Minoan Snake Goddess, Knossos. - History
Medusa at the center of the pediment of the Temple of Artemis at Corfu, c. 580 BCE.
Metope of Perseus with the aid of Athena beheading Medusa from the Temple of Selinus, c. 550 BCE.
The seventh century witnesses the birth of narrative art in Greek art. Artists in a variety of media begin to tell stories in their art. As exemplified by the examples above, one of the most popular stories told by these artists is the story of the Greek hero Perseus, with the aid of the goddess Athena, beheading the monstrous female figure of Medusa. You can read the Wikipedia account of this legend or this other page. Significantly scholars have seen the name Medusa etymologically going back to the Sanscrit name Medha or in Greek Metis or in Egyptian Maat, meaning"sovereign female wisdom." Versions of the story talk about how Medusa was born a beautiful maiden with beautiful flowing hair. She was punished by the goddess Athena for rivalling her beauty and Medusa was transformed into a hideous figure with snakes instead of flowing locks for her hair.
The seventh century is known by scholars as the Orientalizing period. This is a period of dramatic change in Greek art as Greek culture expands out and comes under the influence of non-Greek, especially Near Eastern cultures. With this encounter with non-Greek cultures, the Greeks developed a strong sense of cultural identity. While the Greeks were divided politically into fiercely independent city-states, there was still a strong sense of intense Greek identity through the shared language and culture. As Greeks came into contact with other cultures, they emphasized the difference between themselves and others. It is in Greek culture that the concept of the "barbarian" was invented. "Barbarian" ultimately is a Greek word. It was used by the Greek to identify a non-Greek speaker, one who speaks nonsense or "bar bar". Greek art during the seventh century witnesses a fascination with the monstrous. New monsters like the sphinx and griffin become popular. Medusa and her sisters the Gorgons exemplify this fascination. As evidenced by the examples illustrated above, the Orientalizing artist did not have a canonical form for the visual form of Medusa. The relief vase represents her as a centaur, a popular monstrous figure in early Greek art, while the Eleusis amphora represents the Gorgons with heads that look like cauldrons. It is only at the end of the seventh century as illustrated by the Nessos amphora that artists settle on a canonical form.
In your journal compare the figure of Medusa in seventh and sixth century Greek art back to the Minoan snake goddess.
Consider in your journal the parallels between the Medusa story and the Old Testament story of the Temptation and Fall of Man from the book of Genesis. I illustrate this story with a miniature from the early fifteenth, French Book of Hours known as the Trés riches heures made for Jean, Duke of Berry.
Consider in your journal, the relevance of this material to the creation of the character of Catwoman by Halle Berry in the 2004 film:
In preparing this webpage, I read the Wikipedia article on Catwoman. In that article the original creator of Catwoman, Bob Kane is quoted as saying: I felt that women were feline creatures and men were more like dogs. While dogs are faithful and friendly, cats are cool, detached, and unreliable. I felt much warmer with dogs around me&mdashcats are as hard to understand as women are. Men feel more sure of themselves with a male friend than a woman. You always need to keep women at arm's length. We don't want anyone taking over our souls, and women have a habit of doing that. So there's a love-resentment thing with women. I guess women will feel that I'm being chauvinistic to speak this way, but I do feel that I've had better relationships with male friends than women. With women, once the romance is over, somehow they never remain my friends. Chauvinistic attitudes are hard to die!
Medusa, Queen of the Inhumans.
The story of Medusa has been picked up in contemporary feminist theory. Read the excerpts from the 1971 essay entitled "The Laugh of Medusa" by the French feminist writer Hélène Cixous. Respond to these excerpts in your journal.
In another context, I wrote this account of the "The Great Goddess." See its relationship to the comparison of the Minoan snake goddess and the Medusa figure.
The "Venus of Willendorf", c. 30,000-25, 000 B.C., Paleolithic (see the webpages constructed by Christopher Witcombe dedicated to the Venus of Willendorf)
Preceding the introduction of the patriarchal system of male sky gods, early Europe was dominated by the so-called Great Goddess, a powerful, creative force who through parthenogenesis (conception without sex) gave birth to the universe. She was the source of the great cycle of existence --life, death, re-birth. The Great Goddess appears in mythologies from all over the world:
|Greek||Gaea and Demeter|
|Roman||Ceres, Tellus, and Terra Mater|
The Great Goddess unites opposites within herself: light/ darkness, upper and lower worlds, birth-death-and re-birth. She is both terrifying and beneficent.
See Chris Witcombe's essay on the Minoan Snake Goddess.
The so-called Snake Goddess from Knossos possibly presents the Great Goddess as she was conceived of within Minoan culture. We need to be careful not to read into the snakes held by this figure malevolent forces associated with serpents in the stories like the Garden of Eden and Medusa, that dominate in western culture. The serpent is a totem of the cycles of life, death and rebirth and the seasons. It is the connection to the fertile earth and to the underworld. It also symbolizes immortality as it was thought to shed its skin indefinitely.
The unity of the Great Goddess becomes divided in Greek mythology. Many scholars argue that this division occurs with the introduction of a new culture and religious imagination. Indo-Europeans like the so-called Dorians who apparently invaded the eastern Mediterranean during the end of the second millenium introduced the male sky gods and a much more militaristic culture. The cyclical conception of nature that existed apparently with the Great Goddess becomes divided into clear binaries. Imagine reality conceived as cycle where life and death, light and dark, etc. are seen as a part of a great cycle rather than being divided. The table below presents a partial list of a series of binaries that are regularly found in Greek art and culture:
The Olympian gods were ultimately descended from Gaea. According to Hesiod's account of the creation of the universe presented in his Theogony, Gaea along with Tartarus and Eros, was born from Chaos, or at the same time. Without a mate she parthenogenetically bore Uranus (sky), Ourea (mountains), and Pontus (sea). With Uranus, Gaea gave birth to the Titans and Cyclopes. Gaea encouraged Cronus, the eldest Titan, to take a sickle and castrate his father Uranus. Cronus through Rhea became the father of the eldest Olympian gods (Zeus, Hera, Demeter, Hestia, Poseidon, and Hades). In turn, Zeus, the youngest son of Rhea, overturned his father Cronus. Although Gaea had encouraged the elevation of Zeus to king of the Olympians, she ultimately turned against him. She set her offspring the monster Typhöeus and the Giants against Zeus who ultimately prevailed. In Greek mythology, the direct off-spring of Gaea become identified as chthonic forces (from the earth) that become subdued by the Olympians and their followers.
This succession myth and the ascendance of Zeus and the Olympian Gods over the chthonic powers of Gaea and her off-spring echoes the introduction of the patriarchal Indo-European sky-gods into the Mediterranean world and the subordination of the Great Goddess. Scholars examining the remains of Minoan culture have wondered whether it was a matriarchal society. There is no certainty to this conclusion, but for the historical period of Greek culture extending from at least the eighth century B.C. matriarchy represented the opposite of everything that was Greek, civilized, and "normal." Matriarchy was posited as the horrific and chaotic alternative to patriarchy and thereby served as a tool to explain and validate patriarchal institutions, customs, and values.
With the supremacy of Zeus and the other Olympian gods established, Gaea's position is eclipsed. Demeter, the sister of Zeus, incorporates many of the aspects of the Great Goddess, while the different functions of Gaea are divided among goddesses. Under the Olympian Gods, earth and heaven are split eternally. In myth heroes and gods are created to dominate and subjugate the female and natural forces over and over again in various forms, the most common of them being gigantic snakes and serpent monsters. The chthonic identity of the Great Goddess becomes associated with powers of darkness, chaos, and death that need to be subdued by the Olympian gods. What had been cyclical with the Great Goddess becomes cut so that instead of being associated with the cycle of life, death, and regeneration, she becomes identified with the negative functions.
See Chris Witcombe's essay on the Minoan Snake Goddess.
Metope from the Temple at Selinus (c. 550-540) showing Perseus slaying Medusa with Athena looking on. Pegasus, the winged horse that sprang from the severed neck, is being held by Medusa. Perseus gave the head of Medusa to Athena who mounted it on her breastplate, the gorgoneion.
A comparison of one of the large number of representations of the story of Perseus Medusa from Archaic Greek art to the Minoan Snake Goddess illustrates the profound change that occurred with the supremacy of the Olympian Gods. A striking aspect of the Snake Goddess is her frontality combined with her hypnotic stare. The power of this stare was probably intended to strike the original viewers with intense religious feelings of of terror and awe. This expression transcends categories of good and evil. On the other hand, it was the sight of the "terrible" visage of Medusa that would turn men into stone. The powerful gaze in the Minoan work becomes entirely negative and demonized and something to be overcome in the figure of Medusa. Perseus, the son of Zeus and the mortal Danae, slays Medusa with his sword, and thus he destroys the terrifying chthonic powers of the female (for more on Medusa see the paper by Alicia Le Van).
The following excerpt from Bullfinch's Mythology illustrates how the demonization of Medusa persists into our modern imagination:
|Medusa was a terrible monster who had laid waste to the country. She was once a beautiful maiden whose hair was her chief glory, but as she dared to vie in beauty with Athena, the goddess deprived her of her charms and changed her beautiful ringlets into hissing serpents. She became a cruel monster of so frightening an aspect that no living thing could behold her without being turned into stone. All around the cavern where she dwelt might be seen the stony figures of men and animals which had chanced to catch a glimpse of her and had been petrified with the sight. Perseus, favored by Athena and Hermes, the former of whom lent him her shield and the latter his winged shoes, approached Medusa while she slept, and taking care not to look directly at her, but guided by her image reflected in the bright shield which he bore, he cut off her head and gave it to Athena, who fixed it in the middle of her Aegis.|
Another major work associated with Minoan art is a fresco from the palace of Knossos on Crete. It was painted about 1450 BCE, and scholars have speculated about the nature of the practice shown here. It anticipates the important role the bull will play in western culture down to Bullfighting in Spain. What is interesting is the different relationship of the humans to the bull in the Minoan image from what is found in later art. Consider here the relief sculpture from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia coming from the middle of the fifth century BCE. The relief is part of a series of panels that represent the Labors of Heracles. This particular one illustrates Heracles defeating the Cretan Bull. In this context it is important to remember the myth of King Minos and the Minotaur. As an example of the continuity of the imagery of the Minotaur in western art consider the illustrations included in the article by Martin Ries entitled Picasso and the Myth of the Minotaur. At the end of the semester we will be considering Picasso's Guernica which includes an image of the bull.
The Minoan civilization was an Aegean Bronze Age civilization on the island of Crete, which flourished from c. 2700 to c. 1450 BCE, before declining and ending around 1100 BC.
The culture was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans. The name “Minoan” is derived from the mythical King Minos.
It was coined by Evans, who identified the site at Knossos with the legends of the labyrinth and the Minotaur. The Minoan civilization has been described as the earliest of its kind in Europe.
Sir Arthur John Evans (1851 – 1941) was an English archaeologist and pioneer in the study of Aegean civilization in the Bronze Age. He is most famous for unearthing the Palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete.
The Minoan civilization was also in trading contact with Middle Eastern cultures, especially with Anatolia, where many statues have been found representing a Great Goddess.
A mother goddess represents nature, motherhood, fertility, creation, destruction, or who embodies the bounty of the Earth. When equated with the Earth or the natural world, such goddesses are sometimes called the Earth Mother.
In later Greek civilizations, Ancient Greek Goddesses have been linked with virtues such as beauty, love, motherhood, and fertility.
They have also been associated with ideas such as war, creation, and death. We do not know what attributes were invested in the Snake Goddess by the Minoans.
The most popular Greco-Roman Goddess, who we know a lot more about, came later than Minoan Civilization and included the following attributes:
This figure appears to be wearing:—
- (1) A skirt, made without gathers, touching the ground evenly all round, decorated with horizontal lines representing either tucks or embroidery or woven stripes in the material. The skirt is bordered with a reticulated pattern at the hem, enclosed within a double line of edging.
- (2) A double apron or ‘polonaise’ made without fulness, reaching to the knee at the back and front, and rising to the hips at the sides. It is not improbably cut as an oval, and the head inserted through a hole in the middle as in the modern ‘poncho.’
- It is decorated round its edge by a ‘guilloche’ pattern within plain bands. This decoration may be embroidery. The hem of this garment has the appearance of being slightly wadded or stuffed to produce a rope-like edge. The material is covered with a spotted pattern in relief.
- (3) A tight-fitting jacket bodice of rich stuff, decorated, apparently, in embroidery, with a pattern formed of ‘volutes.’ The short sleeves cover the top of the shoulder and reach half-way to the elbow.
- In front the bodice is cut away in a V shape from the shoulders to a point at the waist, leaving the neck and both breasts absolutely bare. From just below the breasts the edges of the jacket seem to be braided in curved patterns, and laced across from this braiding by cords. These cords are tied in bow-like knots. The front of this jacket is edged all round by a spotted snake.
- (4) A high cap or tiara, perhaps of cloth, wound round in spiral fashion.
- The hair of the figure falls to the shoulders in long locks, and is arranged beneath the high cap in a ‘fringe’ of regular strands of hair.
The outline of this Votary’s dress is similar in general character to that of the Goddess, but offers a few variations, viz.:—
- (1) The skirt consists of seven flounces fastened apparently on a ‘foundation,’ so that the hem of each flounce falls just over the head of the one below it. Vertical stripes of a darker colour, of irregular width, appear on hem. The topmost flounce shows two narrow horizontal lines on each hip, probably a ‘heading’ to finish off the flounces.
- (2) Over this skirt is worn a double apron or ‘ polonaise’ similar to that of the Goddess, but not falling so deeply, and not so richly ornamented.
- The main surface is covered with a reticulated pattern, each reticulation being filled with horizontal lines in its upper half. The general effect is that of a check or small plaid. A triple line of decoration edges this ‘polonaise.’ The hem of it is thickened, perhaps by ‘ wadding.’ Seen from the back this thick edge seems to denote a fastening on each hip. The front and side views of the right hip give this fastening (?) the appearance of a thick roll, suggestive of a snake.
- (3) The bodice seems to be made of a plain material, and is cut in similar fashion to that of the Goddess, with rather longer sleeves. From the top of the shoulder down the sleeve, and continued at right angles round the arm, runs a line of lighter coloured decoration, perhaps braiding. Instead of the snake edge to the jacket, seen on the other figure, a rope-like border runs round the bodice and also round the sleeves, which terminate just above the elbow. The bodice is cut away so as to expose both breasts, as with the Goddess, and is similarly laced, though the braiding, from which the lacing springs, is not, perhaps, quite so rich.
- (4) The snake girdle of the Goddess is replaced on this figure by a stiff belt. The whole costume of both figures seems to consist of garments carefully sewn and fitted to the shape without any trace of flowing draperies.
- The bodies of the figures are closely confined within their bodices, except where they open in front. The lines adopted are those considered ideal by the modern corset maker rather than those of the sculptor.
A Striking Relic of Snake worship in Crete during the Minoan Age.
This dainty faience figure does not represent the Snake Goddess herself, but her votary or priestess. In her right hand the votary carries a small snake, tail upwards, and the left hand, which is missing, probably held another reptile in a similar position. Over her many flounced skirt she wears a double apron, a ritualistic survival of a primitive garment once to both sexes. Generally, the votary`s costume may be regarded as characteristic of feminine fashion in Minoan Crete. (Photograph from Sir Arthur Evans, “The Palace of Minos”.)
Modern Minoan Paganism: Walking with Ariadne's Tribe
Walk the sacred labyrinth with Ariadne, the Minotaur, the Great Mothers, Dionysus, and the rest of the Minoan pantheon. Modern Minoan Paganism is an independent polytheist spiritual tradition that brings the gods and goddesses of the ancient Minoans alive in the modern world. We're a revivalist tradition, not a reconstructionist one we rely heavily on shared gnosis and the practical realities of Paganism in the modern world. Ariadne's thread reaches across the millennia to connect us with the divine. Will you follow where it leads?
Find out all about Modern Minoan Paganism on our website: https://ariadnestribe.wordpress.com/. We're a welcoming tradition, open to all who share our love for the Minoan deities and respect for our fellow human beings.
The New Palace
The South West Entrance
The main entrance to the Palace is found in the South West corner. Walking south along the West facade visitors then, as today, would arrive at the West Porch. The West Porch includes a square portico with a central column and it opened onto an adjoining room, the "Porter's Lodge" or "Guardroom" as well as to the Corridor of the Processions, a narrow corridor that continues south (the only remaining section) and then would have turned east at the end of the building, and then north at the South Propylaeum. Fragments of wall paintings found in the Corridor of the Processions appear to show a processions taking place, while in the area of the South Propylaeum, fragments from the cupbearer fresco (see photo above for a reconstruction of this fresco) were found. There is no agreement on the date for these wall paintings, with opinions divided between a neopalatial date and a "Mycenaean" date (i.e. LM II-LM IIIA).
The reconstruction of the South Propylaeum by Evans has a Mycenaean look to it, and this is attributed by Hiller to the fact that Evans at first thought he was excavating a Mycenaean Palace. By constructing the Propylaeum, Evans was also required to construct the Grand Staircase which Evans himself accepted was simply imagined. Hitchcock suggests a couple of possible alternatives to the reconstruction including some sort of hall giving access to the storage area in the West Wing to the north or even an archive.
The West Wing
The west side of the palace at ground level was given over to shrines and store rooms. The wealth of the society is attested to by the large number of storerooms and the boxes that were stored beneath the floors. On the West Side of the Palace is one of the most famous of rooms unearthed by Evans, the Throne Room.
It has been pointed out that the Throne Room would have had an oppressive quality about it. With its low ceiling and lack of windows it was separated from the Central Court by an anteroom. The throne is placed along a side wall facing across the room. On either side of the throne there are stone benches and in front of the throne a stone adyton. It may have been the intention of the ruling group to make the throne room a mysterious place as far as the local population was concerned by making it inaccessible and practically invisible to all but a select few. Some have argued that it was not in fact a throne room used by a king but an area used for religious cult practices including possibly the "epiphany" or appearance of a goddess (in the form of a priestess) who sat on the throne.
There were two exits from the Throne Room. One led to a set of nine rooms and the other to storage rooms. Two of these had vaults in the floor like the room where the Snake Goddess was found. The Throne Room and the rooms leading off it seem to be a complete, distinct unit within the Palace, adding to the impression that the main shrine of the palace may have been what is now called the Throne Room, with the throne being used by a priestess rather than a King as Evans imagined.
On the upper floor it is thought that large state rooms were built, looking onto the West Court. These rooms may have been used for ceremonial purposes. Also on the west side of the Palace, facing the Central Court are the remains of a tripartite shrine.
The Snake Goddess Sanctuary lies to the south of the Throne Room and it is here that one of the most famous -- and most photographed -- objects of Minoan Crete was found, the Snake Goddess. In fact several snake goddesses were found buried in cists in the ground, named by Evans the Temple Repositories. One of the statuettes had been deliberately broken before being placed in the repository and it has been suggested that this might have been a way of "killing" the cult figurines. Two of the Snake Goddesses have been restored and are among the must-see treasures in the Museum at Heraklion. Further south in the West Wing we come to the Cup Bearer Sanctuary, so named after a life-sized fresco, the remains of which had fallen to the floor. This fresco shows a religious scene of temple attendants holding conical rhyta.
The West Store Rooms are situated to the west of the Lower West Wing Corridor and they consist of a number of long narrow rooms, many with enormous storage jars still in situ. On the storey above the store rooms, there were big square chambers. One chamber, the Great Sanctuary, was 16 metres across and had a very large window which may have been used for ritual appearances before the people at ceremonies in the West Court. The room was decorated with a bull leaping fresco.
C.L. Cooper (Kate Cooper), 'Biography of the Bull-Leaper: A 'Minoan' Ivory Figurine and Collecting Antiquity', in Cooper C.L. (ed) New Approaches to Ancient Material Culture in the Greek & Roman World (Leiden: Brill, MGR 27, 2021)
A. Evans, Palace of Minos: A Comparative account of the successive stages of the early Cretan civilization as illustrated by the discoveries at Knossos (Macmillan London, 1921-1935)
Faience &lsquoSnake goddesses&rsquo from the Temple Repositories: Volume 1 (1921) pp. 495 ff
Ivory &lsquoacrobats&rsquo from the Ivory Deposit: Volume 3 (1930) p.428 ff
Ivory boys from Palaikastro: Volume 3 (1930) p. 446 & Plate XXXVII
S. Hemmingway, &lsquoArt of the Aegean Bronze Age&rsquo A Virtual tour of the Archaeological site of Knossos by the British School at Athens (this needs a plug-in such as Quick time player)
With thanks for assistance and picture permissions to Catherine Morgan and Amalia Kakissis (The British School at Athens)
Minoan Snake Goddess
Minoan Snake Goddess by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
The Snake Goddess was one of the Minoan divinities associated closely with the snake cult. She is called also Household Goddess due to her attribute of the snake, which is connected with welfare of the Minoan house. But the snake is also symbol of the underworld deity, so the Snake Goddess is related to chthonic aspects too. The first, who identified this Minoan Goddess and who described her domestic and chthonic role and her cult, was A. Evans. He tried to find parallels in the Egyptian religion and linked the Snake Goddess with an Egyptian Goddess of the Nile Delta, Wazet (Wadjyt). From his point of view the attribute of goddess – snake – was a form of underworld spirit, which had a domestic and a friendly significance.
M.P. Nilsson hold a snake as personification of the Snake Goddess and he believed, that her chthonic form is one of the aspects of the Great Mother. But at the present time there are discussions about the functions of the Snake Goddess. In Crete does not exist a real archaeological evidence for her household role and there is almost no support for the chthonic aspects too. A small offering vessel of the Pre-Palace period in the shape of a female figure with a snake coiled around her body from Koumasa, came to light between some grave goods. But the other ritual figurines of the Snake Goddess were found in the Temple Repositories of the Knossos palace and public sanctuaries in Gurnia, Khania and Gortyn, where she was worshipped. Unknown provenience is the Snake Goddess made from ivory and gold (in the Boston museum) and a small bronze goddess with coil of snakes (in the Berlin museum). Two famous faience Snake Goddesses from Knossos belong to the New-Palace period (about 1600 BCE). Besides the ritual function, they are among the best examples of the Minoan art with its dominant features – naturalism and grace. They are presented as the ladies of the palace court, dressed in the typical Minoan clothes with a long skirt (flounced, or with an apron) and a tight open bodice. The snakes crawl around the body of one the goddesses and appear in each hand of the other. These statuettes are interpreted sometimes as the goddess and her votary, the mother goddess and her daughter, or the human attendants of goddess, as well as the women personified the goddess. Totally different ritual objects of the Snake Goddesses came from sanctuaries of the Post-Palace period (1400-1100 BCE). They are made from cheaper material – terracotta – in the position with raised hands, extremely stylized in accordance with the manners of this period. Their symbol – a snake – is often mixed with the other sacred signs: horns of consecration or birds.
Figures of the Snake Goddess and some other cult objects – so called snake tubes and vessels with wholes, decorated by a model of snake – illustrate the worshipping of a Snake Goddess and her cult in Crete during some periods. It seems that this cult came to existence from very early Minoan age, derived from the Egyptian belief system, but there was the strong Near-Eastern influence too. In the Egyptian mythology the snake was a personification of the goddess Kebechet, symbolized the purification by water in the funeral cult, so the snake became a protector of the pharaohs in their death. In the Sumerian and the Old-Babylonian literary tradition the snake was a wise creature and an expert for miraculous herbs of the eternal youth and immortality. A similar idea is contained in the Cretan myth about Glaukos, where the snake knows the herb of rebirth and resurrection.
It is possible, that the worshipping of the Minoan Snake Goddess was in some context to the rebirth, resurrection or renewal of the life. This cult was flourishing mainly in Knossos of the New-palace period and in the Post-Palace public sanctuaries. It is sure, that mainly Knossos’ idols, made from faience with a high artistic level, had an important function in the Minoan religion. We have to take into consideration, that the material of the New-Palace Snake Goddesses – faience – symbolized in old Egypt the renewal of life, therefore it was used in the funeral cult and in sanctuaries. The Post-Palace Snake Goddesses, worshipped in the small public sanctuaries, kept probably a more popular role. These ritual objects were influenced by the Mycenaean culture. Their attribute of the snake had a strong signification in the belief system of all Aegean region at this time. The terracotta models of painted snakes were found in the Cult Center of Mycenae and the motif of snakes appear between the decoration of vessels for funeral cult from the Late Mycenaean cemeteries in the mainland and in the islands Rhodos, Kos and Cyprus.
The symbol and spirit of the Minoan Snake Goddess took in the Greek mythology many different features. The snake had a protective and beneficial role on the shield of Athena, it represented the chthonic power connected with the Goddess of Earth, it was the attribute of Asklepios, probably due to its knowledge about the herb of rebirth, resurrection and eternal youth and generally it was the symbol of superhuman power of the god. But the snake could have a totally negative role too as an originator of the death and an avenger in company with the mythical creatures.
Minoan Snake Goddess
Several figurines of ancient Goddesses holding snakes were found in Knossos, Crete. Pictured here is the most famous of these Minoan Snake Goddesses, c. 1600 BCE.
She holds aloft two sacred Serpents in a dramatic pose, with another rising upright above her head.
The snakes represent this Goddess's role as a bridge between the worlds, her access to infinite spiritual wisdom, and her ultimate power of transformation to magickally create and re-create both herself and others.
She seems to be not so much displaying this power, but inviting us to partake of it with her. The Minoan Snake Goddess is showing us the way.
The Minoan Snake Goddess: Icon of a Matriarchal Culture
The greatest attraction of this image, perhaps, is the culture that created it. Little is known for certain of the Minoans, but what we do know is inspiring. at this time of history, especially so!
Women played a major role in Minoan society there is, in fact, strong evidence that it was highly matriarchal. Women were the spiritual leaders, for instance there were no Minoan priests. The standards of beauty for men and women is another sign
There is no evidence of a ruler per se, certainly none of the arrogant violent kings that are depicted by other cultures in the art of the times.
By contrast, the Goddess and the charm of nature were the common themes in Minoan art. As the Minoan Snake Goddesses demonstrate.
Minoans seemed to epitomize Goddess-worshipping culture: refinement, sensitivity, harmony, intelligence, and sensuality combined with innocence.
While they are largely a mystery to us, what we know of the Minoans indicates a deep love of nature and beauty, a sophisticated culture, and a peaceful lifestyle. They didn't glorify fighting or war, and unfortified castles shared the island seemingly without strife between them. They had a large and powerful navy which they used to rid their home sea of pirates and to trade with distant societies.
They were prosperous with a high standard of living and much leisure time.
Also striking is the lack of centralised worship. There were no large temples rather, spirituality was woven throughout their buildings and, it seems, their lives, in the form of numerous altars.
The Minoan culture demonstrates that the idea of a matriarchy or women in positions of power as "the same as patriarchy except with women on top" is inaccurate.
A culture based on Goddess awareness and Goddess values is more likely to be as the Minoans were peaceful, incredibly creative, rich with beauty and sensitivity.
Minoans are sometimes mistakenly thought of as early Greeks, but they were not. However, the Minoan culture was instrumental in shaping early Greek civilization, and had a lasting impact on all the societies around them.
Mysteries of the Snake Goddess: Art, Desire, and the Forging of History
This outstanding, informative, and entertaining book uses the controversy surrounding the world-famous "Minoan Snake Goddess" currently housed at the Boston Museum. Legal and ethical questions of the piece residing the United States aside, the fascinating and evocative ivory statuette of an apparent goddess in Minoan garb bearing a snake in either hand is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Bronze Age Aegean art and has had a decisive role in supporting the interpretation of Minoan religion as g This outstanding, informative, and entertaining book uses the controversy surrounding the world-famous "Minoan Snake Goddess" currently housed at the Boston Museum. Legal and ethical questions of the piece residing the United States aside, the fascinating and evocative ivory statuette of an apparent goddess in Minoan garb bearing a snake in either hand is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Bronze Age Aegean art and has had a decisive role in supporting the interpretation of Minoan religion as goddess-based. However, as Lapatin painstakingly shows, its authenticity is dubious at best and it is very likely a forgery.
In fact, the "Boston statute" is so widely lauded that this probable-forgery has itself given rise to numerous other similar forgeries -- Lapatin analyzes 15 individual cases, most of which have shown in museums. Ironically, the appearance of additional fakes inspired by the excitement generated by the Boston statue gives the impression that the Snake Goddess is typical of the Minoan milieu, when it is anything but.
And so we enter a hall of mirrors which poses extreme challenges to discerning a recovered past from a fabricated past. And this is the broader thesis of Lapatin's book -- the effort to reconstruct an image of an ancient culture is fraught with extreme epistemic challenges and demands careful and sober evaluation of the evidence, and a willingness to accept that there are many things we simply do not know.
Lapatin examines the provenance and unknowable provenience of the sculpture and uses it as a framework to explore the larger problems posed to archaeology by smuggling, politics, ideology, wishful thinking, and forgery, all compounded by a body of knowledge and interpretation surrounding Minoan culture that is over a century old.
In addition he gives an extremely engaging and readable overview of the excavation of Knossos by Arthur Evans and an invaluable (albeit brief) history of Europe's relationship to goddesses, and its ideas about goddess-based cultures.
Lapatin presents this information with the mastery of a first-rate storyteller. Although oozing with information and ideas, this book travels lightly and never wears its learning on its sleeve. It is accessible to laypersons with an interest in the ancient world, and is invaluable to students of archaeology, the Bronze Age, or Minoan culture. Highly recommended. . more