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?

To join the discussion about ancient Minoan culture and Modern Minoan Paganism, head on over to our welcoming community at Ariadne's Tribe on Facebook.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Handling Henothism

In this post-Enlightenment world of science and rationality, we’re used to being able to label things cleanly and clearly, to separate them into distinct levels and groups and individual pigeonholes. And we tend to become uncomfortable when we can’t do that with any given subject. But the mindset in the ancient world wasn’t always so clear-cut. Both/and thinking was common, as opposed to the either/or thinking that dominates modern society. Sometimes it’s helpful to be able to hold several different ideas in your head at the same time, to accept the complexity of a situation as a positive rather than a negative. That’s the case with the ancient Minoan pantheon, thanks to the fact that the Minoans were henotheistic rather than cleanly polytheistic.

So what on earth does henotheism mean? It’s not a word you hear very often, even among the kinds of Pagans who like to get into academic discussions. The term was coined by the German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling in the late 18th or early 19th century as a criticism of the versions of monotheism that included both a supreme deity and lesser forms of divinity such as saints or lower gods. His idea was that ‘pure’ monotheism, the kind that denies the existence of the divine except for the single focal deity, is superior to other types of religious belief. He criticized the Vedic religions (Hindu and its variants) for professing that all the lower gods emanated from The One (Atman) and were reflections of that original unity.

Well, the Minoans had pretty much the same idea about how their pantheon worked, and I’m sure von Schelling would have been quite put out with them for being so ‘backward.’ So we end up with a long list of Minoan deities who don’t fit neatly into a human-style family tree, though we sometimes attempt to create a structure like that so we have a familiar way to relate to the gods and goddesses of ancient Crete.

If henotheism is about all the deities being reflections of a singular source, what is that source for the Minoans? For the average inhabitant of ancient Crete, it was probably Rhea, the Great Mother Goddess of the island. Like all Earth Mother goddesses, she represents the land itself, and for most ancient Minoans, the bit of Earth on which they made their home would be a sensible source from which everything else should spring. And the island of Crete is large enough that many people, especially the farmers and those in the cities farther from the coast, may have lived their whole lives without seeing the ocean, so for them, the land was central.

For the people who lived along the coast, though, the Source might have been different. ‘Above’ Rhea (if you want to force her into a family tree type paradigm) was Posidaeja, the ancient Minoan Grandmother Ocean goddess. As with many ancient societies, the Minoans conceived of the land as rising out of the water at the time of creation. So Mother Crete is Grandmother Ocean’s daughter, or an emanation or unfolding of her. But even Grandmother Ocean has a source: Great Cosmic Mother-of-All.

I suspect the only people who really spent much time contemplating Great Cosmic Mother-of-All (Urania) were the priesthood in the big temple complexes and those who worked at the peak sanctuaries. The Minoans were accomplished astronomers, and it was the priests and priestesses of ancient Crete who kept the records of the celestial cycles: Sun, Moon, planets, stars – we believe they were even able to predict eclipses. So from our point of view, Urania is the ultimate Source from which all the Minoan deities emanate, but we have a privileged point of view that not everyone on ancient Crete did.

So it looks simple, right? There’s a Source, a divine point of origin, from which all the ‘lower’ deities unfold in some kind of order. The thing is, that order isn’t always easy to see or comprehend. It’s more like a cobweb than one of those tidy spiral spiderwebs. For instance, many deities appear to be aspects of each other.

The Minoans didn’t have a triple goddess, much as Robert Graves may have wished them to. Instead, their goddesses tended to have younger and elder aspects (Maiden and Matriarch, you might call them). Ariadne is Rhea’s younger aspect, but can also be characterized as her daughter, in the same way that my own daughter is, metaphorically speaking, an unfolding of me in another form. Dionysus also appears to have had a younger and elder form.

It gets even more confusing with the Horned Ones of ancient Crete. They came in pairs: The Moon-Bull Minotauros and the Moon-Cow Pasiphae/Europa; the Moon-Goats Minocapros and Amalthea; the Moon-Stag Minelathos and the Moon-Doe/Huntress goddess Britomartis. They probably derive originally from Neolithic-era animal totem deities, but by the Bronze Age they were full-blown goddesses and gods of the type we’re used to. But here’s the thing: in addition to being god-goddess Horned Ones pairs, they also have other aspects. All the male Horned Ones (Minotaur, Minocapros, Minelathos) are aspects of the Underworld Moon-God Minos who is, himself, a triple deity. And all the female Horned Ones are aspects of Rhea, later characterized as her sisters and/or daughters. So don’t go drawing up a Minoan family tree unless you know how to do it in more than three dimensions.

For me, the key to understanding the Minoan pantheon is to hold multiple possibilities in my head at the same time and consider them all equally valid. The gods are what they are; I don’t have to force them into a human-style construction like a family tree. Just as the divine transcends the human, so the relationships of the gods with each other are more complex than the relationships of humans with each other. But that’s all right, because when I look to deity for worship or counsel or companionship, I’m glad to know they’re looking at me from a different level, a different point of view. That’s as it should be.

In the name of the Bee -

And of the Butterfly -

And of the Breeze - Amen!

Last modified on
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.

Comments

Additional information