Our knowledge of Minoan religion are only based on ruins and remains from Minoan culture, such as remains of shrines, cult furniture, votive offerings and pictures of cult scenes. Indeed, we have no scriptures, no prayers, no books of rituals; all we have are objects and fragments all of which only hint a rich and complex religious life and symbolic system. The most apparent characteristic of Minoan religion was that it was a goddess religion but yet, there is still a debate about whether Minoan were monotheistic or polytheistic. As a result, we are led to wonder what were the beliefs and rituals of this goddess religion. Thus, we will firstly examine Minoan beliefs and rituals about their Goddess and then we will take an interest to their burial customs since it is one of the rituals which we know the more about.
The head of the Minoan pantheon seems to have been an all-powerful goddess which ruled everything in the universe. The deity was a mother deity that is to say that her relationship to the world was as a mother to offspring, that is, a real, biological and close relationship. It is difficult to assess the nature of the mother-goddess since there are numerous representations of goddesses, which leads to the conclusion that the Minoan were polytheistic, while others argue that these represent manifestations of the one goddess.
There are several goddesses we can distinguish. The first one we call The Lady of the Beasts, or the Huntress; this goddess is represented as mastering animals. In a later incarnation, she becomes The Mountain Mother, who is standing on a mountain and apparently protects the animals and the natural world. The most popular goddess seems to be the Snake Goddess, who has a snake entwined on her body or in her hands. Since the figurine has been found in houses and in shrines in the palaces, some historians such as Evans and Nilsson believe that the Minoans celebrate her as a domestic goddess. In addition to the fact that the figurine has only been found in houses, they justify their theory on the fact that the snake was considered as a household genius in Minoan culture.
[...] However, Geraldine Gesell argues that the snake goddess was seen by the Minoan as a fertility deity and, in a broader view, had the function of Mother or Earth Goddess. She justified her theory by the fact that on the dress's figurine, the pubic triangle was emphasized, which shows the importance of her fertility and suggests that she represents the aspect of cult controlling human fertility. Moreover, on two Early Minoan III figurines from Mallia and Mokhlos, both have their hands under their breasts, which are pierced for pouring liquid. According to Geraldine Gesell, they too belong to the fertility aspect of the cult. [...]
[...] Regarding Minoan beliefs about nature, it seems that the world for the Minoans was suffused with the divine; all objects in the world seem to have been charged with religious meaning. Thus, the Minoan worshipped trees, pillars and springs. The Minoan world apparently had numerous demons as well, who are always depicted as performing some religious rituals. However, their exact nature is difficult to assess since they are always pictured as human being, with the hands and feet of a lion. In regard to Minoan beliefs about death, it seems that according to the way in which they tended their dead that they believed in an after-life. [...]
[...] It seems that only the rites in the interior cult-rooms and court of palace are likely to have had a restricted class of worshippers. The rituals were organized by a priesthood which seems to have been composed at majority of women and the top-ranking priestess was the queen who appeared in a specific part of the ritual and symbolized the coming of the goddess. The fact that women dominated the priesthood can be explained by the fact that Minoan religion was a goddess religion and that Minoan society was matrilineal. [...]
[...] Marinatos, N., Art and religion in Thera. [...]
[...] Also her costume is unusual for a female since the usual ceremonial dress involve a skirt whereas the figure wears a blue blouse and over it a yellow robe. Such a dress can be seen on a seal representation depicting a man identified as a priest. Finally, she holds what looks like an incense burner. As a result, we can say that from her costume and the object she is holding, she can be identified as a priestess. As it has been said previously, rituals could be both carry out in public areas and in private cult-rooms. [...]
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