Cretan-Mycenaean Religion

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In the Minoan period, the chalkstone caves of Crete served as places of worship, as is evidenced by the votive offerings found in them. The strange limestone formations, when viewed in the dim light or darkness of the caves, suggested the work and presence of divinities. The Little Palace at Cnossos has revealed fetishes of the same nature. The Cretan idols imitate the rock "statues." The pillar represents the natural column resulting from the meeting of a stalactite and stalagmite. The Labyrinth recalls the mazes of the caves rather than those of the palace. Homer (Od. 19.188), Callimachus (Jov. 45), and Nonnus (Dionys. 8.115; 13.250) were familiar with the grotto of Eileithya at Amnisus; Hesiod (Theog. 483), with the grotto of Zeus (Psykhro, Arkalaphon, or St. Photinus); and Diogenes Laertius (8.44), with the cave of Ida. Pythagoras was initiated in one of these grottoes, the typical arrangement of which was perhaps copied in the Telesterion, or Hall of the Mysteries, at Eleusis. Certain trees surrounded by an enclosure bear witness to a cult in the open air. The palaces had chapels for their cult statues and paved spaces for ritual dances. On the other hand, Crete shows no trace of temples proper or public sanctuaries.

Paraphernalia of worship. The paraphernalia employed in worship were: tripodal portable altars; offering tables; libation vasesthe rhyton or horn-shaped cup, the kantheros, a cup with two handles and narrow spout, the kernos, a small earthenware dish, with small pots affixed, intended to receive the first fruits of the harvest; the double ax symbolizing lightningalready found in the hand of the Mesopotamian or Syro-Anatolian god Hadad-Teshup, the lord of the thunderbolt; the "horns of consecration," a schematic adaptation of the horns of the bull and a symbol of power and fertility; and, finally, the bilobed shield, the emblem of divine protection.

Conduct of worship. Women conducted worship as priestesses, attendants, or dancers. Originally, men were excluded, unless they are to be recognized as concealed under the dress and masks of the figures in animal form who present offerings to the god. The costume of the officiating personnel is often a tunic of skin or an imbricated cloak, or sometimes a long robe. In addition to vegetable offerings, the Minoans sacrificed animals, namely, goats, sheep, pigs, and bulls. However, terracotta figurines could serve as substitutes. The instruments of sacred music were the Egyptian sistrum and the marine shell played by the Tritons (Moschus 2.123124). The flower dance was intended to produce fructification, and the crane dance, to attract the birds that were the harbingers of the sowing season. The bullfights and performances of acrobats enhanced the brilliance of the ceremonies and gave them a magic value.

The dead were venerated, and the offerings placed beside their bodies served as provisions for their journey to the land beyond the grave (Homer, Od. 4.561).

The Minoans regarded divinity as the principle of universal fertility. Its symbol was a woman with bared breasts, the mother who nurses her child. But since the fertility of the soil depends on rain, the divinity is probably to be recognized under the form of a woman wielding the double ax, the symbol of the rainstorm (cf. Nauck, TGF A.44). The goddess may be identified as Ariadne, Britomartis, Dictynna, or Eileithya.

Mycenaean Religion. The Mycenaeans gave an anthropomorphic form to the Minoan symbols. Thus, they had Zeus and Di-u-ja, the Magna Mater of the Pamphylians, and Poseidon and his feminine counterpart. The Cretan goddess was addressed as Hera, Athana, Lady, and Lady of the fawns. These avatars and the Winds, Enyalius, Hermes, Paean, and perhaps Hephaestus and Dionysus, constituted a pantheon and were the recipients of the first fruits at Cnossos. Religion moved from the caves to the acropolis where the double ax was set up. The priestking received the divinity into his palace (Homer Od. 7.81), which thus became a temple (Homer Il. 2.549). The dead were buried within the enclosure of the fortress and protected the living.

Bibliography: m. p. nilsson, The Oxford Classical Dictionary, ed. m. cary et al. (Oxford 1949) 762763; The Minoan-Mycenaean Religion and Its Survival in Greek Religion (2nd ed. rev. Lund 1950). a. w. persson, The Religion of Greece in Prehistoric Times (Berkeley 1942). t. b. webster, From Mycenae to Homer (London 1958).

[j. b. dumortier]