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The Many Ways of Modern Minoan Paganism

Finger labyrinth

 

One of the interesting challenges I’ve found in practicing Modern Minoan Paganism is that my world is a bit different from ancient Crete. I’m not talking about technology so much (the Minoans didn’t have iPhones but they did have enclosed sewers, flushing toilets, and paved streets). What I mean is the religious facets of the culture I live in, as compared to a few thousand years ago.

For instance, when the high points of the Minoan sacred year come around, I can’t just head down to the local temple to watch a Mystery play or participate in a public ritual. Even though I have a debit card and access to the Internet, it’s still pretty hard to find “Minoan bling” outside of museums and specialty shops in Crete – I can’t just stroll down to an ancient Minoan marketplace and pick up some goddess figurines, oil lamps, and offering stands. I don’t have a whole city full of people who practice Minoan spirituality. We are, in a sense, baking from scratch in Modern Minoan Paganism.

(As an aside, I think Modern Minoan Paganism is poised at about the place Druidry was maybe 20 or 30 years ago. It’s a small specialty field within Paganism, which is itself a small specialty section of world religions. Not many people know about the Minoan spiritual path yet, but that’s slowly changing. I’m looking forward to the day when we can put together a Minoan Pagan festival with a big Mystery play as the main ritual.)

(As another aside, Modern Minoan Paganism isn’t the only Minoan path out there. The Minoan Sisterhood and the Minoan Brotherhood have been around for several decades. I was recently asked why I didn’t mention them in my two Minoan spirituality books, Ariadne’s Thread and Labrys and Horns. The answer is simple: because they’re separate paths from Modern Minoan Paganism. To go back to the Druidry analogy, I wouldn’t expect a member of one Druid tradition to write a book that discussed the spiritual practices of a different tradition. Modern Minoan Paganism is its own path with its own evolving traditions and practices, open to people of all genders, sexual orientations, and ethnic backgrounds.)

So what’s a modern Pagan to do? Put the bits and pieces together in our own lives, one person and one day at a time. And get together when we can.

The photo at the top of this post is a finger labyrinth I made out of homemade spice clay (recipe and complete directions are in my book Labrys and Horns, or you can do an online search for “cinnamon clay recipe”). The labyrinth is a potent emblem of Minoan spirituality, one that has remained in the public eye and touched hearts and minds for millennia. Making the finger labyrinth was a slow, meditative process that I did in a ritualized sacred setting. Now it “lives” on my altar as both a powerful symbol of Minoan spirituality and a helpful meditative tool. Finger labyrinths are readily available online and in metaphysical shops, and you can always make your own.

I walk labyrinths whenever I can, in public parks and at the beach and even in churches. A lot of people enjoy labyrinth walking as a moving meditation or simply as a way to explore this symbol in a whole-body kind of way. If we’re really honest, we’re not entirely certain what the original Minoan labyrinth was. No one has ever found one in the ruins on Crete, though meander designs do figure prominently in Minoan art. What we do know is that the idea of the labyrinth was powerful enough to influence classical writers, who thought it was important enough to write about and pass on. People continue to be moved by this twisting, turning symbol of the human spiritual journey.

Like many modern Pagans, I have altars in my home. Below is a photo of the Minoan altar in my office/studio. I consider my writing and art to be sacred acts, so I like being able to light a candle and some incense and turn at least part of my workday into a ritual.

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The ancient Minoans, like many other Bronze Age people, also had altars and shrines in their homes. They did the same kinds of things that we modern Pagans do with those altars: make offerings, meditate, pray, burn incense, light oil lamps (candles hadn’t been invented yet, but you get the idea). Most of the time, I do these kinds of things alone, but it’s also lovely to have a quick/tiny ritual in front of the altar with my family or a friend or two. A lot of Pagans are perfectly willing to hang out with Minoan deities every now and then, even if it’s not something they do as their main path, so go ahead and ask your local Pagan friends. You never know who might offer to meet you in the park for a little labyrinth-walking, or bring the incense for an impromptu ritual.

Formal religion, like the Minoans practiced in their huge temple complexes with a professional priesthood, has a lot of rules and regulations. But everyday spirituality, the kind that ordinary people have practiced for millennia, doesn’t. To me, it’s mostly a matter of listening: to your intuition, to the gods, to the universe. Take the pieces that are meaningful to you and use them in a way that feels right as you’re doing it. This should be a mindful practice, of course; just tossing anything and everything together without thinking isn’t going to get you very far and might very well annoy any Powers you’re dealing with.

But ultimately, if you’re paying attention and intending for what you do to be sacred and respectful, whatever steps you take will lead you in the right direction.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

 

The Minoan Controversy: Military or not?

akrotiri-and-its-harbor-detail

We know a lot about the ancient Minoans: their religion, their daily lives, their trades, even their cooking. But one subject remains a source of controversy in spite of it all: whether or not the Minoans were a militarized culture.

My purpose today is not to argue one way or another (though I do have an opinion). My purpose is to examine why so many people feel compelled to try to prove that the Minoans were a militaristic society. I think this issue says at least as much about us as it does about the people of ancient Crete.

This issue is related to the need many people have to prove that the Minoans had a monarchy instead of being ruled by councils or collectives of leaders. Sir Arthur Evans, the Victorian-era archaeologist who first unearthed the Minoan city of Knossos and revealed it to the modern world, was just sure that the Minoans had a king who ruled over them, just as his beloved British Empire had a monarch. Otherwise, he reasoned, how could they possibly have become such an advanced civilization? So he named the parts of the Knossos temple complex with terms like Throne Room and Queen’s Megaron. Those names have stuck even though we’ve figured out since Evans’ time that the huge building was an administrative and religious temple complex and not some monarch’s palace. But Evans couldn’t envision a world in which successful cultures arose with cooperative or  oligarchic structures instead of monarchies. And many modern people can’t envision a thriving civilization that doesn’t have a military and a desire for conquest.

When modern people look at ancient Crete, they see a successful society: wealthy, vibrant, worldly. And it makes many people profoundly uncomfortable to think that a culture like that could flourish without a military, without the thirst for blood and conquest. After all, in the millennia since the Minoan cities fell, human culture has been all about armies and conquest, generals and battles and taking what you want. Why should the Minoans be any different?

The thing is, if ancient Crete was different, if the Minoans managed to create their incredible civilization without a military, or with nothing more than a simple merchant marine to protect their trading ships, that means it’s possible to be successful without being a militarized dominator society. That means that militarization, institutionalized violence, and domination are choices, not inevitabilities. And that makes us accountable for the misery, hardship, and atrocities we’ve perpetrated in our own militarized societies.

This is why, every few years, someone comes out with a paper purporting to show that the Minoans had a military and were a warrior culture: We need to justify our own horrors. We need to show that we can’t help it, that wanting to dominate and take and kill is an ingrained part of the human condition and not a choice. We’re mirroring our own shadows in the history we’re trying to write.

Ancient Crete was no utopia, but it was an egalitarian society with a deep sense of the sacred. Instead of trying to make excuses for our own horrible behavior, how about we look to ancient Crete for ways we can do better instead?

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

Ancient Calendar & Pagan Holidays for February 15, 16, 17

February 15th

In Rome we will be celebrating Lupercalia —a festival in honor of Faunus, a Roman aspect of Pan. The festival revolved around purifying the New Year and Fertility magic.

 

Today is sacred to the Norse hero named Sigfrid—who slaughtered Fafner—a mighty dragon.

The story goes something like this….

Sigfred was tricked into killing the dragon by Regin. When the dragon was dying, he told Sigfrid a valuable dragon secret. He said that his blood—the sacred blood of the dragon would allow him to understand the words and language spoken by birds. So, partaking in his blood, Sigfrid understood what the birds were singing about—whispering the treacherous secret that Regin tricked him into killing the Dragon.

So that night, Sigfred drank Regin’s blood while chomping over a fine and hearty dish of Fafner’s heart. Gotta love those Norse.

 

February 16th

Today the Romans will celebrate their Goddess Victoria and Nice.

The Greeks will be throwing a festival in honor of Aphrodite.

And in the year 1509, a man by the name Cornelius Agrippa finished De Occulta Philosophia—one of three books based on Occult Philosophy—in which he gave to Johannes Trithemius.

 

February 17th

Today is the Roman festival Fornicalia—a thanksgiving or corn harvest.

The Celtic Tree Month of Luis ends.

Ancient Calendar & Pagan Holidays for February 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th

February 11th

On this day, in the year 1858, the haunting image of Our Lady at Lourdes suddenly appeared in a grotto keeping the shrine of the Goddess for many, many centuries. After the apparition and even before, the spring there has been a place people have gathered to gain healing and or special prayer.

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In many ancient cultures, today was actually the Lunar New Year or New Year’s day.

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In Abydos Egypt, today will be the Feast of Osiris. (Urban Paganism)

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February 12th

Today marks the holy day of Artemis, also known as Diana. (Urban Paganism)

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In some Ancient cultures, today was actually their sacred Imbolc.

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Today symbolizes the good devouring the darkness as the Runic-Half Month of Sigel begins.

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February 13th

For the next eight days, Parentalia—a huge festival in Rome, will be running. This Festival is for the dead as the spirits of our parents are honored throughout the week. The Romans connected this festival with the Manes—who were dead, and immortal, but not gods. Now in the spirit of Urban Paganism—in many Roman cities there existed a vast, huge pit covered up by one huge stone. Inside this pit, was the path into the Underworld—the path of the Manes.

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Old Leap Years Day—in many ancient calendars.

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Today in Egypt, there is another feast of Osiris, only this time the feast will be held in Busiris.

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Welsh Culture gives us a festival called Gwyl o Don a Cerunnos—held for the Goddess mother Don and the honored God of the forest Cerunnos. The Festival will begin at sundown and will not end until sundown on February 21.

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February 14th

 

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!!!!!!!!

In Rome, today is sacred to Juno Februa—their Goddess of Looooooooooooooove! Before dreaming, a girl should decorate her pillow with five bay leafs—this will let her dream of her lover. Others should wear a yellow crocus which is believed to attract their true love.

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The Norse will be celebrating Valisblot –a feast for Vali—during which the light triumphs over darkness. Vali was the son of Odin and Rind.

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Ancient Calendar & Pagan Holidays for February 1, 2, 3

Neil Geddes Ward

HAPPY PAGAN HOLIDAYS!!!! Seems we have the first of the month so let’s dig in and see what we have, shall we?

Art by : Neil Geddes Ward

February 

Today is the wonderful festival of Imbolc or sometimes known as Brigantia. Imbolc & Brigantia has Irish meaning. Imbolc means in the belly in reference to the EWES & pregnancy, while Brigantia, otherwise known as Brigit is the Celtic Goddess of women & childbirth, weathering seasons, doctors/healers, poets, smiths (blacksmiths), etc.

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Something in Greece is stirring today…something known as the LESSER Eleusinian Mysteries. Just by the name, it has me interested. *winks* These mysteries are dedicated to Demeter and her daughter Persephone. Now don’t let the term LESSER confuse you either because it just so happened that these celebration were the most sacred of all rites to those in Greece.

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Today is also Cross-Quarter Day and the Kalends of February.

February 2 

Ground Hog day to some parts of OUR world. Will we have 6 more weeks of winter or a soon return of Spring?

Now, Romans hold the Goddess Juno rather high, so there is no surprise that today is a Festival called Juno Februa. She is the wife of Jupiter and worshipped strongly by women.

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In England ,or mostly Northern parts, something called Wives Feast Day took place.

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The Norse gave a fertility festival today called Barri. It is to honor Gerd, who gave something very sacred to Frey, virginity, in hoped that it would ensure coming seasons and crops. In old Norse tongue, ‘barri’ means ‘grain field’.

February 3 

Good-bye Lesser Eleusinian Mysteries as Greeks bring your sacred rituals to a close.

But hello to the Goddess Brigantia, or Bride, or Brigit for today is a formal celebration making the anticipation and return of life—spring.

Resources: Pagan Daybook, Wikipedia

Paganism: The Month of February

Thee Romans had something called Juno Februa.

Interestingly enough, the term Februa is where February was said to derive from. The entire festival of Juno Februa was based on purification. In fact the root of the word Februo meant purification by way of sacrifice or rather I purify by sacrifice.’

 

February is known as the time of the ‘ice moon’. Also known as a time to gain personal healing by items such as amethyst or of white, and bluish-violet items. February is sacred to women—not only is it a time preparing for the rebirth of the land, but of future generations, spirituality, etc.

According to some Native American Tribes, February was known as the Hunger Moon since the heaviest snows fell making hunting hard. To other tribes, it was known as Full Snow Moon.

February represents the House of Aquarius (January 20—February 19) 11th sign

and the House of Pisces (February 20—March 20) 12th sign

 

Stay tuned for two more articles coming up explaining the Paganism concerning Valentine’s Day and Ground Hog’s day.

A picture is worth 1000 words, maybe more

evans-sacred-grove-fresco-complete

The ancient Minoans were a literate society but we can’t read what they wrote. Their script, Linear A, has yet to be deciphered. So how on earth can we tell how they practiced their religion? We may not have words, but we sure have a lot of pictures.

The Minoans were consummate artists. Their art style was more naturalistic and softer than the art of their contemporaries in Egypt and Mesopotamia. One of their favorite painting methods was the fresco: The artist paints the picture directly onto wet plaster on a wall or other surface, so when the plaster dries, the paint is locked into it. Frescoes are incredibly durable, which is a good thing, because most of the Minoan ones are nearly 4000 years old!

The image at the top of this post is the Sacred Grove fresco. It’s a small piece (usually labeled as a miniature) that was found in the temple complex at Knossos. And it depicts, of all things, a ritual being performed before a large audience on the west plaza at Knossos. Those stone sidewalks you can see angling behind the priestesses? They’re still there – you can walk on them today. It’s from artwork like this that we know the Minoans put on large public rituals, possibly mystery plays, for the public in addition to the private ceremonies they conducted within the walls of the temple complex. Unfortunately, we don’t know for certain what the ritual in the Sacred Grove fresco involved beyond what we can see in the picture. But we have other sources for even more detail, like this one:

This is the Hagia Triada sarcophagus, a rectangular box that was used for burial in late Minoan times. What’s so amazing about it is that Minoan funeral activities were painted on the sides. So we know all kinds of things about this aspect of Minoan spirituality: what kinds of offerings and sacrifices were made, what the priesthood wore, how the musicians accompanied the activities. That’s a lot of information from a painted box.

From Akrotiri, a Minoan city on the island of Thera (modern name = Santorini) we have a bunch of frescoes that show the puberty coming-of-age rites for both girls and boys. Here are some of the more famous ones:

We can see the kinds of symbols and objects that were important in these rites: saffron (picking it and offering it to the goddess), the goddess with her attendant monkey and griffin. Other frescoes from this same building show that blood was an important aspect of the girls’ rites (obviously) and some kind of ritual bathing was apparently important for the boys’ rites.

So even though we can’t read what the Minoans wrote (yet – I refuse to give up hope), we still know an awful lot about how they practiced their religion. When I look at these beautiful frescoes, I feel like I could reach through and touch the living, breathing people. Maybe that’s what the Minoan artists intended, to keep their culture alive forever.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.