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Minoan Places of Worship and Religion
Minoan Places of Worship and Religion
About Crete - The Minoans - Minoan Places of Worship and Religion

We do not know for sure if Minoans believed in one god and one goddess with many manifestations or in many gods and goddesses. It seems, however, that the vegetation cycle was central to the religion of Minoans. In their religion there was a goddess and a god who got married. The young god, like the vegetation, died and was reborn every year. The goddess appears more frequently in designs and is presented as a Tree Goddess, Snake Goddess, Dove and Poppy Goddess, Sea Goddess travelling in her ship, Mountain Peak Goddess, Animal Mistress Goddess, and Mother Goddess. The Young God is presented as a Tamer of Wild Beasts or a Warrior. Many of these qualities were passed to different gods of the Greek pantheon as is the case with Zeus, who, according to Cretans, died and was reborn every year. The names of the Greek gods appear in the Linear B tablets of Knossos of the Postpalatial Period, but the Minoan religion was dominant in the island in this period. In some cases, the Minoan religion survived even in the Greek periods, personified by new gods, as is the case with the goddess Vritomartis and Dictinna of the Greek pantheon who, however, are manifestations of the Earth Mother Goddess.

The gods and goddesses were closely associated with the king and queen. The male god was associated with the sun and the goddess with the moon. Certain animals like the bull, the wild goat, and the snake had sacred significance for the Minoans. The snake was a beneficent spirit that protected the home. The bull horns an the double axes are sacred symbols that appear everywhere in the palaces. The significance of the double axe is that it was used to sacrifice bulls to the divinity. Other sacred symbols include a knot, a figure-eight infinity symbol, a cross-in-a-wheel symbol and a holy tree symbol.

The places of worship of Minoan Crete were in caves, on mountain peaks, in small domestic shrines, and in special sections of palaces. Worship often consisted of offerings to the god, such as grain, figurines, animal models, double axes, weapons, and pottery. Such offerings have been found in several caves of Crete. The caves of Trapeza and Psychro in the Lassithi Plateau are examples of places where worship in caves took place. The Greek myths later said that the Mother Goddess Rhea hid the Young God whom the Greeks called Zeus in the cave of Psychro (Spileo Dikteon Andron), apparently associating a Minoan worship place and religion with a later god. Other important Minoan caves of religious significance include the Kamares Cave on the south side of Psiloritis, and the Skotino and Eilithia Caves (Spileo Eilithias) near Iraklion and the Spileo Ideon Andron, Oropedio Nida.

The Peak Sanctuaries were laid out on mountain tops or hill tops and they were built in a series of terraces to accommodate the number of people who would come on holy days. Large fires, which could be seen from long distances, were lit and the people would cast various offerings into the fire. Examples of Peak Sanctuaries are Karfi (above the Lassithi Plateau), Petsofas near Palaikastro in eastern Crete, and Mount Youktas near Iraklion.

In the palaces there are dark crypts for ritual purposes in almost all Minoan settlements. Rectangular altars of stone where sacrifices and burning of offerings took place existed in the palaces. One such altar still stands in Festos and Vathipetro.

Objects used in the ceremonies were offering tables, vessels with two or three containers for keeping small quantities of grain and other agricultural products for blessing (rhyton). When ceremonies took place in an open space, they were attended by many people and the priest had to speak through a triton shell in order to be heard. Dancing, bull fighting, and other athletic events were also part of the ceremonies. A number of clay figurines displayed in the Iraklion Museum represent dancers. A clay figurine found in the Kamilari tomb shows dancers dancing in a circle holding each other by the shoulders like modern Cretan dancers. Bull fighting was not fatal for the bull, but it could conceivably have been so for the athletes! In the bull fight the athlete seized the bull by the horns and performed somersaults over his neck. A number of frescoes and sculptures show such events. Boxing, wrestling and jumping were parts of the athletic events performed in such ceremonies.

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