Back to Homepage
Kinship & Cosmology
With J. S. Soles’ 2001 study, “Reverence for Dead Ancestors,” we can gain understanding of Crete’s customary cultural roots, the ancient core traditions that became the inheritance of Late Minoan generations addressed in this chapter.
Soles explores the fact that many Pre-Palatial tombs were “maintained in good condition for centuries” (235). “The distribution and ownership of land in ancestor-worshipping societies is widespread. This is because the land belongs to the ancestors, and is held in trust to be passed down.” And, Soles adds, “The erection of actual buildings at specific locations in order to house, honor and provide access to ancestors is a common phenomenon in the ethnographic record.”
“Death and renewal remained linked in cult through all the periods of Minoan history,” Marinatos notes (Religion 37). Hence in her view, the ceremonies on the Agia Triada larnax “preserve the essence of Minoan ritual as it was established already in the Pre-Palatial period” (31; dated to the end of Late Minoan III or after 1370).
The details above present these relationships. At left, a priestess (wearing blue) pours a sacrificed bull’s blood into a blue vessel, and its contents will be “soaked up by the earth” (35) for the person joining the ancestors. The dead must be propitiated to ensure a bountiful return from nature, the regeneration of crops and human life.
At right, a priestess fulfills this reciprocity before a doubled Labrys and a doubled pair of horns, with a green tree centered between them. With the blood offerings made, the vessel for drink (which is sometimes a symbol of rain: Evans Palace 4: 453) and the fruit-bowl before her eyes seem to register a hoped-for agricultural return. The motif repeated on the priestess’ skirt is similar to Linear B writing-signs for “cereals” (for examples see Evans Palace 4: 624-5).
On these practical and religious bases, the generations who made Knossos the center of Minoan cosmology were “likely to have enjoyed [an] egalitarian society…in which the small farms and country villas and town houses that [in time, came to] dot the landscape in the New Palace period were not so much manifestations of a landed aristocracy as they were evidence for the existence of a large middle class of free, land-owning people” (Soles 235).
In a phrase, Crete was what Schoep’s 2002 “Palace State” called a religion-centered heterarchy; meaning, a fiercely diverse and fluidly factional civilization with many centers and shared religious ways. If theocratic signifies central and compelling religious ideas, heterarchic suggests secular “real world” understandings about them, among proudly different and independent parties.
A third ancient continuity cannot be ignored. Minoans mounted over 1000 years of bull-leaping games, events surrounded from Early to Late with timely festivals and, above all, feasting. The volumes of Aegaeum (particularly 2008’s Dais, eds. Crowley, Hitchcock and Laffineur) are replete with generations of feasts across a time when Egyptians devoted about 100 days per year to their banquets and pastimes, as MacGillivray notes (2003: 63). He dates these events in Crete as early as 2600 BCE, and they point to annual cycles of Festival whose religious and practical functions were central parts of life.
Perhaps our guide forward should be the “time line for what happened next” provided in the Abstract published with Driessen and Macdonald’s 1997 Troubled Island---although debated (Warren 2001), still one of the most detailed comprehensive studies of these last Minoan periods. Note that while we saw (Chapter 4) Early forms that seem to address or anticipate an 8½-year lunar/solar cycle, Island is based in a view of “complete cultural continuity” from Middle into Late Minoan times (37).
Wiener (2007) details many apparent political changes, most in Knossos’ favor, through and after the Middle Minoan III (or circa 1700) destructions that ended their Old Palace period. Plenitude brought increases in population, expansions of old living-places (Crete’s many “villas”), and new settlements including “palatial style” buildings (71). Scholars of the villa system note “social structure but not, in view of the integration of house and village, social division” (Cadogan 1997: 99, 102).
Driessen and Macdonald look back into Middle Minoan times (roughly 1700-1600), and then examine the New Palace era, or what happened after the ensuing 1600 “tectonic earthquake” (which was to be only the first half of Thera’s eruption). Hence, toward the middle of the next period (1600-1480, or Late Minoan I A), they find the explosion of the volcano, its ash-fall, tsunamis and after-effects: in their view, between the 1550s and 1530s. (Moody points out that for all the studies of ash-fall and more, the eruption’s date is no more “absolute” than 1650-1150; 2009: 246.) After that, the damaged landscape’s “limited capacity” and other factors reduced Crete’s population (37).
Their Abstract’s time line, slightly clarified below, begins with events that next unfolded after the 1480 dawn of Late Minoan I B---the period that culminated in clear Mycenaean domination of Crete, and which along the way brought wholesale destruction everywhere except Knossos. Here is their outline of the times in which the Bull Leap fresco and Great Year calendar possibly played their parts:
…A severe economic dislocation…appears to have been triggered, first, by a tectonic earthquake , and shortly afterwards, by the eruption of Thera [1550-1530]. The situation gradually worsened, accompanied by a general feeling of uncertainty caused by the eruption and its effects.
The tectonic earthquake led to abandonments at some sites, or to an effort to rebuild at others, in an attempt to reestablish normal economic and social life. The results of these two natural disasters gave local centers greater independence from the traditional “Palaces.”
The natural events that proved to be the catalysts for change presaged the end of the traditional ruling elites, who appeared to have lost their assumed divine support. They tried in vain to maintain their special status.
But, with major problems in the production and distribution of food, the existing system disintegrated. [This was] a process of decentralization, with an increase in the regional exploitation of land, chiefly for local consumption.
Numerous lesser elites may well have prospered in this environment. However…the fragmentation of Crete into many small centers may have led to internal Cretan conflict. A massive wave of fire destructions [swept through the period from 1480-1425, or Late Minoan IB], indicating a state of anarchy by the end of the period.
This fragmentation of Minoan Crete brought about the end of the most highly developed economic system in the Aegean. It was somewhat resurrected…during the succeeding Mycenaean period [1425 through the late 1300s; or, Late Minoan II and III]; during which only the palace at Knossos seems to have functioned as a major center.
There was a gradual but general decrease in the sophistication of architecture and arts. This period may perhaps be regarded as the final phase of the decline that began [after 1480, with the widespread destruction of main Minoan sites].
Some major centers suffered destruction once again. [As of about 1425], a new Knossian elite or dynasty appears to have taken control, and installed a modified socio-political and economic system….
These conditions---a spirited creative resilience, followed by one disintegrative stress after another---might signify, or demand, focused efforts toward improved calendric precision. Timing underwrites agriculture and the rhythms of ceremonial life that foster effective organization. As noted from Wright (1995: 68), “uncontrolled variables” had to make “ritual activities” a “major concern”; and according to Wiener’s estimates, “the numbers [were] vast everywhere,” with more people than before “participating in mass rituals” and/or “larger work forces” (2007: 234). Island notes that Crete’s transition-years from Middle to Late periods had seen about 33% less-centralized storage of foodstuffs, “perhaps related to a better monitoring of agricultural production” (53). An inspired beginning might grow the more determined in a deepening crisis.
Although that food-storage trend reversed when the later problems arose, the century between the 1700 and 1600 earthquakes saw three or four Minoan generations building on their inheritance before the main disasters; then, five generations trying to respond to crises before the destructions began around 1480. Altogether, that is a period as long as United States history. Whichever generation may have created the Bull Leap fresco and brought together elements of a Great Year calendar, all of them had motive, means and opportunity before the time of outright “anarchy” began.
This chapter searches for visible traces of that calendar and what parts they might have played in the Minoans’ last independent cultural age. Along the way, we need to know that some research since Island has disputed some of its central characterizations of these times. J. S. Soles, for example (in his 1999 “Collapse”), finds that through the harshest decades after 1480, “food remained plentiful,” although because of more intense and “well-documented” land-cultivation.
At worst, to quote one of Soles’ sources in volcanology, “Minoans had to tighten their belts for a year or two” (60-61). This largely agreed with Sewell’s 2001 evaluation of all Thera’s aspects (Section 8.3). According to Warren’s 2001 Island review, the eruption presented “challenges” for years, but few that Minoans had not faced before.
Soles rejected Island’s account of Thera’s impact on Crete, meaning near-famine, reduced population and the “fragmentation” of Late Minoan life. He judged that Minoan “reverence” was “too pervasive and too intense in all periods” for them to have desecrated and destroyed their own religious centers (58). Soles instead saw “alien intruders,” Mycenaeans, raiding Crete through the decades after Thera, across “one or two generations” whose elders had never before known such insecurity (Island 106).
Warren’s review could not reconcile Island’s account with a Minoan realm simultaneously at a new height of multiple powers. Stresses, however, might have turned the central strength of the Minoan system---its ability to respond to challenges “because of its dispersal of power into a number of quasi-autonomous palatial centers” (Soles)---into a liability. For Soles, a gradual collapse occurred between the pressure to feed a rising population, the need to turn farm-laborers into warriors for defense, and the eventual conquest of Crete’s main centers including Knossos, where “the large supplies of food [were] stored” (61). As Haysom notes also, more evidence is needed.
Either conception of Late Crete’s conditions can inform the examples ahead where elements of a possible Great Year calendar came into play. In both conceptions, food and the control of public food supplies were increasingly the base of power and a decisive element leading to “desperate choices” (Island 54, 103). A calendar attuned to ecology (maximizing food production), and to astronomy (yielding apparent “command of nature”), would be an instrument of power. Let us look further into social and other contexts based in the central, agreed Late evidence of what happened.
Island and Soles’ “Reverence” agree that after 1600 (into New Palace times), elements of Crete’s “large middle class of free, land-owning people” were emerging as “new elites.” Their families comprised “a new managerial and redistributive bureaucracy,” with close kinship, reciprocal relations, and obligations to Crete’s “secondary elite,” the families established in the country villa system (Island 37, 70).
Together they raised new centers and grand residences along the coasts and fertile river-valleys, besides repairing the New Palace. “Never before had such tremendous effort been put into devising architectural schemes that gave sophistication and lightness to a building” (Island 41). While so much creative labor may have gone toward the “legitimization of certain elites,” it went into projects that stressed “group identity and prestigious labor” (45): a spirit not unlike that which built Egypt’s public monuments and Pyramids. Ceremonial practices anchored by the ancestors, festivals and bull-leaping had given independent Minoans strong values in common.
As conditions worsened with each Late decade, changes in social patterns measured them. It appears that some of these families raised houses encroaching on Knossos precincts. The masons’ marks on the best “ashlar” buildings included Labrys and star (41), while the lack of their own food-stores might also have signaled palace connection and dependency (53). Others built or developed old sites into “near-palaces” that signaled (in Soles’ conception) more of the same “dispersed” power; or, in Island’s view, increasing “fragmentation.”
The New Labyrinth reflected new divisions, a new inequality and/or insecurity (Island 46)---well before the destructions began around 1480. These changes, visible above in this Old vs. New Palace comparison (in Moody’s 1987 “Prestige” 239), reduced and restricted access. In a Driessen/Macdonald phrase describing Vathypetrou, “permeability became linear and locked” (46). At the same time, Marinatos noted a marked increase of public pomp and ritual (1987, 135; 1995, 39): “perhaps,” according to Hatzaki (2009: 30), “reducing social tensions among the many,” and reinforcing “the leading role of the few, who would have been closely linked to the ideological and economic supremacy of the Palace.”
Island characterized these new programs as “propaganda”---again, to legitimize the new generation(s) of Knossos’ “managers,” whose “redistributive” powers of course concerned food and wealth. In a sense, these elites were simultaneously separating from the general population, and reaching out to them.
Reassuring symbols, ceremonies and festivals might blunt the new divisions while imposing them. Perhaps this double aspect reflected a conflict of loyalties inside Knossos: one strongly traditional toward Cretans, and one less so.
Because the evidences of Mycenaean roles and influences in these changes must be understood in Minoan contexts, let us first look further into Crete. Possibly, amid Knossos’ increasing affiliations with the mainland, Crete’s main population---based in their ancestors, in kinship, general equality and independence---were as much the people “separating,” in some ways, from a Knossos that was failing them; and failing them in regard to more than warding off Thera’s eruption and its effects.
Propaganda is a body of statements---claims and promises---from people who want to be believed about them. What remains to discover is the substance of this Late propaganda’s message. How did a few central symbols from Knossos present Minoans with the suggestion that their elites might have divine sanction? Seals, painted ritual vases, ceremonial equipment, jewelry, textiles: these were some of the central media carrying Knossos’ message into daily life, ceremonies and socio-political practice.
According to studies of Crete’s scores of peak sanctuaries, all but 8 of these high-country ceremonial centers were abandoned in the midst of Knossos’ Late-period efforts at consolidation of religious and social power (Driessen/Soetens 2001: 3; Sarris, Soetens and Vansteenhuyse, 2). Calendric efforts in the wind, inspired perhaps by the actual and consistent Great Year cycles in the sky (Chapter 5), would have to be broadcast through the culture. Promises had to concern things ardently desired by people at that time. Whatever Knossos’ motives, their efforts had to speak in familiar Minoan terms to have a chance of broad adoption in a culture devoted to continuity.
If part of the Knossos response to Late crises was in calendric terms, the forms they selected for their divine propaganda should reflect it. As Frankel and Webb note about the distribution of “distinctive” artifacts that “imply restricted access to esoteric knowledge,” such forms were “likely to have been closely linked to the dynamics of identity negotiation” (2008: 291).
For some people, riches and status themselves prove divine sanction and powers. Yet, this propaganda’s substantive content has remained as opaque as Labrys. In fact, along with some few surviving stone vessels in the shapes of Bull and Lion (Island 66), and the cults of Snake that Evans and Nilsson termed “canonical” through Late times (Chapter 5), we find Labrys a main element among these Late signs of power---as noted (Haysom 42), literally elevated to new heights of display and levels of distribution. The pair of vases above, dated to the last Middle period (about 1650-1600), show that Late Knossos had already created variations of Labrys that could speak to its most-troubled times (more below). Three other preexisting symbols most commonly deployed were the Sacral Knot, Marine Style pottery, and “horns of consecration.”
Troubled Island’s chapters, charts (37, 68) and its Gazetteer are packed with details showing these artifacts’ discoveries together. Marine Style vessels, for example, reached 23 settlements (73), and D’Agata studied “horns” at 12 sites (1992: 248).
Why would a Knossos elite, trying to re-negotiate their Minoan identity, calculate that these particular symbols might better unite, reassure and/or reconcile people toward a new political order? Let us look at each and at all together in their ways, and see how they might relate to a Minoan Great Year calendar.
If we remember how important a calendar was/is to the most efficient production of food, then Labrys as its possible prime symbol would be key to the promises within Late Knossos propaganda. We have seen how, in MacGillivray’s words, Labrys “could symbolize the marriage of the sun and moon, perhaps the union of the solar and lunar calendar” (“Astral Labyrinth” 2004, 331-2). Like the powers that came with the throne itself, built from its solar alignment and lunar symbol (and from which, more appears below), Labrys might have embodied a natural cycle whose forms were adapted into religious, social and political practices; in order to promote and ensure the smooth, perhaps-cyclical transitions of executive power (Chapter 8). Relating Bull (as part of the “horns” complex of meanings) to forms of power, Nikoloudis notes the ancient links between tauros and the Indo-European verbal root “to stand”---with senses suggesting “steadfast” and “sturdy” (2008: 377). Such was one meaning also of Egypt’s Djed Pillar.
The forms of Labrys that become most common in Late times have vegetal features---visual signs that it lives, and perhaps that through conformity with its (calendric) principles, the world of nature can be renewed and sustained at levels of abundance. Evans noted a Minoan “tendency to link themselves with vegetable forms” (2: 202, emphasis added). Given the ways already shown that Labrys points from the underworld to this life and Beyond, we might call these promises the big three, for the power they have exerted in propaganda throughout history: A) food in plenty, B) ceremonial, social and political order, and C) a way to the afterlife.
With the clear Middle-period “anticipations” of vegetal Labrys forms (Evans 1: 610), Island dates the example at right to a time after Knossos suffered west wing fire-damage, near the very start of the destructions all over Crete (after 1480: 147-8). The 4-point wheel and doublings (8 points) round a central sphere present Great Year forms, while adding 12 vegetal points in 3’s (possibly, moons and seasons). The links between natural cycles (crops and food), orderly production, social balance and religion seem apparent in this form, the vegetal aspect an appealing practical and spiritual one in an environment either increasingly short of food, or more concerned with its storage and security for other reasons (ahead).
Evans considered Labrys intimately connected with the cult of the dead (Palace 1: 441), and this chapter’s final evidences will suggest how. These Late examples seem to suggest Labrys as the flower and center of nature, while connecting the double axe also to the throne’s disc-and-crescent. How---the meaning of these “promises”---will appear, again, through the final evidences presented in this chapter.
Evans noted that Sacral Knots were parts of Minoan tradition as old as Labrys (2: 794), dating many examples to at least Middle Minoan III (circa 1700: Palace 1: 430-435); but their precise meanings have remained obscure. We saw New Palace seals which, as “knots” held together by Snake, perhaps embodied the four calendric beasts. According to Rutter’s Internet resources (14), Sacral Knots were a “popular” feature in the troubled times after 1480 (Late Minoan IB), and they too were sometimes fused with Labrys, as shown below. What can we learn of their meanings and functions as part of Late Knossos’ “divine propaganda”? How might Sacral Knots connect with the needs and claims of a new Minoan elite, and (if at all) with a Great Year calendar? Let us look at the best available clues.
Sacral Knots had several forms: perhaps first in the hair of women, priestesses and deities, and those worn by Minoan sailors (see Bass and Wachsmann’s Seagoing Ships 2008: Fig. 6.69). In Egypt, “she-knots” denoted women’s “holy mysteries” (Budge Dwellers 189, 250): Isis cut a lock of her hair to safeguard the soul of dead Osiris. When she unbound her hair and shook it out over him, his resurrection began (Budge Gods of Egypt 1: 443). Later Greece’s Three Fates or Moerae spun, measured and cut every person’s life-thread from their hair. And the power of a knot to bind or control forces was evident in Homer’s Odyssey when sailors untied the knotted bag from wind-god Aiolos (X, I), and in “Circe of the braided tresses.” Binding and unleashing power, protection through a bond, transformation and resurrection might be reasonable associations to explore.
Some Knots were made of costly ivory or faience, and painted or physically mounted on a wall, as if produced and posted to the purpose of some social meaning. They also often appeared with figure-8 shields. While shields are sometimes read as “thunder” signs, they are as frequently literal shields, another possible connection to Minoan “men in the service” on land and sea. This was, after all, the period of Crete’s greatest influence in the Aegean and Mediterranean. If these Knots were almost the one sign of a cultural practice on Minoan sailors, they must have borne important meanings.
Sometimes in textile form, Knots were tied around a pillar, an act Evans related to a later ritual “sleeping-in” within sight of them (1: 435). To bind a circle around a symbol for life itself, evoking the image of a snake entwined around it, and then to seek out a visionary dream in its presence might connect to traditions (at Neolithic Malta and Catal Huyuk) of women or priestesses sleeping in proximity to tombs and snakes, both embodiments of the dead. In the seal images just above, the probably-dead bull-leaper and doubled Sacral Knots might be one image for “binding prayers” for the resurrection of people lost in many life-threatening endeavors. Below, we see how Labrys and the Sacral Knot at times became one sign, which Marinatos (2010: 122) reads as “life” because of its similarity to the Egyptian ankh.
It seems significant that this bound-together sign should be found in Minoan skies, as above (though the object was found at Mycenae). Beside it we see likely signs for rain (the vessel), for grain (the stalk descending), and a magnificent tree, toward which a man reaches while climbing upward and the central female whirls in a cosmic dance. To the right, a “chrysalis” with a Sacral Knot behind it unfolds the potential new or reborn creature still within. Lowe Fri found “a” butterfly along with “a” Sacral Knot (and bulls’ heads) incised on double axes (17).
“Labrys in the sky” might not surprise us, but why fused with a Sacral Knot?
In times of increasing stress on communities, rich offerings to collective causes are called for and/or come forward in recognition of common threats and interests. Sailors and warriors were sons of families and clans. Supporting them in their services in both practical and religious terms might have been a reason for “civilians” to obtain a Sacral Knot---the right to wear one or to post one in public and ceremonial form.
Defense of Crete and its trade required all the labor and manpower that Soles (above) saw being drained from Minoan agriculture in its post-1480 crescendo of violence. Watrous recently found evidence of a large wall and “tower” defending Gournia from seaborne (not inland) attack. A Knossos elite had to be bound by the same reciprocal relations governing Crete’s classes, and had to bestow the rewards at its command in respect for crucial contributions, including children. Such relations and political strategies may have informed Mycenaean life as well, given the examples above and below-right.
Clearly, “binding forces together” was a message old in Crete before its “twilight,” and an appealing one as their Late fortunes declined. Enlistments of family-members, contributions of labor and wealth in exchange for the status rewards of posting civic participation, solidarity in the midst of cultural crises and struggles---and a hope of reunion with the ancestors, waiting in the astral afterlife Beyond, as reward for maximum effort and contribution here. To post a Sacral Knot in the sky around Labrys (in conjunction with the above-listed other signs) might represent another part of Knossos’ Late propaganda-promises: food, order and afterlife.
If these efforts “failed” as Island says, or seemed to fail in the face of increasing violence, they might have turned in “a generation or two” into motives for widespread resentment and rebellion. As Island argues (43), the pressures of living more closely together than before, and of having to devote formerly public ritual space to domestic service and food-storage, would have degraded the bond-supportive meanings of those places; and, in turn, many human bonds. Again, however, Labrys in this connection seems to be deployed in Late forms as the core of a hopeful, proffered formula for plenitude, security, order and rebirth.
Those would be the levels of cultural work where we might expect to find a calendar and cosmology: enabling a society to sustain and empower its connections with nature, through a set of observations (like the Great Year cycle) mixed with “beliefs” or propositions for making the most of them, in practical, social, political and religious affairs. A Late Knossos elite whose best option meant pouring gold into mainland Shaft Graves needed to appropriate multiple home traditions. Wedding Sacral Knots to Labrys in the sky, they might have promised eternal care over Minoan sons and family interests; and so tried to enlist the powers of family bonds to their own “divine” benefit. The gestures at least seem visible in relation to the central sign of the Bull Leap fresco calendar.
The Marine Style element of Late Knossos’ “divine propaganda” was in part a new kind of Minoan recognition of the sea, which had mothered their race, made them rich and then done them so much damage through Thera and its tsunamis. Evans (2: 500-512) found “some” Marine Style in the last Middle period, a rise to importance after 1600, and then its “rush” to production through the destructive decades after 1480---along with another increase in the appearance of “horns of consecration” (Island 58), to explore last here.
Perhaps people demanded ceremonial recognitions of the powers that had struck them by sea and air. Some attribute Marine Style vessels to the influence of refugee artists from Thera. Or, Knossos had begun to recognize or appropriate a Mycenaean sea-deity, Potidan, Poseidon (Island 98).
Evans showed that Marine elements such as shells were known as early as any other religious aspect (1: 523). He also speculated (2: 542) that while Minoans were including pumice, shells and other sea-objects in ritual places (Island 97), they built “many” new pillar crypts into the Little Palace next to Knossos, as if with some “expiatory” motive that, implicitly, relates to Minoan ancestors and cosmology. Was this a sign of Minoan feeling that, given their disasters and increasing mainland pressures, they had gone astray from reliable ways? While the Snake Goddesses seem to have been “put away” in some further adaptation of central ceremony, it is probably coincidence that Marine Style included an “8 or 9” Great Year feature in its forms of octopi.
Labrys’ other new aspects as part of this will appear. As one measure of its ascendancy, by the time Crete’s destructions had subsided into Mycenaean domination (circa 1425), it was the substance of a Labyrinth ceiling pattern (at left below); possibly as protection, from above, against seismic forces. Before long (circa 1400), Marine Style mingled with a vegetal form of Labrys between horns, below at right. Marinatos (2010: 126) reads this combination as “a mini-model of the universe,” showing Labrys’ reach into “the upper and lower worlds.”
While no calendric element seems appreciable among Marine Style motifs, the final element in Late Knossos “propaganda,” “horns of consecration,” returns us first by way of Mount Ida to the Knossos throne.
This is the Psiloritis mountain range of central Crete, seen from the south. Mount Ida with its pair of horns is the peak at right. Close to the center of Ida’s northern face is the Idaean Cave (long one of Crete’s most important, along with Dikte). Yet, we do not have to think of Mount Ida to see, below, the twin peaks of the mountain in the face of the throne, below its disc and crescent. Banou’s comprehensive history of expert debate (over “horns of consecration” as references mainly to Bull, or something more) reflects new contemporary opinion---that Minoan “horns” were at least as connected with the concepts of “mountain[s]” and “horizon” (Chapter 1; Marinatos 2010, Chapter 8).
As forms, sun, moon and horned mountain are seamlessly part of one another in the Knossos throne. Given all that we (may) know about the calendric connections built into this central artifact, let us see if we can read why it presents moon and sun centered above a horned mountain.
In Chapter 1 we saw that these symbols had likely practical, astronomical and religious or spiritual referents. A basic one was that the djew (or “mountain,” at left above) denoted in part The Land of the Dead, the necropolis of tombs that Egyptians had made of their “wilderness” lands east and west of the Nile. And we saw similarities between the akhet (or “horizon of the sun,” above right) and the widespread, long-held, and many-formed figure of a person or divinity “with upraised arms,” including New Year and rebirth.
Two other examples of this mountain come from an Akkadian seal (detail at left above, from Marinatos Religion 176), and from an Egyptian tomb-painting (cited in Dunn 2005). At left, Babylon’s “Shamash,” a god of justice, mounts upward from the horned mountain toward sun, moon and likely Pole Star. At right, the djew sign for mountain is used to express a massive Egyptian harvest of grain---and grain, as on the Agia Triada larnax where we began this chapter, was always the primary gift returned to mortals by the dead after receipt of their proper ceremonial offerings and honors. Plenitude, steadfast social order through honor of the ancestors, and the afterlife appear entwined in the mountain’s many meanings.
Horns as a figure of a mountain do not dispense with their relations to Bull, or with D’Agata’s and the Hallagers’ views of them (1992: 252, and 1995: 549 respectively) as “a clear symbol of territorial power.” In Late times, horns were important aspects of 12 sites from Knossos to Zakros. As in the model shrine and seal-impression above (and, by wide agreement in research), horns pointed to the sanctity and authority of sites where they were posted (Marinatos “Kingship”; Rice 1998: 206). In Rethemiotakis’ 2009 reconstruction of a very Late “model” from a peak sanctuary (197, Fig. 16.14), a doubled pair of horns also flank the central point. On the Agia Triada larnax we found a tree in the central place: in these “models” as at left above, a niche or door. Both connect this world and Beyond. (Marinatos 2010, 194 notes that “Minoans deliberately played with the form: horns look like mountain peaks” and vice-versa.) For Hitchcock, horns marked “transitional spaces” in the architecture of ceremonial places (2002: 248).
Troubled Island is clear that Knossos never “dominated” Crete except in symbolic terms. It seems we have to look beyond a Bull’s brute force to understand this “horned mountain” better, and what it might have offered for so long to a society of families rooted in kinship.
In Egypt, the original meaning of ka was “bull,” and its sign was a pair of upraised arms (Ernest and Relke 70). It was often “the symbol of an embrace, a greeting, an act of worship, the protection of a man by his ka, or a sign of praise, although other interpretations are possible” (Kinnear). “When depicted with the arms squared off at the elbow and extended so as to embrace, it is thought to represent the life force being passed to an individual by gods or the creator” (Isler 61). For all the complexity of the term---the ka as one part of an Egyptian soul, and as the very source of being, in one’s ancestors---there might be ways to understand these relationships to the dead and to astronomy.
“To return to one’s Ka” was to rejoin ancestors and family, the people from whom one received life. The way to access the ancestors was in many traditions through the use of a construction called a niche, or a “false door” threshold between the living and the dead: a transitional space encountered in the midst of ceremony. The Egyptian, Theran, and Minoan conceptions above are types of these structures. “Mountain” is clearly a part of the Aegean and Minoan examples shown here, including at its highest point (in the detail above from a Zakros stone rhyton), between the horns of wild goats, a shape that Marinatos (Religion) links to the Knossos throne.
According to Isler’s study of niches and false doors (which agrees with Marinatos’ Religion 120-23), the dead, in turn, received revivifying effects from offerings, and as well from the alignments of these tomb-portals with the sun at chosen times of the year. As a Pyramid Text stated at the moment of the king’s “ascension to the celestial realm,” “The doors of the sky are opened” (qtd. in Shafer 98.)
And it was from such a mountain, through a door’s transitional space, that the goddess Hathor emerged as shown at left above, “showing forth” and manifesting new life born of the immortal dead. Egypt’s widely-popular cow-goddess and “daily companion” of the Solar Bull left evidence in Crete from Old Palace times in the sistrum (Betancourt 2005; Soles 2005: 433); and Hathor appears in post-Minoan art in Egypt. Above at right, it is she (or “Wazet of Buto,” Evans 2: 480) emerging likewise from a “field of rushes,” welcoming the deceased to the afterlife (Donohoe 1992: 873).
Hathor’s links to protection of the dead, and to the stars and sky (as in the image from Evans 1: 513 below), articulate connections between the mountain, the dead in their underworld, and the Beyond. Banou (40) noted a seal image showing a doubled pair of horns “in the sky” over a sacrificed Bull, and found them redundant unless they reflected a “wider abstract meaning” for ritual with “celestial” associations.
Not every Minoan peak sanctuary---the birthplaces of Minoan religion---included a “horned” mountain or a view of one. But while Krattenmaker (1995: 58) notes that “the mountain” had “much to do with the character of Minoan kingship” and “the sources of its power,” neither she nor Marinatos (2010) seem to make the crucial connection between “the mountain” and the all-important Minoan ancestors.
Peak sanctuaries fundamentally position their living celebrants between the sky with its moon, sun and stars, and the ancestral underworld with its tombs, niches, caves and pillars. “The mountain,” especially a horned one, seems to embody the realm of the dead protected by this deity (Marinatos Warrior 122); to manifest their “risen” status with its upraised points or “arms”; and as shown in Chapter 1, the dead were commonly believed to live on as well in the sky. (Further connections, Chapter 9.) “The mountain” thus points from and connects “below” to “above.” The “Snake Tube” above at right, from Gournia’s Late shrine, with its disc between horns at the top, presents a like configuration. While Cadogan (2009: 201) suggests it should be called a “stand” because of uncertain connections with snakes, J. and M. Shaw, writing of excavations at Kommos (2007), described the same functions and meanings in these objects, symbolically connecting earth (in the “snake handles”) and the sky (above, with the disc; and on other such tubes, birds).
Access to the ancestors and a share in their life-eternal---promised in “horns,” and in their mountain-form, graven into the Knossos throne---were central concerns for Minoan generations. Display-processions such as “the god-king going up the mountain of the ancestors” had been a convention of rulership since Babylon (Kristiansen and Larsson 2005: 64, Fig. 20). As Watrous observed in exploring Minoan-Egyptian connections, one of the key tenets of a religion-centered society was that, by following the way of society, one gained a place in the Beyond (1997: 26).
The ancestors promise back grain, plenitude and life-eternal for their honors. Living boughs, Labrys, X-forms weave these meanings together between the horns. The Minoan mountain in the throne room, however, upholds and is crowned with the solar disc and crescent lunar horns. Hence, if a Great Year cycle was (or was trying to be) “the” Minoan organizing principle, a Great Year cosmos would be the visible capital principle of spiritual relationship and access to the ancestors. More evidence of these relations and their attempted appropriation follow in Chapter 8. As Hitchcock observed (2002: 245), the only other truly “monumental” horns were found near Knossos, atop a mountain---Juktas, the tomb of a dying and resurrected god.
According to Pietrovito, it was in these Late times that Labrys began to be “socketed” and “monumentalized” as never before: it was posted atop pillars and between horns, not as “a replacement of either, but [as] a new symbol of the two combined” (19).
Briault’s 2007 study of long-term ritual practices focuses on the Minoan double axe, horns of consecration, and their combined “composite symbol” (247). Her careful chronological inventory finds double axes most prevalent “as a marker of temporary cult places inside settlements” and, outside them, as a “votive offering” at peak and cave sanctuaries (252). These findings coincide with others suggesting the double axe’s associations with mountains (peaks above, caves below) and the dead. A “temporary cult place,” meanwhile, is a space made sacred at certain times by and for religious ritual—and the question of which times almost certainly points to the role of a calendar, symbolized in these chapters by Labrys.
By the Late years in which these two symbols combined their similar functions, they still “had as much to do with funerary as with religious ritual” (Briault 256): the double axe on a horned mountain “was part of a wider re-inscription of traditional practices…[a] selective use of tradition as an actively shaping force” that was “perhaps indicative of a deliberate reaching back to traditional meanings and values that still retained significance.” (And as we’ll see, they continued to appear and function “long after elite groups” had vanished as producers and users of both symbols.)
Perhaps this emergent union of Labrys and horns of consecration can be read in terms consistent with Great Year evidences. As Pietrovito (20) and Dietrich (12) date “horns” to the Neolithic, this new symbol seemed to combine Crete’s oldest beliefs with calendric ones, which must have gradually become ascribed to Labrys from Middle into Late times. If horns had long been a sign of the ancestors and kinship, Labrys posted between horns of the World Mountain might have embodied and been intended to present a calendric, ceremonial and cosmic way to them, in this life through annual and cyclic rites and festivals. What else might explain the “mason’s marks” on many new constructions of this period that juxtaposed a double axe and a star—astral symbols of the calendric “way” and its “Door” to the Beyond? If that was what Knossos’ Late leaders were claiming and offering, it would only have been to repeat a strategy employed in the rise of the first palaces, whereby “elite groups…were successful in merging their own ideology with a long-standing tradition of beliefs and practices” (Schoep 2006: 58).
In this way, “Labrys between horns” might be read as a new form or configuration of the central traditional symbol on the Knossos throne, the sun-and-moon-over-mountain; as the sign of “a social group who exercised power in the economic, military and religious realms,” all of which depended on an orderly calendar, and who, like Labrys, were centered in but not confined to Knossos (Haysom 35, 50).
This new combined symbol, appropriating old relationships with ancestors, appeared “without an exclusive control” over its use, and without Knossos “imposing a strict iconographic form” for either element (Pietrovito 19). While there seems no better candidate for the centerpiece of the Late Labyrinth’s “propaganda” (Chapter 8), two artifacts noted in Rehak (1995c: 218, 225) might be examples of its varied echoes. A Late IIIA mirror-handle from a tomb presents a pair of Genii flanking a “mound,” or mountain-shape, like that of the throne; and below, this seal-image (dated contemporary with Knossos’ final years) shows a “snake-frame” headdress with a Labrys between its crescent horns, worn by a female from mainland Pylos. Both combine the ancestral and the astral in what appear to be Great Year terms.
Knossos as Calendar House: “the” horned threshold-place, “the” mountain, “the” door on its landscape to the ancestors and Beyond. Labrys---like the sun, but also like the moon and stars---pointing a path to eternity through time, constructed in cycles of lights and shadows. Perhaps for such cosmically-centering reasons, the “new symbol” continued through Knossos’ final decades (in the Shrine of the Double Axes, pictured above), and reached into Cyprus (Chapter 9).
A Late-period distribution across the island, claiming for Knossos such a cosmic mediator’s role, might have begun in attempts to “standardize” solstices and equinoxes through the use of horns (MacGillivray “Astral” 2004: 331): calendric activities. Standardization, a many-sided and widespread conformity with Knossos detailed by Wiener (2007), was a main Late-period trait, including the arranged “intervisibility at increasingly greater scales” among the 8 peak-sanctuaries still in use (Nixon 2009: 275). Blomberg and Henriksson see an “8 or 9”-year cycle connected with Minoan high office itself (1996), as does Willetts (2004).
With Labrys and other calendric and vegetal forms posted between horns at significant places and times, Great Year symbolism points again toward plenitude, earthly order and eternity. In this detail (above) from Luce’s reconstruction of Knossos Labyrinth, shadows from the supposed upper stories happen to configure a djew-form in front of the throne room’s doorways. It grows easier to imagine many deliberate constructions like it, built to incorporate the ancient sacredness of peak sanctuaries and, in so doing, invest Knossos’ political ascendancy (and calendric system) with an aura of blessing and approval from the ancestors.
In the light of these developments in Minoan iconography, Chapter 8 further explores the noted Late-period social divisions between Crete’s larger kinship groups and a Knossos with perhaps-divided loyalties. A Late Knossos that had borrowed and then was seen to be corrupting ancient traditions might have needed to be building so many “expiatory” pillar crypts.
O’Connor and Silverman noted in Ancient Egyptian Kingship (1995: 264) that a “palace” was “structured so as to be a vital link between Egypt [for example] and the cosmos. The plan, architectural form, ‘decorative’ scenes and texts of the temple integrated the earthly reality of the rituals performed…with the supra-reality of the cosmic processes of creation and the renewal of creation. This integration ensured that ritual had meaning, authority and effective power.”
Perpetuation of the Minoan world-order depended on the “incorporating practices” of participative ceremony; meaning “actions of the body [that] transmit information, including gestures, manners or etiquette [as well as] rituals, in which the body ‘performs’ the information” to be lived out and passed on (Lucas Archaeology of Time 78). As noted since Chapter 1, the ceremonial inclusion of nature---turning its major powers, phases and events into ritual backgrounds to confirm “elite esoteric knowledge” and power---would have been an advantage to reckon with, beyond the Late-period “light shows” that some scholars (Banou and Soles, for example) have inferred from various evidences.
While those might have included uses of “bright objects” such as the “crescent crystal” below from the throne room (which Evans judged “part of a necklace”: see Banou), rites at centers such as Mochlos must have been equally impressive, for awhile. Soles described “large numbers of conical cup lamps” there, perhaps for “luminary” rituals that ranged from pillar crypts to upper-floor “windows of appearance.” From “columnar rooms” above the crypts came “a clay boat and female figurine, which may have formed a three-dimensional religious tableau showing a goddess and a sacred boat, like the scene depicted on the famous Mochlos signet ring” (1999: 57).
A journey from below to above, culminating (in some related beliefs) in a guided boat-journey across the stellar void, might evidence an elite providing ritual reassurances about the afterlife. To many Minoans, a boat might have symbolized a farthest-imaginable journey: a dragon-headed guide might serve in traditional terms we have seen. Yet, in the decades that ended Crete’s independence, “shows” did not protect Mochlos or any other center from “desecration” (by Mycenaeans, Minoans, or both). Knossos alone withstood the times.
Bull-leaping scenes expressed 1200 years of festival in the center of the fresco. For the central image of a central calendar there was hardly a more mainstream way to express and enlist Minoan life. “This kind of design was never more popular,” or perhaps calculated to be, “than in the Late epoch of the Palace” (Evans 4: 892).
How, finally, would actual Great Year lunar/solar anniversaries play out from beginning to end (and around again), and provide meaningful bases in time and nature for the structures of central unifying festivals?
Let us anchor this question with the first linear chart above. Based on the Great Year astronomy in this study’s observation logs, it shows the 8½-year continuum of lunar phases that cross, very reliably, with each of the 18 Winter and Summer Solstices along one complete cycle of Great Year time.
Each Great Year cycle brings the meeting of 5 New Moons and 4 Full ones to the solstices. Winter and Summer Solstices each meet a Dark Moon (Years 2 and 7). In-between are Waxing/Waning lunar phases whose regularity as well would have made them knowable and calendrically useful. Each time the 4th year ends with a 5th-year pentaeteris, the calendar’s “wheel” or mechanism countersigns and turns, or doubles, with a New Moon/Winter Solstice in the sky. It seems a solid structure of time on which to build short- and long-term ceremony and, perhaps, propaganda.
Four further charts below show how Winter and Summer Solstice Festivals could fall in different years across periods of Great Year time, and serve as windows of satisfactory symbolic (humanly-declared) harmony between lunar and solar cycles.
Here and below are four scenarios for a Winter Solstice meeting or crossing with a New moon. In the first above, the Moon’s New Crescent appears precisely on Winter Solstice/New Year Day, and “the great day” stands at the center of 5. In other years (below), New Moon might arrive as late as First Quarter, at the 7-day limit of its New phase that guided our astronomy. These are the Winter Solstice criteria that enable the sharpest harmonizations of annual and long-term Great Year continuity.
Their constancies with differences would be an endless resource for what we might call the political poetics of public performance. Did a given year’s New Moon oversee the Sun’s rebirth precisely, early, or late? What was the moon’s phase at a given solstice, and how could that phase of their rhythmic relationship be built upon in ceremony at once traditional and annually innovative? A skillful elite would have little problem relating lunar/solar and stellar performances to their own short-term circumstances and agendas, while each 8½-year reunion of sun and moon would dramatize, like nothing else, a different version of the same supreme cycle and story.
Summer Solstice charts follow. In the first below you see the full union of 6th Full Moon and Summer Sun. Note, in the second chart, how the Great Year’s maximum criterion of a 7-day Summer linkage (where nature was always “pushing”) could still marry the lunar/solar signs within a 7-day festival. As we saw, a Full Moon appearing close to this limit warned of a Great Year string about to fade.
Sometimes Minoans saw no (or rather, Dark) Moon at the peak of Summer. Sometimes the Moon looked Waning-weak where they might have preferred a strong young New one at New Year Day. (And as noted, sometimes eclipses took away the Summer’s Full Moon.) What these patterns yielded was the best available long-term precision and continuity: assets from nature out of which to weave meanings, to forward agendas, and to celebrate in high style.
Altogether, we might conceive of a ceremonial life led by the most gifted and charismatic in religion, the arts and proto-sciences: what Frank called “ritual calendar-keepers, a class of proto-astronomers,” 2001: 133) who studied nature and spiritual matters, and from their learning constructed life as a dramatic play; based in and structured by a cycle with ever-different episodes, new combinations of circumstances and individuals---on a scale we still find in Tibet and Bali.
Such perhaps were the outer or most public aspects of Great Year calendric benefits in good times and hard ones. Once the mainland’s Mycenaeans had a potent place in Crete, a Minoan calendar had to provide an inner benefit as well.
Who, after all, would control and gain the most from a cultural movement toward a central cosmology? Minoans, or their “new elites”?
In Late Knossos propaganda, kinship---founded in plenitude, social reciprocity, and a confident afterlife---was apparently being “appropriated” toward a cosmology and a new conception of political power. Long ages through which the only “kings and queens” had seemed to remain anonymous in their executive and/or ceremonial functions were coming to an end.
Blakolmer (2008: 267) found in the Knossos throne’s traditional “anonymity” a “strategy for equality of persons.” Minoan arts were serving “not king, but cult” (Davis “Missing Ruler” 19), in the elucidation of a “religious rather than secular ideology” (Marinatos “Divine” 23, 39). Or as Driessen observed in “Crisis Cults”: “Whereas in Egypt and Mesopotamia, the Pharaoh and the En or Lugal guaranteed the link between mortals and gods, explaining their role in iconography and…the royal image, the link between the two worlds [in Minoan cosmology was] constituted by the rituals themselves. The acts were more important than the actors or mediators, and these actions seemed to constitute the political ideology” (2001: 363-4, emphasis added).
From Early to Late periods, the evidences for this---for the central need behind executive power for the sanctions of Minoan ancestral and kinship groups---seem far more numerous and compelling than for Marinatos’ 2010 assertion that an iconographic ambiguity “between god and king” was the bottom-line, enabling guarantor of the “royal paradigm” (160). To anticipate Chapter 8, the question is no longer whether Minoans honored a kind of “priest chief” (for she and others show that they did), but what kind of “king” most Minoans proved willing to honor---within what construction of executive office, within what limitations.
Indeed, the most obvious and defining characteristic of Minoan “kingship” might be limits themselves. Although “he” shares a sceptre (another sign of power) at times with female figures, no male god or ruler sits enthroned or wields Labrys. Mindful of these two central exclusions, Marinatos refers to the Minoan “king” as “the hidden protagonist of the mythical paradigm” (157). Yet, a “hidden” aspect still registers how much “he” must have owed his powers to a goddess, the same mountain-goddess who “cared for the ancestral dead”---an activity and therefore an expression of the living, who from one generation to the next saw that Minoans lived and cohered, for all their differences, according to the ancestral way.
This Great Goddess’ sceptre is an axis mundi that like the mountain itself stands pointing between tomb and stars. The object was a symbol of power not least because its earliest examples included so-called “calendar sticks” (Marshack Roots 27-32), inscriptions likely to have been calendric. The Great Goddess bestowed power but, always, founded in natural cycles, retained it.
Kinnaer points out a difference between the ka of a Pharaoh and of a common person. A royal ka retained some kind of individuality Beyond, while the common person’s ka identity came from and returned to the ancestors. In Dietrich’s terms, the ancestors returned to this life in the living. Yet in Middle Minoan times, some of Crete’s elite began to choose individual over collective burial: perhaps the next phase of a process begun by the first palaces themselves (Schoep 2006: 37), “involving emulation of and competition with other elites, both on the island and in distant locations”: “negotiating, displaying, and legitimating status and power.”
What followed were the social separations shown here, and then destructions after 1480. Ground had been sown for centralized power in an individual wanax or king at Knossos; a way that did not prove “necessarily more stable” (Wright 1995: 73).
What could the Great Year offer to that situation, and beyond?
| Click Here to dialogue
with others about
|Back to Contents||On to Chapter 8|