Tag Archives: altar

Making a Minoan Altar

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One of the great things about Modern Minoan Paganism is that it isn’t a rigid path, but a growing tradition with a broad scope that allows each person to find their own right relationship with the gods and goddesses of ancient Crete.

But that can be a problem, too, because there aren’t pre-set rules for things like how to set up your altar.

My Pagan training began with Wicca, which has clear rules for choosing and organizing the items that go on an altar, even down to what you do at different points on the Wheel of the Year. So how do you set up a Minoan altar if there aren’t any rules? There may not be rigid rules, but there are guidelines that can help you create an altar that’s just right for you. (That’s my Minoan altar up top.)

My book Labrys and Horns has details about setting up your sacred space, consecrating your altar, and calling the deities. But there are some basics that will get you started, and some things you ought to know that are different from other types of modern Paganism.

First of all, we have no evidence that the Minoans used the classical (Hellenic) four-element system of fire, air, water, and earth. That appears to have been created much later than Minoan times (the Hellenic Greeks flourished centuries after the fall of the Minoan cities). But the Minoans did pay special attention to the cardinal directions (north, south, east, west) as well as the places along the horizon where the Sun, Moon, and certain stars rose at different times of the year. These directions were important enough to the Minoans that they oriented their temples, peak sanctuaries, and tombs toward them. So you could “frame” your altar with small objects that are located toward the cardinal directions, if that appeals to you.

Then there are the gods and goddesses. Which one or ones does your altar honor? Will that change over the course of the year? Where will you start? What objects will you use to represent or honor them?

My altar, pictured above, currently includes the Melissae, Amalthea, and Ariadne. These three “play well together” so I can put them together on the same altar without a problem. I’ve found that’s not the case for Dionysus; he tends to want a dedicated altar space all his own (which he has elsewhere in my house). So first you need to decide who the focal point will be. Then, if you want to include more than one deity, check (via meditation or your other preferred method) to make sure that will work. The only surefire “multi-altar” I know of is one that honors the Minoan pantheon as a whole, without focusing on any specific deity. If you want to honor particular gods and/or goddesses, please be sure to ask them how they would like to be represented and whether they’re OK with being included alongside others on your altar.

Once you have all the items arranged, you’ll want to consecrate your altar and begin using it: making offerings, meditating and praying in front of it, maybe even performing rituals if that’s your thing.

An altar is a wonderful thing. It’s a physical anchor for spiritual practice, a focal point that reminds us of our priorities every time we pass by it. It can be as simple as a few items on a bookshelf (I have several of those – my non-Pagan friends think I have interesting knick-knacks!) or as fancy as a whole room dedicated to your path.

Whatever your altar looks like, however it’s arranged, make sure it works for you and the gods with whom you’re building a relationship. Because more than anything, an altar is the meeting place between you and the divine.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.

Minoan Leftovers: What should I do with those offerings?

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In Modern Minoan Paganism, as in many other modern Pagan traditions, we make offerings to the gods. This is a practice that connects us back through time with the Minoans and other ancient people. Offerings are a way to show our appreciation and thanks for the divine in our lives, a way to show our devotion. Most of the time, we make offerings to specific gods and goddesses, though it’s also possible to set out items on your altar to the divine in general, the entire Minoan Pantheon (perhaps as a thank-you for getting to “meet” them) or nature or Mother Earth.

Sometimes it’s as simple as a flower laid on the altar or a stick of incense lit with a silent “thank you.” Sometimes the offering is a ritual in itself, perhaps a libation of wine poured into a bowl or outdoors onto the ground. Often, offerings involve food or drink, just as they did in ancient times. But that leaves us with a question: What should we do with the leftovers when it’s time to clean off the altar?

Obviously, if you’ve poured some wine or milk onto the ground outside, there’s nothing left to clean up afterwards. That stick of incense? Just sweep up the ash and you’re done. Wilted flowers can go in the compost pile.

But what about leftover food? It seems a shame to waste food, especially in our bloated, “affluenza”-ridden modern world where we already waste so much of so many things.

Let me emphasize that we don’t honestly know what the Minoans did with the remains of offerings that had been set out in shrines and on altars, in other words, given to the gods. So we have to decide for ourselves what we’re comfortable doing in our own spiritual practice. There are a few options here.

One is simply to consider that the offering has been “served” to the god or goddess in much the same way you’d serve food to an honored guest who comes to your house for dinner. You wouldn’t take food off their plate and eat it yourself, would you?

In this case, you would leave the offering on the altar for however long feels right to you: overnight, a set number of days, until the next full moon, or some other span of time. Then you’d dispose of it in a respectful way, doing your best to honor the Earth and the resources that went into making that food. I garden so most of my food offerings end up in my compost pile: They go back to the Earth to make more food. I prefer not to set food outside for the wildlife to consume, simply because many human foods are harmful to wild animals. If I lived in the middle of a big city and didn’t have, say, a worm composter on my apartment balcony, I’d probably just put the remains in the trash.

But what if your offering is something much bigger? What if you’ve dedicated a whole meal to the Ancestors or Ariadne or Dionysus? To me, that’s kind of like having a dinner in honor of a special guest: You serve them their portion of the food and you (and everyone else who’s there) gets to eat the rest. In this case, I would dispose of the remains of their portion in one of the ways I listed above. This scenario is similar to the feasts in honor of the gods that many ancient cultures held. Often, the deity was assigned a specific portion of the main dish, which might have been an animal that was slaughtered in a sacred or ritual manner. The Minoans appear to have built special dining shrines just for this type of occasion.

There’s a third option for disposing of offerings, one that was common in ancient Egypt and that I’m sure the Minoans knew about: reversion of offerings. The process is simple: You set out the food and/or drink offering, give the gods some time to absorb the essence of it (they’re not physical beings so they’re not going to eat the physical food, right?). Then you remove the food from the altar and eat/drink it yourself so there’s no waste.

In ancient Egypt, there was a specific set of rituals for ensuring that the gods were satisfied before removing the offerings from the altar. It’s a good idea to do something like that, say a few words and really listen to make sure it’s OK to remove the offering before you do so.

There is, of course, a practical consideration for reversion of offerings as well. You don’t want to leave the food out long enough for it to spoil. Fresh fruit will last for days and still be safe to eat, and a loaf of bread might last a while as well, but you certainly don’t want to leave meat or most cooked foods out more than an hour or two, for safety.

I’ve only tried reversion of offerings a handful of times with the Minoan deities. In about half of the cases, I felt very strongly that I shouldn’t remove the offerings and eat the food myself, so I didn’t. To be honest, I’m not entirely comfortable with this practice, since it feels like taking back a gift, but that could simply be my modern mindset. If you’d like to give it a try, there is historical precedent. Do let me know how it goes if you head down this route.

 

Regardless of how you dispose of your offerings, I hope you make plenty of them. It’s frequent interaction that keeps our relationships with the gods alive. And that’s a good thing.

In the name of the bee,

And of the butterfly,

And of the breeze, amen.