Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan pantheon. Modern Minoan Paganism is an independent polytheist spiritual tradition that brings the gods and goddesses of the ancient Minoans alive in the modern world. We're a revivalist tradition, not a reconstructionist one; we rely heavily on shared gnosis and the practical realities of Paganism in the modern world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?

Find out all about Modern Minoan Paganism on our website: https://ariadnestribe.wordpress.com/. We're a welcoming tradition, open to all who share our love for the Minoan deities and respect for our fellow human beings.

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The MMP Pantheon: Dionysus

This is one in a series about the deities in the pantheon of Modern Minoan Paganism (MMP). You can find the full list of posts in this series here.

Today we're focusing on a well-known god, Dionysus, and the places we can find him in Minoan art and artifacts. The ecstatic god that many people know from classical times (a millennium after the destruction of the Minoan cities) is actually a syncretic deity, a combination of the Minoan god (or at least, whatever remained of him after the Bronze Age collapse) with a similar ecstatic god from Phrygia.

In MMP, we focus on Dionysus the way he was before that syncretism occurred. The first thing most people think of when they hear the name Dionysus is... wine. He's the god of the vine who dies at the grape harvest, a sort of John Barleycorn of wine. In this guise, we celebrate his gifts to us and mourn his death at the Feast of Grapes.

So we see him in images of grapes, like the ones on the jug from Akrotiri that's pictured at the top of this post (image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons). We also see him in toasting scenes like we find on the Camp Stool fresco from Knossos:

Camp Stool fresco from Knossos

Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It's possible that toasting ceremonies like this one were used to honor any number of deities or even important humans. But first and foremost, we associate wine and other brewed beverages (mead, beer) with Dionysus, so he's present even if he's not the focus.

But Dionysus also has another aspect in our sacred calendar and our spiritual practices. Minoan civilization spanned many centuries. During that time, Minoan religion built up a lot of layers. Like the Egyptians, the Minoans appear to have simply added new bits onto their religion without removing any of the old. So by late Minoan times, not only did Dionysus die at the grape harvest - he was born at Midwinter.

We think he wasn't the original Midwinter sacred child; that honor probably went to Tauros Asterion, the Young God who is the son of Rhea, the Minoan Earth Mother Goddess. In MMP, we consider Dionysus to be the son of the sea-goddess Posidaeja, another of our mother goddesses. He has some very interesting mythology that connects him with dolphins and portrays him as a psychopomp for sailors and others who die at sea. But by late Minoan times, probably due to Mycenaean influence, Dionysus had become the pre-eminent Minoan god and the centerpiece of the Midwinter sacred birth story.

So we have this interesting seal impression from Knossos, from Sir Arthur Evans' Palace of Minos book series, now in the public domain:

Seal impression of cave shrine scene from Knossos

This appears to be a scene inside a cave shrine. On the right we have a lone seated female figure; in Minoan iconography, that means she's a goddess. In front of her, another female figure holds a type of vessel called a Kantharos topped with a circle - the Sun? On the left, another female figure dances in front of a tiny infant.

If we're honest, we'll probably never really know for certain what the artist intended in this scene. But viewed through the lens of MMP, we interpret this to be a Midwinter setting in Rhea's sacred cave, with the goddess enthroned, a priestess making an offering to the new-born solar year-king, and another priestess entertaining the newborn baby - the infant Dionysus.

The type of vessel shown in the cave shrine scene, a kantharos, continued to be associated with Dionysus into classical times. Here's one that was found at Knossos, quite a beautiful specimen (image from Evans' Palace of Minos series):

Polychrome kantharos from Knossos

In MMP we associate this type of vessel with Dionysus both as the Vine God and as the Divine Child. He's a many-faceted god, both innocent and wild, young and old, belonging to both the Underworld and the World Above.

So pour out a libation to Dionysus and enjoy his presence in Minoan art.

In the name of the bee,
And of the butterfly,
And of the breeze, amen.

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Laura Perry is an artist, writer, and the founder and facilitator of Modern Minoan Paganism. The Minoans of Bronze Age Crete have been a passion of hers since a fateful art history class introduced her to the frescoes of Knossos back in high school. Her first book was published in 2001; one of her most recent works is Labrys and Horns: An Introduction to Modern Minoan Paganism. She has also created a Minoan Tarot deck and a Minoan coloring book. When she's not busy drawing and writing, you can find her in the garden or giving living history demonstrations at local historic sites.

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