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Who Is Ariadne?

Carol P. Christ

The Goddess in Ancient Crete


According to Marija Gimbutas and confirmed in my own research Bronze Age Ariadnian Crete* (c.3000-1450 BCE) was a final flowering of the religion and culture of the Goddess of Neolithic Old Europe (c.6500-3500 BCE in Europe). Archaeological remains suggest that the Ariadnians worshipped the Goddess as the source of creativity in nature and culture. The spiral turning into another spiral was a symbol of the dance of life and death. Frescoes depict young Cretans, both female and male, grasping the horns of bulls and somersaulting over their bodies. Dancing women played important roles in Minoan ritual. Homer spoke of "a dancing place" created by Daidalos "for Ariadne of the lovely tresses." Ariadne is pre-Greek word, possibly a name of the Goddess. The Greek-speaking Myceneans occupied Knossos after 1450 BCE.

Goddess Tours Greece-Ariadne Dancing

Ariadne in Greek Mythology


In later Greek myth, Ariadne is a Cretan princess who gives her thread to the hero Theseus so that he can penetrate the maze known as the labyrinth and kill the monster known as the Minotaur. The Minotaur, half-human and half-bull, was born of the desire of Ariadne's mother Pasiphae for a white bull; the inventor Daidalos helped her to mate with it. According to the Greek myth, custom decreed that Athens must send seven girls and seven boys to Crete to be sacrificed to the Minotaur. In slaying the Minotaur, Theseus ended (alleged) human sacrifice. Ariadne fled with Theseus, but was left or jumped ship on a nearby island. Some say that she hanged herself; others that she married the God Dionysus. Theseus failed to raise a white sail as he approached Athens; his father Aegeus, thinking his son had been killed, threw himself into the sea. This is a myth "told by the victors" intended to discredit a culture they conquered.


The Labyrinth in Crete


Labyrinthos is a pre-Greek word, associated with the Labrys, a symbol commonly called a Double Axe, but which I interpret to be the wings of the Bird Goddess. An inscription in Linear B (associated with the Greek-speaking Mycenean conquerers) states that a "jar of honey" was offered to the "Lady of the Labyrinth." The "Cretan labyrinth" (seven spirals around the center) was inscribed on a Roman coin from the city of Gortyn. Such a labyrinth has not been found in Ariadnian Crete, though a fresco fragment of what appears to be a rectangular labyrinth was found at Knossos. Some have suggested that the sacred centers of Knossos and Phaistos with their many passageways were "labyrinths," while others have imagined that the caves used in Ariadnian ritual were.


Ariadne: Goddess of Ancient Crete


Was Ariadne the Lady of the Labyrinth, a Goddess whose worshippers danced to celebrate the grace of life?


Ariadne in Greek Myth, Revisited


The Greek myth of Ariadne, Pasiphae, and the Minotaur is designed to discredit the pre-patriarchal religion of Minoan Crete. Pasiphae's desire for the bull is pornography; her bull-child is a monster; the labyrinth the place of alleged human sacrifice. Rather than standing as the Goddess at the center of her culture, Ariadne betrays it. She doesn't even live happily ever after with her hero, but is abandoned. Quite a comedown for a Goddess!


*I use the name Ariadnian for the Bronze Age culture of ancient Crete c. 3000-1450 BCE. This culture was mis-named Minoan after the legendary King Minos, but there is no convincing evidence that there were any kings in Bronze Age Crete prior to the Mycenean Greek conquest of Crete.

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