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?

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How do you know that's a ritual object?

Most of what we know about the ancient Minoans was literally dug up out of the dirt. We've uncovered temple complexes, villages, towns, and all the furniture, dishes, and other items you'd expect to find in people's homes, workshops, and places of worship. But there aren't any Minoans around any more who can tell us what all those things were used for, so the archaeologists have to make educated guesses based on where each particular object was found.

Over in Ariadne's Tribe (my discussion group about modern Minoan Paganism) we frequently post images of lovely Minoan pottery that appears to have been randomly described as a 'ritual object.' Then we consider the possibility that the item isn't really a ritual object, but the archaeologists didn't know what else to call it and 'ritual object' sounds impressive when you're writing an academic paper.

Now, there are circumstances under which it makes perfect sense to call something a ritual item. We've found hundreds of votive items that were tossed into crevices at the Minoan peak sanctuaries and sacred caves as offerings by people who went there on a sacred pilgrimage. Many of them were small bronze objects like these:

 

Bronze offerings from Mt. Dikti

 

It's a pretty safe bet that these count as 'ritual items' because they've been found in a sacred setting and were obviously used as offerings. The same goes for anything found in shrines and on altars. For instance, the Tomb of the Double Axes at Isopata, near Knossos, has an altar at one end that was loaded with labryses, sacred horns, and other ritual paraphernalia, along with a bunch that had fallen off onto the floor over the centuries.

 

Isopata Tomb of the Double Axes

 

Labyrses and horns are obviously sacred, the kinds of things we put on our altars today. And offering stands are pretty self-explanatory. But what about other objects whose function and purpose aren't so clear-cut? What if an archaeologist found a bowl and a pitcher just outside the door of a tomb or shrine room? They have a tendency to label these sorts of things as 'ritual objects' because they've been found in proximity to places where the Minoans practiced their religion. But are those items necessarily ritual objects? I think the answer lies in Pagan spiritual practice, something most archaeologists are woefully unfamiliar with.

Even though the particulars of how we perform each ritual or which symbols related to which deity might change over time, the fact is, altars and shrines have been around for millennia. And people have set them up and used them in very similar ways during that whole time. We have the dedicated ritual objects - the deity figurines, the incense burners, the chalice that's only used on the altar. Then we have other stuff.

Have you ever been getting ready for a ritual, either by yourself or with a group, and headed into the kitchen to find a pitcher for the libation or a platter for the sacred cakes? That pitcher and platter aren't dedicated ritual objects. They are functionally ritual objects while you're using them in that capacity - you might even consecrate them to remove the 'every-day-ness' from them before using them in ritual - but afterward they're going right back in the kitchen where they came from. And what about that favorite scarf that sometimes serves as an altar cloth? Is it a ritual item or not?

I understand the need among archaeologists to make it sound like they've found something really striking and not just someone's tea cup (like the beautiful Kamares ware at the top of this post). But those tea cups are important, too. They help us build a picture of what life was like way back then. And having random kitchen utensils constantly labeled as ritual objects doesn't clarify the picture, even if it does improve the archaeologist's chances of getting more funding for next year's dig.

So the next time you see a photo of a lovely pitcher or bowl labeled 'ritual object,' consider how it probably came to have that label. If you like, picture a Minoan man or woman rummaging through the kitchen, looking for a container for the libation wine or the fruit offering. And remember that people who don't practice the traditions they're investigating might have difficulty understanding them properly.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen!

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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 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.

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