The Minoan Snake Goddess by Hana Evans
We often hear people saying (the discussion forum of this website is one example), that they came to Crete (Kriti) and fell in love with it. Was it the land, people, sun, the sense of relaxation that did it? I believe that it’s all of these and something on top of that too. Perhaps the magic, the spirit of this island touches their heart irrevocably so they feel compelled from within to come back, again and again, to feel this soul stirring, that seems somehow specific to Kriti.
The famous quotation by Heraklion born author of “Zorba the Greek”, Nikos Kazantzakis, which is repeated innumerably in hotels’ advertisements, captures this finely:
“Crete’s mystery is extremely deep. Whoever sets foot on this island senses a mysterious force branching warmly and beneficently through his veins, senses his soul begin to grow.”
This has always been more than true for me too, in fact I have originally, though not quite consciously, come to Crete in search of this.
It started with one “purpose-built” holiday perhaps 7 years ago. I have been enjoying a week of “body-mind-spirit” type course in the South West. We worked with bodywork, subtle energy exercises, visualization, psychotherapy techniques and indeed connecting with magical local nature, from soothing azure sea to groves of twisted olive trees to crumbling yet strong ancient ruins to dark wet caves.
It was on the last day of the course that was to became the first day of my new life, of my new relationship to Crete Until then this island has been a fantastic holiday backdrop place, from then on, a furious love affair.
Our group was in the midst of a dynamic exercise using chakras, subtle energy centers in the body, of which each relates to a particular set of qualities, modes of perception as well as physical organs. Lying comfortably on the floor, with our eyes closed, we reached the heart chakra, the throat chakra and the eyebrow chakra – the centers of feelings & love, of voice and speaking one’s truth, and of inner vision. Hearing the tutor’s suggestion to express our experience vocally, the group slowly started to gently hum and sing-song. But then a strange thing occurred – a particular sound, coming simultaneously from several people, seemed to have risen above the rest and for timeless several minutes has dominated the room. It was this moment that changed my life forever.
Feeling my heart, it opened wildly, like a flower in bloom, and flapped its petals in hunger for beauty of life… Opening my throat, I gave voice to a winding, wordless song from somewhere deep within me, coloured by my heart’s newborn sensation…and then, gradually…I felt the feeling wilting into sorrow and the sound turning into whimpering …to high pitch wailing, reminiscent of ceremonial funeral women mourners…to a heartbreaking whale song, of death yet dignity… The images came rushing into my inner eye – of broken temple columns, their white marble flickering through the sunlight reflected on the clear sea surface, under which they were submerged, rising from the sandy floor…of vases scattered amongst these ruins, spilling with precious jewels and treasures…of female statues knocked down from their bases and buried by the shifting sand….and I felt this sorrow, sorrow, this unexplainable but heartfelt sensation of terrible loss, my eyes flooding with tears – for what?…for figment of my imagination?…for childhood peace?
I never checked in with the few others who seemed to have tuned into the same wave of sound but for me this unfolded into a whole journey. What was it I was mourning so impassionedly? What have I…or have we…lost?? The images I had brought me vague associations with the myth of Atlantis, something I have never explored before. I certainly was never aware of speculations that Crete was one of its hypothetical locations.
But it was only – shame on me – on my later visit to Crete when I woke up to its wealth of archeological heritage and became aware of Minoan history, and of its dramatic ending in the times of earthquakes, volcano eruptions and Mycenaean attacks, that the penny dropped. I would walk through the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and its bronze age clay statuettes of “worshippers in ceremonial postures” would send shivers through my spine.
Their honoring of life force was bursting out in celebration of artistic expression throughout the museum. The sturdy and dainty ceramics painted with joyfully meandering designs. The mysteriously unwarlike labryses – ceremonial double axes of varying designs and sizes…fine jewelry of gold and precious stones and of course the amazing seals with delicately carved miniature scenes.
The famous faience bare-breasted and proud Snake Goddesses or colourfull and fine-detailed depictions of Minoan life in the “palace frescoes”. All this resonated with my emotional and intuitive remembering of experience I can only poetically describe as “a golden age”.
And then, there was Goddess. Seemingly a prevailing and beloved deity of the Minoans, pictured again and again in many female forms. As a priestess, as life giver, as the Lady of Nature and Animals, as receiver of worship of “adorants”. She was the nature embodied herself. Caves were (and of course still are) her wombs – and tombs, where death was probably seen as a meaningful transition of the soul into the afterlife. The ancient groves of sacred trees her original temples, twin-peaked mountains often related to the axis of some of the Palaces (like Youchtas for Knossos or Idi for Festos) her nurturing breasts.. The mythical labyrinth, an allegory of Crete’s multitude of caverns reflected then in the palace complexes, being perhaps the analogy of the sinuous interior of female body as well as the meandering, nonlinear nature of the Life’s Mystery.
She seemed to have stood for reverence for life – in all its wild beauty and natural processes and passion for self expression. Her image, as well as the joyfulness of the Minoan art were deeply lodged in my psyche and I could not stop being influenced by them from then on in my own artwork, trying to recreate and recall from the shadows of the past the sense of oneness with the benevolent universe. Goddess has started to teach me about herself, giving me a passion for her lore as it manifests not only here but also around the world.
Who was She? Why the Goddess? Does Spirit have a gender, and if we can personify the Essence and Intelligence of the universe, why the feminine? For me personally Goddess represents the mother-matter-matrix-like energy animating our world. She is the Spirit whose nature it is to embody and manifest itself. She reminds us of the sacredness and uniqueness of our day-to-day experience amongst human beings, animals, natural world, with its rhythms, birth, life cycles and transitions, death, its emotions, creativity and unknown mystery. She is personified as feminine because She births all creation from within herself, from the unmanifested essence, which is her mythological Womb, and then she nurtures what she birthed, throughout its cycles, to finally take it back into her comforting body when its journey is over – humans, plants, thoughts, cultures, galaxies. The nature of the Goddess is growth, movement and transformation…interlaced with periods of dissolution, gestation and regeneration…and acceptance and understanding of these as part of life. What image of the divine could be more natural, organic and closer to our way of being so we can relate to it?
That is why I like Minoan (and in fact, I mean ancient cretan, pre-Minoan too) Goddess perhaps like no other – because her people left us a wealth of record of her many forms and expressions. I cannot help my feeling that she was not only revered by them but also truly loved, and I believe from my heart that justifiably so, that she was their good deity.
The renowned archaeologist Marija Gimbutas researched the prehistoric Goddess culture of what she called “Old Europe” – the vast region covering area between UK a Scandinavian countries in the North, and Malta , Crete and Anatolia in the south.
“I do not believe, as many archaeologists of this generation seem to, that we shall never know the meaning of prehistoric art and religion. Yes, the scarcity of sources makes reconstruction difficult in most instances, but the religion of the early agricultural period of Europe and Anatolia is very richly documented. Tombs, temples, frescoes, reliefs, sculptures, figurines, pictorial paintings, and other sources need to be analyzed from the point of view of ideology. For this reason it is necessary to widen scope of descriptive archaeology into interdisciplinary research. For this work I rely heavily on comparative mythology, early historical sources, and linguistics as well as on folklore and historical ethnography.”
“The main theme of Goddess symbolism is the mystery of birth and death and the renewal of life, not only human but all life on earth and indeed in cosmos. Symbols and images cluster around the parthenogenetic (self-regenerating) Goddess and her basic functions as Giver of Life, Wielder of Death, and, not less importantly, as regeneratrix, and around the Earth Mother, the Fertility Goddess young and old, rising and dying with plant life. She was the single source of life who took her energy from the springs and wells, from the sun, moon and moist earth. This symbolic system represents cyclical, not liner, mythical time. In art this is manifested by the signs of dynamic motion: whirling and twisting spirals, winding and coiling snakes, circles, crescents, horns, sprouting seeds and shoots. The snake was a symbol of life energy and regeneration, a most benevolent, not an evil, creature. Even the colours had different meaning than in the Indo-European symbolic system. Black did not mean death or the underworld; it was the colour of fertility, the colour of damp caves and rich soil, of the womb of the Goddess where the life begins…”
(The language of the Goddess, M. Gimbutas)
So whilst in our times Goddess is awakening in peoples awareness everywhere around the world, in Crete I personally feel brought to her lap, stood by her fiery source somehow. I had to keep coming back to this island, sometimes several times a year, and now finally birthing my dream of living here. It is my wish that I learn to know this ensouling place, that like its mountains can be beautiful as well as harsh, and its seasons, and its people, even more intimately.
Many women and men come here not only to enjoy the sun and golden beaches and the golden retsina alongside the great Cretan cuisine, but hoping also for the spirit of Crete to bless them, and touch them, and remind them of life being savoured slowly, unhurriedly and with simple but great pleasure. Their senses, like mine, sharpen up and time takes on a liquid quality in Crete I suppose somehow it all comes down to good old Zorba:
“Boss, everything’s simple in the world. How many times must I tell you? So don’t go and complicate things!”
NOTE. Hana Evans ( artist and priestess of the Goddess) and Katerina Kramolisova (Gestalt psychotherapist and facilitator of women’s groups) present yearly holidays for women “Mystery of the Goddess in Crete”, visiting the ancient sacred sites and opening up to the Goddess’ presence through meditation, art, ritual, bodywork and personal process.
For more information, please email [email protected]
- – Minoan Sites of the Goddess in eastern Crete
- – The Museum of Natural History in Heraklion – with a reconstruction of a Minoan farmhouse and more interesting recent research on Minoan civilization
- – Voice of the Goddess – a novel by Judith Hand, based in Minoan times
- – Goddess is well and alive today
- – The fall of the Minoan Civilization
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