Minoan Mother Goddess

Three and a half thousand years ago on the island of Crete, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, there was a flourishing Bronze Age civilisation that we know very little about, but which we call the ‘Minoan’ civilisation, after the mythical King Minos.  Minos was a king of Greek mythology associated with the legend of the labyrinth which held the half-man half-bull monster known as the Minotaur, who was supposedly killed by the Greek hero, Theseus.  The early 2oth century archaeologist, Arthur Evans, identified the remains of an extensive palace complex at Knossos as the site of this mythical labyrinth.  Knossos is near Heraklion, the modern day capital of Crete.

The Minoans thrived for more than a thousand years, but modern archaeologists have determined that they suffered tremendous devastation from a tsunami caused by a huge volcanic eruption somewhere around 15oo BC on Thera, an island to the north of Crete. All that’s left of Thera today is a caldera, the rim of the volcano, which is the island of Santorini, a popular holiday destination.  The Minoans probably never fully recovered from that natural catastrophe.

Not much remains of their artwork, but from their pottery and fresco wall paintings we know that the Minoans produced some remarkably sophisticated and oddly modern looking images.  Much of the religious imagery that has survived suggests that they worshipped a Mother Goddess figure, a goddess of fertility who is often depicted with snakes and other animals.

In this figurine from around 1600BC, the goddess is wearing a richly decorated elaborate garment, but with bared breasts, suggesting she was a fertility goddess. She carries snakes and has a cat sitting on her head, supposedly to show her dominion over nature, although to me it looks like the cat might be of the opinion that the dominion was the other way round.

In this figurine from around 1600BC, the goddess is wearing a rich garment, but with bared breasts, suggesting she was a fertility goddess.  She carries snakes and has a cat sitting on her head, supposedly to show her dominion over nature.

Minoan mother goddess figurine from around 16ooBC

These three goddess clay figures, depicted as usual with their arms upraised, are from around 1200 BC, towards the end of the Minoan civilisation. The one on the left has horns and two birds on her head, the one on the right just one bird, but the one in the middle has opium poppy pods growing on her hat, which could also have been a factor in the decline of the Minoans.

These goddess clay figures, depicted as usual with their arms upraised, are from around 1200 BC, towards the end of the Minoan civilisation.  The one on the left has horns and two birds on her head, the one on the right just one bird, and the one in the middle has opium poppy pods, which could also account for the decline of the Minoans.

Three clay Minoan mother goddess figures from around 1200BC

I love the blissed out expression on the face of this goddess with the three birds on her head. The stylisation of the features makes it look very modern, not ancient, and it could be a Modigliani or even a Brancusi sculpture from the early 20th century, not something made more than three thousand years ago.

I love the blissed out expression on the face of this goddess with the three birds on her head.  To me, it looks very modern, and could be an early Modigliani or even Brancusi sculpture from the early 20th century, not something made more than three thousand years ago.

Minoan mother goddess figurine from around 1200BC

These small sculptures of the Minoan mother goddess are in the very interesting Archaeological Museum in Heraklion.

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