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.

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Sacred Saffron: A bit of autumn magic

The lovely young lady in the image above is picking the stigmas and styles of the saffron crocus, also called the autumn crocus, to give as an offering to the Sun Goddess.

This is one part of a story that plays out in a series of frescoes from Akrotiri, the Bronze Age town on the Mediterranean island of Santorini. Saffron crocus blooms float like a wallpaper design across these frescoes, Minoan artists' way of showing us that behind the human figures was a spreading field of crocuses.

Below, we see a girl pouring her gathered saffron into a large basket while a monkey presents some to the enthroned goddess.


The Saffron Gatherers fresco


Saffron was an important herbal remedy, spice, and sacred substance to the ancient Minoans. It was used to season food and drinks, as a precious dye, and to ease menstrual cramps.

Its colors are magic, too. The saffron threads are dark red, one of Therasia's sacred colors. But when you soak them in a liquid, they turn golden, sunshine-y yellow - a spectacular transformation.

So it's a special substance to start with. But saffron also interlocks with the seasons in the eastern Mediterranean and plays a role in a very special cycle of stories.

First, saffron is a flower, and most of us think of flowers as blooming in the spring. But saffron is unusual in this regard: It blooms in the autumn (that's why it's called the autumn crocus, to differentiate it from the types of crocus that bloom in early spring).

This characteristic sets it apart from other flowers and may have been the beginning of its consideration as a sacred plant. But there's more to the seasonality than just this.

The Minoans lived on the island of Crete, off the southern coast of Greece in the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean has its own unique climate and set of seasons that are very different from those of the northern temperate zone where many of us live.

In the northern temperate zone (most of North America, most of Europe, northern-central Asia, and parts of Australia) we have the four seasons most of us learned in school: spring, summer, autumn, winter. But the Mediterranean is different.

In Mediterranean climates (all around the Mediterranean Sea as well as central and southern California in the U.S., parts of Australia, and parts of southern Africa) there are really only two seasons: wet and dry. The Mediterranean climate is often called a dry-summer climate, and that name tells you how it works.

The summer is a dry time, usually with no rain at all. In fact, on Crete, all the smaller creeks dry up entirely and many of the rivers are reduced to shallow muddiness. Plants dry up and turn crispy-brown. In Mediterranean climates, the summer is the "dead time," comparable to winter in the northern temperate zone.

Then, all around the Mediterranean, as summer ends, something magical happens: The rains come. Creeks and rivers fill, plants sprout green again, and the saffron crocus blooms.

The autumn is the beginning of the agricultural cycle in the Mediterranean, the oldest New Year on Crete. It's the time when farmers plow their fields (the soil is now soft from rain after being hard and dry all summer) and plant their crops. Those crops grow throughout the mild, wet winter and are harvested in the spring - yes, this is backwards from the kind of seasonality most of us know.

This is backwards from the way a particular myth is usually told. I'm talking about the story of Demeter and Persephone, the mythical cycle that underpins the famed Eleusinian Mysteries, a series of sacred rites that appear to trace back to Minoan Crete.

The tale of Demeter and Persephone is usually told in terms of a northern temperate zone climate: Hades drags Persephone down to the Underworld during the winter, when the world goes dead as Demeter mourns the loss of her daughter. Then, when Persephone returns to the Upperworld in the spring, life blooms again.

But in the Mediterranean, the seasons are different from the northern temperate zone. So if we're going to tell the tale of the Mysteries accurately in a Minoan context, we need to have Ariadne in the Underworld during the summer (the Mediterranean "dead season"). Then with her mother Rhea's help, she returns to the World Above in the autumn, when the rains come and life springs forth again. That version feels very different, doesn't it?

In the Minoan version of this mythic cycle, Ariadne is the Underworld Queen and Rhea is her mother. In the pre-patriarchal culture of Minoan-era Crete, we can envision Ariadne descending voluntarily to the Underworld to guide and care for the ancestors. It's her job, after all: She's the Queen Bee, the head of the Melissae who are the ancestral bee-spirit goddesses.

Of course, Rhea misses her daughter during the summer, when everything is all dried up and dead, and rejoices when Ariadne returns to the World Above. There's a beautiful, poetic version of this tale in Charlene Spretnak's book Lost Goddesses of Early Greece.


Seal from Thisbe showing goddess rising from the Underworld


How does Ariadne know when to descend and when to return? The Sun Goddess Therasia, to whom the sacred saffron is dedicated, keeps the time in the World Above, measuring out the days of the seasons.

It's through her cycles that Ariadne knows when to make the trek to the Underworld, and also through her cycles that Rhea knows when to go fetch her daughter to come back up again. After all, time passes differently in the World Below than it does up here, so Ariadne needs someone to let her know when the seasons have turned.

So our beloved Ariadne returns to the World Above, the dead season ends, and the rains begin. And the saffron crocus blooms.

What more fitting way to thank and honor the deities for their gifts of returning life than to collect those beautiful red stigmas, the sacred herb that seasons food (maybe special saffron bread to offer to her?) and eases menstrual cramps. She has given us this gift, and many others. Let us cherish them.

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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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