We often hear people saying (the discussion forum of this website is one example), that they came to Crete (Kriti) and fell in love with it. Was it the land, people, sun, the sense of relaxation that did it? I believe that it's all of these and something on top of that too. Perhaps the magic, the spirit of this island touches their heart irrevocably so they feel compelled from within to come back, again and again, to feel this soul stirring, that seems somehow specific to Kriti.
The famous quotation by Heraklion born author of "Zorba the Greek", Nikos Kazantzakis, which is repeated innumerably in hotels' advertisements, captures this finely:
"Crete's mystery is extremely deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force branching warmly and beneficently through his veins, senses his soul begin to grow."
This has always been more than true for me too, in fact I have originally, though not quite consciously, come to Crete in search of this.
It started with one "purpose-built" holiday perhaps 7 years ago. I have been enjoying a week of "body-mind-spirit" type course in the South West. We worked with bodywork, subtle energy exercises, visualization, psychotherapy techniques and indeed connecting with magical local nature, from soothing azure sea to groves of twisted olive trees to crumbling yet strong ancient ruins to dark wet caves.
It was on the last day of the course that was to became the first day of my new life, of my new relationship to Crete Until then this island has been a fantastic holiday backdrop place, from then on, a furious love affair.
Our group was in the midst of a dynamic exercise using chakras, subtle energy centers in the body, of which each relates to a particular set of qualities, modes of perception as well as physical organs. Lying comfortably on the floor, with our eyes closed, we reached the heart chakra, the throat chakra and the eyebrow chakra - the centers of feelings & love, of voice and speaking one's truth, and of inner vision. Hearing the tutor's suggestion to express our experience vocally, the group slowly started to gently hum and sing-song. But then a strange thing occurred - a particular sound, coming simultaneously from several people, seemed to have risen above the rest and for timeless several minutes has dominated the room. It was this moment that changed my life forever.
Feeling my heart, it opened wildly, like a flower in bloom, and flapped its petals in hunger for beauty of life. Opening my throat, I gave voice to a winding, wordless song from somewhere deep within me, coloured by my heart's newborn sensation. and then, gradually. I felt the feeling wilting into sorrow and the sound turning into whimpering. to high pitch wailing, reminiscent of ceremonial funeral women mourners. to a heartbreaking whale song, of death yet dignity. The images came rushing into my inner eye - of broken temple columns, their white marble flickering through the sunlight reflected on the clear sea surface, under which they were submerged, rising from the sandy floor. of vases scattered amongst these ruins, spilling with precious jewels and treasures. of female statues knocked down from their bases and buried by the shifting sand. and I felt this sorrow, sorrow, this unexplainable but heartfelt sensation of terrible loss, my eyes flooding with tears - for what. for figment of my imagination. for childhood peace?
I never checked in with the few others who seemed to have tuned into the same wave of sound but for me this unfolded into a whole journey. What was it I was mourning so impassionedly? What have I. or have we. lost. The images I had brought me vague associations with the myth of Atlantis, something I have never explored before. I certainly was never aware of speculations that Crete was one of its hypothetical locations.
But it was only - shame on me - on my later visit to Crete when I woke up to its wealth of archeological heritage and became aware of Minoan history, and of its dramatic ending in the times of earthquakes, volcano eruptions and Mycenaean attacks, that the penny dropped. I would walk through the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and its bronze age clay statuettes of "worshippers in ceremonial postures" would send shivers through my spine.
Their honoring of life force was bursting out in celebration of artistic expression throughout the museum. The sturdy and dainty ceramics painted with joyfully meandering designs. The mysteriously unwarlike labryses - ceremonial double axes of varying designs and sizes. fine jewelry of gold and precious stones and of course the amazing seals with delicately carved miniature scenes.
The famous faience bare-breasted and proud Snake Goddesses or colourfull and fine-detailed depictions of Minoan life in the "palace frescoes". All this resonated with my emotional and intuitive remembering of experience I can only poetically describe as "a golden age".
And then, there was Goddess. Seemingly a prevailing and beloved deity of the Minoans, pictured again and again in many female forms. As a priestess, as life giver, as the Lady of Nature and Animals, as receiver of worship of "adorants". She was the nature embodied herself. Caves were (and of course still are) her wombs - and tombs, where death was probably seen as a meaningful transition of the soul into the afterlife. The ancient groves of sacred trees her original temples, twin-peaked mountains often related to the axis of some of the Palaces (like Youchtas for Knossos or Idi for Festos) her nurturing breasts. The mythical labyrinth, an allegory of Crete's multitude of caverns reflected then in the palace complexes, being perhaps the analogy of the sinuous interior of female body as well as the meandering, nonlinear nature of the Life's Mystery.
She seemed to have stood for reverence for life - in all its wild beauty and natural processes and passion for self expression. Her image, as well as the joyfulness of the Minoan art were deeply lodged in my psyche and I could not stop being influenced by them from then on in my own artwork, trying to recreate and recall from the shadows of the past the sense of oneness with the benevolent universe. Goddess has started to teach me about herself, giving me a passion for her lore as it manifests not only here but also around the world.
Who was She? Why the Goddess? Does Spirit have a gender, and if we can personify the Essence and Intelligence of the universe, why the feminine? For me personally Goddess represents the mother-matter-matrix-like energy animating our world. She is the Spirit whose nature it is to embody and manifest itself. She reminds us of the sacredness and uniqueness of our day-to-day experience amongst human beings, animals, natural world, with its rhythms, birth, life cycles and transitions, death, its emotions, creativity and unknown mystery. She is personified as feminine because She births all creation from within herself, from the unmanifested essence, which is her mythological Womb, and then she nurtures what she birthed, throughout its cycles, to finally take it back into her comforting body when its journey is over - humans, plants, thoughts, cultures, galaxies. The nature of the Goddess is growth, movement and transformation. interlaced with periods of dissolution, gestation and regeneration. and acceptance and understanding of these as part of life. What image of the divine could be more natural, organic and closer to our way of being so we can relate to it?
That is why I like Minoan (and in fact, I mean ancient cretan, pre-Minoan too) Goddess perhaps like no other - because her people left us a wealth of record of her many forms and expressions. I cannot help my feeling that she was not only revered by them but also truly loved, and I believe from my heart that justifiably so, that she was their good deity.
The renowned archaeologist Marija Gimbutas researched the prehistoric Goddess culture of what she called "Old Europe" - the vast region covering area between UK a Scandinavian countries in the North, and Malta. Crete and Anatolia in the south.
"I do not believe, as many archaeologists of this generation seem to, that we shall never know the meaning of prehistoric art and religion. Yes, the scarcity of sources makes reconstruction difficult in most instances, but the religion of the early agricultural period of Europe and Anatolia is very richly documented. Tombs, temples, frescoes, reliefs, sculptures, figurines, pictorial paintings, and other sources need to be analyzed from the point of view of ideology. For this reason it is necessary to widen scope of descriptive archaeology into interdisciplinary research. For this work I rely heavily on comparative mythology, early historical sources, and linguistics as well as on folklore and historical ethnography."
"The main theme of Goddess symbolism is the mystery of birth and death and the renewal of life, not only human but all life on earth and indeed in cosmos. Symbols and images cluster around the parthenogenetic (self-regenerating) Goddess and her basic functions as Giver of Life, Wielder of Death, and, not less importantly, as regeneratrix, and around the Earth Mother, the Fertility Goddess young and old, rising and dying with plant life. She was the single source of life who took her energy from the springs and wells, from the sun, moon and moist earth. This symbolic system represents cyclical, not liner, mythical time. In art this is manifested by the signs of dynamic motion: whirling and twisting spirals, winding and coiling snakes, circles, crescents, horns, sprouting seeds and shoots. The snake was a symbol of life energy and regeneration, a most benevolent, not an evil, creature. Even the colours had different meaning than in the Indo-European symbolic system. Black did not mean death or the underworld; it was the colour of fertility, the colour of damp caves and rich soil, of the womb of the Goddess where the life begins. "
(The language of the Goddess, M. Gimbutas)
So whilst in our times Goddess is awakening in peoples awareness everywhere around the world, in Crete I personally feel brought to her lap, stood by her fiery source somehow. I had to keep coming back to this island, sometimes several times a year, and now finally birthing my dream of living here. It is my wish that I learn to know this ensouling place, that like its mountains can be beautiful as well as harsh, and its seasons, and its people, even more intimately.
Many women and men come here not only to enjoy the sun and golden beaches and the golden retsina alongside the great Cretan cuisine, but hoping also for the spirit of Crete to bless them, and touch them, and remind them of life being savoured slowly, unhurriedly and with simple but great pleasure. Their senses, like mine, sharpen up and time takes on a liquid quality in Crete I suppose somehow it all comes down to good old Zorba:
"Boss, everything's simple in the world. How many times must I tell you? So don't go and complicate things!"
NOTE. Hana Evans ( artist and priestess of the Goddess) and Katerina Kramolisova (Gestalt psychotherapist and facilitator of women's groups) present yearly holidays for women "Mystery of the Goddess in Crete", visiting the ancient sacred sites and opening up to the Goddess' presence through meditation, art, ritual, bodywork and personal process.
For more information, please email
- The Museum of Natural History in Heraklion - with a reconstruction of a Minoan farmhouse and more interesting recent research on Minoan civilization
- Voice of the Goddess - a novel by Judith Hand, based in Minoan times
- Goddess is well and alive today
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Ariadne - Most Holy, High Fruitful Mother. Moon Goddess.
Britomartis - Cretan Sweet Girl. Great Goddess of Minoan Crete. Lily was Her flower.
Dictynna - Lawgiving Goddess of Mount Dicte. Her plant was Dittany.
Europa - Full Moon, the Great Goddess as Mother of all Europe. White Moon Cow. Garlanded white bulls were sacrificed to this Lunar Cow Goddess in Crete and Mycenae from a very early date.
Leukippe - White Mare- Horse Goddess. minsnake
Minoan Snake Goddess - 1600 - 1500 B.C.E.
Pasipha - She Who Shines for All. Cretan Moon Goddess.
Rhea - Aegean Universal Mother, Great Goddess, Pre-Hellenic Great Mother Goddess. Also known as Britomartis, Great Goddess of Bronze Age Crete and the Aegean Islands. Great Mother. She had no consort and ruled supreme before the coming of patriotic Hellenic invaders. Archetypal Triple Goddess. Britomartis, the Sweet Virgin, Dictynna, the Lawgiving Mother and Aegea, the foundress of Aegean civilization. aka Coronis. Pre-Roman Latium knew Her as Rhea Silvia, Rhea of the Woodland, under Whose rule, the Vestal Virgins were neither celibate nuns, nor servants of the state, as they became in later ages. They were choosers and deposers of the early Latin kings, a college of matronae who ruled the rulers and took no husbands. Her children were cared for by Acca Larentia - the Holy Harlot or High Priestess.
from Wikipedia, linear a:
* a-ta-no-?-wa-ja is possibly the name of a goddess. This is sometimes read alternatively, as a-ta-i-dju?-wa-ja.
# ja-sa-sa-ra-me as said above could be the name of the goddess Ashtoreth Yam. Another, though more tentative explanation would be, to compare it to the Hittite ashar (woman). Some have even suggested a comparison with Etruscan ais, meaning 'god'.
# A-MA-JA and A-MA. divine name, Amaja, the Minoan goddess of healing (known from the London Medical Papyrus). Supposedly connected to the greek Maia, mother of Apollon.
* RA2-TI. theoretized to represent Razija, the Minoan Great Goddess, whose connection to the Classical Greek Rhea, mother of gods, is obvious.
Nopina, in later Greek Nymph or Maiden (particularly, a nubile maiden), whom Faure thinks is a new-moon goddess.
Ma, in later Greek Mother, whom Faure thinks is a full-moon goddess.
Re or Reja -- that is, Rhea. Yes, my goddess shows up by name in Minoan Crete before the presumed Mycenaean invasion of 1450 BC! (Minoan archaeologists deduce this invasion from a fairly thorough destruction layer across the island dated to this period, and from the fact that after this destruction administration of the island seems to be centered in Knossos and performed by the Mycenaean Greek speakers who wrote Linear B.) Rhea is indicated by the sign RE, which is either a flower with three petals or a trident, on items found in the Idean Cave and elsewhere. In later Greek myth, Rhea is the mother of Zeus and a goddess strongly associated with Crete.
Ro Ma or Ros Ma -- in later Greek, Strong Mother. The inscription to Ro Ma was found at the cave of Skoteino, later a center of worship for Britomartis, whom Faure identifies as the Strong Goddess. Ro Ma's symbol is a sign like a window or a cross in a frame, shown following. This sign is also found in the storerooms at Knossos. Possibly Ro Ma is the patron deity of the Skoteino area, in northern Crete near the Bay of Mirabello. This symbol in the Knossos storerooms may flag goods from that neighborhood, or goods dedicated to Ro Ma.
But Faure's grouping is almost certainly not the full list of deities worshipped in Minoan Crete. Arguably, many of the deities listed in the Linear B archives found at Knossos, and in other Linear B writings, were Cretan. According to the online Dartmouth course "Prehistoric Archaeology of the Aegean" (http://projectsx.dartmouth.edu/classics/history/bronze_age/index.html), the goddess names found include Potinija or Potnia ("Mistress" in later Greek); Atana Potinija or Potnia Atana, possibly Athena; Dapuritojo Potinijia, Potnia of the Labyrinth; Pipituna, possibly Diktynna, a goddess of classical Crete; Ereutija or Eleuthia, in other words Eileithyia, the classical goddess of childbirth; Erinu, or Erinys, a name for a classical Fury and a cult epithet of Demeter; and Diwija or Diwia, the female counterpart of Zeus. The god names found include Diwo, Zeus; Posedaone or Poseidon; Enesidaone or Enosidas, Greek for "Earth-shaker"; Pajawone or Paiawon, Paian being a later classical epithet for Apollo; Are, possibly Ares; and Enuwarijo or Enyalios, a classical epithet for Ares. Very likely, some of these were native deities, whose worship was continued by the Mycenaeans who ruled Knossos after 1450 BC. However, it's impossible to know if the Knossos tablets contain any Minoan names or list strictly Mycenaean names that disguise Nopina, Ma and the rest. (bits and pieces of article by Melanie Fire Salamander)
The Snake Goddess Represented by the MM III "Snake Goddesses" of the Temple Repositories at Knossos as well as by some of the later bell-shaped terracotta figurines of the LM III period, this particular goddess is usually considered to be a household divinity and interestingly does not appear on seals.
Mistress of Animals (or of the Mountain) A famous seal impression from Knossos (Nilsson 1950: Pl.18:1; Gesell 1985: Fig.114) shows a female figure holding a staff and standing on top of a cairn or rocky hill. She is flanked by antithetic lions, beyond which are a shrine on one side and a saluting male on the other. A second seal from Knossos (Nilsson 1950: Pl.18:4) shows a capped female with a staff walking next to a lion, another pose of the same Mistress of Animals figure.
Goddess of Vegetation Dominating female figures on a number of seals (e.g. Nilsson 1950: Pl.17:1) are often identified as deities.
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The most apparent characteristic of Minoan religion was that it was polytheistic and matriarchal, that is, a goddess religion; the gods were all female, not a single male god has been identified until later periods.
It is not easy to describe the nature of the mother-goddess of Crete.
There are numerous representations of goddesses, which leads to the conclusion that the Cretans were polytheistic, while others argue that these represent manifestations of the one goddess.
You are about to enter the shrine of the ancient Minoan Mothergoddess
(Entrance at the bottom of this page)
Click here to have only a short info about her.
In Crete women played an important if not dominant role: They served as priestesses, as functionaries and administrators.
They also participated in all the sports that Cretan males participated in. The most popular sports in Crete were incredibly violent and dangerous: boxing and bull-jumping. In bull-jumping. as near as we can tell from the representations of it, a bull would charge headlong into a line of jumpers. Each jumper, when the bull was right on top of them, would grab the horns of the bull and vault over the bull in a somersault to land feet first behind the bull. All the representations of this sport show young women participating as well as men.
Women also seem to have participated in every occupation and trade available to men. The rapid growth of industry on Crete included skilled craftswomen and entrepreneurs, and the large, top-heavy bureaucracy and priesthood seems to have been equally staffed with women. In fact, the priesthood was dominated by women. Although the palace kings were male, the society itself does not seem to have been patriarchal.
Evidence from Cretan-derived settlements on Asia Minor suggest that Cretan society was matrilineal . that is, kinship descent was reckoned through the mother.
Since their are only ruins and other remains from Minoan culture, we can only guess at their religious practices.
There are no scriptures, no prayers, no books of ritual; all we have are objects and fragments all of which only hint at a rich and complex religious life and symbolic system behind their broken exteriors.
The most apparent characteristic of Minoan religion was that it was polytheistic and matriarchal. that is, a goddess religion; the gods were all female, not a single male god has been identified until later periods.
The Cretans do not seem to have evolved either gender inequality nor adapted their religion to a male-centered universe. The legacy of the goddess religion seems to still be alive today. Both Greece and Crete are Greek Orthodox Christian. In Greece, however, only women regularly swear by the name of the Virgin Mary, while in Crete both men and women swear by her name, particularly the epithet, "Panagia," or "All-Holy."
It is somewhat surprising that none of the goddesses which are generally considered to be "old Aegean powers" as various forms of Mother Goddess (e.g. Demeter, Aphrodite, Artemis, Hekate, Britomartis) are found mentioned in later Mycenaean texts.
There is no figure which can be convincingly connected with the dove or snake goddesses familiar to us from Minoan art, nor is there any mention on the religious tablets of bulls, horns of consecration, double axes, or other common objects of Minoan cult apparatus. Part of the reason for this must be that the remaining texts are products of Mycenaean rule at Knossos, and Minoan cult may have been partially suppressed by the official religion of the invading Greek rulers.
Atana Potiniya. the Idaean Mother of Crete
A-TA-NA PO-TI-NI-JA Potnia Atana
DA-PU-RI-TO-JO PO-TI-NI-JA Potnia of the Labyrinth
E-RE-U-TI-JA Eleuthia (= Eileithyia, Classical goddess of childbirth)
MA-TE-RE TE-I-JA Mater theia ("Mother Goddess")
It's difficult to assess the nature of the mother-goddess of Crete. There are numerous representations of goddesses, which leads to the conclusion that the Cretans were polytheistic, while others argue that these represent manifestations of the one goddess.
There are several goddesses which can be distinguish, though.
The first one we call "The Lady of the Beasts," or the "Huntress" ; this goddess is represented as mastering or overcoming animals.
In a later incarnation, she becomes "The Mountain Mother," who is standing on a mountain and apparently protects the animals and the natural world.
The most popular goddess seems to be the "Snake Goddess," who has snakes entwined on her body or in her hands. Since the figurine is only found in houses and in small shrines in the palaces, we believe that she is some sort of domestic goddess or goddess of the house (a kind of guardian angelin many regions of the world, including Greece, the household snake is worshipped and fed as a domestic guardian angel).
But the household goddess also seems to have taken the form of a small bird, for numerous shrines are oriented around a dove-like figure. Most scholars believe that the principle female goddesses of Greek religions, such as Hera, Artemis, and so on, ultimately derive from the Minoan goddesses.
The head of the Minoan pantheon seems to have been an all-powerful goddess which ruled everything in the universe. This deity was a mother deity, that is, her relationship to the world was as mother to offspring.
The Snake Goddess
Represented by the MM III "Snake Goddesses" of the Temple Repositories at Knossos as well as by some of the later bell-shaped terracotta figurines of the LM III period, this particular goddess is usually considered to be a household divinity and interestingly does not appear on seals.
Mistress of Animals (or of the Mountain)
A famous seal impression from Knossos shows a female figure holding a staff and standing on top of a cairn or rocky hill. She is flanked by antithetic lions, beyond which are a shrine on one side and a saluting male on the other. A second seal from Knossos shows a capped female with a staff walking next to a lion, another pose of the same Mistress of Animals figure.
Goddess of Vegetation
Dominating female figures on a number of seals are often identified as deities.
Some large bronze examples of this, the most common of all Minoan religious symbols, were clearly used as tools, but miniature specimens in unsuitable and sometimes precious materials (e.g. gold, silver, lead, steatite, terracotta), as well as very fragile bronze examples (e.g. the gigantic specimens from Nirou Khani), must have had a purely symbolic function.
"Horns of Consecration".
These occur both as three-dimensional objects of stone or terracotta, often stuccoed, and as painted or sculpted representations on murals, altars, vases, seals, and larnakes. Typically they serve either as stands for a narrow range of other cult implements or as architectural crowning members on both altars and roofs. The original significance of the "horns" is uncertain. It has been suggested that they are stylized bulls' horns, a symbol of the moon's crescent.
Birds, Bulls, Agrimia, and Snakes.
Birds appear frequently in religious scenes and are usually identified as "divine epiphanies", that is, as manifestations of divine beings. although in some cases they appear to be an identifying attribute of a divinity rather than an alternative form of one. Other frequently occurring animals are bulls, agrimia (Cretan ibexes), and snakes. The first two often occur in the form of votive figurines and probably figured importantly as sacrificial animals.
The Snake may have been a prominent symbol in earth (or chthonic) cults, just as birds may have been in sky (or atmospheric) cults.
Mentioned are a pot of honey, spices such as fennel and coriander, and jugs of oil. Wool, cheese, barley, and wine are possible offerings. Sheep are connected with the figure of Potnia, but not as offerings.
This type of offering is unique and has led to much speculation. It is known that there were such things as "slaves of the god". Consequently, most authorities have seen here the consecration of certain men and women to the service of a deity. However, other specialists argue that the offerings made are extraordinary because they were made for the specific purpose of saving the palace just before it was actually destroyed. The suggestion has therefore been made that the human beings mentioned as offerings were in fact human sacrifices.
Kernoi. These are simply ceramic vessels with multiple receptacles of the same shape, where such offerings as wine, oil, graine etc. could be laid.
The Minoans particularly worshipped trees, pillars (sacred stones), and springs. The priesthood seems to have been almost entirely if not totally female, although there's evidence (precious little evidence) that the palace kings had some religious functions as well.
Caves were first used in Crete as dwellings or at least as habitation sites in the Neolithic period. Toward the end of the Neolithic, they also began to be used extensively as cemeteries, and such usage continued throughout the Early Minoan period and in some areas even longer.
Caves appear to have first been used as cult places early in the Middle Minoan (Protopalatial) period, at more or less the same time when the first Cretan palaces were being constructed. There may very well be some connection between the establishment of powerful central authorities in the palaces and the institution of worship in caves. The evidence for the use of caves as cult places consists of pottery, animal figurines, and occasionally bronze objects. Such objects are found not only in caves which had previously served habitation or funerary purposes but also in caves which had as their earliest known function the housing of some religious activity. In addition to artifacts, some cult caves contain large quantities of animal bones, mostly from deer, oxen, and goats and no doubt derived from some form of animal sacrifice.
One of the better known cult caves is the "Cave Of Eileithyia" near Amnisos, associated with the divinity Eileithyia on the basis of a reference in Homer's Odyssey. This cave is some 60 m. long, between 9 and 12 m. wide, and 2 to 3 m. high. Near the middle of the cave is a cylindrical stalagmite ca. 1.40 m. high which is enclosed by a roughly built wall 0.45 m. high. Within the enclosure and in front of the stalagmite is a roughly square stone, perhaps some form of altar.
These are cult centers located at, or just below, the tops of prominent local hills, not necessarily "peaks" on true "mountains". Such sites are characterized by deep layers of ash (without animal bones, hence interpreted as the remains of bonfires and not of blood sacrifices of some kind) and by large quantities of clay human and animal figurines.
Like the cult caves discussed above, the earliest peak sanctuaries date from the MM I period and most of the two dozen or more confirmed examples of such cult locales have produced material of this date. Moreover, the cult caves and peak sanctuaries are virtually the only sites other than the palaces themselves to have produced certain artifactual types.
Moreover. the large numbers of animal figurines found at the peak sanctuaries obviously cannot be explained in the same way, although these may have served as substitutes for genuine sacrificial animals or as votive pledges that such animals would be sacrificed elsewhere at some other time, since blood sacrifice does not seem to have been an acceptable practice at peak sanctuaries.
The two major peak sanctuaries so far excavated and published are Petsofa in eastern Crete (elevation 215 m.; serving the town of Palaikastro) and Iuktas (elevation 811 m.; just south of and hence presumably serving Knossos).
In MM III. an imposing building was constructed on Mt. Iuktas consisting of three parallel terraces, oriented north-south, of which the upper two at the west were approached by an east-west ramp at the south.
At Petsofa. a three-room building was first erected in MM III, again a long time after the sanctuary was first used. It is quite possible that these peak sanctuaries were visited only on special religious holidays, much as similar mountaintop chapels are today in Greece, since in many cases the sanctuaries are too remotely located to have served daily religious purposes.
Shrine of the Double Axes at Knossos
Bench sanctuary located in the southeast quarter of the palace at Knossos. This tiny (1.5 m. x 1.5 m.) shrine was abandoned with its religious furniture in situ and is thus extremely valuable as a source for our understanding of Minoan religion at least toward the end of the Bronze Age. The room's floor area is divided into three sections at different levels. In the front (lowest) part lie several large vases. In the middle area, a tripod "table of offerings" is embedded in the floor, and to either side of it are groups of small jugs and cups. At the back of the room is a raised bench ca. 0.60 m. high on which are fixed two stuccoed clay "horns of consecration". In each case, between the "horns" is a round socket, presumably to hold a double axe such as the small one of steatite found resting against the left-hand pair of "horns".
Between the two pairs of "horns" were found a bell-shaped female figurine and a smaller female statuette of Neolithic type, perhaps a treasured heirloom. To the left of the left-hand pair of "horns" was a male figurine holding out a dove, while to the right of the right-hand pair were two more bell-shaped female figurines, one with a bird perched on her head. The last is often considered to be a goddess while the remaining figures are identified as votaries.
Sanctuary Complex to West of Central Court at Knossos
Two pillar crypts of similar size (3.5 m. x 5.3 m.), both with a central pillar liberally incised with double axes on all exposed faces of each block.
Throne Room Complex to West of Central Court at Knossos
Located near the northeast corner of the west wing of the Knossian palace, the "Throne Room" proper is part of a larger four- or five-room block which was apparently devoted first and foremost to cult rather than to the display or exercising of political authority.
Sources: Richard Hooker: Minoan Religion and Women in Minoan Culture
Lesson 26: Mycenaean and Late Cycladic Religion and Religious Architecture, Trustees of Dartmouth College
Below is an essay on "Religious Studies 370" from Anti Essays, your source for research papers, essays, and term paper examples.
Chapter 3 - Crete: The Goddess of Life, Death & Regeneration
1. Describe the symbology of the Minoan Snake Goddesses (figures 6 & 7). What is the meaning and significance of the Goddess holding two snakes?
The Minoan Snake Goddesses represent the balance of duality. She holds the world in balance. The snakes around her stomach signify her important role of giving and taking of life experienced as a unity. We come from her and return to her. In figure 7, the significance of the goddess holding a snake high in each hand presents an image of a ritualized gesture of divine statement. In her dress, there is a notion of cosmic web suggesting that she is the weaver of the web of life. The meaning and significance of the Goddess holding two snakes is that life and death is beyond opposition. Life and death is one thing. The Goddess represents the goal of transcending or reconciling opposites. She maintains the balance between the two snakes (life and death), preventing them from being opposite to one another.
2. Describe the symbology and ritual uses of the double-axe (labrys).
The double-axe represents unity in duality and its shape is depicted as life and death. The Goddess holding two double axes is a symbol of her rulership over life and death. She decides who live and die. The shape of the double axe looks like a butterfly. One representation of the butterfly is the image of the soul, so the two has a special connection especially since the word for butterfly and soul in Greek were the same—psyche. The sacred axe is use as a ritual instrument in sacrificing the bull, which is the animal who incarnated the regenerative power of the goddess. Another ritual use of the axe is that it is use to cut trees. This is very important since the tree is worshipped as the image of the goddess herself so it is only natural to have a special ceremony and a sacred axe when a tree is cut down.
3. How were the attributes and behaviors of the bee associated with the Goddess.
This faience female figurine from Knossos on Crete (Neopalatial Period, 1750-1490 BC, when the palaces that had been destroyed ca. 1750 BC were rebuilt) belongs to the “snake goddess” type, which is found in various media, including pottery, frescoes, and seal engravings, at Minoan sites. Faience is a technique that seems to have been borrowed from Egypt. Egyptian faience contained no clay. It was instead a quartz-based composition which, when fired, developed a colorful glaze.
The figure holds a snake in each of her outstretched arms; an animal sits atop her headdress (the head and left forearm are modern restorations). She wears the costume that we see in Minoan frescoes: the flounced, bell-shaped skirt, the short apron, and the open bodice.
The 11 ½” tall statuette was found in 1903 by Sir Arthur Evans in the West Wing of the great palace at Knossos. He called it the “Priestess or Votary.”
Along with that statuette he found another, larger one (13 ½”), which he called the “Mother Goddess.” Her costume is similar to the one above but her arms are lowered, and the snakes that she holds are curling down her arms; another snake is winding around her tall hat. This figurine, too, is heavily restored: the face, left arm, and skirt are modern.
The statuettes that Evans found caused a sensation. Forgers saw an opportunity, and soon some fourteen fakes were to be seen in museums and private collections. One such fake is the “Boston Snake Goddess,” the subject of an engaging exposé by Kenneth Lapatin, Mysteries of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, and the Forging of History (2002). This figurine had raised doubts in the past. But Lapatin makes a very strong case that it was fashioned by the Swiss artist Émile Gilliéron, the man who had restored the faience “Mother Goddess” and “Priestess or Votary” for Sir Arthur Evans.
Especially odd, he notes, is the damage to the left side of the face: “Ivory is subject to flaking, and part of the left side has sheared away. Yet the present features—eyes, nose, and mouth—are centered on what remains. This should not be the case: if the piece was damaged after carving, the surviving features should be off center” (180). Lapatin’s contention was corroborated when Carbon-14 tests returned a date of 1450—AD, not BC! Visit the website of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and you will read that its date is “about 1600–1500 B.C. or early 20th century.”
What does the “snake goddess” type represent? Suggestions abound. Are they goddesses of nature or fertility? Is there one goddess or several? A household goddess? Perhaps they are not goddesses but priestesses performing a ritual. Or are they worshipers? So many questions. The truth is that there are no clear answers. For the likely religious context of the figurines see Gesell.
Gesell, Geraldine. “From Knossos to Kavousi: The Popularizing of the Minoan Palace Goddess.” ΧΑΡΙΣ: Essays in Honor of Sara A. Immerwahr (2004) 131-150.
Lapatin, Kenneth. Mysteries of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, and the Forging of History. 2002.
Lapatin, Kenneth. “Snake Goddesses, Fake Goddesses,” Archaeology 54.1 (2001) 33-36.
Adlocutio- general's address to his troops, frequent motif in imperial art, such as Primaporta
Aedes - physical structure that is the temple, where the god was believed to rest
Black figure - a pot/urn in which the characters, or figures are black, contrary to red figure
Cappellaccio - the specific type of tufa used to make structures like the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus
Chryselephantine - a sculpture made entirely of ivory and adorned with gold clothing
Contrapposto - a lifelike way of sculpting in which the piece "puts weight" on specific points in the body while still providing symmetry
Ephebe - a young soldier in training, frequently put into sculptures
Frieze - a specific line in which an event occurs, painted onto a vase
Kouros (Κουρος) - a boy, common term for the sculptures of young boys in Greece
Oculus - latin for eye, open hole in a temple, famously portrayed in the Pantheon
Polis - Greek city-state (πολις is greek for city)
Pronaos - portico found in the entrance of many temples
Reticulatum- facing made of pyramid-shaped tufa set point first into the concrete in a net-like pattern
Templum - the entire"temple", but this basically refers to the land on which the temple lies, the building referred to as an aedes
Tufa - soft, friable limestone found on the hills from Rome; material used in early Roman structures and temples
Via - Latin for "road" or "way". This would be used the same way as one would use street, and every single road would be a via (Ex: Appian Way-Via Appia)