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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Minoan Crete

Posted by on in Culture Blogs



If we can trust the parallels with later Classical art, this “Minoan” bulla (sealing) depicts the goddess known later as Kore (“Maiden”), or Persephone, rising from the Earth, assisted by a male figure, possibly a votary.

In the first century BCE, the Sicilian historian Diodorus wrote that the famous Eleusinian Mysteries had their origin in Crete where, however, they were performed quite publicly and without the secrecy that characterized the later Mysteries (Kerényi 24). We don't know where or from whom he got this information, but if the bulla shown above can be taken as evidence, it would certainly lend support to his theory.

Unfortunately, this bulla, with all its Minoan charm, is in all likelihood a forgery.

Our Kore Rising bulla was supposedly found, along with a trove of other “Minoan” sealings, near Thisbe in Boeotia, in mainland Greece, in the early years of the so-called 20th century. Interestingly—unlike virtually any provenanced Minoan seals—a number of them seem to depict recognizable episodes from Greek mythology. One particularly striking one depicts what is clearly Oedipus talking with the Sphinx, rather charmingly rendered as a Minoan-style griffin.

You know the saying: When something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

(Following Evans, early Minoanists tended to interpret Minoan culture through the prism of Classical mythology, but more recent scholarship suggests instead that comparing Minoan culture with other contemporaneous Mediterranean cultures may offer a less potentially distorting hermeneutic.)

In fact, as Kenneth Lapatin recounts in his 2002 Mysteries of the Snake Goddess, Arthur Evans had barely started excavating at Knossos in 1900 when Minoan fakes began to appear on the market. Everybody wanted a piece of Minoan Crete and, as usual, the market was more than happy to provide them, genuine or not. The Thisbe trove of seals and sealings would seem to be an example of the latter.

Recent archaeology has not been kind to Diodorus' claimed Cretan origins for the Mysteries of the Grain Mother and the Nameless Bride. In Michael B. Cosmopoulos' 2015 study of the excavation history of the Mystery Sanctuary at Eleusis, he cites “a total absence of Minoan imports or even influences at Eleusis during the Bronze Age,” the period during which the sanctuary was founded (Cosmopoulos 156); he concludes that the Mysteries were, in all likelihood, an indigenous local development.

Well. As I write this, here in the North Country, the sugaring is well underway, as sap rises in the trees. Through the coming days, we will actually watch the Rising occur: first the grasses will green, then the bushes leaf out, and lastly the trees open their buds.

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Newly-Discovered Linear B Tablet Hymns Wine Goddess

This hymn to a previously-unknown goddess was discovered among a trove of Linear B tablets unearthed at Phaistos, Crete, in 2017.

It is believed to have formed part of the goddess's cultic liturgy celebrating the autumn grape harvest.


Hail to Retsina

(Tune: Roll Out the Barrel)


Hail to Retsina,

goddess of vino with pine.

Hail to Retsina,

fruit of the tree and the vine.

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Two Blades: Minoan ritual labryses and practical tools

The labrys is one of the most iconic symbols of Minoan civilization. The two-bladed axe shape evokes ideas ranging from bloody human sacrifice to butterflies in a spiritual garden. I have my own ideas about what the labrys means to me, and may have meant to the Minoans as well.

One thing I've noticed, though, is that a lot of people use the term "double axe" to refer to these artifacts, conflating them with practical tools. But they're not the same thing.

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Recent comment in this post - Show all comments
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    Weight is an important part of a useful ax, not just for strength. A ceremonial ax would not need weight. I have never seen a bu
“Some Day We'll Have Sacred Dances Again”

“Some day we'll have sacred dances again.”

When my friend Doc said this to me more than 20 years ago, his tone was wistful.

Today, decades later, though we may not quite be there yet, we're closer, closer, to the day that he foresaw.


In 1890, avant-garde French composer Eric Satie (1866-1925) published a mysterious, haunting piano piece that he titled Les Gnossiennes.

The word is Satie's own coinage. What he meant by it is unclear. At least some commentators have derived it from Knossos—in Latin, Gnossus—the First City of Minoan Crete. If so, it would mean either “the Knossian Women” or “the things (fem.) of Knossos.”

American dancer-choreographer Ted Shawn (1891-1972) read a Minoan reference in the term. Accordingly, he choreographed a dance for solo male dancer to Satie's music that presented—in Shawn's own words—“a priest of ancient Crete going through a ritual at the altar of the Snake Goddess.”

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Posted by on in Paths Blogs
Are we ecstasy deprived?

There are many aspects of the ancient world that I’m happy to do without: the danger of infection in an era before antibiotics; the difficulty of communicating over long distances at anything other than a snail’s pace; the lack of sanitation and running water in many places (though the cities of ancient Crete did have well-planned sewer systems). So yes, it’s good that we have left some things behind. But in our progress, we have also left behind something beneficial, something the human spirit needs: ecstasy.

I’ve recently been reading Belinda Gore’s book Ecstatic Body Postures and working with some of the postures she describes. This is an extension of the trancework I’ve done for years, and it relates to my activities with the Minoan salute and other gestures the Minoans used in ritual to induce trance states. (And yes, I recommend the book.) One thing that struck me as I was reading Ms. Gore’s book was her comment that the modern world is in a state of what she calls ‘ecstasy deprivation.’ If that’s true, it would explain an awful lot.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Bull Dance

Our Minnesota weather's been lushly Mediterranean of late, so naturally (such is the life of the wandering scholar) I've been thinking about bull-leaping.

I'm wondering if maybe—just maybe—the scholars have got it wrong.

Admittedly, my knowledge of the literature on the subject is not exhaustive. Still, on the basis of information available (to me, at any rate), I have the impression that much, if not most, current scholarship assumes that what we see depicted in Minoan art—what Mary Renault so charmingly calls the Bull Dance—is a sport, if perhaps a sport with religious overtones. Discussion tends to center on whether such a sport would actually have been physically possible or not.

I am given to understand that the scenes of bull-acrobatics that we see—on the golden ring-seal shown above, for example—are simply not possible; that bulls gore sideways rather than upwards, as the leaping scenes would imply. Contemporary athletes have been unable to duplicate the classical frontal bull-leap shown in Minoan art.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Wendilyn Emrys
    Wendilyn Emrys says #
    Europa; Minotaur; & Pasiphae's luring of the Bull are all possible mythological memories of the bull dance.
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    I'm totally with you about the need for a mythological basis for bull leaping. It must have been inspired by some portion of the m
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    My thanks to you both: I was hoping to hear from people with more personal knowledge of the subject than this son of the suburbs c
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    BTW some of my information comes from animal trainers whose bulls appear in movies and commercials. Bulls are quite trainable and
  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry says #
    Steven, I love your thoughts on this subject. Having grown up on a farm, I can tell you, a bull calf that is used to being handled
Ariadne was just a girl and other urban legends of antiquity

We like to think of the gods as having always existed, time out of mind. In one sense they are timeless, of course, but in another sense they are closely linked to the cultures and societies of specific eras. It’s important to know when each deity ‘showed up’ and in what culture they did so, in order to understand which versions of the myths are the original ones and which are later alterations.

That’s right, later cultures came along and changed the earlier versions of myths, in most cases because they were taking over a society and wanted to downplay or even demonize its deities in favor of their own. You may be familiar with the way the writers of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) depicted Asherah, Ba’al and other Middle Eastern deities as evil demons. You may also have heard about the ways the medieval Christian church condemned the European Pagan gods as evil spirits in the cases where they couldn’t manage to transform them into local saints. Well, these kinds of smear campaigns have been going on as long as there have been people and pantheons.

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