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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Sealed with a ... seal

When I was a kid my mom used to write my name in permanent marker on the tag inside my jacket so everyone would know it was mine. We monogram pillowcases and purses; we register the serial numbers of electronics with the manufacturer. We sign deeds to homes and titles to cars. There are many, many ways to identify things as 'ours' these days, but have you noticed that they all involve writing?

In ancient Crete, most people couldn't write. Sure, they had a writing system, the famous-but-still-undeciphered Linear A (and a hieroglyphic script to go along with it, also still undeciphered). But as was common in the ancient world, only the scribes and perhaps a few wealthy people knew how to write.

Writing simply wasn't necessary for most people in their daily lives. But it was necessary for the big temple complexes - they had to keep track of all the donations people made, how much each plot of farmland and orchard produced every year, and so on. So they wrote things down on clay tablets and probably also on papyrus as well, though none of the perishable papyrus has survived as far as we know (I'm still hoping for a secret cache in a sealed jar somewhere).

But the Minoans also did the ancient version of writing your name on your jacket tag: They used seals.

Seals, like the one at the top of this post, were a common object throughout the ancient world. Cast in gold or carved from stone, these little items were personal identifiers. When someone brought a basket of wheat or a jar of olive oil to a Minoan temple as a donation, temple officials attached a small round of soft clay into which the donor pressed their seal. That showed who had made that donation. The people who worked in the temples - the scribes and administrators - also used their own seals to show which work they had done, which items they had inventoried or organized.

Though many of these objects are called seal rings, they weren't actually worn as finger-rings; the loops on the backs of many of them are too small. Instead, a cord was threaded through the loop and the seals were hung from the wrist like a bracelet or perhaps hung around the neck.


Minoan gold seal rings


The cast gold seal rings are probably the most famous (we do like shiny things, don't we?) but there are also many, many carved ones, made from agate and amethyst and other beautiful semiprecious stones. In fact, archaeologists have found over 12,000 Minoan and Mycenaean seals to date. Excavations turn up new ones almost every year, so that number is still growing.

What's really amazing is, the vast majority of them are totally unique, with designs not copied by other seals. That's a lot of designs!

 Minoan stone seal with Cretan hieroglyphs

 These seals were the equivalent of people's signatures in ancient Crete: individual identifiers. They were so precious that they weren't passed down to the next generation; instead, each one was interred in the grave with its owner.

Can you imagine being the goldsmith or stonecarver who made these and having to come up with a totally unique design for each customer?

The next time you need to sign your name on a document, think about how someone might have done that in the ancient world. If you had a seal, what images would you want on it?

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Tagged in: Crete knossos Minoan temple
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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