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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Incense for Ancient Minoans and Modern Pagans

Like so many other ancient cultures, the Minoans used incense in a sacred setting. Though we can't be certain of the exact uses, it appears that they burned incense as offerings and to purify sacred areas such as ritual rooms, altars, and shrines. These were common practices in the Bronze Age Mediterranean region.

They didn't have the incense sticks and cones that so many of us are familiar with; those are self-igniting due to their saltpeter content. Just hold a flame to the end and voila, incense smoke! What they did have was hot coals and chopped or powdered incense mixtures.

If you read "hot coals" and thought of those nifty charcoal disks you can buy to burn incense on, that's not exactly what the Minoans had. The modern charcoal disks, like the incense cones and sticks, have saltpeter in them so they're self-igniting: just hold a flame to one edge and they begin to burn all the way across.

What the Minoans had was actual coals: half-burned wood, red-hot from the fire. Coals are great for cooking on; hearth cooking involves coals for steady heat, not flames, which will char your food on the outside while leaving it half-raw on the inside. Coals are also great for burning incense.

The Minoans had ceramic incense burners that held the coals. Then they would sprinkle the incense on top, either single ingredients such as frankincense tears or chopped/powdered mixtures. Here's a fresco from the West House in Akrotiri showing a young girl putting incense on hot coals in a ceramic holder:

Girl with incense holder fresco from Akrotiri

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

What kinds of incense did the Minoans use? In terms of resins, they had frankincense, copal, terebinth, and labdanum. They may also have collected the resin from pine and fir trees. They also had ingredients such as calamus root and cedarwood to add to incense mixtures. And they could have included a wide variety of herbs in their incense as well: saffron, lavender, verbena, dittany, myrtle, oregano, rosemary, sage, marjoram, thyme, and bay laurel were among the many herbs available to them.

Out of the list in the previous paragraph, what would you combine to make an incense mixture for a Minoan ritual? How about to honor one of the Minoan gods or goddesses? I'm partial to bay leaves and the resins myself, but the other ingredients make for some lovely, evocative scents as well.

Of course, we're modern Pagans. So if you find a commercial incense stick or cone that you really like and that puts you in mind of a Minoan deity or festival, then you can certainly use that. But it's nice to know that if you want to, you can mix up something special - just like the ancient Minoans would have done.

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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