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 history changes: The Minoans and their neighbors

History changes, I'm telling you. OK, the things that actually happened way-back-when don't really change, but our interpretation of them sure does. It's amazing how much our understanding of ancient Minoan culture has changed in the century or so since Sir Arthur Evans first uncovered the ruins of the temple complex at Knossos.

For instance, Evans was caught up in the ancient Egypt craze that had been bubbling along for decades as early archaeologists began uncovering Egyptian artifacts and translating Egyptian hieroglyphic texts. He considered Egypt to be the high civilization of the ancient world. So when he discovered that the Minoans - who flourished at about the same time as Old and Middle Kingdom Egypt - had complex architecture, paved roads, enclosed sewers, and other markers of a 'proper' civilized society, he assumed they had borrowed it all wholesale from Egypt.

The image at the top of this page shows how Evans looked for comparable Egyptian items for practically every Minoan artifact he dug up. Of course, Evans was a human being and, like all human beings, he approached his work with a set of preconceptions. We have Evans and his Victorian-era mindset to thank for the totally inaccurate labels on rooms in the Knossos temple complex such as the King's Throne Room and the Queen's Megaron. In fact, these were ritual rooms and there was probably never a Minoan monarchy, just a priesthood. Archaeologist Sandy MacGillivray has written an excellent book, aptly titled Minotaur, about Evans' worldview and how it affected his work.

Evans was such an influential figure - the accepted 'father of Minoan archaeology' - that it took decades for people to begin to question his assumptions. This is unfortunately the way of academia, when people have built their careers on particular theories and feel they must continue to protect and defend those theories until they retire (or die) because having your theory shot down can mean not just losing face but also losing tenure. Nothing like having your income tied to whatever idea you've put out there to make a person blindly defend it tooth and nail.

After all this time, we've finally figured out that there was no monarchy in ancient Crete and in fact, until the Mycenaeans took over, there was no central government. The individual cities ruled themselves independently, very much like the city-states of later Hellenic Greece but without the warfare. Speaking of warfare, with the possible exception of a merchant marine (and the evidence for that is sketchy) the Minoans never had a military. And the individual Minoan cities each had their own, slightly different version of Minoan religion, each one focusing on a particular deity or set of deities.

But here's the big issue: The history textbooks that we all grew up with like to separate the different ancient societies into individual chapters and talk about them as if each one existed in a vacuum. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We like to think that human history is a tidy, upward-angling linear process, with us at the pinnacle and everyone who came before us being more or less primitive and barbaric compared to us, depending on how far in the past they were. This concept is based on a misapplication of Darwin's concept of natural selection called Social Darwinism. But that's not really the case.

Many ancient cultures were quite 'civilized,' even by modern standards. In addition to having fancy perks like paved roads and enclosed sewer systems, they traveled and traded over a remarkably wide area. The Minoans in their sleek ships covered not just the Mediterranean. They also went up the Atlantic coast as far as Britain in search of tin, and probably sailed some distance along the western coast of India as well. They had interaction with all the major societies of their day, including those in the Near East and Mesopotamia. And that interaction went both ways.

The Minoans didn't borrow their culture wholesale from anyone else, any more than the Egyptians or the Babylonians did. Instead there was cultural exchange, so we find Babylonian cylinder seals and images of Egyptian demigods in Minoan graves but we also find Minoan frescoes and ceramics in Egypt and the LevantThis was no different than what we experience in the modern world, with fashions from Paris and anime from Japan floating around in American culture.

So the next time you're tempted to view the Minoans, or any other ancient culture, in a vacuum, think about who their neighbors were. Consider the fact that they probably weren't idiotic, backward, primitive barbarians or they wouldn't have survived for so many centuries. And consider the fact that the people of these ancient cultures are our ancestors, and have a little respect for them. They're the ones on whose shoulders we stand.

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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