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?

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Shake your tree! A ritual in Minoan art

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

One of the issues we face when working with modern Paganism based in ancient Minoan spirituality is a practical one: we can’t read what the Minoans wrote. Their two writing systems, Cretan hieroglyphs and Linear A, are still undeciphered. That leaves us with lots and lots of images from frescoes, pottery, seal stones and seal rings. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but figuring out exactly which thousand words are the right ones can be a problem.

Lately I’ve been working on some art projects that involve enlarging photos of some of the Minoan seal rings, and I’ve had occasion to examine the artwork closely. Most of the time this has been an enlightening process, but I have run across one bit that bothered me a lot. You see, there’s a particular ritual scene that’s repeated over and over on the seal rings. The archaeologists have interpreted it as a ‘tree shaking ceremony’ but they can’t manage to explain what it might actually mean. As I was examining a closeup of the seal ring from Tholos Tomb A at Archanes (the main blog image above) it occurred to me that the branch-type object the male figure is shaking might not actually be a tree. I had a look at a few other seal rings that include similar ‘tree shaking’ rituals and I think these images may be something far more specific to the Minoan goddess than trees.

I think the people on these rings, at least some of them, are shaking branches full of dates. The fruit. Yum.

Date clusters on a date palm tree


You see, the date palm and its fruit are sacred to the Minoan goddess (and other ancient Mediterranean goddesses as well). On the Archanes ring above, it even looks like loose dates are falling down into the center of the shrine or altar that is topped by the date branches (that’s what clued me in to the possibility that the branches are clusters of dates and not trees). And it looks like there’s a cluster of date blooms on the end of one of the branches, too. Yes, I realize an actual date palm tree wouldn't have blooms and fruit on it at the same time, but this is religious iconography, not a botanical text.

Let’s look at a few other seal rings and see what their ‘tree shaking’ rituals look like. Note that on all these seals, the ‘leaves’ on the trees are rounded like dates and not pointed or oblong like, for instance, the olive tree on the Hagia Triada sarcophagus:

Hagia Triada sarcophagus tree scene


Here’s the so-called Ring of Minos from Knossos. It includes two people shaking multiple ‘trees’ or branches of dates.

Ring of Minos


The Poros ring is pretty worn from lots of use so it’s a bit harder to see the details of the design, but the ‘trees’ on it look like the ones on the other rings we’ve looked at so far, that is, like clusters of dates.

Poros Ring from crete


There are other rings that have these ‘trees’ (branches of dates) on them, always on top of a shrine, but no one is shaking them. The Mochlos ring is a typical example:

Mochlos ring


To me, it makes much more sense for the 'trees' in these scenes to be clusters of dates, especially if we take into account the fruit falling into the shrine on the Archanes ring. Maybe the lusty goddess is giving us a message: If you don't want my fruit, don't shake my tree!

UPDATE: In the two-plus years since I originally posted this article, we've done a lot of work with shared gnosis and comparative mythology over in Ariadne's Tribe. Among other things, we've identified the Minoan version of the Bronze Age eastern Mediterranean sun goddess. Her symbols include the date palm and the griffin as well as the red/purple murex dye later known as Tyrian purple. In Modern Minoan Paganism, we call her Therasia.


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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