Symbols of Minoan Culture

There were a number of distinctive symbols the Minoans cultivated that had significant importance in their rituals and way of life. These distinguishing elements were not unique to the Minoans, which distinguished historians have identified were more cross-cultural, much like the representation of the Mother or Earth Goddess. The origins and similar features are evident (see article by J. Alexander MacGillivray) yet the purpose of the Minoan symbols evolved according to their needs and religious tenets. The main icons were the labrys, the bull horns, bees, and snakes.

An ornamented golden Minoan labrys By Wolfgang Sauber https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6555159

An ornamented golden Minoan labrys By Wolfgang Sauber https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6555159

1. The labrys, Minoan for double headed axe.
Labrys gave us the word labyrinth for which the palace of Knossos was known as the ‘House of the double headed axe’. The labyrs was attributed to the Mother Goddess and figurines of the goddess have been found with her holding a labrys in each hand. It has been surmised the priestesses used the axe to sacrifice bulls, yet images show daggers were used to cut the victim’s throats. The image of the double headed axe were inscribed on walls, jugs, and pottery gave rise to the butterfly pattern. The labrys/butterfly symbol came to represent the cycle of life, death and rebirth.

2. Bull horns – ‘Horns of Consecration’

The reconstructed horns of consecration at Knossos, Jolle~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=726587

The reconstructed horns of consecration at Knossos, Jolle~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). Public Domain https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=726587

The palace of Knossos has a dominating feature, the horns of a bull as an architectural feature all the way around the edges of the roof. It’s the first noticeable element you see when you visit the site. The icon was also used in the form of a rhyton cup, vases, seals altars, murals; sculpted and/or painted. Sir Arthur Evans attributed the horns to a real bull and hence the essence of virility. Latter historians, drawing connections to the Egyptian symbols for ‘mountain’ (see article by Emilia Banou), have determined the Minoans applied the same ethos. The shape of the horns was a symbolic representation of a sanctuary on a mountain, used by the priestesses.
A more simplified view was that the ‘horns of consecration’ likely represented the cult of the bull. The significance of the horns can be interpreted either way as each have a valid argument, though the former point seems to be more accepted by the academics.

Snake Goddess By C Messier - Own work https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38402269

Snake Goddess By C Messier – Own work https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38402269

3. The snake
I mentioned the symbol of the snake in relation to the Snake Goddess a few posts earlier. The snake represented the chthonic power of the Earth Goddess and its unique ability to shed skin, attributed to the concept of rebirth and eternal youth.

4. The bee

Minoan Bees Jewel Herakleion Archaeological Museum Gold Bee Pendant Cast gold found at Chrysolakos at Malia. The two bees are taking a drop of honey to the hive. metalworking 1800-1700 BC http://www.historywiz.com/galleries/bees.html

Minoan Bees Jewel Herakleion Archaeological Museum
Gold Bee Pendant
Cast gold found at Chrysolakos at Malia. The two bees are taking a drop of honey to the hive. metalworking
1800-1700 BC http://www.historywiz.com/galleries/bees.html

Bee-keeping was important to the Minoans as they believed the bees were related to the Great Mother of the Mother Goddess and the honey was used in rituals. The symbol of the bee was twofold: one it represented mutual support and fertility; two, life that came from death. ‘Melissae’ was the name given to the priestesses relating to the cult of bees.

Other animals featured in Minoan religious rites were birds, bulls and mountain goats. The image of a bird in religious scenes signified a ‘divine epiphany’, that being the manifestation of a divine being. The bull and goats were created as votive figurines and used as sacrificial animals.

These symbols were attributed to many cultures and their role in religious rites similar, which implies the evolvement from a single source. What are your thoughts on this?

Thank you for visiting and reading. As always, your comments are valued and welcomed.

Historical fiction novelist and a secondary teacher, Luciana Cavallaro, likes to meander from contemporary life to the realms of mythology and history. Subscribe to her free short story at http://eepurl.com/bhESs1

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14 thoughts on “Symbols of Minoan Culture

  1. Reblogged this on Apollo's Raven and commented:
    The following is a reblog from ETERNAL ATLANTIS on the continuing series of the Ancient Minoan Society. This post is entitled, “Symbols of Minoan Culture,” that was posted on FEBRUARY 26, 2016 / CAV12

    There were a number of significant symbols the Minoans used in their rituals and way of life. These symbols were not unique to the Minoans, but have been cross-culturally as representative of the Mother or Earth Goddess.

    Enjoy the fascinating and informative post.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Luciana,

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your series on the Minoans. It is fascinating how certain symbols resonate cross-culturally, particularly the snake. It is a positive symbol in certain cultures because of the snake’s ability to shed its skin, reflecting transformation. However, it is comes across as an evil symbol in the story of Adam and Eve which may be a metaphor for the rejection of the Mother Goddess that was prevalent in so many ancient civilizations.

    Your articles are always thought-provoking and informative. Thank you again for sharing. Have a wonderful weekend.

    Regards,
    Linnea

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Linnea,
      I do wonder whether the negative spin on some symbols was the result of the Christians trying to discredit “paganism”? The correlation of time from which the birth of Christianity and the deliberate efforts to remove polytheistic religions does seem to be too coincidental.
      Thank you for your wonderful comment. Always look forward to reading them 😀
      Have a great weekend.
      ciao
      Luciana

      Liked by 2 people

  3. This is such a great post, cara luciana…. I am so glad to read it because as you know I am very fond of Greek Mythology and its historic sources and origins… Just like you are… 🙂
    The labrys has such a powerful and depth meaning behind… I like the idea of the double headed axe giving rise to the butterfly pattern.
    I has the impression that the labrys might as well be related to the Bull horns, at least at a first glance they look similar in shapes…
    Also another detail which I believe it is worth highlighting is the fact that both the labrys and the bees represent the cycle of life, death and rebirth…
    This saga on the Minoans is excellent… thanks so much for sharing. Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Mille grazie, cara Aquileana 😀
      There was some discussion on the labrys having reference to the bull horns and the moon, but thought to stick to the main themes.
      Quite right, the bee and the labrys also represent life, death and rebirth cycle.
      Thank you for your wonderful comment.
      Luciana 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bella,
    You never fail to amaze me with your wisdom of the ancients. I was happy to learn that the bee was one of the main icons of Minoan Culture. And here we are, thousands of centuries later, and the bee still plays such an important role in the world. Without bees, there would be no other insects to give life to fruits, vegetables, grains, etc. I can truly see their symbolic meaning of fertility and life that came from death.
    Thank you for another insightful post.
    Rosary xx

    Liked by 3 people

    • Mille grazie Bella,
      The sad part about bees is that there numbers are on the decline which could create a big problem for our ecosystem. Who would have thought that a small insect had such a significant play to role in our environment. At the ancients worked that out!
      Thank you for the wonderful comment.
      Luciana xxx

      Liked by 1 person

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