Tag Archives: Minoan

The Last Priestess of Malia – a review

Laura Perry is an author of several non-fiction titles about ancient Minoan culture and belief. She’s worked extensively with the imagery of this fascinating culture. Now, Laura has written a novel set at the end of the Minoan civilization and it is a truly remarkable piece of work. There is a powerful sense of place here, rich with details of everyday life and underpinned by a wealth of historical insights.

The central character of the novel is a priestess, so the rituals and beliefs of the Minoans are very much at the centre of the tale. Obviously, much of this had to be invented/discovered/remembered. I was struck by how powerfully this had been done. Too many representations of ancient Pagans just retro-fit contemporary belief or play out modern Pagan fantasies. There’s none of that here. The rituals feel specific, and culturally rooted. Many of them relate to specific locations and seasonal events and while we have no way of knowing exactly what the ancient Minoans did or believed, this all feels utterly plausible and convincing.

This is a story about the end of a civilization, and as such, I felt it speaks to the present in a powerful way. One way or another, we are also approaching the end of an era, and perhaps the end of western capitalist culture. Either the climate crisis will destroy us, or we will have to radically re-think how we do everything.  We aren’t the first people to have stood and the end of their known world and there’s a lot we can learn about resilience by looking to the past.

The Minoan world Laura describes is one of a peaceful culture based on co-operation, sharing, trust and mutual care. During the story, we see this culture brought down by an aggressive, hoarding, greedy, power-hungry culture. We see respect replaced with violence. We see consent replaced with conquest. It’s a tough read, but also a pertinent one. Culture is what people make of it. We all get to make these choices and decide what we support and enable, what we resist, and what we do with ourselves.

What do you do when the Goddesses seem to have abandoned you? What do you do when everything you hold sacred is in peril? What do you do when your power is taken from you by people who decide you have no right to self-determination? What do you do in face of abuse, contempt, violation, sacrilege and cruelty? When there is no magic solution to restore justice or give you back what was rightfully yours? These questions are so very pertinent right now, with international companies killing and displacing indigenous people around the world.

This is a beautifully written tale that will break your heart. There’s no making entertainment out of horrors here, but if it sounds like you could be triggered by the content, approach with caution – there are some very difficult scenes in there. Even though it is a book that will break your heart, it has potent and inspiring messages about how to keep going in face of overwhelming adversity.

 

The book is widely available online, here’s the Amazon link – https://www.amazon.com/Last-Priestess-Malia-Laura-Perry-ebook/dp/B07XGDNFWY


On Writing Historical Fiction

A Guest post from Laura Perry

Fiction is an interesting beast. It’s imaginary but also real. You can take a real-world setting and make up characters to go in it. You can make up the world as well, if you like, though some portion of it needs to be relatable to the reader, perhaps in the form of some of your characters being human.

Either way, the intersection of the real and the imagined creates the spark of the story. I’ve written two novels set in the known world, one in Central America and one near where I live in the southeastern US. Both had magical aspects to the story, and one had magical/supernatural characters as well. Still, both novels take place in the current time, in the world I’ve spent my whole life in. It’s familiar territory, in a sense, a world I share with my readers.

Then I decided to write historical fiction. That turns out to be a different beast altogether, with its own set of issues.

My novel is set on the Mediterranean island of Crete, among the ancient Minoans. They were a Bronze Age culture that flourished from about 3000-1400 BCE. Now, the Minoans are a subject I’ve studied for years. Decades, even. But when I started writing this book, I discovered just how much I don’t know, how much no one knows about the details of daily life and religion in ancient Crete.

So I filled in the blanks with educated guesses. That’s what every author does when they’re writing historical fiction. And I feel the weight of every one of those guesses, because there’s a thing that happens with any kind of historical fiction, whether it’s in the form of a book, a television show, or a movie: people take it as actual history. You’d be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) how many people get their history more from television than from the books they were supposed to read in school.

So this book took me a long time to write. That was partly because the story is heart-wrenching and I felt like part of my soul was being ripped out with each chapter. But it was also partly because I had to weigh every detail, consider every possibility as I built the world the action takes place in. I’m sure I’m wrong about some of it; that’s just how history and archaeology are. More information comes to light later on and we recognize our mistakes.

But in the meantime, I’d like to remind everyone that historical fiction is just that: fiction, even if it is framed with known facts and archaeological evidence. Historical fiction is a marvelous romp through another time and place, via the imagination of the writer. So enjoy it for what it is: a story about humanity, about the issues we’ve all faced through the generations. Some things never change.

 

Find out more about Laura’s Minoan novel here – : http://www.lauraperryauthor.com/the-last-priestess-of-malia

 


When Is a Reconstructionist Tradition not a Reconstructionist Tradition?

A guest blog by Laura Perry

When Nimue suggested the idea of a guest blog post, I asked her what aspects of modern Minoan Paganism might interest her fellow Druids. Her response was enlightening:

“Probably the main point of commonality with Druidry is that this is a tradition with scant but tantalising evidence, parts of which was recorded by its oppressors.”

I hadn’t really thought about Druidry in that light before, but of course it’s true. Caesar wasn’t exactly a warm supporter of the Druids, was he? And the Hellenic Greeks weren’t terribly fond of the Minoans either, except when they could scrape up a few bits of Minoan mythology to give their own culture the patina of age.

Let’s start with the basics. The ancient Minoans were a civilization that spread across the island of Crete, just south of Greece in the Mediterranean, beginning in the Neolithic era, about 6000-5000 BCE. The main run of Minoan society flourished during the Bronze Age from about 3500 to 1400 BCE, with the heyday (the big temple complexes, colorful art, and so on) from about 1900 to 1400 BCE. This puts the Minoans contemporaneous with the New Kingdom of Egypt and the Mesopotamian cultures of Sumer, Akkad, and Babylon. The first stage of Stonehenge was built during the early phases of Minoan society and it was completed during the height of civilization on Crete. The Minoans were a wealthy mercantile society of accomplished seafarers, trading all across the Mediterranean and as far up the Atlantic coast as Cornwall, from where they brought back tin to make bronze blades.

One issue that confuses many people is the ethnicity of the ancient Minoans. In modern times, the island of Crete is part of the nation of Greece. However, the Minoans weren’t Greek. Their ancestors came from Anatolia in prehistoric times, a part of the westward wave of pre-Indo-European peoples that eventually spread across most of Europe. And while the people and culture are called Minoan after the mythical King Minos who purportedly ruled the island at one time, there is no such place as Minoa. The homeland of the Minoans is called Crete.

You’re probably familiar with the Minoans thanks to their art: the colorful frescoes of bull-leapers and priestesses, the figurines of the goddess with writhing snakes in her hands, the seal rings depicting complex ritual scenes. Much of Minoan art focuses on religious acts: sacred games, offerings, animal sacrifice, sacred dance. As with much of the ancient world, the Minoans felt no divide between everyday life and religion, the ordinary and the numinous.

So what was Minoan religion like and why would anyone be interested in reviving it, even in a modified form, in our times? The initial appeal for many people is the prominent place of the goddesses in the Minoan pantheon. Rhea, Ariadne, Diktynna, Eileithyia, and others may be familiar to most people from the Hellenic Greek pantheon, but they all were born, so to speak, among the Minoans. We can deduce a lot about Minoan religious practice from their artwork – the offerings, dances, sacrifices, and so on that I mentioned above. But we can only get just so far by looking at pictures.

The Minoans were a literate culture. In fact, they had two writing systems, a hieroglyphic system and a syllabary known as Linear A. The problem is, we can’t read either one. Now, the Mycenaean Greeks came into contact with Crete during the last few centuries of Minoan civilization. Either they or, more likely, some Minoan scribes altered Linear A to write Mycenaean Greek. The ensuing syllabary, known as Linear B, was translated in the 1950s and we can read it pretty well. That’s how we know so many of the Minoan deity and place names, what kinds of offerings the temples accepted, and the fact that women owned property. But we still can’t read the native Minoan language. And that’s a problem, because our main source of written information comes from the Mycenaeans, who weren’t exactly the Minoans’ best friends.

Though we can’t be sure of the Mycenaeans’ specific aims, it’s apparent that they did their best to take over Minoan society, first by infiltration and then by force. They may have wanted the island as a hub for naval activity or they may have coveted the Minoans’ wealth, gained from extensive trading activity. In the process, the Mycenaeans borrowed a great deal of Minoan religious practice, including large chunks of the Minoan pantheon. The Hellenic Greeks later incorporated the Minoan deities into their pantheon but altered the myths and even the characteristics of many of the deities to suit their own cultural values.

The main activity in Ariadne’s Tribe is figuring out how much of what we know about the Minoans (mostly through Greek mythology) was recorded accurately and how much was purposely changed. The Mycenaeans, like the later Hellenic Greeks, were a profoundly patriarchal society, in contrast to the egalitarian Minoans. So the Greeks ‘demoted’ many of the Minoan goddesses (Ariadne became a mere human, for instance) while they forced others, such as Rhea, to submit to husbands who ruled over them when these goddesses had been stand-alone, unmarried deities in Minoan religion. Then the Greeks invented Theseus, a culture hero, to show that they were superior to the backwards, human-sacrificing, Minotaur-worshiping Minoans.

So those of us who practice modern Minoan Paganism spend a lot of time teasing out the original myths from what amounts to a political smear campaign. There are some aspects of ancient Minoan religion we’re not likely to revive: huge mystery plays attended by hundreds or thousands; drug-induced shamanic journeys; animal sacrifice. But we use the same symbol set the ancient Minoans displayed in their temples, shrines, and homes: the labrys, the horns, seashells, the sacred serpent. We’ve taken a page from the modern Norse Pagans and are working with multiply-corroborated gnosis to fill in the blanks where necessary, along with a lot of ritual experimentation. And of course, we listen to the gods. They understand that life changes with the passage of time, and whatever we can do to help them remain relevant while respecting their underlying nature is a good thing.

 

References:

Though I’m often wary of Wikipedia, the page about Minoan civilization contains generally undisputed information and is pretty comprehensive:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minoan_civilization

 

Max Dashu’s Suppressed Histories Archives has 5 pages of good examples of Minoan art, focusing on the religion of ancient Crete:

http://suppressedhistories.net/Gallery/crete/crete.html

 

The writing systems mentioned above:

Cretan Hieroglyphs http://ancientscripts.com/cretan_hieroglyphs.html

Linear A  http://ancientscripts.com/lineara.html

Linear B  http://ancientscripts.com/linearb.html

 

Ariadne’s Tribe – Facebook discussion group for modern Minoan Paganism:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1502335483312496/

 

The Minoan Path blog, an exploration of modern Minoan paganism:

http://witchesandpagans.com/pagan-paths-blogs/the-minoan-path.html


Minoan Tarot

I’m no great expert on things Minoan, but having read Laura Perry’s fascinating book – Ariadne’s Thread – I’m aware that this is a really interesting culture. I don’t really buy into the idea of any kind of coherent matriarchal society that was later crushed by patriarchy – it just seems too simple a story to me which is part of why I liked Laura’s book – it offers something more complicated.

I gather that the further back you go into Minoan history, the more equality there is. This is a culture that, go back far enough, had a totally different gender balance to a lot of the ancient world, and was much less violent as well. This isn’t a coincidence. Patriarchal societies tend to treat most of their men as expendable resources that can be used to secure more physical resources – part of a bigger project in which ownership is considered more valuable than life itself. I understand that the transition to settled agrarian life brought a culture of ownership, and led to violence in many places, fuelled by new metal technology. For me, capitalism and patriarchy, are unpleasant aspects of a project that has been going on for quite some time now. I’m very keen on anything that shows us that alternatives exist.

At the moment, Laura has a kickstarter on the go for a Minoan Tarot set. Frankly, what I know about tarot is negligible. However, what Laura has done is gorgeous and innovative. She’s hand drawn each card image based on imagery from the ancient frescoes of Crete. The images are striking and colourful, full of vitality and sensuality. I’ve borrowed an image to illustrate this blog and to give a sense of what an attractive project this is.

If you’d like to know more, or want a copy of the tarot for yourself, hop over to the kickstarter – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1777224428/the-minoan-tarot-by-laura-perry?ref=video