The House of the Double Axe

May 21st, 2016 | By | Category: Books, Books for Pagans

b8f95e_f31df1778b1e405f94b6357f0e062711An excerpt from Laura Perry’s book on Minoan spirituality: Ariadne’s Thread

When we think of Crete, among the many images that come to mind is the famed labyrinth, the maze Theseus encountered in his heroic adventure to defeat the Minotaur. But this superficial depiction of the tale of the goddess Ariadne and her initiate reveals only the surface of a centuries-old mythological cycle
that tells us much about the spirituality and psyche of the ancient Minoans.

The labyrinth is a component of the mythology of many ancient cultures, Crete among them. The well-known legend of Theseus and his voyage to Crete actually dates to the Mycenaean period, long after the civilization recognizable as Minoan had ceased to exist. This legend was built on the basis of the beliefs
and practices of the Minoans as they were handed down for many generations before the encroachment of the mainland Greeks. One major facet of these beliefs is the role of the goddess in personal initiation and enlightenment. It is in this role that Ariadne heals, and it is this function that inspired the concept of
the labyrinth.

jhp5166f08f7c1dbThe Minoan goddess who held the fate of mortals in her hand was Ariadne, the spinner of the thread of fate and weaver of the web of life. While later Mycenaean legends reduced her to a simple Minoan maiden whose job was weaving and spinning, her earlier guise was far more powerful. The thread she spun was that of each individual’s path in life, their destiny if they chose to follow it. And the legend of Theseus’ adventure in the labyrinth follows Ariadne’s thread.

When one culture overtakes another, the conquering culture often reduces the deities of the conquered culture to demigods or mere legendary figures. This was the case when the Mycenaeans overtook the Minoans and imposed the mainland Greek pantheon on the island’s culture. One of the casualties of this
cultural shift was the powerful story of the goddess Ariadne and her sacred labyrinth of initiation. With the coming of the Mycenaeans, it was reduced to the legend of a mere maiden and the boy she aided. But we can reconstruct the original sacred tale from the later story.

The legend of Theseus begins with his sea voyage to Crete from mainland Greece. His goal was to rescue the Greek youths who had been abducted to Crete as tribute to the Minoan king. Never mind that the Minoans never had a king; the Mycenaeans did and they are the ones who concocted this part of the story. Theseus made his way to Crete by volunteering to be one of those sent to the island as tribute.

The legend continues with Theseus sneaking into the palace at Knossos and befriending the maiden or servant Ariadne, though in some tales she is called the daughter of the Minos-King. Of course, the legend fails to mention that the palace was in reality a temple and that Ariadne was one of the names of Crete’s Great Goddess. In order to defeat the imaginary Minoan king and free the Greek youths, Theseus had to find his way through the maze of the labyrinth and slay the Minotauros, a ferocious creature who was half man and half bull. Theseus succeeded in his task with Ariadne’s help. She furnished him with a ball of string that marked his path into the labyrinth and thus allowed him to find his way out.

An interesting postscript to the story involves Theseus’ relationship with Ariadne. He had promised to marry her, either because he fell in love with her or in exchange for her help in the labyrinth, depending on which version of the tale you encounter. The two sailed toward Greece but stopped at the island of Dia, where they disembarked. After a short stay on the island, Theseus and his crew sailed away, leaving Ariadne all alone. Some accounts suggest that Theseus left her for another woman and others tell of Dionysus’ desire for Ariadne and his threats to Theseus if he did not leave her.

The end of the tale has Dionysus appearing to Ariadne as she sits crying on the deserted shore. He comforts her and marries her, presenting her with Thetis’ crown as a token of his devotion. This crown was crafted by the divine smith Hephaestos of gold set with red gems in the shape of roses. Legend states that Dionysus later set this crown out among the stars, where it became the Corona Borealis (Crown of Lights) to remind everyone of his love for Ariadne.

Thus goes the Greek legend. But let us look at the underlying mythology that is purely Minoan, before the later influence of the mainland Greeks. First, we know that Ariadne was a face of the goddess for the Minoans. Her functions involved helping her followers find their path in life and aiding them through initiation and healing. These functions inspired the symbology of the spinner with her spindle, drawing out the thread of each person’s life path, a symbolism which degraded into a vision of a maiden spinning for her masters (the Greek gods) in Mycenaean times. One of Ariadne’s tools for leading individuals
through initiations was the labyrinth.

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2 Comments to “The House of the Double Axe”

  1. Fascinating stuff 🙂 Do you incorporate walking the labyrinth into your personal practice?

    • Laura Perry says:

      Hi Lorna,

      Thanks for the kind words! 🙂 Yes, I do incorporate labyrinth-walking into my spiritual practice. I’ve had the opportunity to walk a number of large labyrinths, both indoor and outdoor, over the years. My favorite is the seven-fold or Cretan labyrinth but I also enjoy the Chartres labyrinth since it’s a longer walk and allows for a deeper and slower experience.

      There aren’t any large labyrinths that are easily accessible where I live so I made a finger labyrinth that I use frequently. With a finger labyrinth, you trace the design (‘walk’ the labyrinth) with your finger. I find that, as a meditation, this works almost as well as walking a full-sized labyrinth with my whole body.

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