Cretan Musings

A column by GA! editor Cheryl Straffon who spends part of her time each year at her home in Crete, researching and celebrating the Minoan Goddess there. In this contribution she writes about: Misinformation about Goddess sites.

In Claude Pasquini’s account of his hike through Crete in 1981 Challenging Crete [Efstathiadis, 2003], he wrote of Knossos: “Wherever I wandered among the ruins, professional tourist guides were hailing the wonders of Knossos, the palace of fabled King Minos. And everyday thousands of unsuspecting visitors pilgrimed to the famous site to catch a glimpse of that jewel of ancient civilised living, and rare were the ones not enamoured by Evans’ interpretation of the ruins, which is as attractive as it is false”. Pasquini points out the guides (human or written) “still dispense with great gravity and fervour Evans’ fantasy products to unsuspecting tourists”.

Nothing much has changed in the 30 years since Pasquini made these observations. As a fairly frequent visitor to Knossos, where I lead Goddess tours, I often get to overhear snippets of the speil given out by the official Guides. Despite all the research since Evans’ time, now over a century ago, by archaeologists and writers llike Rodney Castleden, showing that there is no evidence that there was ever a King Minos, nor that Knossos was ever a royal palace, the Guides continue to pedal the same old ‘King and his palace’ fiction. Sometimes it amuses me to see so many people taken in by so much trash, but mostly it just irritates me. Around this false premise, great edifices of inaccurate interpretation are then built.

I think that the best, or worst, example of this I ever heard was one Tour Guide whom I overheard stating that the three predominant colours of the walls and friezes were red, blue and yellow (all of course mainly Evans’ reconstructions) because they were “the colours of the holy trinity”! Of course the Minoans were subconsciously paving the way for the coming of Christ – why ever didn’t I think of that!

It would be easy to mock the rubbish given out by the official guides, and perhaps not necessary if it were a level playing field in which all could have their say. But in fact all other ‘unofficial guides’ are banned from ancient Greek sites. When I lead a group around Knossos, or the Archaeological Museum in Heraklion, or any of the other sites where officials are present, I have to be very careful not to appear to be tour guiding, otherwise the sites would be prohibited to me. So, except for those who consciously choose to do a Goddess tour, the general punter is fed with inaccurate and misleading information about the sites. They then go away with a wholly erroneous impression about them, in which palaces of the King and a priestly caste are the received wisdom, but temples and ceremonial sites built in honour of the Goddess, and led by priestesses who oversee and facilitate the rituals and ceremonies, play absolutely no part.

But lest we get carried away by easy condemnation of a tour guide system run by an establishment with no interest in changing their patriarchal interpretations, it is salutory to remember that ‘Goddess facilitators’ can be equally as selective with the truth. Many groups come to places like Crete to find the Goddess or themselves or both, with little or no understanding of the history of the Minoan civilisation or the sequencing of the sites (“don’t give me facts, they just get in the way of what I am feeling”!). All sites are then viewed as just ‘places of the Goddess’ as if they had no history or development through time, or changes to their form and use. Sometimes this lack of basic research leads to misinterpretations just as inaccurate as the Knossos patriarchal ones. For example, the temple-palace of Malia is always associated with the beautiful gold pendant of the ‘bee Goddess’ found there. It depicts two bees holding a berried fruit or honey cake. It’s on the front of innumerable books and postcards, and “everyone knows” that it came from Malia. One Goddess Tour that regularly goes to Crete makes great significance out of this find, and the Tour Facilitator builds a whole interpretation around Malia as the centre of a bee Goddess cult, even pointing out the room on the site that she considers to be the centre of the cult.

The only problem with all of this is that, while the pendant may indeed have been made at the workshops in Malia (Quartier Mu), it was actually discovered not on the site at all, but about 1km away at the cemetery site of Chrysolakkos. This site was begun in the Prepalatial period before the main site of Malia was built. Chrysolakkos probably had a funerary use, with secondary burial being made through the roof, but in the Protopalatial period it had a more complex function, as there were rooms as well, obviously used for religious purposes. The whole enclosure may have served as a Sanctuary, honouring the bones of the dead. It is reasonable to speculate that a High Priestess of Malta was buried here with her golden bee necklace, which she wore while facilitating ritual and ceremony at the palace/temple site, but it is another leap of faith altogether to ‘create’ a bee cult at Malia built around bee Goddess worship.

So, whether it’s kings and palaces at Knossos, or Bee Goddess cults at Malia, the lesson is clear. Let’s learn about and celebrate what we can find out about Minoan society and religion from archaeological digs and scholars, but let’s please – whatever side of the fence we sit – not create something fictitious that suits our views and belief systems rather than what was really there. That in itself is exciting enough.