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What do you call a Minoan midwinter god?

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

I've talked before about the names the ancient Minoans used for their gods, here and here, and the difficulties of trying to figure out what those original names were. All we really have to go on is the administrative texts written in Linear B by the Myceneans (or their Minoan scribes). So all that information is filtered through the lens of the Mycenaean Greeks. Case in point: Dionysus.

He's very apropos for today - Winter Solstice - since this is his birthday in the Minoan sacred calendar, when he is born to the great mother goddess Rhea in her cave at sunrise. If you want to view the Minoan pantheon in terms of hierarchy, you'd have to say Rhea is at the top (at least, of the earthbound and Underworld gods - the ocean goddess Posidaeja and the cosmic goddess Ourania could be considered to be "above" her but that's another blog post).

My point is that the head of the Minoan pantheon is a goddess, an unwed mother if you will, and not a god. But the Greeks didn't understand that. Their culture put men in the dominant position, with women and children below them. Their pantheon reflected this societal structure: Zeus was at the top, ruling over his wife and all his children. So when the Mycenaeans encountered the Minoan pantheon, they looked for the head honcho in the form of a god, not a goddess. What they saw was Dionysus, the most prominent male deity among the Minoan gods.

This leads us to a bit of a problem, because the Greeks liked to equate foreign gods with their own. This was a way to connect with cultures they encountered as well as a method for eventually substituting their own gods for foreign ones when they conquered new regions. Very early on, the Mycenaeans began referring to Dionysus as "Cretan Zeus." Eventually they shortened this to just "Zeus." We find this name in the Linear B tablets:

  

Divos

  

It's hard to tell which god they mean, their own or the Minoan one, or whether they're simply using the word to mean "god" in general and not a specific one. And then we get the feminine version as well:

  

Divia

  

This kind of construction can mean a woman dedicated to the god, in other words, a priestess. But it's also the feminine form of the word for god above, so it could mean "goddess" in general. You can see how it's not easy to translate this stuff from all these millennia away, even when we can read the words!

This one is pretty clear, though:

  

Divonusos

  

There's debate as to whether Dionysus' name is based on the Greek word for god, above, or whether it's an unrelated root, possibly from the Minoan language (which we can't yet read in the Linear A tablets). Regardless, it's pretty clear that this name is his and his alone. The Greeks later applied the name to a similar ecstatic god (Sabazios) from the Thracian/Phrygian pantheon, so the Hellenic version of Dionysus is a many-faceted, multi-layered character.

Ultimately, those of us who practice Modern Minoan Paganism have to fill in the blanks ourselves. Maybe one day we'll be able to read the Linear A tablets, but until then, we'll continue to rely on meditation and trancework to connect with these ancient deities in a way that makes sense in the modern world.

I think the gods understand that the world changes over time. I'm pretty sure they also understand that we're having to piece things back together after much of this information was lost, and they appreciate our efforts to honor them.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

Last modified on
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

  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven Wednesday, 21 December 2016

    Thank you. I very much enjoyed this piece

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Thursday, 22 December 2016

    You're very welcome!

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