Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, loving goddess of ancient Crete who lives on in the hearts and minds of the modern world. Modern Minoan Paganism is not a purely reconstructionist tradition, but a journey in relationship with Minoan deities in the contemporary world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

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What's in a name?

One of the issues we face when reviving ancient spiritual practices is that we often don’t know exactly what the original people called their gods and goddesses. In the case of the Minoans, we don’t even know what language they spoke, and their deity names have come down to us only through the Greeks. Today I’m going to toss out some thoughts about some of the god and goddess names from ancient Crete. Maybe, if we put enough ideas into the pot, we can brew up some useful bits for modern Minoan Paganism. Let’s start with Rhea, the Minoan Earth Mother goddess.

First of all, there is no generally-accepted etymology for the name Rhea. It may be the Greek interpolation of the native Minoan name for their Earth Mother goddess. The Greeks often attempted to transliterate the names of foreign deities into their own language, but as so often happens in this kind of situation, the pronunciation changes to feel more comfortable to the speakers. Through this process we ended up with the Greek name  Isis for the Egyptian Aset and Greek Osiris for Egyptian Ausar. The Greeks said Rhea was the Mother Goddess of Crete; even among the Olympians, she was still considered Cretan. I’ve always felt that her name, however it was originally pronounced, was the word the Minoans used for the island of Crete, which was the embodiment of their goddess.

Let’s look at another Minoan goddess whose original name we don’t know. Ariadne is the familiar Greek version of this goddess' name, but I suspect the original pronunciation was different, at least in one particular way. We might be able to tease out a bit of this information by examining two of the writing systems from ancient Crete, Linear A and Linear B. No, I’m not going to make you learn obscure ancient scripts. All you need to know is that Linear A, which is still undeciphered, was used to write the native Minoan language. The Greeks modified the Linear A script into what we now call Linear B and used it (or hired Minoan scribes to use it) to record Mycenaean, an early version of the Greek language. We can read Linear B, and it has given us some interesting insights into the possibilities for the Minoan language.

If we look at Linear B, we see it has only one symbol for the liquid consonants (l and r) even though Mycenaean Greek had both l and r. This suggests that the native Minoan language had a single liquid, in much the same way that Japanese has only one, that sounds roughly halfway between English l and r. So what if we work with the name Ariadne with a more l-like sound, or one halfway between l and r? What if we look back at Rhea’s name through this same lens - what might it have originally sounded like? In ritual, I get a ‘hit’ off a pronunciation of Rhea’s name with a mid-liquid rather than an r (and also with a long e sound, like the ay in day, which would be closer to the ancient Greek pronunciation). And yes, I'm aware this makes her name sound very much like Princess Leia from Star Wars, though I'm pretty sure George Lucas wasn't channeling the ancient Minoans.

Another deity name whose pronunciation I’ve experimented with is Dionysos. If we transliterate the Linear B version of Dionysos’ name, we get di-wo-nu-so or di-wo-ni-so. The w in the Linear B is actually an ancient Greek letter called digamma. The letter, as well as the sound it makes, fell out of use as the Greek language evolved over time. Digamma was originally pronounced like an English f or v. In experimenting with possible pronunciations of this name, I have found that an f sound in the middle of the name, as if it were spelled Difonuso, feels quite powerful.

These possible pronunciations are good things to work with in meditation and ritual, seeking out the original feel of the name with the aid of the god or goddess. If I’m really honest, I feel like I’m not very good at this sort of thing, or maybe I just wish I got clearer answers when I work with these sounds. I know many people are much better at retrieving sounds through meditation and journeywork than I am. This is possibly related to the fact that I’m a visual learner – maybe it’s just the way my brain works. But I’m hoping those of you who are more attuned to sound will try working with some of the Minoan deity names and will follow the trail wherever it leads (and share what you find).

Over the years, I’ve managed to scrape together precious few bits of what I think are accurate sounds from the Minoans. I’m pretty sure the single-liquid theory I mentioned above holds; speaking the Minoan deity names with that kind of sound feels strong and true. I’m also fairly certain the Minoan language declined nouns by changing the endings. I’ve gotten ‘hits’ off the name Ariadne (more like Aradane with that mid-liquid I mentioned above) with an –o or -ou and –ei suffix, the second one being more of a long a sound, as in lay, while the base ending is more of a short e sound, as in let.

Practitioners of magic over the centuries and millennia have emphasized that the correct sounds, the right words, will vibrate the cosmos in a particular way and awaken certain energies. I don’t feel at all estranged from the Minoan deities, but I have to think that finding out their original names will open up aspects of them that have lain dormant or hidden for ages and bring us closer to the relationship the ancients had with their gods. I would love to hear your thoughts on these names and sounds, especially if you have worked with them in meditation and ritual. Do your experiences differ from mine? Have you tried different pronunciations of these or other deity names? Do any of them feel more powerful or more correct to you?

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.

Comments

  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Friday, 29 May 2015

    I truly hope that someday Linear A will be translated.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Friday, 29 May 2015

    I hope so, too. The biggest obstacle right now is that the amount of Linear A text we have is really too small to do any kind of decryption. Maybe one of these days some lucky archaeologist will find a huge stash of Linear A tablets and we'll have enough text to do a proper translation.

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