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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Minos the Moon God?

We call the people of ancient Crete Minoans thanks to the whim of Sir Arthur Evans, the main archaeologist who excavated Knossos over a century ago. He knew the Hellenic Greek myth of King Minos of Crete, took it for historical fact, and named the civilization after the king: Minoan.

The thing is, Minos was originally a god, not a king.

It’s possible that priests in ancient Crete took the name or title Minos when they took on certain responsibilities. Some people call these men priest-kings, though I’m not sure the term is accurate, since none of them ever "ruled" (if they did such a thing) more than just a single Minoan city and its surrounding area. Ancient Crete didn't have a unified island-wide government during Minoan times (the Mycenaean occupation is another story). And it’s probable that priestesses as well as priests took part in the governing of the temple complexes and the cities, none of them behaving like monarchs, but probably part of groups or councils of people who governed each area.

So let's back up a bit. Minos was a god in Minoan times. His fame endured for centuries after Minoan civilization died out, to the point that writers like Thucydides, Homer, Pausanias, Herodotus, Strabo and Virgil felt his story was worth telling. And the story was of a god, though it was couched in the same kinds of quasi-historical terms that many myths are.

I suspect one aspect that people found confusing, as to whether Minos was a mortal or a god, is that he was depicted as dying in most of these stories. But this is nothing new: Dionysus also dies each year and is reborn. The cyclical resurrection of deities is commonplace in mythology and isn't meant to be taken in the same way as human death.

So what’s Minos’ story? It’s a little confusing, but I’ll do my best to tease it out from the multiple versions that have come down to us from different sources and cultures, each with its own agenda.

It’s also helpful to keep in mind that the relationships within the Minoan pantheon aren't a clear-cut as, say, the Greek or Roman ones. The Minoan deities don’t fit neatly into a human-style family tree. Honestly, the deeper you get into the pantheon, the more it starts to look like a carnival fun house full of mirrors. But I digress.

There are two main aspects to Minos’ story that appear to go all the way back to Crete, as opposed to the bits from the Labyrinth-and-Minotaur story that were added centuries later by the Greeks.

1: Minos was a lawgiver


2: he periodically died and descended to the Underworld.

These two aspects – lawgiver and cyclical death and resurrection – are parts of the same process in the tale of Minos.

The basic story says that Minos lived or reigned at Knossos for 9 years then returned to Rhea’s cave or the Underworld (they’re effectively the same thing in symbolic terms), where he received the laws he used as the Lawgiver.

Some versions of the myth say these were the laws used to govern ancient Crete, which were subsequently bequeathed to the Greeks as their governing laws. But other versions of the tale say the laws were the ones Minos used while in the Underworld, to judge the souls of the dead. I suspect this Underworld version is the original story.

In this account, on his death Minos returns specifically to the cave on Mt. Ida, which we know was sacred to the Minoan mother goddess Rhea a.k.a. Ida. Strabo said Minos got his laws from Zeus in that cave, but I suspect that originally, those laws came from Rhea herself.

And by Zeus, the Greeks meant the Minoan god Dionysus. They called him Cretan Zeus because he was the top male figure in the Minoan pantheon. They did this consistently with foreign pantheons, equating foreign deities with their own and subbing their own names.

The thing I find most interesting is that Minos is linked with the Moon in several different ways. The first is the length of his death-and-rebirth cycle: 9 years. Every 9th year, he descended to the Underworld, and in the later Greek version, every 9th year he demanded 14 youth from Athens as a sacrifice.

This 9-year cycle is an example of inclusive counting, a technique used across the ancient world that causes confusion for those of us who count beginning at zero. If Minos returned to the Underworld every 9th year, this means his cycle was 8 years long. What’s the significance of that?

We know the Minoans were efficient astronomers, keeping track of the cycles of the Sun, Moon, planets, and a number of different stars. They oriented their temples, shrines, tombs, and peak sanctuaries to astronomical events.

One of the cycles the Minoans kept track of was the solar/lunar/Venus cycle: 8 solar years = 99 lunations = 5 complete Venus cycles. Every 9th solar year, this cycle begins again. The 9th-year issue suggests Minos is associated with the Minoan sacred calendar.

But why is he linked to the Moon and not the Sun?

Many people, from scholars and academics to mystics and practicing Pagans, believe the Minoans had a Sun goddess and a Moon good, just like other ancient Mediterranean cultures of the time. [UPDATE: We've reconnected with the Minoan Sun Goddess whom we call Therasia.]

One of the most ancient symbols used to represent the Moon is horns, which look like the crescent phases of the Moon. Horned animals have been sacred to the Moon since the Paleolithic era. And Minos is obviously associated with a specific type of horned animal: cattle.

Some versions of his story say that he's the son of Zeus (Dionysus) and Europa, the Moon-Cow goddess. The Greeks said Zeus captured Europa and carried her off to Crete, but Dionysus started out on Crete, and if Europa wasn't originally from Crete, she was certainly from the eastern Mediterranean cultural sphere (and may originally have been a Sun Goddess).

Minos was also said to have been raised by Asterion. Now, Asterion is considered by many people to be another name for the Minotaur, the Moon-Bull, so there’s yet another connection between Minos and the Horned Ones. (A few thoughts about who Asterion really is here.)

And then there’s this interesting bit about Minos: He had two brothers, Rhadamanthys and Sarpedon (or in some versions, Aeacus). They all have pretty much the same characteristics (children of Dionysus and Europa, became judges in the Underworld every 9th year) so it looks like they’re not so much individual characters as a triplicity.

This makes sense for a Moon god, who has three main aspects: waxing, full, and waning (the New Moon is an empty space – no Moon, no face). And of course, it looks like the Moon disappears into the Underworld, or into a cave, once a lunation.

But every 9th year, something really special happens – the interlocking of three different astronomical cycles that determined part of the Minoan sacred calendar. It makes sense that Minos would have been viewed as a lawgiver if he was part of that sacred cycle, that sequence of motions in the heavens that the Minoans counted on to determine when to time the holiest of days in their religious calendar. In Ariadne's Tribe, we have taken to calling this the Minos year.

His role in the Underworld suggests participation in the Minoan version of the Eleusinian Mysteries. Perhaps, in his position as judge of the dead, he's able to help us see through the illusions we shroud ourselves in when we don't want to face reality.

We've also discovered, via our personal interactions with him, that Minos appears to be the elder face of the Sons - the three gods who are children of the Minoan mother goddesses Rhea, Therasia, and Posidaeja.

Minos has three faces, but we don't yet know whether each of these corresponds directly to one of the Sons (Tauros Asterion, Korydallos, and Dionysus). Hopefully he will continue to teach us more about himself and about how he wants us to interact with him in the modern world.

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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.


  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Wednesday, 22 July 2015

    Very interesting!

  • Corvia Blackthorn
    Corvia Blackthorn Thursday, 23 July 2015

    Very interesting indeed, thank you!

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