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 Marine Ware: Celebrating or Propitiating Grandmother Ocean?

Marine ware is one of the more striking styles of ceramics created by the Minoans of ancient Crete. Vessels such as the one above (image CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons) evoke the motion and beauty of the many fascinating creatures that live in the Mediterranean Sea. Minoan potters made marine ware vessels in a variety of different shapes and sizes, featuring a handful of fascinating sea creatures.

The jug above shows argonauts, a.k.a. paper nautiluses, along with the coral-and-seaweed background that appears on most marin eware. The females of this fascinating type of deep-sea octopus secrete a papery egg case that looks very much like a nautilus shell. Interestingly, the better-known nautilus mollusk was named after the paper nautilus and not the other way around. Minoan sailors and traders must have encountered these fascinating creatures on their voyages around the Mediterranean.

Another critter that shows up a lot on marine ware is the octopus, like the one on this stirrup jar from Palaikastro (which happens to be my favorite piece of marine ware):

Minoan marine ware stirrup jar
Image CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Marine ware vessels also feature tritons. The actual shells from these mollusks (giant marine snails, really) made appearances in Minoan altars and shrines; they may have been used as ritual trumpets. The Minoans also carved stone copies of triton shells to use as rhytons (ritual pitchers). I'm quite fond of this spouted jar from Nirou Khani with its jaunty tritons:

Minoan marine ware jar from Nirou Chani
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

And then there are the "mystery stars" - star-shaped forms that may be sea stars (you may know them as starfish) or possibly stylized sea urchins, like the one on this lovely pitcher from Malia:

Marine ware jug from Malia
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

What makes marine ware especially fascinating is its context in terms of the timeline: It appears after the Thera eruption that devastated the whole eastern end of the Mediterranean in about 1625 BCE. Contrary to the stories told in many older history books, the eruption didn't destroy Minoan civilization, though it did literally blow a hole in the middle of the island of Thera (modern Santorini), and the ensuing tsunami seriously damaged the northern and eastern coasts of Crete.

The Minoans managed to bounce back and rebuild afterward. But they were never the same again. Their art style changed, and the economic damage was apparently enough to allow the Mycenaeans to gain a foothold and eventually attempt to take over the whole island.

During that time - the last couple of centuries before the destruction of most of the Minoan cities around 1450 BCE - marine ware flourished. At the same time, people began to eat less and less fish and seafood, but more and more land-based meat (beef, goat, mutton).

We don't know why these changes occurred: the new marine ware, the fairly rapid change in diet away from reliance on the sea. But I have to wonder whether the eruption and the tsunami changed the Minoans' attitude toward Grandmother Ocean.

They did still set sail every spring to trade around the Mediterranean, as they always had. But maybe they didn't trust that the water was safe anymore. Maybe those beautiful marine ware vessels were their way of appeasing Posidaeja, showing her how much they respected her beauty and power, in hopes that she wouldn't hurt them again.

We will probably never know for certain what inspired the potters of late Bronze Age Crete to create such beautiful marine ware vessels. But whether they were celebrating Grandmother Ocean or propitiating her or both, it's clear they put a lot of energy into the process.

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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