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Offerings, Minoan Style

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

We're modern people, not Bronze Age Minoans. But in Modern Minoan Paganism, we do some things that ancient people would have found familiar. Among those is the presentation of offerings to the gods. We do this quietly on our home altars or a bit more loudly sometimes, in group ritual.

A while back, I wrote about the kinds of offerings we make to the various gods and goddesses - what they like and what they don't. But the way we make offerings, or more specifically, the kinds of containers we use for them, take their inspiration from the Minoans.

The Minoans loved offering stands. The one at the top of this post is a three-footed style from Akrotiri, made of terracotta with dolphins, coral, and other marine goodies painted on it. It's one of my favorite pieces of Minoan art - so lively and colorful!

Some offering stands, like this ornate Kamares ware piece (public domain image from Wikimedia Commons), look a lot like modern footed cake plates. In fact, many of us use footed cake plates as offering stands on our altars.

Minoan Kamares ware offering stand

 

Here's another Minoan offering stand, also Kamares ware but a good bit taller than the one up top. This image is from the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica:

Minoan Kamares ware offering stand

The Minoans also made liquid offerings (libations) and we do the same in Modern Minoan Paganism. A popular ritual item in ancient Crete was small stone libation tables. These were essentially elevated bowls that sat on an altar and were meant to receive poured liquids. (Sorry, I can't get the Flickr image to display propery in the blog so you'll have to click through to see the libation tables.)

Did you notice the one thing all these objects have in common? They raise the offering, whatever it might be, above the level of the altar or other surface they're on. There's some powerful symbolism in that: we're giving these things to the gods, who in one sense or another are "above" us, or at least, beyond the ordinary, and upwards is a good way of symbolizing that idea. Many of us also do what's called "elevating the offering" - lifting it up in our hands before we put it on the altar - to further emphasize this idea.

But the gods aren't just "up there" (or even "over there," since many of us conceptualize the numinous as being kind of "sideways" to the mundane). Sometimes the gods are "down there" - in the Underworld, with the spirits of the dead. So how do you make an offering to an Underworld god or goddess?

Look closely at this photo of two floors of the Knossos temple complex:

Knossos temple complex

"Knossos - rekonstruiertes Doppelgeschoss" by Apeto is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Wikimedia Commons)

Do you see the square pillar in the lower "basement" level? At many Minoan sites, we find these square pillars with little "moats" around them - sunken areas in the floor surrounding the bottom of the pillar. We think this was another way the Minoans made offerings, pouring libations into the sunken area so the offering would "aim" down to the Underworld. Digging a hole outdoors to pour the offering into would achieve the same effect.

Either way, offerings aren't ordinary. They don't sit on the table at the same level as, say, your dinner or even your favorite deity figurine or incense holder. They're gifts to the gods and as such, they have to be set apart somehow, made special.

Up or down? Your choice, depending on who you're offering to.

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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