Crete and Religion


There is no evidence yet of public temples in Crete at this date: the sacred places were in caves and on the peaks of certain mountains. Here the people brought offerings, and there was some form of public cult. There were also rustic shrines where some form of tree cult was maintained, with ritual dances to stimulate the epiphany of goddess or god. In palaces and some private houses there were domestic sanctuaries, but the palace seems also to have been the focal point of the people’s religion.

Religion centred on the forces of nature, and nature demons in the form of animals recur on paintings and on gems. The most popular divinity seems to have been a nature goddess, mistress of animals, who is sometimes guarded by lions, and sometimes associated with doves. The very beautiful snake-entwined figurines found in the palace at Knossos are probably the goddess who protects the palace, or her  priestess. Minoan religion seems to have been dominated by goddesses; the few representatives of gods suggest that they had a very secondary role, though in later times the Greeks gave a Cretan origin to Zeus, son of Rhea and nurtured in the Idaean cave. Two symbols were particularly associated with Cretan cults: the horns of consecration emphasised the religious nature of a place, and the double-axe was both a religious symbol and a cult object. It is represented in painting on the palace walls at Knossos and is widely used by potters as a decorative element in their designs; doubleaxes are a favourite form of dedication, and miniatures are manufactured for this purpose some even in gold. There is very little evidence of a darker side of religion, and it is significant that the Cretans seem to attach little importance to their burials; they do not need a rich store of possessions to accompany them to another world.


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