carol-christAt a coffee shop in Agios Thomas, Crete last month a perfect stranger offered to pay for the coffees and sodas of the 16 women on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. This spirit of great generosity is rarely experienced in the United States or other parts of Europe, but it is still common in rural Crete and some parts of Greece.

 In fact our group was in Agios Thomas because our bus driver Babis, also in a spirit of great generosity, insisted on stopping to show us his village when we were passing nearby. He guided us to see Roman rock cut tombs and arranged for the early Byzantine church to be opened. At the end of the our pilgrimage, Babis stopped the bus at a wooded glen beside a small church where he offered us his own homemake raki, wine, and olives, accompanied by local sheep cheese he had purchased while we were climbing a mountain. After every meal that we ate in local tavernas, we were offered bottles of cold raki, fruit, and sweets.

crete fruitsThis spirit of great generosity has long been commented on by travelers in Greece, who often speak of it as unexpected (for them) hospitality to the stranger or traveler. That it is, of course. Through the work of Heidi Goettner-Abendroth, I now understand that the famous Greek hospitality to the stranger has deep roots in matriarchal cultures. According to Goettner-Abendroth, equality of wealth is assured through the widely-practiced custom of gift-giving in matriarchal cultures. Those who have give to those who have less through rituals that also forge the bonds of community—which ensure that the circle of giving will continue. Often these rituals involve sharing food, followed by singing and dancing. The American Indian custom of “give-away” is part of this tradition.

crete traditional danceIn rural Crete the customs of gift-giving are not limited to kindness to strangers. Rather they are deeply woven into the fabric of communal life. Our group has been invited to two weddings that occurred during our stays in local villages. “Everyone” was invited to these weddings. It was no problem for the families of the bride and groom to include us, because the food and drink were not measured out in terms of numbers of plates and glasses. At one of the weddings, we were served spaghetti with sheep cheese and tomato and cucumber salad, followed by lamb stew, followed by goat stew, washed down with local wine, followed by raki. The band played all night, and everyone from the youngest to the oldest, danced.

I now see that the spirit of great generosity expressed in all of these events has its roots in matriarchal Ariadnian Crete c.7000-1450 BCE. Crete was originally settled c. 7000 BCE during the Neolithic period, which Marija Gimbutas called Old Europe. Crete has been conquered by patriarchal invaders for the last 3500 years—among them the Myceneans, the Dorians, the Hellenes under Alexander the Great, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Arabs, the Venetians, the Turks, and most recently the Nazis. Patriarchy was not only an external force. In 1943 the Nazis shot 500 civilians and burned 6 villages following the battle of Kato Symi. Such violence must also have been practiced by the Myceneans and all of those who followed them.  From Mycenean times forward, religious symbols became increasingly male-dominated, and they increasingly glorified violence. Family laws justified patriarchal rule and inheritance.  War was understood to be a “part of life.”

rakiHow did the Cretans manage to preserve the spirit of great generosity in the face of all that? This question was posed by Wendy Valhoff, one of our pilgrims, after her our coffee was paid for by the man who did not know us. She suggested that it must have required great commitment and courage to preserve ancient values for over 3000 years—in the spite of conquest, opposition, and violence. She is right. The survival of a spirit of great generosity rooted in cultural values that conquering powers sought to replace–for over 3000 years–is nothing less than miraculous.

It is not popular in academic circles to imagine that Ariadnian Crete was or even that it may have been “matriarchal.” Even those scholars who affirm that the Goddess was the primary religious symbol, speak of ruling elites and kings. They insist that only ruling elites could have built and administered the “palaces” such as the famous ones at Knossos and Phaistos. Indolent assumptions keep them from seeking evidence of great building projects not built by conscripted labor or slaves—such as Stonehenge–or imagining that principles of participatory democracy could have been practiced—as they were by the Iroquois.

kernos stone of gourniaWhat if we put the shoe on the other foot? What if we ask: how could the spirit of great generosity that we find in rural Crete have arisen in the context of patriarchy, private property, and war? The “rational” answer to this question may be that it would not have. A more “logical inference” may be that the spirit of great generosity still practiced in rural Crete is a “survival” of the values of Ariadnian Crete, the last flowering of the culture of Old Europe. This survival was made possible by the stubborn unwillingness of male and female Cretans to give up the matriarchal value of great generosity they have passed down in an unbroken line for more than 9000 years! This thought gives me hope for the future of humankind.

Carol P. Christ  has just come back from the fall Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she led through Ariadne Institute.  There she gave thanks for the gift of life on altars to Mother Earth.  It is not too early to sign up for the spring or fall pilgrimages for 2014.  Carol can be heard on a WATER Teleconference.  Carol’s books include She Who Changes 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.


  1. This is one of the many reasons why I enjoyed Greece/Crete so much. My lovely new friend from Cyrpus who came to my place for an organic gardeners mini market and pizza day last week, told me that my and my husband’s generosity and hospitality reminded her of what you find in her culture. What a lovely comment! Great article Carol!


  2. Thanks for this great post, Carol. There’s nothing I like better than sharing a meal, or a sandwich, with a stranger, wherever I am. People are so surprised, and touched by that. I just think “well, I have enough to share,” and love to talk to people. Food and drink are great levellers in our journey through life.


  3. Carol — I love this thought and this awareness of subtle cultural differences. More and more we are swamped by the homogenized patriarchal overlord culture so that these differences are lost. I am glad you still see it. I also have a question. Your view of generosity on Crete reminds me of the attitude of hospitality in the Odyssey, where the culture’s code of conduct required people to open their houses to strangers and in effect, become hotels for travelers since hotels didn’t exist. You say the ‘rational’ answer is that patriarchal mindsets could not create a value of generosity. Would you argue that this code of hospitality was also a vestige of Cretan generosity or just an imposed value by men who needed a comfortable way to travel before SUVs and Marriotts?


  4. I suppose it depends on the context. The value of generosity itself would have been a holdover, but if a group of soldiers turned up and took over and ate you out of house and home, well that would probably be a form of patriarchal war culture.


    1. Which is pretty much what happened to Penelope. Patient, clever, skilled in weaving, she shares some of the cunning of her husband. But getting rid of the “suitors” requires a male champion. Had Oddyseus not returned, perhaps Telemeches would have become the warrior to free her. But removing the male exploiters was beyond her strength. Which is surely one of the reasons that in “real life” strength in battle continued to be respected. Homer is quite capable seeing non-patriarchal viewpoints– these visions slip in beside the set pieces of battle. Were it not for those battle scenes, however, the epics would most likely have been lost to us.


      1. Yes Cathleen, and as I recall the suitors were said to have been “eating up” the “substance” (probably periousia or ousia) of Odysseus. In this case the whole story is framed in terms of male patriarchal inheritance and if O. does not come home, who will inherit or steal it.


  5. Yes, even on mainland Greece this culture survives. A while back I took a tour of some of the ancient sites of Greece, and on that tour we too were spontaneously invited to a wedding where everyone ate and danced the night away. Our whole bus full! What a memorable evening. I still remember the dancing, and long ago lost memories of most of the ancient sites. I was so afraid that the financial upheavals in the country in recent years may have cast a shadow on these splendid customs, and I so glad to hear that customs have flourished. I have always attributed this spirit of generosity to a rural setting, in opposition to a city. I think the spirit of hospitality and friendship still flourish in many rural areas of the world, but that the congestion of cities has simply wrung it out of our souls. Everyone should be allowed to experience the incredible joy of giving so openly and so joyously — it changes us forever. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful experience in Crete.


    1. I agree that such customs flourish in different ways in other rural settings. Let us not forget that “paganism” continued in the countryside in Europe long after it was stamped out in the cities. Perhaps in other contexts as well the spirit of great generosity bubbles up from the underground stream of matriarchal cultures.


  6. Carol, your post brought back so many wonderful memories of my own travels in Kriti. Thank you for sharing. I am in complete agreement with your premise, and from my own experience would suggest that the transmission of Ariadnian customs from one generation to the next is largely thanks to our Greek mothers and fathers who teach their children the importance of sharing and hospitality by example. Today being the one year cross-over day for my mom, I find myself reminiscing of the many cultural traditions she passed on to me; mindful of their roots in Ariadnian society!


  7. Once while traveling in Crete, waiting for a bus outside of Heraclion , a smiling woman was waiting with her family on the way to market with the produce in their truck. When she saw my battered torn Greek Tourist Bag, with Aphrodite Rising on it, She took out a needle and thread, and sewed the shoulder string securely back on – now if that was not matriarchal generosity, I don’t know what is.



  8. Thank you, Carol, for reminding me of Heide Goettner-Abendroth’s work. I am struggling to put the finishing touches on my novel The Swallow and the Nightingale (a fable about a 4,000 year old secret brought through time by the birds)(you all can pretty easily guess what that secret is). It’s actually 4 stories, the third story being my attempt to capture this Ariadnian society and its values. If anyone would like to read an advanced galley copy (some on this website have already done so), let me know. I’d love feedback to know if I am capturing the values correctly. Write to me at and I can send you an ebook version or perhaps a paperback version. Click on my name above to learn more about it.


  9. The pictures are delightfully welcoming. The generosity of Crete is not surprising, given the gracious beauty of the world these people take for granted. The tables with fruits and seeds, just because they are laid out here too at, symbolize for me all the individual contributions given here at FAR, so many, very different women and men so freely and bountifully sharing their life experiences, their travels, education and their creative gifts.

    There is a large fruit bowl, from Phaistos, Crete, illustrating the Hymn to Demeter. The bowl dates back to ca. 2000-1900 BCE, so it must be that the roots of the story go even deeper. Win or lose, women fought patriarchy in ancient Crete, faced into it directly, for a very long time.


  10. Beautiful thoughts and comments. I believe that the spirit of generosity and cooperation is hard wired into our genes. As the mothers knew, we thrive by cooperation. This newer patriarchal concept of competition and domination hurts and destroys us. But our true spirit survives as shown by the kindness of people in many places.


  11. Thanks, Carol, for this suggestive post. Whether or not Cretan generosity is the continuation of ancient matriarchal values or just contemporary matriarchal values, it’s clearly part of the gift-giving paradigm, and not part of the individualism of the patriarchal paradigm. Reading it, I remembered traveling in the 1970s on the Greek island of Corfu when my sister lived there with her newborn and his French father. A woman came out of her house to greet us and give my new nephew baby clothes in one village, and we were invited into a woman’s house for tea in another village, all in the course of two days. The second woman said she wanted to be hospitable to us, hoping that her son, who was in the U.S., would be treated kindly as well. It was eye-opening for me, and I fantasized about walking around the Greek islands with a donkey to carry our bags and meet people as we went. My husband and I never did it, because I never made the time to learn the language.


  12. Generosity is of this kind really is about women doing the cooking, serving and cleaning up… kind of like the hospitality women are supposed to do at Super Bowl time, where they cook, clean up and serve the males of the tribe.

    I’d say that hospitality in a woman centric place is about reciprosity, while in a male context is about ownership of labor. It would be hard to measure hospitality in one place compared to another, and then there is the hospitality of lesbians everywhere who provide safe places to stay, fine meals and good company free of heteroesexual oppressors.


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