Editor’s note: Today we have a guest column from Laura Perry, founder and facilitator of Modern Minoan Paganism. This overview of the tradition is part of an occasional series here at The Wild Hunt, where we have invited similar introductions from the Gaulish Polytheist revival and the Lokean community. We would love to spotlight more lesser-known Pagan traditions – please consider pitching a column on your tradition through the Contact Us link at the top of the page.
Step outside on a clear night and locate the constellation Orion; it looks like a giant labrys tilted across the sky. Turn your face up to the stars, arch your back, and press the back of your loosely-curled fist to your forehead. This is the Minoan salute, and you are honoring the labrys and the goddess to whom it belongs: Ariadne. You are practicing Modern Minoan Paganism.
As I write this, I glance over the top of my laptop screen to see a copy of the Blue Ladies fresco from Knossos on my wall. The smoke from saffron and labdanum incense wafts around me, and for a moment, I imagine myself in ancient Crete, kneeling before an altar in my home: a shrine to the Snake Goddess, or perhaps the sea-goddess Posidaeja, or the Minotaur.
I’m not in ancient Crete, though. I’m in the modern world, a 21st century Pagan who feels a connection with the religion and culture of the Minoans, who flourished on the Mediterranean island of Crete four millennia ago. And I’m not alone. But there was a time when I thought I was.
It’s an old joke in the Pagan community, that when someone can’t find the resource they’re looking for, they have to go out and create it for themselves. Many of us have done exactly that. When I set out in search of a Pagan group that shared my connection with the Minoans, the few options I found weren’t open to me. For 25 years or so, I did my thing alone.
Then one day I decided to brave the waters of the online world and set up a Facebook group for people of all stripes who felt called to the Minoan gods and goddesses. I thought I might get lucky and find a handful of other folks who shared my interests. I was shocked to discover that there are many people who feel a profound connection with the Minoan pantheon and the culture of ancient Crete. Thus, Modern Minoan Paganism was born.
This is a thing we’ve built together, the thousand-plus members of the online group and a few small clusters of people around the world who are lucky enough to be able to meet in real life. We’ve developed a pantheon, a sacred calendar, and a set of practices that we all share. It’s been a collective effort with a lot of trial and error, and it’s an ongoing process: becoming as well as being.
Modern Minoan Paganism is not a reconstructionist tradition. We can’t read Linear A, the script the Minoans used to write their native language. What we do have is Linear B, the script that was adapted from Linear A to write the Mycenaean (early Greek) language. Some of the Linear B tablets record offerings brought to the temple at Knossos in very late Minoan times, when the Mycenaeans were occupying the place.
We also have fragments of Minoan myth, garbled and maybe even purposely changed through retelling by the later Greeks. And we have archaeology: the ruins of Minoan temples, cities, villas, peak sanctuaries, cave shrines, and artifacts from all these places, including ritual ware and votive figurines.
From those bits and pieces we can make educated guesses about how the Minoans practiced their religion, but we can’t really know for certain. We’re not recreating ancient Minoan spirituality, but creating something new that harkens back to the Bronze Age. In that context, we rely to some extent on shared personal gnosis, as well as the practical considerations of what works and is acceptable in modern Pagan practice. (We’ve chosen to skip the animal sacrifice, for instance.) We’re a revivalist tradition, if you will: modern Pagans connecting with ancient deities in the 21st century world.
Who are those deities? Most Pagans are probably already familiar with many of them. Let’s begin with the Three, the mother goddesses who represent the three sacred realms of land, sea, and sky:
- Rhea: the Minoan Earth mother goddess, the island of Crete in divine form.
- Posidaeja: the sea-goddess, Grandmother Ocean, out of whom the land rises.
- Therasia: goddess of the Sun, fire, and the sky.
As for the rest of the pantheon:
- Ourania: the cosmic or universal goddess, Mother-of-Darkness-and-Stars.
- Ariadne: Lady of the Labyrinth, psychopomp and goddess of healing and growth.
- The Snake Goddess: perhaps the most familiar figure from Minoan Crete, the Snake Goddess has different meanings for different people. She is always associated with the Underworld, sometimes with Ariadne and sometimes with Ourania, and occasionally both.
- Dionysus: ecstatic vine-god, born to the goddess Rhea in her sacred cave on Crete.
- The Horned Ones: they come in male-female pairs, so we have the Minotaur and Europa (cattle deities), the Minocapros and Amalthea (goat deities), and the Minelathos and Britomartis (deer deities). The Minotaur holds a special place in our pantheon, helping to guide seekers to the center of the Labyrinth. And no, he’s not a monster, I promise.
- Eileithyia: midwife goddess who safeguards pregnant women and newborns.
- Minos: underworld judge of the dead.
- Daedalus: inventor and smith god. He built the labyrinth and Ariadne’s dancing floor.
- The Daktyls and Hekaterides: demi-gods and goddesses who represent the sacred skills of bronze smithing and pottery.
The sacred calendar for Modern Minoan Paganism doesn’t follow the modern Neopagan eight-fold wheel of the year, though some of the dates overlap. We celebrate the solstices and the equinoxes like many other traditions, but we also celebrate the grape harvest, a Minoan version of the Eleusinian Mysteries, and the beginning of sailing season in the Mediterranean, among others.
Some of the dates on our calendar come from alignments of Minoan temples, tombs, and shrines. Many of them were built to align to the solstice and equinox sunrises and sunsets, while some were positioned in correlation with the lunar standstills or the heliacal rising of certain stars. Mediterranean dance ethnography and regional festivals that have survived into modern times have also provided us with inspiration for the sacred calendar.
What do we do to celebrate the high points of the year — or any day, for that matter? Our practices are generally simple, the kinds of things Pagans have done in their homes for millennia – the kinds of activities most modern Pagans are already familiar with. We create and maintain altars. We honor the sacred with the Minoan salute and other ecstatic postures. We make offerings (food, flowers, saffron, and incense) and we pour libations (wine, milk, honey, and other liquids). We scry in bowls of wine. We meditate and ask the gods for guidance. And when the opportunity arises, we walk the labyrinth.
We don’t have the kinds of resources the ancient Minoan temples did to put on mystery plays and big public rituals. But when we can gather a few friends together, we celebrate as a group. Our rites don’t involve Wiccan-style circle casting or quarter calls, but we do enjoy processions and we like to consecrate the ritual area and the participants with incense or sprinklings of herb water, or both.
Modern Minoan Paganism is not a dogmatic tradition. It’s not about what we believe; it doesn’t matter whether we think the gods and goddesses are individual beings or Jungian archetypes or something else altogether. It’s about how we practice and which deities we honor. It’s also about who we allow to join us: everyone who feels a connection with the Minoan deities and who respects their fellow human beings.
Here’s our official description: Modern Minoan Paganism is an independent tradition, separate from any other Minoan group or tradition. We are a welcoming path, happily open to people of any race, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability level, disability, geographic location, language, education, or socio-economic status. We’re all in this together.
Our online community, Ariadne’s Tribe, can be found on Facebook. By the time you read this, we will have had our very first tiny little local festival in the Pacific Northwest. We’re growing, one step at a time, gods willing.
I’ll end with a benediction that Emily Dickinson wrote, one that captures the beauty of nature and, coincidentally, some important symbols from the Minoan world.
In the name of the bee,
And of the butterfly,
And of the breeze, amen.
Laura Perry is the founder and facilitator of Modern Minoan Paganism. She is a Pagan author and artist, a lifelong animist, and a living history demonstrator. She blogs about Modern Minoan Paganism on Witches & Pagans. You can find all her work, including the Minoan stuff, on her website. If she’s not writing, drawing, or leading ritual, she’s probably digging in the garden and communing with the spirits of the land where she lives, near Atlanta, Georgia.