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?

Find out all about Ariadne's Tribe at We're an inclusive, welcoming tradition, open to all who share our love for the Minoan deities and respect for our fellow human beings.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Meet the Minoans: Eileithyia

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Though she's not as well-known as some of the other Minoan deities who made their way into the later Olympian pantheon, Eileithyia, the divine midwife and goddess of childbirth, was profoundly important to the ancient Cretans.

There's some speculation that Eileithyia is actually her Minoan/pre-Greek name, which is unusual among the deities from Crete; we know most of them only from their later Greek epithets. In the Cretan dialect her name is Eleuthia (e-re-u-ti-ja in Linear B), which may connect her to Eleusis and the Mysteries celebrated there. A goddess of birth could certainly have a place in the transformational ceremonies of a mystery religion.

The meaning of her name is disputed, though it may have its roots in the term ‘to bring’ or ‘to deliver,’ which would make sense for a goddess of childbirth, or possibly in the word for ‘to aid or relieve.’ She is sometimes depicted as multiples – the Eileithyias – rather than a single goddess, and sometimes as a dual goddess, one who either slows labor or speeds it up, depending on her attitude toward the laboring woman.

The Minoans worshiped Eileithyia at a cave near Amnisos, the ancient port that served the city of Knossos and other nearby towns. Archaeologists have found evidence of her continuous worship in that cave beginning in Neolithic times, so she's one of the oldest Minoan deities and may trace back to Neolithic Anatolia, where the Minoans' ancestors migrated from. According to legend, Eileithyia was born in that cave on Crete, making her a part of the living landscape of the island, much like Rhea.

In the cave, archaeologists have found figurines of women in childbirth, in prayer postures, and nursing infants. These offerings that women made to this goddess tell us what they wanted from Eileithyia, which is pretty much the same thing pregnant women have always desired and still hope for: a safe and fast delivery of a healthy child who nurses strongly and grows well. In this way, Eileithyia ties us to our ancestors going back through the generations and the millennia.

The stalagmites and stalactites in her sacred cave were ritual focuses for the women who made pilgrimages there. One of the larger stalagmites may have been viewed as an emanation of the goddess herself, in place of a statue or other representation. This connects back to the columns in Minoan temples and sacred houses, as well as in Minoan art, since they, too, are goddess symbols.

In classical Greek art, Eileithyia is depicted carrying torches in order to bring children out of the darkness of the womb and into the light of life. Some people interpret the torches to represent the burning pains of childbirth. But it seems to me that, in her role as the helper of women in labor, her symbols should focus on the positive aspects of labor rather than the suffering.

Eileithyia is also Ariadne's torch-bearer during that goddess's time in the Underworld. In the mythos of the Minoan Mysteries, Ariadne willingly descends to the Underworld during the "dead" season, which is the summer in the Mediterranean. There she cares for the spirits of the dead, with Eileithyia as her torch-bearer, until it's time to return to the World Above in the autumn as the growing season begins.

As a natural denizen of the Underworld, Eileithyia is Ariadne's torch-bearer. But she is also the one who delivers the soul of each newborn into its body at the moment of birth, guiding it from its place among the ancestors in the Underworld into its new life in the World Above.

In Ariadne's Tribe, Eileithyia's connection with both torches and the Underworld have led us to identify her as the Underworld face of our Sun goddess Therasia

Interestingly, Eileithyia herself is never depicted as having a husband or children. She's a single woman under her own power, like Artemis and other ‘virgin’ goddesses. From a practical standpoint, it makes sense for a midwife to have no family ties so she's not pulled in multiple directions when she's needed at odd hours or for long periods of time. But her independence also suggests that, to the Minoans, childbirth was under the power of the women and not the men. It may also be a reflection of the social mores of Minoan society: in matrilineal cultures, marriage is not necessary because all children are legitimate: they all have mothers.

Eileithyia is mentioned in a clay tablet from Amnisos, written in Linear B:

 Amnisos: One jar of honey to Eileithyia,

 One jar of honey to all [of] the gods. . . .

This particular tablet was one of the keys that helped Michael Ventris decipher Linear B. Perhaps he had help from the goddess; after all, he was birthing an ancient language into the modern world.

She is also mentioned as receiving offerings of wool. It strikes me that honey and wool are particularly womanly offerings. Women tended bees (they were sacred to several goddesses) and spun wool, so these are appropriate as gifts to the goddess who provides such intimate help to women.

In some myths, Eileithyia is called ‘the clever spinner,’ an epithet of a fate goddess. It makes sense that a deity who presides over childbirth would have, as part of her being, a fate aspect. This also suggests she is far older than other deities – the Fates are among the most ancient of deities. This is another reason we identify her as the Underworld face of the Sun Goddess, who was also a fate goddess across the oldest layers of Eurasian culture.

The Greeks depicted Eileithyia as being present at the birth of many of their gods and heroes, so she continued to be important as time went on, midwifing a large portion of the Olympian pantheon into existence as well as aiding mortal women during labor. She was worshiped well into the Christian era in many places.

As Greek culture spread, so did Eileithyia’s cult. After all, women have babies everywhere, not just on Crete, and calling on an ancient power during childbirth is comforting and reassuring. She's still with us today, ready to help with the process of bringing new life into the world. I also like to think she’s helping with a different kind of birth, or rebirth, if you will: the rediscovery of ancient Minoan spirituality as it's born into the world once again.

Last modified on
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.


Additional information