Minoan Crete frescoe—1500 B.C., Knossos, Crete

The Neolithic (Crete)

(Also known as The Stone Age 10,000 BC- 5500 BC)

The Discovery of Agriculture— An enormous change in how human energy was activated— after 2 million years of hunting and gathering, we began to cultivate the soil and breed domestic animals, and to weave and make pots to store food for the first time. And we began to stay in one place and build houses, temples, and villages of a permanent communal life. The last glaciers receded, the climate warmed from frozen tundra to fertile river valleys and pastures. Humanity made great discoveries, which gave them a new relationship to the universe. We were released from the need to live so totally at the mercy of nature when we discovered that we could plant seeds. A new spirit of conscious co-operation was born.

The movement of consciousness is one of differentiation and proliferation, but there is NO loss of the original sense of unity, which is now explicitly explored through the myth of the Goddess. Throughout the time of the Paleolithic—(5,000 years)—the universe was organic, alive, and sacred, and all life on earth was seen as Her children. We have the same recognition of an essential relationship between an invisible order that governs the moon, birth, and death, and a visible order—embodied in cycles of human, animal, plant—the seasons, the agricultural year.

The lunar cycle offered a way to comprehend how a seed turns to flower and fruit and dies and returns regenerated, and the four seasons reflect the four phases of the moon, and the goddess. The cyclical pattern could be followed in the rounds of sowing and reaping, enlarging on the myth of the moon, but woman continue to embody a sacrality, as her body gives birth and portrays the mysteries of creation, and thus, she is magical.

Women inventing almost everything in this time— agriculture, pottery, dyeing, weaving, gathering herbs and creating healing potions. Women owned the fields. It is womyn who noticed, in their homebound, child-caring roles, that seeds returned the following year, and collected and planted them. A food surplus allowed for more art and new expressions.

All across the world, from India to Eastern Europe to Egypt and Russia, a singular cultural matrix evolves simultaneously. Not of worshipping tribal gods—only a universally-worshipped goddess. The Goddess of Vegetation arises—birds, snakes, butterflies, ram, dog, pig represents the energies. Meaders, spirals, net-like patterns, zig-zags represent the alphabet that describes the goddess’s powers.

Old Europe— The brilliant archeologist, Marija Gimbutas unearthed the treasures of the Neolithic and blew the world view of early civilizations apart in a place she called Old Europe. (7000-3500 BC), providing and revealing  a lost link connecting the Paleolithic with the Bronze Age. Because of Agriculture, settlements grew into villages, and villages into towns that housed several thousand people. The art of the time has a direct continuity to the Paleolithic cave paintings, and extended thru the new media of pottery, weaving and sculpture.

Social status was equal between men and women, and inheritance passed through the mother. There was peace and prosperity for 2,000 years until the first Kurgan (Indo-European) invasions in 4500 BC. Before this there is no evidence—archeologically, or in art—of fortification, weapons, or hierarchical organization. No pictures depicting war. Just the beauty and sanctity of Life, who’s primary purpose was not to conquer, to rank, or to fear & obey gods.

There was no distinction, as there will be in the Bronze Age, between the goddess that brings life and the goddess that brings death. As with the Paleolithic, the Neolithic too felt an experience of both life and death as a Unity through the image of the Great Goddess.

A dual goddess figure appears—the mother and daughter—she who has borne life and she who carries the life to come. Demeter and Persephone come thousands of years later to tell this story. The totality is also rendered, of two sisters— in Mesopotamia— as Inanna and Erishkigal, and in Egypt, as Isis and Nephthys.

Goddess images and associations are the bird, the egg, the fish, & the serpent. Since all things come from the Goddess, images also include men, who’s symbols are represented as a disembodied penis, or as the bull. The god will come to represent the cut down grain to be reborn and the crescent shape of the sickle is for the moon.

Old Europe flowered undisturbed till 4500 BC when nomadic people who worshipped sky gods with thunderbolts and axes rode in on domesticated horses, and life changed forever. Towns and villages disintegrated, shrines, sculptures, symbols and script vanished, along with art. The use of vivid colors disappeared everywhere but Greece, Minoa and Myceanae, and Crete, where the old traditions continued for 3,000 more years, until 1500 BC.

There were 3 waves of Kurgan invasions, causing ceaseless flight and disruption and suffering. This can be compared to events in the 20th C in this same area.

The invaders imposed a culture that was stratified, pastoral, mobile, and war-oriented on a culture that was agricultural, sedentary, egalitarian, and peaceful. Their social system was hierarchical, with a male priesthood and male domination. They practiced human and animal sacrifice and immolated living wives, children, and slaves of their dead chiefs. We are the inheritors of 2 utterly different visions of the world, and our mythology follows the legacy of this conflict.

Minoan Crete— Crete wasn’t discovered until the turn of the early 1900’s, by Sir Arthur Evans. Symbols for the Crete goddesss are bulls, butterflies, bees, and knots. Another important symbol is The Labyrinth— A walking maze of confusing paths and twisting passages, into the center and then back out again. The turnings represent the soul's wanderings, before or after death, where the obstacles in the way of reaching the center symbolize the sacrifices that  progressively make possible the way forward, until, at the center, the union creates transformation and the way out again. This is a ritual of rebirth, as the body walks the direction of involution and death, followed by evolution and birth. All synthesized into a holism in the act of walking the labyrinth.

Cretan civilization began at around 6,000 BC, when immigrants arrived, probably from Anatolia, and brought the Great Goddess with them.  This is how she traveled, with her people, from place to place. It lasted till well into the Bronze Age, when the rest of the civilized world displaced the Goddess substituting warlike male sky gods. The Dorian invasion in the 12th Century BC, ended Crete's sovereignty.  

Most of the later, famous Greek Goddesses originated in Crete. In fact, the whole progress of classic Greek mythology involved breaking down the one original Great Goddess into her many aspects and stereotyping these into partial goddesses, then turning them against each other.

Aphrodite- Goddess of Love
Athene- Goddess of Wisdom
Hecate- The Death Goddess
Artemis- the Virgin Hunter
Demeter- The mother
Persephone- The Daughter.

These were then set against each other, for example, the Trojan legend of Paris asked to choose the most beautiful among Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena. His choice precipitated a hundred years of war.  

Greek myth is full of this intellectual game, revealing the detachment of the Greek mind from what was once sacred. Under the original Great Goddess religion, this fragmentation couldn't happen because every face of the goddess was recognized as one aspect of the Unity. Greece was highly misogynistic. Every monster in Greek myth is female.

In fact, whatever is gracious and beautiful in Greek art came from Crete. They were mariners—they traveled as far as Scandinavia, Ireland, and Africa. They worshipped cowrie shells and other vulva-like sea shapes of the Goddess. In Africa, the cowrie was used in patriarchal societies as money.  In Buddhist Tantra, spiral shells are symbols of the mantra OM. People speculate that Crete was the legendary Atlantis.

The Bronze Age marks a revolution in social organization—The Great Goddess now has names, realtionships, and personalities. She also has a son, who is her lover, and the sacrificial year king.  All religious rites centered on ritual sexual rites. This ceremonial union ensured fertility and balance. With Patriarchy, this ceremonial view of sexual union ends. Patriarchy is based on secular, not sacred relationships, and on property possession, which utterly excludes the experience of ecstatic communion. Also, of course, patriarchy is based on the sexual passivity, weakness, and dependence of women.  Both the wife and the children are viewed as material property.

The Goddess was still supremely worshipped on Crete, and there are no signs of war. Everywhere are female figures, bare breasted, safe and proud, holding snakes and double axes. No one was poor, even the peasants had a high standard of living, and wealth was equally distributed among all, unlike in its contemporaries, Egypt or Babylon. There was the first bureaucracy, but it was used to improve living conditions. They had perfect drainage systems, domestic conveniences, extensive public works- they had paved roads, fountains, and reservoirs. Large scale irrigation. We hear about Roman roads and plumbing, but in Crete, it was much more life-enhancing than the monuments to authority and powe,r characteristic of Sumer, Egypt, China, and Rome.

Personal ambition was unknown, as no authors are attached to the art, anywhere. Nothing signed, although we know that they had personal seals.

Here, women are the central subjects of art, and they are shown mainly in the public sphere.  You will later hear that the city-state, or statism, requires hierarchy, warfare, and the subjugation of women, and it did, everywhere but on Crete. In S. Mesopotamia, we find rigid social stratification and the declining status of women by 3500 BC.  

Yet, like bonobos, the Cretans reduced and balanced their aggressiveness though a well- balanced physical life—sex, sports, and dancing created a spirit that set Crete apart as the essential difference. Still, male experts avoided or denied this difference for centuries. Misogynist scholars didn't see it, and didn't note it, and so it was up to feminist scholars to correct the record. Crete reveals evidence that they, like the Maltese Islanders, maintained at least 1,000 years of culture unbroken by war. The only other people with such a record were in S. India, and they were also Mother Goddess cultures.

Catal Huyuk, in Turkey, was the largest Neolithic site centered on the figure of The Great Goddess. The mother goddess sits with her lions, giving birth. This nameless Goddess is forerunner of the Great Goddesses of the Bronze Age—Innanah-Ishtar of Mesopotamia, Isis and Sekmet in Egypt, and Minoan unnamed goddesses all walk with lions, and are represented seated upon lion thrones. Much later, in the Iron Age, Cybele, Great Goddess of Anatolia and Rome, rides a chariot drawn by lions..

Horns of rams and bulls may represent the male principle, but birth and regeneration was still the greatest importance to life. When agriculture triumphed over hunting, the power of women increased. Much of the imagery here is about birth, “as if this culture wanted to catch life at the moment of its greatest drama.”  The goddess of life is still inseparable from the goddess of death.

The Megaliths— strewn across Europe, these circles of standing stones align human life with the cosmos. In around 5,000 BC, people with considerable engineering, geometric, and astronomical skills raised giant stones to form circle and burial chambers.

Standing stone circles are found in Malta, Brittany, Avebury (Wiltshire) as a testament to the myth of the Great Goddess.  There are nine hundred stone circles in Britain alone. They are lunar observatories, that were not built by slaves, but by the poor and rich together. Patterns of energy flow in a spiral. The stone offers an image of eternity that surpasses time, an image contained in the goddess. Erecting the stone was an act of remembering. Many are aligned with the heavens to reflect that all the events of the people’s communal lives, aligned with the cyclic drama taking place in the sky.

Winter Solstice sun sends a ray of sunlight to touch a great carved triple spiral in Stonehenge. All Neolithic imagery is inseparable from regeneration. Ritual dramas took place during the year, dances and processions imitating the cycles of life and renewal.

Silbury Hill, the largest man-made mound in the world, is a giant earth image of the goddess seated in the position of giving birth. Stonehenge is the most dramatic of the megalithic temples. First it had a lunar orientation, but was replaced around 2400 BC with a solar one. The society that built these temples lived within a universe imagined as a goddess, and was passionately concerned with participating in Her earthly and celestial rhythms. The stones helped them see and measure more precisely the movements of moon, sun, stars.

Malta: An island in the middle of Europe and Africa, containing the same massive goddess bodies as on Catyl Hayuk, as tho one vision informed them both.Temples follow the contours of the body of the goddess—birthing rooms, sleep chambers, and oracular temples, for healing and other rituals. The Hypogeum is a vertical labyrinth where 7,000 people were buried. There, we find huge spiral designs deep within tunnels cut into the earth with deer antlers and bones in red ochre, a sow suckling 13 piglets, and the earliest representation of the Tree of Life

Rhiane Eisler, in The Chalice and the Blade writes—Pre-history is a giant jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing. But the greatest obstacle to the accurate reconstruction of prehistory is that the prevailing paradigm (patriarchal scholarship and socialized gender norming) makes it nearly impossible to project the real pattern from the pieces we do have. Such a powerful cultural bias has led to so many mistakes!  Art historian Merlin Stone travelled the world looking at excavation after excavation, object after object, and found that by and large where there was evidence of an earlier time when women and men lived as equals, it was simply ignored.

So, 6000 years before Classical Greece, the people of the Neolithic developed the mythic imagery of the Paleolithic era into a vital cultural matrix which became the foundation of the great cultures of the Bronze Age. The imagery of the goddess, first formulated in the Paleolithic becomes a cultural unity in the Neolithic. The same ritual structures and images of the goddess found as far apart as Britain and Malta, Malta and Old Europe, Old Europe and Turkey, and the immense territories of the Middle East and North Africa.

The civilizations that laid the foundations of architecture, astronomy, mathematics, writing existed in places we thought were too isolated and too primitive to be able to communicate with each other. We have to give up the idea of primitive tribes lurking in prehistoric darkness awaiting our civilized minds to enlighten them. Universally, the places where the first great breakthroughs in material and social technologies were made had one feature in common— the worship of The Great Goddess.

The great psychologist, Carl Jung says, “The Neolithic must have registered as a deep layer of the soul, a vision of life as a constant celebration of being, which is lost to a de-sacralized society. The mytho-poeic perception of the sacredness and mystery of all there is on earth was totally available to these earlier goddess worshipping people.”

How can we re-sacralize, before it’s too late? How will we know when it’s too late?

Minoan Snake Goddesses— 1600 B.C., Knossos, Crete

back to list