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: The epiphany of the Goddess.
The epiphany of the Goddess is something that was enacted in Minoan Crete, and continues to fascinate today. Defined variously as “The vision of the deity and its descent to the visible world”, “the appearance of a living goddess”, or “enacted deity impersonation”, it seems to have been, if not unique, then at least special to the Minoan religious culture, amongst all the peoples of the Meditteranean and near East. In certain contexts, it even continues today amongst some Goddess groups, such as in Glastonbury (where it is called ’embodiment’), and in Cornwall.
Although the term “epiphany” is widely used, it might be helpful to define exactly what we mean by it. And here we immediately notice that there are two different aspects to it, as evidenced by the definitions above. On the one hand, there is the ‘appearance’ of the deity herself: she manifests in some corporeal way, or perhaps appears to the recipient in some kind of ecstatic vision. And secondly, there is the appearance of the deity to one or more people, embodied in a human being (usually a Priestess). Marinatos’ description (3 above) of “enacted deity impersonation” carries the unfortunate implication that this is some kind of theatrical performance. However, on the contrary, for anyone who witnesses such an embodiment, it is all too clear that the person or Priestess they have known in human form retreats somewhere, and their body and personality is filled with a deity. Either way (the appearance of the Goddess in vision or in human form), the experience is a powerful, dramatic one, and for the Minoan people at least, was a quinte-ssential part of their religious experience, even if it was restricted to a select group of attendees.
The first of these two experiences – “the vision of the deity and its descent to the visible world” can be seen depicted on a number of Minoan seal rings and signet rings. On the gold signet ring, known as ‘The ring of Minos’, a scene of adoration of the Goddess is depicted. On part of the illustration [above] the Goddess is shown descending from above, and then being seated on a throne. We know her to be a Goddess because of the horns of consecration on her throne, which always mean ‘deity’. Other rings have similar scenes: perhaps the most well-known is the ring from the tomb of Isopata at Knossos [below], which shows a group of four adorants drawing down a small Goddess figurine at the top left of the ring (showing She is coming from afar).
The other kind of epiphany (embodiment), has been envisaged as happening at the palace/temple sites, most noteably in the Throne Room at Knossos. Nanno Marinatos has reconstructed the Throne Room as she originally believes it to be, with a door to the right of the ‘throne’ through which a Priestess could appear to sit on the throne and ‘receive’ the Goddess. Rodney Castleden describes the experience as the visualisation of the Snake Goddess with “her High Priestess ritually and ecstatically transformed into an epiphany of the Goddess”. The whole event would have been witnessed by adorants on a stepped area which Maranatos places opposite the throne. Recently Lucy Goodison has suggested that this moment of epiphany may have occured at the very moment of the rising sun at the midwinter solstice, in which the first rays of the rising sun would have entered the Throne Room and shone on to the Priestess as she embodied the Goddess [see GA16 p.19 for more details]. If so, this must have been an incredibly dramatic and powerful experience, as the Goddess Herself appeared in the first rays of dawn.
Howsoever and in whatever ways epiphany occured within Minoan society, it must always have been a most amazing occurence for those encountering their Goddess, and perhaps explains just why their belief in Goddess and adoration of Her was so central to their religious experiences.
1. “The Ring of Minos & gold Minoan rings: the epiphany cycle” N.Dimopoulou & Y.Rethemiotakis (Athens, 2004)
2. “Knossos:temple of the Goddess” Rodney Castleden (Efstathiadis, 1997)
3. “Minoan Religion” Nanno Marinatos (Univ.of South Carolina Press, 1993)
4. See for example the rituals described in “Daughters of the Earth” C.Straffon (O Books, 2007).
5. “The Knossos Labyrinth” Rodney Castleden (Routledge, 1990)
6. “From Tholos Tomb to Throne Room” Lucy Goodison (Aegaeum, 22)