Minoan goddesses & women

Women’s History Month Focus: Minoan females

Continuing the celebration of all things wonderfully female, both historically and prehistorically, the featured image is from the island of Crete. The ancient civilization of the Minoans (as we now call them) was very women centered. From archaeological finds, we know that sculpted, painted, or carved females were the predominate forms here from Paleolithic to Neolithic through to Bronze Age times.

There are numerous frieze paintings like the one above that show the joy of women in Minoan society.  Women collected saffron (a prized trade good); led or participated in sacred rituals, dances, and feasts; and appeared to be practiced bull leapers. In the image below, the women are depicted as white, while the men are depicted as red.  (Note: this is not a portrayal of ethnicity, but rather sacred art stylization with red, white, and black being the overall palate.)

Knossos Minoan bull leaping

Goddesses of Crete

Evidence for several goddesses was unearthed by archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans.  The photo on the left shows some of the items Evans found in the Knossos Palace. The photo on the right show the snake goddess on display in the archaeological museum on Crete.

Things from The Temple Repositories of Knossos palace, including two famous snake goddesses soon after its discovering in 1903 Source Evans, A.J. (1921-35). The Palace of Minos - Volumes 1-4.
Items from the Temple Repositories of Knossos palace. Minoan goddesses are prominent. Photo by Sir Arthur Evans, 1903.










Minoan Snake Goddesses, Herakleion museum, Crete. J. Ollè, 2005.
Minoan Snake Goddesses, Herakleion museum, Crete. J. Ollè, 2005.

Theories abound as to why Crete revered snake goddesses, but goddesses associated with snakes or symbolically represented by snakes are found world-wide: Australia, India, Greece, Libya, Mesopotamia, Northern Europe, Sweden, Egypt, Korea, etc. Additionally, Minoan goddesses have been generally typified as Potnia (meaning Lady or Mistress) such as Lady of the Animals, Lady of the Plants, or Lady of the Mountains.

Bronze shield from the Idaean Cave on Crete. The Mistress of Animals stands grasping a lion in either hand. c. 700 BCE
Bronze shield found in the Idaean Cave on Crete. The Mistress of Animals stands grasping a lion in either hand. c. 700 BCE

Minoan goddess_sealThis Minoan gold seal shows several sacred symbolic items.  Notice that only women (or goddesses or both) are portrayed on the seal. Additionally, poppies, crocuses, and lilies are being held together with a double ax. Associated with the double ax is a womanly figure-eight shield. The plant behind the seated goddess is commonly identified as a fruiting tree. To me, however, living here in Oregon, there is a strong resemblance to bound hop vines. Two snakes demarcate the boundaries between earthly and celestial as they become the border to the sun and moon.

What the preceding images all share is a perspective focused on the exuberance and mystery of life. Solemnity in female figurines appears in the “Cycladic” figures; these sculptures were found primarily in Minoan tombs. Although museums typically display these figurines upright, due to their original location, scholars are now suggesting that they may have been laid flat, possibly representing sacred female “energy” protecting the dead.

Cycladic female figuerineI hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief introduction on the importance of women and goddesses in Minoan culture. What speaks to you about these ancient artifacts?  Do any of them surprise you? I’d love to hear your thoughts on them or on the Minoan culture in general.  Happy Women’s History Month!





2 thoughts on “Minoan goddesses & women

    1. Thanks, Gwynne for reading the blog post and commenting. 🙂 Yes, the Minoan civilization was beautiful and accomplished. Thanks again for your comments!

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