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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Minoan 3D Offerings

The Minoans were big on offerings. They made all manner of offering stands, libation pitchers, and other paraphernalia for their altars and shrines. And they used these ritual vessels to hold items and substances such as bread, fruit, flowers, wine, honey, seeds, and even wool.

But there are some interesting ritual vessels from Palaikastro that come pre-filled with little ceramic offerings. Were these models of offerings meant to replace the real thing? To be a reinforcement of what was put in the offering dish? Or to be some other kind of symbol - a reference to the deity the offering was given to, for instance, or a depiction of what they wanted the deities to protect?

We don't know for sure. But it's interesting to speculate, and that speculation can inform our modern spiritual practice. I should note that all these pieces date to 2000-1800 BCE, an era that archaeologists call Middle Minoan - before the Thera eruption and long before the Mycenaean occupation. So this stuff is "pure Minoan," if you see what I mean.

The photo at the top of this post is a tripod bowl with a looped handle. Inside it is a layer of tiny bagel-shaped ceramic bread models. You can still buy bread in this shape in Crete today. Maybe the little ceramic breads were meant as an offering that never goes moldy and can be left out indefinitely, similar to the ceramic models of food left in Egyptian tombs as sustenance for the dead. Or maybe actual bread was added to the bowl and the ceramic loaves were just thematic decoration.

Interestingly, this bowl is a similar design to several offering stands that were found in Malia, like the one below. You can just barely see the looped handle on the right in the photo below. The bowl from Palaikastro and the offering stands from Malia look similar enough that they might have been made by the same workshop.

Tripod offering stand from Malia
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Other vessels have been found in Palaikastro with interesting 3D contents built in. This one is perhaps the most fascinating:

Palaikastro terracotta bowl with sheep
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Those tiny objects lined up in the bowl are sheep; the tall figure is the shepherd. The smooth areas in the bottom of the bowl have been reconstructed because they were missing or destroyed when the bowl was found. Those areas may originally have held even more sheep.

Was this an offering bowl? Maybe. It could have been used to hold offerings that were meant as prayers to keep the flock safe. What kind of items or substances might the bowl have held, then? We can only guess, based on the kinds of offerings the deities accept from us now and the mentions of offerings in the fragmentary myths that survived the Bronze Age collapse. But it's possible that the bowl held offerings to Amalthea (she protects sheep as well as goats) and consisted of sheep's milk and honey, perhaps with a bit of the flock's wool added in to make the connection more robust.

Here's another interesting piece, also from Palaikastro:

Palaikastro bowl with bird
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This bird is similar in design to many other ceramic birds found at Minoan sites all over Crete. So it's safe to say it's a common part of the iconography. The thing is, we don't know for certain what kind of bird it is or which (if any) deities it connects with. It appears to have been painted originally, though most of the paint has long since worn off. If we knew what it looked like back in the day, that might give us a clue. The original paint looks like it was white and red.

So this might be an offering bowl that held a liquid or some other substance as a gift to the deity indicated by the bird. Or it might have been a small birdbath for someone's garden. We just don't know. But if we consider this piece from our vantage point as modern Pagans we can use it, for instance, as inspiration for a bird bath in our own garden, dedicated to Rhea and her sacred doves, giving to her by supporting the wild songbirds in our area. Or as a bowl to receive libations in honor of Rhea (doves), Therasia (swallows), or Korydallos (larks).

There's one more piece I'd like to look at here. It's the most intriguing one because it's the most enigmatic.

Palaikastro bowl with unknown animal
Image CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This one leaves us with more questions than answers. It's similar in style to the one above with the bird in it. But this one is some kind of four-legged animal that's curled around into a sitting position. Its head is missing, but based on the pose, I'd guess that it's a cat or a dog (probably a cat) rather than some kind of livestock.

So obviously not a birdbath, unless some ancient Minoan had a really wicked sense of humor.

But it could be a little offering bowl meant as a focus for prayers for a beloved family pet. A way to make offerings to whichever deity or deities protected them.

I can imagine a family altar in an ancient Minoan home, with a tall stand to hold the offerings that were meant to represent the whole household, then individual bowls or smaller offering stands for each household member, right down to the pets. Kind of like Christmas stockings, but in reverse - the gifts being for the deities and not the household members.

How do you interpret these fascinating artifacts? How can that interpretation inform your spiritual practice?

In the name of the bee,
And of the butterfly,
And of the breeze, amen.

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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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