Birds of all kinds are a common theme throughout Minoan art. We find them in natural settings and in ritual art, and in some very interesting combinations that suggest the Minoans worshiped a Bird Goddess.
In many cases, the artist depicted the birds with naturalistic realism, to the point that we can often identify the specific species. These images include swallows and partridges:
One of the biggest misconceptions about the Minoans, the people who lived on the Mediterranean island of Crete during the Bronze Age, is that they were Greek. They weren't. Let's look at where this misunderstanding comes from and find out who the Minoans really were.
First of all, it's a good idea to distinguish between modern national boundaries and ancient cultures. The island of Crete has been a part of the modern nation of Greece for about a century, so most school history texts lump the two together simply because it's easier to divide the world up based on the modern map we're familiar with. And because of the great antiquity and popularity of Crete's history, the modern nation of Greece is more than happy to include it in their PR, including such spectacular events as the opening ceremony to the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
One of the dangers of having an ancient civilization as the focus of our spirituality is the tendency to view that culture through rose-colored glasses. That’s especially tempting when it comes to ancient Crete and the Minoan civilization that flourished there in the third and second millennium BCE.
There are so many positive aspects of Minoan culture: Women had high status and the Goddess was revered. Minoan cities and towns had paved streets, enclosed sewers, and flush toilets. The Minoans appear not to have had any sort of military, choosing instead to invest all their energy and wealth into what was probably the largest merchant fleet in the Mediterranean at the time, so their society was prosperous and relatively peaceful.
I’ve been asked all sorts of questions about Modern Minoan Paganism, but the most common one is probably also the most fundamental: How do you do it? In other words, how do you actually practice this spiritual path?
To start with, I’d like to point out that this is a very individualistic path. It’s not a monolithic tradition with a set of rules and regulations everyone has to follow. It’s more like an umbrella structure under which each person can tweak the details in the way that they find most satisfying. So you start with the basics: the gods and goddesses of ancient Crete and their stories. Then you approach them in the way that makes the most sense for you.
There are two things we can be pretty sure the Minoans did: libations and divination. We have lots of pictures of libations (poured offerings of liquids) in the frescoes, seals, and other art from ancient Crete. As for divination, besides the fact that pretty much every civilization has done its best to foresee the future, there are some interesting “floating organs” (hearts, livers, bones) on some of the seals that suggest the Minoans took part in the same kind of animal-part auguries that many ancient cultures used.
I’m not here to tell you how to check your horoscope in animal guts. Instead, I’d like to talk about wine.
A couple of weeks ago I started exploring some of the ritual postures we find in Minoan art, mostly in the form of bronze and terracotta figurines. I began with the famous Minoan Salute and then had a look at the posture I call Shading the Eyes (and no, that’s not an ancient Minoan Weeping Angel, I promise! LOL).
This week I’ve done some experimentation with a posture that’s most common in Cycladic art, one that appears to link the user to the Realm of the Dead. You can see an example of it in the photo at the top of this post. These figurines, usually made of marble, show a person (most often a woman) with their arms across their abdomen, the left arm above the right.
Last week I began exploring Minoan ecstatic postures, starting with the most famous and familiar one: the Minoan salute. Many modern Pagan traditions use specific poses and gestures in ritual in much the same way that some varieties of Christianity use the gesture of making the cross. These are meant to symbolize parts of the spiritual belief system and to remind us of those during the rite. Ecstatic postures look very much like ritual gestures - in fact, they can be used as ritual gestures - but ultimately they have a different purpose.
A ritual gesture is a pose or motion you make briefly during a religious ceremony. If you hold it for a few seconds or maybe a minute, it might give you a particular feeling or sense of something sacred. An ecstatic posture is a pose you hold for an extended period of time while undergoing ecstatic (shamanic) trance. If that sounds really deep and freaky, it's not. Most people can enter a light trance state simply by focusing on their breathing for a minute or two. A little drumming in the background helps to deepen the state. You don't have to take drugs or go through extended initiations in order to use these postures to expand your spiritual experience. If you've ever done a guided meditation, you've been in trance.