The Minoan Path: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

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The Milk of Human (and Divine) Kindness

We hear a lot about libations in various Pagan traditions. A libation is simply an offering of a liquid, poured out in either a casual or formal ritual setting. A casual example would be the nights my friends and family gather around the fire out in our orchard to celebrate the seasons. Once the fire is lit, I pour out the first bit of my drink (usually homemade mead) in thanks to the spirits of the land, my ancestors and the divine in general. A more formal example might be the pouring out of wine onto the ground or into a bowl during a Wiccan Sabbat ceremony as an offering to the Lord and Lady.

The word ‘libation’ often conjures up the image of an alcoholic beverage being offered – wine, mead, even beer in some contexts. But any liquid can be used for libations. I offer water to the land spirits where I live every morning. It is, after all, the liquid that is the base of life on Earth. We can be pretty sure the ancient Minoans offered wine and perhaps beer as well, in keeping with the spiritual and cultural traditions of the ancient world. But I think they also offered milk. Yes, you read that right. Milk.

Milk-giving animals were a big part of Minoan religious iconography. Cows especially show up in the form of little figurines, horns of all sizes and rhytons (pitchers) in the shape of cow heads or whole cows. Yes, the famous bull-leaper fresco depicts a bull (the genitalia are a dead giveaway). But to me, it makes more sense to think of the rhytons as cows, especially if they were used for pouring milk. In an earlier post I described some of the bovine and breast/milk imagery from ancient Crete.

The photo at the top of this post is a picture of a little porcelain pitcher I own. It’s sold as a cream pitcher for coffee (or milk for tea) and it reminds me an awful lot of the cow-shaped pitchers found at ancient Minoan sites. I’d like to think that if someone from ancient Crete magically appeared in my house today and saw this pitcher, it would remind them of the bovine libation vessels from their own home.

So I’ve decided that this little pitcher is now part of my Minoan ritual paraphernalia. In addition to pouring out wine libations from goblets, I’ll be pouring milk offerings from the little porcelain cow. I’ve found that milk libations have a different ‘vibe’ than wine does. Wine libations certainly have a magical feeling to them, as ancient as the practice of fermentation and just as mysterious. But when I make milk offerings, I have a different experience, a sense that I can only describe as the milk of human/divine kindness, a sort of all-enveloping comfort and acceptance, perhaps coming from the Moon-Cow or Rhea the All-Giver herself. I invite you to try it for yourself. What do you think your experience will be?

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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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