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Modern Minoan Paganism: Ecstatic upraised arms

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Strike a pose! Ecstatic postures have been a part of human religious practice for millennia, possibly going back as far as the Paleolithic. I've explored ecstatic postures and their place in Modern Minoan Paganism before. They're a kind of spiritual "tech" - like yoga and tai chi, ecstatic postures make energy move via the mechanism of holding the body in particular ways. We find examples of these postures in the form of votive figurines from Minoan sacred sites such as cave shrines and peak sanctuaries. The best-known of these postures is probably the famed Minoan salute.

Most ecstatic postures appear to have been used by spiritworkers and worshipers to journey to specific places in the Otherworld or to connect with particular deities or spirits. In that sense, the usual museum label of "worshiper figurine" is accurate.

But not all ecstatic postures were used by worshipers or spiritworkers to connect with the divine. Some were used by clergy for what amounts to trance possession. The upraised-arms pose is an example of that type of ecstatic posture.

You may already be familiar with the Poppy Goddess figurine at the top of this post. She's an example of a "bell jar" or "pot-skirted" figurine, so called because the lower half of the figurine was thrown on a potter's wheel just like any other kind of jar or pot, while the upper half was hand-sculpted. Most (though not all) of the figurines of this type have their arms raised up in one way or another. The Poppy Goddess has her hands raised to the side, palms facing forward. But there are multiple variants of this pose, as you can see here:

Goddess figurines Heraklion Archaeological Museum

(Image: Wikipedia CC BY 3.0)

The palms can face front or inward; there's one example with the right hand facing forward and the left hand facing inward. The arms can reach forward rather than being held out to the sides. Each of these variants creates a slightly different effect, but they're all used the same way.

These are poses that draw a goddess down into a priestess.

I've used a few of these poses in ritual, and they work well for smooth, easy trance possession. It feels like I'm slipping on a favorite garment when the goddess comes down onto me. This would be a good way to start with trance possession if you're inexperienced and want a method that will give you some control over the process. The arms-out-front variation provides a little separation between me and the deity, while the arms-to-the-sides pose is a more direct drawing down. The distinction between the directions the palms are facing is more difficult to articulate, more subtle, but there is a difference.

Some ecstatic postures appear to be gendered in one way or another; this is one of those. This one doesn't seem to work for men drawing down a god, but that makes sense given that all the figurines depict goddesses. (We're working on some poses for men to draw down gods - that may be a guest blog post at some point.) I suspect this pose would also work for non-binary/genderqueer people to draw down a goddess. And in case you're wondering about my definitions, trans women = women and trans men = men.

If you give this one a try, please let me know how it goes. Exploring these postures is a fascinating journey that connects us with the people of the past. Good stuff.

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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