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Minoan Religion, the religion of ancient Crete

When Arthur Evans discovered the ancient ruins on Crete about 1900 it was clear that there was an aspect to Classical Greece that had not been considered. Many images and writings have been found in the remains of that culture. The images surprised Evans and reminded him of the myths of Classical Greece. But the writings could not be translated. All he could do was to sort the different scripts into groups. Two of the groups seemed to use alphabets and they were called Linear A and Linear B. About 1953 Michael Ventris was able to devipher Linear B as an ancient version of Greek. This writing was associated with the Mycenaean Civilization that was discovered on the mainland of Greece by Heinrich Schlieman at Mycenae in 1874.

Archaeologists now seem to think that the Minoan Civilization was established on Crete about 3500 BCE and lasted for about 2000 years. The culture was highly organized and established trade with other cultures. They had their own language, religion and culture. Then about 1450 BCE their culture went into decline and was taken over by the Mycenaean Culture that remained in Crete and the mainland of Greece for a few hundred years. Then there was a period of decline and the area was taken over by a new culture. But the language of the new culture spoke the same language as the Mycenaeans. It seems reasonable to assume that the new culture was some kind of mixture of the Minoan, Mycenaeans, and others. A new alphabet was adopted that was based on the alphabet of the Phoenicians.

Linguists have determined that the Greek Language has Indo-European roots. That means that the Mycenaeans, and many of the peoples that came to Greece after them, such as the Dorians, came from north of Greece in central Asia near the Caucasus mountains. Studies made in the commonalities of languages with Indo-European origins have allowed generalities to be made about the religion of the Indo-Europeans. Assumptions can then be made about the contribution of the religion of the Indo-Europeans to the religion of the Greeks. One has to wonder if the aspects of the ancient Greek religion that are not related to the Indo-European Religion can be attributed to the Minoans?

A general summary of Indo-European Religion is available

The status of the contribution of Indo-European religion to the god ZEus is well known and obvious. The names of few other deities can be so easily derived. Even in Ancient times the name of Aphrodite was connected to the word ‘aphros’ for foam. But now this is believed to be a mistaken derivation. If the Greek pantheon is considered:

Zeus - Sky God, and Hera - mother of heaven
Posidon - God of the Sea, and Demeter - goddess of harvest
Hades - God of the Under word, and Hekate - goddess af dark arts

then a structure that fits into the Indo-European form is made.

Though Apollo and Artemis are sort of twins they do not seem to fit into the Indo-European mold as twins Rather they seem to fit the concept of fertility goddess and her consort. It is especially significant that Homer refers to Artemis as Potnia Theron as figures that illustrate the concept of “Mistress of the Animals” are common enough among the Minoan remains. Also the desripion of Apollo fits the image of the “Prince of the Lillies” that is so famous from the Minoan Remains. Apollo is desribed as arriving late in the Greek realm and searching for places to found temples. Is this because his cult has risen from the downtroden remains of the Minoan Culture?

Deities and their relation to Minoan remains are as follows:

  • Artemis is Potnia Theron and possibly the mountain mother that is associated with the many peak sanctuaries on Crete.
  • Apollo is the god of gates and doors. A propylon is a gate marked by two columns, one one either side of the opening. It typically includes a small chamber behind it. This can form a ritual entryway to a room in which a ceremony of entry is performed. A propylon is common find among the Minon ruins.
  • Hermes is the god of pillars and piles. A pillar crypt is A room with a central pillar that does not necessarily hold up the roof. The floor is often supplied with grooves to carry away liquids that have been applied to the pillar. Anumber of these pillar cryps have been found among the Minoan ruins.
  • Athena is a snake goddess. Images of a snake goddess have been found among Minoan ruins.
  • Aphrodite is strongly associated with Ariadne.
  • Itone means willow tree and this could be associated with tree worship that appears to be pictured in Minoan remains.
  • Europa rode a bull and Pasiphae mated with a bull. The bull is an important image among Minoan ruins.

Apollo has many aspects that could be Minoan

When Homer refers to Artemis as Potnia Theron he seems to admit that Artemis is Minoan. Arthur Evans found images among the remains of Minoan Crete that seem to illustrate Potnia Theron (Mistress of the Animals.

Other Gods and Goddesses to be considered as not fitting into the Indo-Euromean Scheme:

Athean Goddess of wisdom, Hermes 
Aphrodite - Ares, Adonis, 
Hera - Herakles

Apparently the notion of nymphs was part of the Indo-European scheme but it must have also resembled what was found when the Indo-Europeans moved in. The word ‘nymph’ is Indo-European from ‘sneubh-‘ meaning ‘to marry’ Oddly the Northern Europeans speak of maidens (from ‘maghu-‘ meaning ‘youth’). Many of the nymph types have names dereived from Indo-European such as: Dryads from ‘deru-‘, ‘to be firm, solid, hense wooden’ in IndoEuropean; Melai from Indo-European ‘melit’, ‘honey’; Naiades from Indo-European ‘sna’,’to swim’. But notably the Nereids and the Okeanides cannot be so derived. The suggestion is that the Indo-European types reflect the geography of the origin of the Indo-Europeans which was forested while the precusors had adapted to the Mediterranean with its waters. It seems that the incidence of loan words is also much higher amongst the Nereids and the Okeanides.


Questions about Minoan Religion

Question: Triple Godess: Artemis, Selene, Hecate — I am doing a research paper and i want to know how are these godesses relate and their history. also can you give me any websites, too? please and thank you!

Answer: The concept of tripling is probably Mycenaean yet the only quotes to this triple goddess are Roman. click here The connection of these goddesses to the Indo-European culture is weak. A case might be made for a connection to the Minoan Culture. All three of these goddesses can be classified as Chthonic gods. Artemis might be the earth goddess consort of the sky goddess Apollo from the Minoan culture. Hecate is easily classified as chthonic.

The tripling here is said to represent maiden, mother, and crone. Yet all of these goddesses are imaged in classical times as young women. The notion of crone as applied to Hecate brings up images of a witch. Like witches all three goddesses are associated with nighttime activities. Both Artemis and Selene are imaged wearing a crescent in her hair. This can be interpreted as an image of the moon but it may also be the horns of a cow. This is a stong connection to the ancient Minoan religion.

An article about Bendis relates Hecate with the Minoan culture: Click Here

An article about Selene and the Minoan Culture: Click Here

The triple goddess Selene, Artemis, Persephone is discussed at page 129 in the reference:
Minoans: life in Bronze Age Crete By Rodney Castleden

I discuss the relation of Artemis and the Minoan culture at: Click Here

This is a fairly complex topic with a lot of material to study, but it is also very interesting.