Sacred Herstory: Lessons From Crete

Oct 16, 2023

I am freshly back from a goddess pilgrimage to Crete and still feeling into the experience of immersing myself in an ancient culture that operated outside of the bounds of patriarchy, beyond the lens that has tinted all the history, philosophy, religion and literature from the past 2,000 years.

This pre-patriarchal experience is more accessible on Crete than anywhere else in Europe because goddess worship and the matrifocal society built around it lasted 1,000 year longer there than in the rest of Europe. Crete was truly an island in a sea of patriarchy, and we can learn so much from it. 

This experience was as close as I'll ever get to time traveling back to the mythical period before patriarchy ordered the world in way that would exclude the honoring of all things feminine.

It was and continues to be a gift, and even in the examination of this pre-patriarchal culture, we have to weed through the assumptions of researchers and excavators operating within a patriarchal worldview. I'll give you a few examples.


Many archaeologists have assigned  the truisms and the language of patriarchy to the ancient artifacts of Crete. They did not do this maliciously or even intentionally, but because all they have experienced, studied and read is infused with such assumptions.

Sacred Centers... The large, opulent buildings unearthed all over Crete (Knosses, Malia and Phaistos being the most well known) are still called "palaces" by most historians. This word is chosen based on the assumption that a monarchy of some sort is in place. This theory is built around a hierarchical worldview in which the powerful occupy the grandest spaces and rule from a top down structure. Carol Christ and others preferred to use the term "sacred centers" because when the structures were analyzed without hierarchical assumptions in place, that moniker better described the communities there which clearly revolved around reverence of rather than rule.

Game of Thrones... What most historians call the throne rooms at sacred centers are more likely to be places of ritual, rather than places of rule. And because we also cannot impose our segmented labeling of distinct areas—the sacred and the secular; work and play—these most elaborate rooms were likely multi-purposed and not clearly designated for one function. As for who sat on the throne, a close look at the sacred seat at Knossos reveals that its size and structure is much more suited for a female to sit upon it, rather than a male. There is no evidence that there were roles comparable to "king" or "queen" at this palace or in Minoan culture in general. Many archaeologists now believe this was the seat of the priestess.

Colonialism... All the major excavations on Crete were done by foreign powers coming in and imposing their own worldview upon the "discoveries" they made there. The excavators were not descendents of the civilizations being unearthed bringing to light their own ancestry. They were, rather world powers steeped in hierarchical, white supremacist colonialism coming in and interpreting a culture which was not confined by any of those restrictive lenses. As inspired as I was by Knossos (and the controversial restoration assists with visualizing its original form), it was disarming to encounter a bronze bust of the British man credited for "discovering" Knossos upon entering rather than likenesses of the people who might have lived there or the Greek archaeologists who discovered it but lacked the finance to follow through or even the priestesses who presided over the community and sat in its sacred throne. 


My final point will propel us into the ways we speak about Crete's powerful goddess culture and goddess culture in general. I have noticed that modern writers often use language of disempowerment when they speak about cultures that revered the goddess. They use words like cults and idolatry to identify them and words like hedonistic and heathen to describe them. They have even discredited earth-based practices known as paganism in the way they use the word pagan as synonymous with evil and the occult.

They infer that goddess-based religions are less evolved and enlightened than religions which revolve around a father god.  There is no discernible difference between a cult and a religion other than the credibility given to one and denied to the other. One is seen as a legitimate, respected spiritual community and the other is not because it dares to step outside the bounds of sanctioned religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism). Similarly, idolatry—the religious worship of idols—is condemned when the object of worship is a goddess and condoned when the object in question is male-centric item like Jesus on the cross.

Even the most commonly used name for this era and its people is "Minoan," a label created by Knossos' British excavator Sir Arthur Evans, based on the Greek god Minos, who he theorized sat on the famed throne. We need language that reflects the lives of the people in this culture, not the perceptions of those who tried to paint them into a worldview aligned with modern patriarchal understanding.

I am trying to let this glimpse of goddess culture in Crete permeate my psyche and seep into my language. Imagine the shift if we began viewing the world outside of its male-centric lens we inherited. Imagine a world in which we spoke goddess worship into the mainstream by embodying its legitimacy in the way we move through life. 

In support of such imagining, we are hosting the legendary author and thinker Charlene Spretnak in conversation on Friday, 10/20 at 12 noon ET. Charlene has deepened our ability to connect with this pre patriarchal worldview by reclaiming ancient Greek myths and revisioning them in their original form before the Greek pantheon became the patriarchal bastion it is portrayed as today. She has written many books, but we will be focusing on her pre-hellenic collection of myths, The Lost Goddesses of Early Greece.

Come join the conversation by registering for this free event here.



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