What's missing in modern life (and most modern western religion) that sends people in search of everything from Peruvian ayahuasca rituals to Native American sweatlodges and peyote ceremonies? Ecstasy.
No, I don't mean the street drug, but the state of consciousness that takes us out of the ordinary and transports us closer to the numinous, the divine. A while back I wrote about how most of the modern world is ecstasy deprived. We're so steeped in the post-Enlightenment materialist mindset that we forget to look beyond the physical to see what else is around us. We also forget that each of us is more than just physical, that we have amazing abilities to transcend our "daily grind" state of consciousness.
One of the ways we can figure out how the ancient Minoans practiced their religion is by looking at their art. Much of their art - frescoes, seal stones and rings, carved vases - contains ritual scenes that give us a glimpse into their spiritual life. And some of the most famous frescoes are from the Minoan town of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini (it was called Thera in the ancient world).
One of the buildings in Akrotiri, called Xeste 3, appears to have been a ritual building where puberty rites were held for girls and boys. How do we know that's what happened there? The frescoes show us!
A while back, I shared some information about some snake-like sacred knots in Minoan art that may or may not have anything to do with the tet knot associated with Isis in Egyptian symbology. There's another "sacred knot" found in Minoan art that's very different, made from a length of fabric that's loosely looped and knotted. Scholars often lump it in with the other sacred knots, but it's not the same. Those of us who practice Modern Minoan Paganism have taken to calling this object the sacral scarf to differentiate it from the knots made of cord or rope.
Some time ago I offered a few thoughts about the sacral scarf. Since then several of us in Ariadne's Tribe have worked with the sacral scarf and have come up with some ideas about what it represents and how we can use it in ritual to connect with the divine. First of all, from the artwork we can clearly see that this is a length of woven fabric, fringed on the ends and knotted with a loop:
Over in Ariadne's Tribe we have a list of recommended books about Minoan spirituality and related topics. One of the books from that list that I find myself pointing out frequently to anyone who is interested in Modern Minoan Paganism and/or goddess spirituality (besides my own books, of course) is Charlene Spretnak's classic work Lost Goddesses of Early Greece: A Collection of Pre-Hellenic Myths. Originally published in 1978, this amazing little volume is still in print, and with good reason.
Ms. Spretnak addresses herself to nine goddesses, eleven if you count the Moon Triad as three separate ones: Gaia, Pandora, Themis, Aphrodite, the Moon Triad (Artemis, Selene, Hecate), Hera, Athena, Demeter, and Persephone. She offers some fascinating information about each one, detailing where they originated, what their early worship was probably like, and how the Hellenes and other later cultures "demoted" them from their original places of honor and power. It's both enlightening and a little sad to discover how these goddesses were purposely tarnished over time. But this book helps to polish them back to their original glow.
As I've said repeatedly in interviews and in my books, Modern Minoan Paganism isn't a rules-and-regulations tradition but a broad pathway with room for many people to walk it, each in their own way. That's great in terms of personal spirituality but not so great in terms of finding other people to practice with.
Pagans of all stripes are scattered far and wide in the modern world. Sure, there are larger clusters of us in metropolitan areas. But unless you follow one of the big traditions with standardized rules, regs, and rites (Wicca, Druidry, and various types of Norse Paganism, for instance) you may have a hard time finding others who want to do the same thing you're doing.
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).
A few weeks ago, I wrote about Minoan deity names in Linear B, the script the Mycenaean Greeks used to write their language toward the end of Minoan civilization. We still can't read Linear A, the script the Minoans used to write their native language, but the Mycenaeans borrowed so much of Minoan religion and culture that their texts give us a lot of information, even if most of them are just inventory lists of donations to temples.
Last time, I mentioned Atana Potnia, the early precursor to Athena who was apparently worshiped at Knossos. But we have quite a few more names of gods and goddesses, some of whom are manifestly Minoan and some of whom look to be a part of the blended Minoan-Mycenaean culture that lasted for several centuries before the Late Bronze Age collapse of cultures around the Mediterranean.