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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Tying a Sacred Knot

Many symbols and images have held sacred meaning within religious traditions around the world and throughout time: the circle, the cross, the pillar, the pentagram. These symbols don’t necessarily mean the same thing in every tradition, and sometimes we can’t even be sure what the original significance was for each culture.

One such symbol is the knot.

You may be familiar with the tale of the Gordian knot from Greek and Roman mythology (the one Alexander the Great supposedly sliced with his sword) or the tyet of Isis from Egyptian mythology, often found in the form of amulets but also related to the knot on some Egyptian deities’ garments.

Similar knots appear in some contexts in Minoan art. Let’s explore these symbols and see what we can discover about them.

One of the famed Snake Goddess figurines from Knossos (in the photo at the top of this post) has an object that Sir Arthur Evans identified as a sacral knot between her breasts, at the top of the girdle that encircles her waist.

Some people have argued that it's actually the handle of a dagger that she has slipped down the front of her bodice - ouch! But if we have a look at the other Snake Goddess figurine from Knossos, we'll get a better idea of what it might actually be.

The second Snake Goddess figurine has a similar, though larger, knot between the front edges of her top. If you look closely, you'll see that there's a series of them going all the way down to where her top ends. In other words, these are ties that hold her bodice closed, keeping the garment snug against her body while supporting her breasts.

I do find it interesting that the snakes themselves form a large knot over her lower abdomen. I have to wonder if that has any significance. What do you think? 

Faience Minoan Snake Goddess figurine 

These two sacral knots are similar to the Egyptian tyet in that they appear to be worn as part of a priestess’ or goddess’ clothing in a sacred or ritual setting. The Egyptian tyet appears in the same position – at the front of the garment, as part of the girdle or belt, with a loop projecting upwards from the knot.  

The Minoan knots are utilitarian: They hold the Snake Goddesses' garments in place. But the Egyptian tyet knot was also used to hold priestesses' garments in place, and it was still sacred. So the question here is, are the knots on the front of the Snake Goddesses' bodices purely utilitarian, or do they have deeper significance? That's a question we may not be able to answer.

Bear in mind as well that the Minoan and Egyptian sacral knots don’t have exactly the same form. The tyet resembles the ankh, with a pillar-shaped base, a looped top, and two ‘arms’ that fold down the sides. These Minoan knots are simply vertical knots, or rows of knots, with a loop at the top – no arms.

It’s worth noting that the Egyptian sacral knot shown on many statues of Isis is missing those ‘arms’ and resembles the Minoan sacral knot far more than it does the tyet. The Egyptians and the Minoans interacted continuously for centuries, and there was a great deal of cultural exchange between the two. But at this point there’s no way of knowing whether the knot began in one culture and was shared to the other, began independently in both cultures, or began somewhere else and was borrowed into both Egypt and Crete.

There's still debate as to the true underlying meaning of the tyet, which may have changed over the centuries of Egyptian civilization. So even if these Minoan knots are close relatives of the tyet, we can’t be certain of their meaning.

But the ‘front-and-center’ sacral knot as part of the garments on priestess/goddess figures isn’t the only version we find in Minoan art. There's another type that we've come to call the sacral scarf. [Note that since I wrote this blog post, we think we've figured out the meaning of the sacral scarf. You can find more details about it here.]

 La Parisienne Minoan fresco fragment from Knossos

The famed La Parisienne fresco fragment from the Camp Stool fresco at Knossos (shown above) depicts a large sacral scarf worn on the shoulders. This form of the sacral scarf, with a single loop above the knot and two ‘tails’ below, recurs throughout Minoan art.

This type of knot always appears to be made from a length of fabric (like a scarf) rather than a cord, a fact that differentiates it further from the knots on the Snake Goddess figurines. This is the type of sacral knot we find most often in the archaeological remains of ancient Crete.  It occurs throughout the centuries of Minoan civilization and even continued on into Mycenaean times, as you can see from these examples as well as these in the National Archaeological Museum at Athens.

The Minoan sacral scarf seems to have had a life of its own separate from being worn (always by women in the examples we've found so far) since it was also depicted hovering by itself in midair. Several seal rings show one or two sacral scarves hanging near a bull or a stag. The images of the sacral scarf with the bulls include illustrations of men in what might be depictions of bull-leaping, which was probably done in a sacred or ritual context.

 Minoan gold seal ring with bull leaping and sacral scarf

So we have the sacral knot and the sacral scarf, two fascinating bits of Minoan religious symbolism that we're only beginning to understand. And they raise so many questions.

From an archaeological standpoint, there’s only so far we can go with these questions. But from a spiritual perspective, we have more options. We can sit in meditation with these symbols and ask for more information about them, including how we might use them in our Ariadne's Tribe spiritual practice.

We can take spirit journeys (psychic archaeology) back to Minoan times in order to discover how they might have been used in ritual by the people of ancient Crete. And we can incorporate them into our spiritual practice by adding these images and even real knots and scarves to our sacred spaces, while listening to the deities as they guide us.

I think my first steps in this exploration will involve tying a long scarf into the sacral knot, adding it to my altar and seeing where that leads me. Where will your journey take you?

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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.


  • Ruby
    Ruby Saturday, 06 June 2015

    When I first saw the image of the sacral knots my immediate thought is that it could be a birthing rope. Something like a rebozo used by birthing women to tie onto something up high, to hold while in a squatting position. There's many other uses, but primarily surround pregnant & birthing women. Postpartum women also wear the rebozo tied tight around their abdomen to help everything move back into it's natural position.
    I am curious if you are familiar with a birthing rebozo and your thoughts on this. The rebozo name comes from the Mexican tradition but surely women around the world would use a similar birthing tool.

  • Laura Perry
    Laura Perry Sunday, 07 June 2015

    What a great insight! Yes, I'm familiar with the rebozo as used by the women of Central America during labor and childbirth. The meditation I've done with the sacral knot associates it with the birth of Dionysos. Several times, I've gotten the impression that it stood for Dionysos' umbilical cord, and hanging it up in public was a symbol that he had been born (kind of like the way Christians put the image of the baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas morning). But I like the idea of it being a birthing tool, perhaps as another layer in the symbology. That would provide a connection between Rhea and Dionysos, and it suggests that the sacral knot indicates Winter Solstice. Maybe the bull-leaping was done as part of the Winter Solstice celebrations of Dionysos' birth.

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