Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

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Music among the Minoans

Like every culture, the Minoans had their music. We can see that in their art and artifacts. The image at the top of this post is of a group of terracotta figurines from Palaikastro. There are three women holding hands and dancing in a semicircle around a fourth woman who is playing the lyre. We don't know what the occasion was here: a celebration? A ritual? One of the famous harvest dances on a circular threshing floor? (There was a circular piece found with these figurines that might have been a model threshing floor.)

It could even have been a funeral; there's a lyre-player on the "death" side of the Hagia Triada sarcophagus.

 

Hagia Triada sarcophagus detail with lyre
Source CC4.0

 

The other side of the sarcophagus, often called the "rebirth" side, features a man playing a double flute:

 

Hagia Triada sarcophagus detail with double flute

Source CC4.0

 

We know the lyre and the double-flute from later Hellenic Greek sources as well, so obviously those instruments have been around for a long time and remained popular for centuries.

Another popular instrument from the Bronze Age Mediterranean is the sistrum. This rhythm instrument is found throughout Egypt and also shows up in Minoan art. The Harvester Vase from Hagia Triada shows a harvest celebration, including a man shouting or singing and shaking a sistrum:

 

Harvester Vase detail with sistrum

Source CC4.0

 

Actual sistrums (or sistra, depending on how fancy you want to get with your plurals) have been found in burials at Minoan cemeteries. This one is from the Minoan cemetery at Archanes Phourni.

 

Terracotta sistrum from Arkhanes

Source CC4.0

 

There is some debate as to whether this sistrum was ever meant to be played in real life. It's made of terracotta, including the disks, and would probably break with use. It may have been a model created just for inclusion with a burial.

In addition to the lyre, flute, and sistrum, there's an interesting feature shown on some priestess' skirts that may count as a musical instrument. Here's the gold seal ring from the Isopata chamber tomb at Knossos:

 

Isopata Minoan gold seal ring

Source CC3.0

 

If you look closely, you can see small round objects fastened to the top skirt tier on three of the four women in this scene. These may very well have been bells (probably bronze) that jingled during ritual dances. We also have shared gnosis that the priestesses wore leather aprons, like the ones on the famed Snake Goddess figurines, that had small bells attached to them for use as a rhythm instrument during sacred dance, in much the same way that dancers in some cultures use ankle bells.

The one thing that I find interesting is that there are no representations of drums in the Minoan art that has been found so far. Frame drums show up in Egyptian art from Minoan times, so it's a sure bet the Minoans knew about them. The question is, did they use them? New Minoan sites are being discovered all the time, so maybe we'll discover more information one of these days.

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.

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