The Minoan Path: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, loving goddess of ancient Crete who lives on in the hearts and minds of the modern world. Modern Minoan Paganism is not a purely 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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More Than Meets the Eye: The Minoan Goddess Amalthea

When I talk about Minoan spirituality, people tend to recognize the names Ariadne and Dionysus, and maybe Rhea and Minos as well. But there's one that often leaves them shaking their heads: Amalthea. I actually had someone ask me one day if Amalthea was one of the characters from Game of Thrones. Um, no. LOL

Amalthea is a Minoan goddess who, like Ariadne and the others, was absorbed into later Greek myth as something less than divine (FYI the Minoans weren't Greek). But I promise you, she was originally a full-fledged goddess and not just a goat-herding foster mother of Zeus. In fact, you'll note that Zeus is a Greek god, not a Minoan one. Like the Romans, the Greeks enjoyed equating foreign deities with their own, both as a way to understand other pantheons and as a handy method for taking over those cultures and absorbing them. So when the Greeks say that Amalthea was the foster mother of "Cretan Zeus," they're talking about Dionysus, the Minoan god who is born in his mother Rhea's cave at the Winter Solstice. And Amalthea plays a role in that story.

Amalthea is the sister-twin of the Minoan Great Mother Goddess Rhea. When Dionysus is born, Rhea can't stay with him all the time; she has work to do. So she leaves him with Amalthea, who nurses him and takes care of him. Amalthea is a goat-goddess, one of the Minoan Horned Ones who may date back to Neolithic times on Crete. So obviously, she feeds Dionysus on goat's milk (as well as honey, which she gets from the Melissae, the Minoan bee-goddesses who protect and guard the spirits in the Underworld). Like Rhea, Amalthea is associated with the sacred mountains and caves on Crete, particularly Mount Ida.

That cornucopia you see at the top of this post also comes from Amalthea. The story goes that the infant Dionysus was playing a bit too roughly with Amalthea in her goat form when he accidentally broke off one of her horns, which became the cornucopia. Now, I have a little trouble believing that this is the original story. To me, the cornucopia - also known to Wiccans as the Amalthean Horn - is another version of the Great Mother's bottomless pithos from which all things flow. You see, the original version of Pandora is Rhea Pandora, the All-Giver, whose giant vase is the Source of All and not a box full of bad things redeemed only by hope. Since Rhea is Amalthea's sister-twin, it only makes sense that Amalthea should have her own personal version of that vase, whose analogue we see in so many later mythologies: the Cauldron of Cerridwen, the Holy Grail.

The Greeks borrowed Amalthea's story into their mythos, though they demoted her to a nymph in much the same way that they demoted Minos and Ariadne to mortal humans. In the Greek version, Zeus' aegis - his thunder-shield - is made from Amalthea's hide. This suggests to me that there was a Minoan original version of this, especially since the Kuretes danced outside the cave where the infant Dionysus lay, banging their spears on their shields to keep rhythm for their dance. Since the aegis is associated with thunder, that suggests another thread connecting both Amalthea and Rhea with Posidaeja, the Minoan sea-goddess who had a bit of a sex change when she was borrowed into the Greek pantheon as Poseidon.

There are a lot of tangled threads here, a lot of connections through time and space. But to me, one thing remains constant: the overwhelming generosity of Amalthea, whose cornucopia provides an endless bounty for those who honor her. Blessed be She.

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 particular 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, I enjoy gardening and giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

Comments

  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham Wednesday, 29 March 2017

    I'm slowly making my way through "Crete to Egypt: Missing Links of the Rig Veda" by Dr. Liny Srinivasan. The author's premise is that the titles of the Rig Veda gods are actually place names for middle eastern kings and warlords. One of the books the author references is Eblatica by Cyrus H. Gordon in which he is alleged to have translated linear A script. I don't have access to any of these three volumes. Have you heard of Gordon's work before or of Srinivasan's?

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Thursday, 30 March 2017

    I haven't heard of Liny Srinivasan before, but I see that he has a page on academia.edu where he has posted some of his papers, so I'll have a look through them. I'm not familiar with that particular work by Cyrus Gordon (Eblatica). He had some very unorthodox views, including the idea that the Greeks were actually a Semitic people closely related to the Hebrews (which DNA testing now tells us is wrong). He wrote a lot about Ugarit and related areas. I believe it's in his book Forgotten Scripts that he claims to have translated Linear A. There are quite a few people who claim to have translated Linear A, but none of the translations hold water. We simply don't have enough Linear A text to make a definitive translation. I'm still holding out hope that we find a large cache of Linear A tablets somewhere that will increase our data to the point that standard decipherment techniques can be used, the way Ventris and Chadwick figured out Linear B.

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