Many classical authors wrote that the Lycians and the Carians had strong affinities with the
. Some claimed that island of Crete Lycia had once been a colony of that
thriving island culture. Upon Crete, Goddess figures have been found in various
Neolithic sites, though none as old as those on the mainland. On the Messara plain of Crete, the buildings
known as tholoi, extremely similar to
those of the Halaf site of Arpachiyah, have also been discovered. From Neolithic periods until the Dorian
invasion, Crete was the society that is most
repeatedly thought to have been matrilineal and possibly matriarchal.
The former director of the
School of Archaeology in Greece, Sinclair Hood, wrote in The Minoans, Crete
in the Bronze Age:
It seems likely enough that customs of the kind described as matriarchy (mother rule) persisted in
Crete. These arise
in primitive societies where people no not comprehend when a baby is born who
its father can be. The children are
therefore named after the mothers and all inheritance is through the female
line. Primeval traditions of this kind
survived in western Anatolia into classical
times. Thus among the Carians on the
west coast of Anatolia succession was still through the mother in the fourth
century BC and in Lycia, to the south-east of Caria, children were named after their mothers.
Charles Seltman wrote in 1952 of this highly developed culture of
Crete, whose beginnings preceded
biblical times by many centuries. He
stated that, upon Crete, matriarchy had been
the way of life. He discussed the sexual
freedom of women, matrilineal descent and the role of the "king,"
pointing out the high status of women in and around the land in which the Goddess
appears to have been the very core of existence.
"Among the Mediterraneans," wrote Seltman, "as a general rule society was built around the woman, even on the highest levels where descent was in the female line. A man became King or Chieftain only by a formal marriage and his daughter, not his son, succeeded so that the next chieftain was the youth who married his daughter…Until the northerners arrived, religion and custom were dominated by the female principle."
In The Aegean Civilization. Gustave Glotz, writing in 1925, examined the role of women on
Crete and asserted that women initially
controlled the form and rites of the religion.
He explains that.
The priestesses long presided over religious practices. Woman was the natural intermediary with divinities, the greatest of whom was women deified. Hosts of objects represent the priestesses at their duties…the participation of men in the cult was, like the association of a god with a goddess, a late development. Their part in religious ceremonies was always a subordinate one, even when the king became the high priest of the bull. As if to extenuate their encroachment and to baffle the evil spirits to whose power this act had exposed them, they assumed for divine services the priestly costume of women…while private worship was performed in front of small idols, in public worship the part of the Goddess was played by a woman. It is the high priestess who takes her place on the seat of the Goddess, sits at the foot of the sacred tree or stands on the mountain peak to receive worship and offerings from her acolytes and from the faithful.
Stylianos Alexiou, Director of the
Museum in Iraklion,
writes in the chapter on the religion of Crete in Minoan Civilization, "The alabaster throne at Knossos was intended, according to Helga
Reusch, for the Priestess-queen, who, flanked by the griffins painted on the
wall, personified the goddess. In the
Royal Villa the throne which is set apart like a kind of sacred altar, shows
that an actual person sat there to receive worship. According to Matz, when the queen descended
the palace stairs to the courts within the shrines, she represented an
authentic epiphany of the deity to the host of ecstatic worshippers."
In 1958 Jacquetta Hawkes presented some perceptive observations on the status of women on Crete, commenting that, although one may consider the possibility that the Goddess may have been a masculine dream, "Cretan men and women were everywhere accustomed to seeing a splendid goddess queening it over a small and suppliant male god, and this concept must surely have expressed some attitude present in the human society that accepted it." She continued by pointing out that the self-confidence of women and their secure place in society was perhaps made evident by another characteristic. "this is the fearless and natural emphasis on sexual life that ran through all religious expression and was made obvious in the provocative dress of both sexes and their easy mingling – a spirit best understood through its opposite: the total veiling and seclusion of Moslem women under a faith which even denied them a soul."
In viewing the artefacts and murals at
the Archaeological Museum at Iraklion and
other museums of Crete there is little doubt that the female divinity was for
several millennia the principal sacred being on Crete,
with women acting as Her clergy. It is
therefore interesting to follow the manifestations of the Cretan culture as
they later appeared in early Greece, about on thousand years before the
classical Golden Age (about 500-200 BC), with which we are more familiar.
The connection are made by the settlements of Crete and/or the mainland of Greece that are attributed to people known as the Mycenaeans, so named by archaeologists for one of the sites on the mainland – Mycenae. Clues to the origins of the people who inhabited these sites have presented scholars with some intriguing possibilities. Most believe that the Myycenaeans were a group of Indo-Europeans, perhaps the same people as the Acheans, or possibly those from an earlier migration of tribes from the north. Other scholars assert that they were already residents of
Crete and that they
overthrew the previous government shortly before 1400 BC. Some relate them to the group known as the
Sea Peoples, while still others suggest that they were the Philistines or that
the Philistines were a branch of the Mycenaeans. There has been the suggestion that the
Mycenaens were related to the Hyksos, the "shepherd kings" who used
horse-drawn war chariots and had previously held Egypt under their rule for several
centuries. The Hyksos were driven out of
at much the same time as the Mycenaens first appeared.
Whatever their initial origins, the reason that the Mycenaeans are important to us here is that their culture, as we best know it, was partially Cretan and partially Greek. Most scholars believe that they carried the Cretan culture from Crete to
Greece. The Linear B tablets of the Mycenaeans, which
are inventory lists, found at the palace
of Knossos and all dated to the same
year, about 1400BC, used a language that scholars believe differed from those
previously used on Crete. After many years of debate, most authorities
accept that the language used these tablets (written with many of the symbols
and signs that had been used for an earlier language not yet deciphered, though
Gordon has offered a body of evidence suggesting that it was closely related to
the Canaanite language used in Ugarit) is an early form of Greek. If the Mycenaeans or their leaders were
originally Indo-European, as the tablets suggest, once they settled in Crete they soon adopted much of the subject matter and
the style of the crafts techniques, the style of dress, the manner of writing,
and the religion of the previous inhabitants of the island.
Cottrell tells us that, "Mycenaean art continued to reflect the "Minoan" culture of the Mediterranean peoples…whose system of writing they had adopted." R.W. Hutchinson of the University of Cambridge writes that, "By the middle of the second millennium, probably, Greeks were already settling in Crete, but only in comparatively small numbers, and these Mycenaean Greeks had already adopted many Creten cults and religious customs. Even on the mainland we find survivals from Minoan or least pre-Hellenic religion…
In the Catalog of Prehistoric Collections of the
Museum in Athens the curators point out, "In
Mycenaean religion, where the adoption of many Cretan features is obvious, we
may note above all the appearance of the Cretan nature goddess." In this vast museum is the collection of
artifacts discovered in the excavations of Mycenaean settlements on the
mainland of Greece, a collection highlighted by the intricate craftsmanship of
gold signet rings and seals that depict scenes of the Goddess and Her
priestesses – Scenes nearly identical with those produced in "Minoan"
Discussing the Linear B tablets, in which the names of several deities later known in classical Greece are briefly mentioned, Cottrell explains…there is also at Pylos [on the mainland] and at Knossos [on Crete] a frequent reference to Potia – "Mistress" or "Our lady"; these last inscriptions confirm what archaeologist has long suspected from the evidence on seals discovered on the mainland – that the Mycenaeans also worshipped the Minoan mother goddess."
The Mycenaeans inhabited and ruled Crete at the
shortly before a major
holocaust, possibly caused by an invasion or earthquake. These same people also founded many pre-Greek
cities on the mainland – and with them they brought the worship of the Cretan
Goddess. The Mycenaean Age is generally
placed between about 1450 and 1100 BC.
Its beginning date just before the period generally assigned to
Moses. It thrived for centuries before
the Greece of Homer and it is likely that it was of events during or just after
this period that Homer wrote. The quest
for Helen may well have been a quest for the legal rights to the throne of Palace of Knossos Sparta. Although classical Greece is so often presented as the
very foundation of our western culture and civilization, it is interesting to
realize that it actually came into being twenty-five centuries after the
invention of writing and was itself formulated and influence by the Near
Eastern culture that had preceded it by thousands of years.
Butterworth managed to accomplish with
Greece what Murray
had done with Egypt. By carefully tracing the lineage for the
royal houses, he ultimately showed that many of the greatest pre-Greek cities
which were essentially small nations, were originally matrilineal. He pointed out that Argos,
and Athens, as
well as other cities, at one time followed matrilineal customs of descent. He explains that this was the result of the
worship of the Goddess and Her Cretan origins, stating that Crete
itself was matrilineal and possibly even matriarchal.
His primary interest was in the patrilineal revolution, the time at which the patrilineal clans violently set about superimposing their customs upon those around them:
Matrilineality, though not universal in the Greek and
was widely spread…the effect of the system of succession to the kingship and to
the inheritance of property on the life and times was immense. The majority of the clans were matrilineal by
custom, and the greatest revolution in the history of early was that by which the custom
was changed from matrilineal to patrilineal succession and the loyalty of the
clan destroyed. Greece
From 3000 BC onward, priestesses had been portrayed in sculptures and appearing in murals and other artifacts of
strongly suggesting that it was women who controlled the worship. Crete was
later ruled by the Mycenaens, who then adopted their religion and many aspects
of their culture. Since the religious
artifacts of the Myceneeans depict the clergy of the Goddess as female, it is
quite probable that the women in the Mycenaean communities of Greece also
held this privilege. Butterworth
asserted that it was the women, especially the women of the royal houses, who
were the protectors of the religion. He
further explains that.
The attack upon the matrilineal clans destroyed the power of the clan world itself and with it, its religion…the history of the times is penetrated through and through with the clash of patrilineal and matrilineal as the old religious dynasties were broken, swept away and re-established…The matrilineal world was brought to an end by a number of murderous assaults upon the heart of that world, the Potia Mater (The Great Goddess) herself.
I cannot help but recall the Greek legend of the Goddess known as Hera, whose worship appears to have survived from Mycenaean times, and Her thwarted rebellion against Her newly assigned husband Zeus, surely and allegorical reminder of those who struggled for the primacy of the Goddess – and lost. Yet, according to Hawkes, many of the attitudes about the lowly position of the women of classical
were exaggerated by "the bias of nineteenth century
scholarship." She suggests that,
even in the classical period of Greece,
women retained some of their Cretan predecessors' freedom:
Just as in
Crete, women shared the power of the Goddess both
psychologically and socially; priestesses were of high standing and priestly
associations of women were formed round temples and holy places. There was an influential one for example
associated with the famous temple of Artemis (Diana) at .
At this city and indeed in Ephesus Ionia
generally, women and girls enjoyed much freedom. While women certainly won influence and
responsibility by serving at the temples and great state festivals of the
goddesses, there was also the liberation of the ancient cults. Respectable matrons and girls in large
companies would spend whole nights on the bare hills in dances which stimulated
ecstasy, and intoxication, perhaps partly alcoholic but mainly mystical. Husbands disapproved, but, it is said, did
not like to interfere in religious matters.