Ariadne's Tribe: Minoan Spirituality for the Modern World

Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan family of deities. Ariadne's Tribe is an independent spiritual tradition that brings the deities 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?

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Breast Is Best: Minoan Mother Goddess Imagery

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

All those topless women in Minoan art played a major role in the popularity of Minoan archaeology during the early 20th century, when the cities of Bronze Age Crete were being uncovered for the first time in over 3,000 years. They were quite racy for the Edwardian era, being considered almost pornographic back then.

But to the Minoans, they were sacred.

Breast imagery abounds in Minoan art, and it all points to the mother goddesses whose nurturing and nourishing aspects humans have revered for millennia. In Ariadne's Tribe, we revere the Three Mothers as sources of life and strength.

The Minoans didn't view bare breasts as pornographic. Nudity, partial or complete, was common in the Bronze Age Mediterranean - it's a hot climate, after all, and that was a long time before Christianity and a number of centuries before the Iron Age (classical era) repression of women. Just have a look at Egyptian art from that time period.

We don't know whether the bared breasts in Minoan art were a special clothing design for priestesses or something that ordinary women also wore. But that look wouldn't have raised eyebrows in the Bronze Age. It would, however, have reminded people of the concept of breastfeeding and, by connection, with the mother goddess figure.

So Minoan art includes figurines like the faience Snake Goddess, above, from Knossos, and frescoes like this one from Knossos showing an outdoor scene at the temple:

Grandstand fresco from Knossos
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

and this ultra-realistic one from the House of the Ladies in Akrotiri:

Fresco, House of the Ladies, Akrotiri
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There are other obvious bits of breast symbolism as well, like this rhyton (libation pitcher) from Mochlos where the liquid pours out the breasts:

Minoan rhyton from Mochlos
Image CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

But there are other, subtler ways we think the Minoans portrayed breasts in their art. They depicted a number of botanical elements - trees, flowers, plants - with a double curl that looks remarkably like a pair of breasts. So, for instance, lilies, which in MMP are sacred to our Earth Mother Goddess Rhea, among others. We see a lovely cluster of them with the stylized double curl in this fresco from Amnisos:

Lilies fresco from Amnisos
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

and this lidded jug from Mochlos:

Lidded jug with lilies from Mochlos
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Minoan artists also depicted the date palm tree (sacred to our Sun Mother Goddess Therasia) with the double curl, like on this bold Kamares ware pithos found at Knossos but made at Phaistos:

Kamares ware pithos with date palm tree
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

and this spouted jar from Archanes with date palm trees, among other things:

Minoan pyxis from Archanes with date palm trees
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Minoan artists also depicted papyrus with the double curl. We still haven't figured out exactly which mother goddess it belongs to, but it's among many things the Minoans borrowed from the Egyptians (don't worry, the Egyptians borrowed cultural tidbits from the Minoans, too, so it was a fair exchange). 

So we have this lively pithamphora from the Isopata cemetery at Knossos with double-curl papyrus:

Pithamphora from Knossos with papyrus
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

and this larnax from Maroulas, Crete, where the artist has gone a little nuts with the double curl, including giving one to the octopus:

Minoan larnax with papyrus and octopuses
Image CC BY 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

That's a lot of breast imagery. Not womb imagery, like we see so much of in modern Neopaganism. It looks like Minoan religion didn't focus particularly on women's fertility - maybe a lot of Minoan women were too busy doing other things like running businesses and serving in the temple.

But it does focus on an aspect of motherhood - divine motherhood - that would have been quite comforting to everyone back in an age before bottle feeding was possible. It's a reminder that, no matter what our relationships with our human families look like, the Mothers love us. Pure and simple.

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Laura Perry is a priestess and creator who works magic with words, paint, ink, music, textiles, and herbs. She's the founder and Temple Mom of Ariadne's Tribe, an inclusive Minoan spiritual tradition. 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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