A New Glossary for Crete: The Power of Naming and the Study of History by Carol P. Christ

carol-christThe words we use affect our thinking. In the case of ancient Crete the repetition of the terms “Palace,” “Palace of Knossos,” “King Minos,” “Minoan,” “Priest-King,” and “Prince of the Lilies” shape the way we understand history–even when we ourselves know these terms are incorrect. We must engage in “new naming.”

Ariadne. May have been a name of the Goddess of pre-patriarchal Crete. The ending “ne” signifies that Ariadne is not of Greek or Indo-European origin and thus predates the later Greek myths.

Ariadnian. The name I have given to the Old European pre-patriarchal culture of Crete, from arrival of the Neolithic settlers from Anatolia c.7000 BCE to the Mycenaean invasion c.1450 BCE. Arthur Evans named the Bronze Age (c.3000-1450 BCE) culture of Crete “Minoan” after King Minos of Greek mythology, son of Zeus and Europa, husband of Pasiphae, father of Ariadne, whose gift of the secret of the labyrinth to Theseus led to the downfall of her culture. Evans assumed that Minoan Crete was ruled by a King.

This image I call “Ariadne Dancing” could become the new “icon” of Ariadnian Crete.

minoan woman dancing

It could and should replace the “icon” of  the “Priest-King” Arthur Evans’ “imaginatively” reconstructed and named the “Prince of the Lilies.”

 prince of the lilies

Once we remove the crown which probably belonged to a Sphinx, the figure’s white color and athletic body suggests it was intended to portray a young female bull-leaper leading a bull.

A-sa-sa-ra. A name found in pre-Indo-European Linear A libation formulas and thought to be a name of the Goddess. Its similarity to the names Asherah, Ishtar, and possibly Isis, led to the suggestion that this name was brought to Crete c.3000 BCE by new settlers who also brought the bronze smelting technology. However, it is possible and not unlikely that the name came to Crete with the original settlers from Anatolia, especially since unlike her counterparts in the Middle East, the Ariadnian Goddess was not subordinated to a Father God.

Could Asasara be the name of the Snake Goddess?

snake goddess blue background

Bronze Age. Defined by the smelting of bronze, but not yet iron.

Ida-Mate. A name found in Linear A, the undeciphered non-Indo-European language of Bronze Age Crete, thought to be a name of the Goddess as Mother Ida, Moutain Mother of Mount Ida.

Ida Mate appears as twin peaks or breasts when viewed from the Sacred Center of Phaistos.

Mount Ida from Phaistos

Incubation Chamber. A small underground room entered by a series of steps in an “L” shape.  The chamber could made dark or light through the use of shutters on an upper level, and it would have been possible to look down into the chamber from above.  There was usually a small square ritual area in front of the steps leading down.  May have been used for initiation, prayer, sacred dreaming, healing, or even giving birth.  Found in the Sacred Centers and in smaller buildings.  Arthur Evans called these rooms “Lustral Basins” (bathing chambers) despite the fact that they have no drains.

Indo-European. A group of languages originating in the Russian steppes north of the Black Sea, including European languages (except Basque which is pre-Indo-European and Hungarian and Finnish, which are Finno-Ugric) and Sanskrit. Indo-Europeans invaded Europe in waves from the north, beginning c .4400 BCE. Greek-speaking Indo-Europeans known as Mycenaeans established fortified strongholds in the Peloponnese of Greece by c.2000 BCE. Indo-Europeans domesticated the horse; their culture was patriarchal, nomadic, warlike, and not highly artistic; they worshipped shining Gods of the sky who were reflections of their bronze weapons. The Indo-European Mycenaens invaded Crete c.1450 BCE; their language,Linear B, is an early form of Greek. A different Indo-European group invaded India c.1500 BCE.

Labrys. Double wings, a symbol of the bird Goddess.

Matrilineal. Identity and property pass through the female line, often through the mother clan.

Matrilocal. Daughters and sometimes sons live with their mothers, remaining in the maternal clan for life.

Matrifocal. Societies that honor mothers and values associated with motherhood—love, generosity, and care.

Matriarchal. Scholars define matriarchies as societies where women “ruled” and conclude that they never existed. Heidi Goettner-Abendroth redefined matriarchies as societies that honor motherhood as their first principle. Matriarchies are: 1) generally in the early stages of agriculture with land held in common by maternal clans; 2) economically egalitarian with differences of wealth redistributed through gift-giving; 3) politically egalitarian with power shared by mothers and uncles and in participatory democracy; 4) matrifocal, valuing love, generosity, and caring as the highest values for both sexes, and usually viewing Earth as a great and giving Mother.

Neolithic. New Stone Age, referring to the invention of agriculture (c.8000 BCE in the Middle East) and the change from gathering and hunting to farming. Scholars “concede” that “woman the gatherer” invented agriculture and the other new technologies of the Neolithic, pottery-making and weaving—but do not correlate the invention and probable control of new technologies to female power in society.

Old Europe. The name given by Marija Gimbutas to the pre-Indo-European, pre-patriarchal Neolithic cultures of Europe c. 6500-3500 BCE. Old European cultures were settled, agricultural, artistic, peaceful, egalitarian, matrilineal, probably matrilocal, matrifocal, worshipping the Goddess and celebrating the powers of birth, death, and regeneration in all of life. Crete, at the southern end of Europe, was the last flowering of Old European culture.

Sacred Centers. The name I have given to the complexes called Palaces by Arthur Evans. The Sacred Centers were the ritual heart of the surrounding communities. They were community gathering places and provided communal storage areas for a portion of the harvest and workshop space for the creation of sacred objects from clay, stone, bronze, silver, and gold.

Sacred Horns. Celebrate the importance of cows, bulls, and oxen in Ariadnian society. Horns like bones outlive the flesh and may become a symbol of death and regeneration.  The sacred horns symbol echoes twin peaks or breasts of mountains and the upraised arms of women in ritual.

As new names take root in our minds, new interpretations of history will occur to us.  As I was writing this blog, something shifted in my mind.  I had always “thought of” the ancient Cretans as “individuals” who “for some reason” brought a portion of the harvest to be stored in common.  Duh, it just occurred to me that if the land was held in common by the maternal clans then communal storage of the harvest  requires no explanation.

Carol P. Christ  is is dreaming of the fall Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she will lead through Ariadne Institute.  It is not too late to join the fall pilgrimage, nor too early to sign up for spring 2014.  Carol can be heard on a WATER TeleconferenceHer books include and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.

Author: Carol P. Christ

Carol P. Christ is a leading feminist historian of religion and theologian who leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete, a life transforming tour for women. www.goddessariadne.org

14 thoughts on “A New Glossary for Crete: The Power of Naming and the Study of History by Carol P. Christ”

  1. Yes! Thank you for this wonderful glossary. From the first time I explored the archeological museum in Heraklion, nothing that I had learned about so called Minoan Crete made sense. Maria Gimbutas and Riane Eisler helped me understand the proper context to view them in, but creating a glossary and encouraging people to change the way we discuss this culture is long overdo. The Ariadnian sacred centers with their amazing architecture, wonderfully creative frescoes and intriguing artifacts shall continue to inspire us all as we deepen our understanding of how they were different from patriarchal cultures and what a perfect model they are for what ails us today.


  2. Brava! Yes, we do see history through the words we use or are taught to use. Your definitions and redefinitions are useful. I hope they find wide and scholarly usage……..though, if what keeps happening and happening in our patriarchal academe is any example, it’ll be a struggle to break out of the old walls of kingly language. Is the information in this blog going to be in a book?


  3. Definitions and descriptions are the key to keeping womens’ minds powerful and alive. I’d say that the idea of a matriarchal society exists within lesbian subcultures and contexts, where we do rule our own worlds, where men don’t exist. We may not own countries as lesbians, but we do own islands. I don’t use patriarchal measuring sticks to determine if my life is matriarchal or not, it is! And I dream of a large part of the world, where all women can live without the dominators at all. Those women who want to negotiate with the rapists, dominators and oppressors can do so, but I look to that beautiful woman who lept over bulls, and that is real power to me!

    Love this article, and its inventive creative power.


  4. When I did my own research, and took off the mansplaining lens that male museum controllers use, a whole new world opened. The lesbians, amazons and powerful women were everywhere in the frescos and ancient walls. The statues came alive, because men erase women from HIS-tory, and we have to find the truth. Malestream life tries everything in its power to destroy lesbian herstory, and our great achievements, and in learning to decode the anti-patriarchal work of women who don’t submit to men ever, well, it is the hidden power. It is the ancient lesbian communities, the marriage resisters, the women who never ever had sex with men, and who thrived and created–this I celebrate, the rest is collaboration with the dominators.


    1. I’m not lesbian, and I admit that I live in daily compromise (and dialogue) in a world dominated by men, many of whom I love. That is the way I was born into and the way I choose. But I am very grateful that there are women like you who stand so fiercely in a world outside male-defined culture. My experiences with lesbian feminists in the goddess movement have opened my eyes and my world. I celebrate you and thank you. I just ask that you respect my choice as much as I respect yours.


  5. Love this new glossary! I’ve always wondered if the sacred horns of the milk-giving cow were metaphorically linked by the Ariadnians with the horns of the sickle or crescent moon, and the lovely wash of the Milky Way across the sky. I ask because periodically the crescent moon appears with the “horns” pointing up, like this beautiful, clear photo: http://www.washingtonpost.com/rf/image_606w/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2012/03/25/Health-Environment-Science/Images/Planetary_Lineup_0fe62-2344.jpg


  6. We hardly know the power of words, especially when they are gendered, until we hear something new and different, opposite gendered or gender neutral. We need to pay attention to these new words and own them for ourselves because they empower us with a strength to give us a new understanding of who we are, historically as women and help put us on equal standing with all others. We must insert these words into our vocabularies and invoke them whenever we have the chance, like a new mantra of I AM WOMAN! Thanks, Carol


  7. Asphodel Long pointed out that the root ‘archy” is usually interpreted to mean ‘rule’ but has an older meaning of ‘primacy’, ‘coming first’. As in the Greek versions of the bible, where ‘en arche’ means ‘in the beginning”. So matriarchy could (and should) mean regarding mothers as primary, rather than rule by mothers.

    She also said once that the Matriarchy Study Group in the United Kingdom were quite clear that matriarchy was not just ‘patriarchy with an m’, but that it was difficult to get this point across, and so she had stopped using the term. This was twenty or thirty years ago, and I think understandings have moved on since then.

    And Keith Motherson used ‘fratriarchy’ rather than ‘patriarchy’ as a way of pointing out that male bonding among the bosses is an important factor that is not obvious when we refer to ‘patriarchy’. I think that is a useful innovation, though probably not so useful as to replace the more common word.


  8. I don’t remember ever using the word in the past, Gimbutas avoided it. But Goettner-Abendroth gave me courage to use it. I think of arche as first principle, based on how it is used in modern Greek.


Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: