Book One: Ariadne’s Thread

I did mention in my last post on the twelve books I am reading and reviewing this year might change, right? Right. So up first is the first publication (2013) of Laura Perry’s “Ariadne’s Thread: Awakening the Wonders of the Ancient Minoans in our Modern Lives”.

Let me start by saying I was ecstatic to see what appeared to be a book promoting a revival of the Minoan religion. Totally relevant to my interests. It had a small smattering of reviews, all of which looked promising. I had low expectations, because I know there is not a whole lot to go on historically for a reconstruction of a religion whose primary language is still not deciphered.

But Perry’s treatment of Minoan history was just painful. I will give credit that there is an extensive bibliography at the back of the book, but there is not a single footnote to be seen, which is unfortunate since some of her conclusions seem pretty far-fetched:

One class of people we would not find in ancient Crete is the military. Crete had no army or navy of its own and, until the Mycenaean incursions toward the end of the empire, did not hire mercenaries or guards from other lands.

This concept of Minoans as being peace-loving individuals is something propagated by Sir Arthur Evans, whom Perry openly decries the influence of on our understanding of the Minoans. It makes logical sense that a culture in great power would, at the very least, require a military for defenses. And a culture so tied to sea-faring, would require a naval fleet.

Allyson McCreery wrote on the subject extensively in her “Evidence for Warfare on Crete during the Early and Middle Bronze Age”. It is not a short read (over 100 pages), but here is a more recent article on the matter (published the same year as Perry’s book, but this information is not new) for a quicker recap: “Peaceful Minoans Surprisingly Warlike”.

They wanted no land other than their own small island and thus posed no threat to the surrounding nations.

Aside from the fact this seems like a value judgment, it is also an assumption. Perry herself also writes:

By concentrating on the flow of trade rather than spending money on a destructive and unnecessary military, the Minoans built up the strongest, farthest-reaching mercantile empire of the classical world.

I do not know if Perry does not include economic expansion as a type of expansion, or not. But you cannot have a far reaching empire, and still have no interest in acquiring more land or posing  no threat to other nations. Even if the Minoans meant no threat, which we do not know for fact, they could easily have been perceived as a threat by other civilizations.

The Minoans did also have outposts and colonies on places other than Crete, including Thera and even as far as the Asian mainland. Perry herself later speculates an emigration of the Minoans into Ireland. There are even some professors who have written on the possibility of the Minoan’s presence in North America.

Interestingly enough, though, the young men of Crete limited their aggression to the animals they hunted rather than warring on each other or neighboring peoples.

Putting aside all of the points I previously made, there is also archaeological evidence suggesting that the Minoans engaged not only in human sacrifice, but possibly even cannibalism. This is not a new discovery, either. It was printed in the 1980s even in a Milwaukee paper. That seems like aggression to me, although I personally hold it was primarily for religious reasons.

One striking aspect of Minoan fashion is its emphasis on sexuality. This should not be surprising coming from a society that found no sin or guilt in sexual display and activity. The people of ancient Crete celebrated their bodies just as they celebrated their beautiful island home and their gods. The women’s clothing often emphasized bare breasts. The men’s clothing could be quite scanty, often consisting of nothing more than a very short skirt and sandals.

Perry herself speaks of the warm climate of Crete – could it not be possible that is why popular garments were “scanty”? Assuming that a culture is emphasizing sexuality by showing bare skin, or that not being embarrassed by one’s body is a sexual display, just seems extremely naive, and even nearing offensive. Not to mention a wild leap.

She, however, did present some really thought-provoking ideas, such as priests/priestesses being incarnate deities, and a possible Minoan origin for some Irish clans, which is something I have run across before but been unable to find any backing for. It seems either she was also having trouble in that department, or just decided it was not worth sourcing directly, like the bulk of her book.

Perry is a Wiccan, and it shows in her treatment of the individual deities in her section on gods and goddesses of the Minoans. Reading through it felt like wading through a muddled mess of names which quickly lost all meaning as Perry attempted to combine them together.

I do think that there is some overlap in names when it comes to the Minoans and later Greeks. For example, I tend to conflate Zagreus with the Minotaur. I would even go so far as to say that in a handful of cases, if the names do not all refer to the exact same deity, they refer to different aspects of one deity, such as with Britomartis, Diktynna, and Aphaea.

But Perry goes as far as to conflate Hermes, Orion, Radamanthys, and Zagreus. And Rhea is the same goddess as Britomartis, Pandora, Cronos (?!), Europa, and sometimes the same as Ariadne (who is also Arachne, Alpheta, and even Ananke, among several others).

It got to the point that the entire section of the book felt superfluous, because what did it matter? It all came down to a Great Goddess, and a Good-But-Not-Great God.  Not to mention some assumptions that were just mistakes, such as confusing Cronos with Chronos:

As Father Time he presides over the ever-shifting cycles of life…by some accounts Cronos is said to devour his own offspring, but this tale is simply a metaphor for his embodiment of time itself.

I am a squishy polytheist, but err on the side of hard polytheism. I am open to conflating deities when there is actual backing for it. But backing is something Perry’s book seems to be missing entirely. If she had presented her encyclopedia of Minoan deities with the caveat that it is a topic of debate, that would be one thing. But her factual tone is extremely off-putting, especially considering there is not a single footnote in sight.

Personal beliefs aside, I feel like it is a disservice to what little we DO know historically to not take proper care in providing factual information alongside UPG, and noting which is which.

The bulk of Perry’s book is actually a collection of rituals she designed based on her interpretations of Minoan culture. She did a pretty decent job in the preface to this section of explaining what are modern pagan elements (actually, Wiccan, but I will let that one slide), and why they would or would not be included in the rituals. She did what felt like a lot of assuming about ancient Minoan rituals, however.

Full disclosure: I did not try any of the rituals in her book. But I read over them. As rituals themselves, they seemed pretty solid and I could see them as meaningful for people who enacted them.

I cannot buy the rituals as modern or ancient Minoan ones, but I can definitely buy them as Wiccan rituals with a Minoan seasoning. I, myself, found them of the wrong paradigm to work for me personally. But for a Wiccan, from my understanding of the religion, they hold good potential.

She covers a lot of important life events: marriages, partings, deaths, memorials. I was particularly pleased to see included a passage into adulthood for young men and women. The rituals vary based on participants required, but Perry took care to note that they some can be slightly tailored for the amount of attendees present, and people’s genders and sexual orientations.

All in all, I was not pleased with Perry’s book. I found it full of misinformation, assumptions, and sometimes even wild leaps when it comes to the historicity of the Minoans and their religious lives. However, Perry’s own section of rituals holds potential for individuals who are drawn to more Wiccan paths of paganism, and are looking for something with a more Minoan flair.

About Reconstructing the Labyrinth

Hello! My name is Bri, and I run the blog Reconstructing the Labyrinth. I am a pagan who works primarily with the Minoan pantheon, of which I believe myself to be an incarnate member. I am also genderqueer, pansexual, and demisexual. I have a wonderful, loving partner. I am a mixed-media artist and writer with a great fondness for plaid and amaretto-flavored coffee.
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2 Responses to Book One: Ariadne’s Thread

  1. caelesti says:

    Same usual problem with New Agey/Pagan books- ooh nifty ancient culture- aw shucks, barely any info available. Oh, well I’ll just make stuff up and call it authentic! It sounds like she barely even tried. the peace-loving matriarchal goddess-worshipping Minoans trope I have come across before. Too bad, I am also interested in the Minoans.Any suggestions on decent sources?

    • Yeah, I had just really hoped, you know? Although she did say genders were treated equally…but then went on about how important the Goddess was, so. There were a good handful of contradictions like that.

      Most of my sources are academic papers online, or things I stumble upon in Google books. During my main researching spree, I just bookmarked all of them. I am still trying to go back through and create a good source list! The only ones I can think of right off the bat are Kerenyi’s books. They are not about the Minoans per se, but studies of particular Greek deities. But he delves into their precursors, so in the Dionysos book, for example, there is a significant chunk of it that is about Zagreus, Britomartis, Ariadne, and the like. Reading it was really crazy, because it is the book that wound up confirming a lot of my UPG. He is also a well-respected scholar, and has lots of footnotes. He also did a book with Jung that was interesting.

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