a combination of lack of dating methods plus the pressure to have lots of 'pretties' on display, we're sometimes presented with fakes instead of the real thing.

I don't think there's a magic solution to this problem, but it's definitely an issue to be aware of if you're basing your spirituality on an ancient culture.

I'll leave you with one more piece that's a forgery. Props to the Fitzwilliam Museum, where this piece is housed, for acknowledging it as modern.


Terracotta Minoan statue


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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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