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Myths of Crete and Pre-Hellenic Europe, by Donald A. Mackenzie, [1917], at

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Pre-Hellenic Earth and Corn Mothers

Mythology and Floating Folk-beliefs--Legends of Egyptian Influence in Crete--Primitive Spirit Groups as "Holy Mothers"--Evidence from Modern Greece--Goddesses as Fairy Queens--The Great Mother of Gods, Demons, and Mankind--Twin Deities and Bisexual Deities--Cult of Self-created Great Father--Stages of Civilization reflected in Religious Beliefs--Female Demons of Modern Greece--The Pre-Hellenic and Hellenic Forms of Rhea, "Mother of the Gods--The Egyptian "Mothers" Neith and Nut--Earth Mother as a Serpent--Demeter as the "Barley Mother"--Rhea and the Cretan Snake-goddess--The Eleusinian Mysteries--The Mysteries of Crete and Egypt--Isis and Demeter--The Corn and Earth Goddesses of India --Demeter--Persephone Myth--Its Antiquity and Significance--The Later Tammuz--Adonis Myth--The Demeter of Phigalia--Pre-Hellenic Cult of the Earth Mother--Fusion of Myths of the Hunting Pastoral and Agricultural Periods--Osiris and Minos--Osiris and the Minotaur--Eponymus Ancestor as a Son of Earth --Minos and Pelasgus--First Man of "Lost Atlantis"--Tribal Forms of Animal-headed Gods.

IN a previous chapter 1 it has been shown that, during the Late Palæolithic and Neolithic Periods, the worship of a goddess of maternity, who was at once a destroyer and preserver, obtained among tribes of Eurafrican and Eurasian peoples, and that memories of her primitive savage character have been perpetuated in these islands in folk-tales and place-names until the present Age. The past similarly lives in the present in Crete and Greece, where it is still possible to find traces of the floating material from which Homeric and Thesiodic Mythology

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was framed. Herodotus pondered over this aspect of the problem and wrote: 1

Whence the gods severally sprang, whether or no they had existed from eternity, what forms they bore--these are questions of which the Greeks knew nothing until the other day, so to speak, for Homer and Hesiod were the first to compose Theogonies, and give their gods their epithets, to allot them their several offices and occupations, and describe their forms; and they lived but four hundred years before my time as I believe. 2

Herodotus received his information regarding the literary conception of the deities from three priestesses of the Dodonæans, who also said:

Two black doves flew away from Egyptian Thebes, and while one directed its flight to Libya, the other came to them. She alighted on an oak, and sitting there began to speak with a human voice, and told them that on the spot where she was, there should thenceforth be an oracle of Jove (Zeus). They understood the announcement to be from Heaven, so they set to work at once and erected a shrine. The dove which flew to Libya bade the Libyans to establish there the oracle of Ammon (Amon).

In Egypt Herodotus was given a different version of the legend. The priests of Jupiter (Amon) at Thebes said:

Two of the sacred women were once carried off from Thebes by the Phœnicians. The story went that one of them was sold into Libya, and the other into Greece, and these women were the first founders of the oracles in the two countries.

Herodotus also held that the names of some of the deities came from Egypt.

In early times the Pelasgi, as I know by information which I got at Dodona, offered sacrifices of all kinds, and prayed to the gods, but had no distinct names or appellations for them, since they had never heard of any. They called them gods (θεοὶ {Greek ðeoì},

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disposers), because they had disposed and arranged all things in such a beautiful order. After a long lapse of time the names of the gods came to Greece from Egypt, and the Pelasgi learnt them, only as yet they knew nothing of Bacchus, of whom they first heard at a much later date. Not long after the arrival of the names, they sent to consult the oracle at Dodona about them. This is the most ancient oracle in Greece, and at that time there was no other. To their question, "whether they should adopt the names that had been imported from the foreigners?" the oracle replied by recommending the use of the names of the gods, and from them the names passed afterwards to the Greeks. 1

These statements seem to bear out what the results of modern research tend to emphasize: that the systematized mythology was a creation of priests and. poets, and had a political as well as a religious significance. The most ancient conceptions and beliefs were perpetuated, however, by the masses of the people, and may still be winnowed from existing folk-beliefs and stories.

In Crete the dove and serpent goddesses appear to have evolved from primitive spirit groups. These were first conceived of as mothers. "The prominence of the idea of maternity in the Cretan religion", says Mr. Farnell, "is illustrated by the Cretan cult of 'Meteres', the 'Holy Mothers' who were transplanted at an early time from Crete to Engyon in Sicily." 2

In modern Greece the memory of the spirit groups still survives. Nymphs and Nereids haunt mountains and valleys, oceans and streams, and are ruled over by the "Queen of the mountains", the "Queen of the shore", or primitive forms of the owl-headed Athene or the beautiful and blood-thirsty Artemis. They are, in short, exceedingly like our fairies, who obey the commands of Queen Mab. Some of the Celtic goddesses exist in

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groups: "Proximæ (the kinswomen); Dervonæ (the oak spirits); Niskai (the water spirits); Mairæ, Matronæ, Matres or Matræ (the mothers); Quadriviæ (the goddesses; of cross-roads). The Matræs, Matræ, and Matronæ are often qualified by some local name. Deities of this type appear to have been popular in Britain, in the neighbourhood of Cologne, and in Province. . . . In some parts of Wales 'Y Mamau' (the mothers) is the name for the fairies." 1 The "seven Hathors" of Egypt who presided at birth were similarly "mothers" and "fates". The "Golden Aphrodite" of Greece was chief of the "deathless fates". Demeter's priestesses, the earthly representatives of her nymphs, conducted a religious ceremony at weddings, as a Cos inscription shows. 2 Fairies in our folk-tales are so fond of pretty children that they endeavour to steal them, and, when they are successful, substitute changelings. The Greek Nereids have, according to modern folk-belief, similar propensities. 3

Ancient and modern evidence tends to emphasize the widespread prevalence among the peoples of the Mediterranean race of the belief in the female origin and control of life. The primitive "queens" appear to have developed into goddesses, who were differentiated in localities to accord with human experiences and habits of life. Among the goddesses one was regarded as the Great Mother, who gave birth to the chief deities, male and female, the demons and the ancestors of mankind. "One is the race of men", sang Pindar, "with the race of gods; for one is the mother that gave to both one breath of life; yet sundered are they by powers wholly

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diverse, in that mankind is as naught, but heaven is builded of brass that abideth ever unshaken." 1

Sometimes the Great Mother is of dual personality. The Egyptian sisters Isis and Nepthys were both mothers of Osiris, as has been indicated--"the progeny of the two cows Isis and Nepthys". In the Indian epic the Máhabhárata, the monarch Jarasandha was similarly reputed to be the joint son of the two queens. The two parts of his body were united by Jara, the household genius, after birth, and his name signifies "united by Jara". 2 Two goddesses were associated with the Sumerian god Tammuz. These were Ishtar and Belit-sheri. Ishtar was his "mother", and he became her lover; Belit-sheri was his "sister". Isis was at once the "mother", "sister", "wife", and "daughter" of Osiris. Demeter and Kore, and Demeter and Persephone were Greek pairs who had similar functions. The model of a Mycenæan shrine discovered by Schliemann is surmounted by two doves which were, no doubt, sister goddesses. Images of goddesses holding a dove in either hand have also been found.

Another mystic conception was that the Great Mother was bi-sexual. The Libyan Neith was occasionally depicted as androgyne. Isis was the Egyptian "bearded Aphrodite", "the woman who was made a male", as one of the religious chants states, "by her father, Osiris". 3 The Babylonian Ishtar and the Germanic Freya were likewise double-sexed. This idea that deities were abnormal and superhuman applied not only to goddesses. One of the Orphic hymns sets forth:

Zeus was the first of all, Zeus last, the lord of lightning;
Zeus was the head, the middle, from him all things were created;
Zeus was Man and again Zeus was the Virgin Eternal.

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[paragraph continues] Adonis similarly was "both maiden and youth". The Babylonian Nannar (Sin), the moon-god, was "father" and "mother" of gods and men. So was the Syrian Baal. In India Shiva is sometimes depicted with the right side female and the left male. The Persian Mithra was a god and goddess combined. Herodotus, in fact, appears not to have known that he was other than a female deity. He says the Persians worshipped Urania, "which they borrowed from the Arabians and Assyrians. Mylitta is the name by which the Assyrians know this goddess, whom the Arabians call Alitta, and the Persians Mithra". 1

At what remote period this conception became prevalent it is impossible to ascertain. It may have had origin in the Palæolithic Age, when bearded steatopygous female figurines were carved from ivory similar to those found in the pre-Dynastic graves of Egypt. Traces of the doctrine involved are found among the Esquimaux, whose artifacts so closely resemble those of the Magdalenian stage of culture, and among certain North American tribes. Another view is that the conception resulted from the early fusion of god and goddess cults, and of the rival fundamental ideas connected with them. Babylonia may have been the region from which the mystical doctrine was transferred to India on the one hand and Syria on the other. According to Richard Burton 2 "the Phœnicians spread their androgynic worship over Greece".

In contrast to the conception of the peoples of the goddess cult, that life and the world was of female origin, was that of the peoples of the god cult, who believed that the first Being was the Great Father. The Scandinavians, or a section of them, believed that Ymer was the earth father, and that the underworld deities had origin from

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the perspiration of his armpits, while the demons sprang from his feet. One of the several creation myths in India sets forth that the world-giant Purusha was, like Ymer, the source of all life. The highest caste, the Brahman, sprang from his mouth, the second, the Kshatriya, from his arms, the third, the Vaisya, from his thighs, and the fourth, the Sudra, from his feet. 1 In Anatolia the Armenoid Hatti were father-worshippers. During the period of their political supremacy their "Lord of Heaven", a sky and atmospheric deity with solar attributes, was all powerful. "With the Hittites", says Professor Garstang, "fell their chief god from his predominant place. . . . But the Great Mother lived on, being the goddess of the land. Her cult, modified in some cases profoundly, by time and changed political circumstances, was found surviving at the dawn of Greek history in several places in the interior." 2 Zeus of the Hellenic Greeks was similarly a father god and was imposed, as has been indicated, on the pre-Hellenic inhabitants of Greece after conquest. In Egypt Ptah, the god of Memphis, who wielded a hammer like the Hittite father god, and was, therefore, a thunderer also, was a "perfect god". At the beginning he built up his body and shaped his limbs ere the sky was fashioned and the world set in order. "No father begot thee", a priestly poet declared, "and no mother gave thee birth. Thou didst fashion thyself without the aid of any other being." 3

There is no trace of beliefs of the father cult in Crete. The Hellenic Zeus, as has been shown, was little more than a name on the island. It was applied to the young god who was the son of the Great Mother.

The various representations of the Cretan goddess

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suggest that, if they had no totemic significance, she was supposed to assume various aspects at different seasons and under different circumstances. As the Lady of Serpents she may have been the goddess of the Underworld, and as the Lady of Trees and Doves, the goddess of birth and fertility. She was also a mountain-goddess who wielded an axe or wand. It is possible that she was never sharply defined, and was closely associated with the vague spirit group of mothers--the "meteres", over whom she may have presided as "queen".

All the ancient deities reflected the habits of life of their worshippers, and retained traces of savage conceptions after they assumed benevolent attributes among cultured peoples. The Cretan Great Mother was evidently the goddess of the Neolithic folk who adopted the agricultural mode of life and kept domesticated animals. She was the earth mother and the corn mother, and the protector and multiplier of flocks and herds. As the Neolithic folk were also huntsmen, their goddess was associated with wild animals. She had evidently existence before Osiris taught his people how to sow grain and cultivate fruit-trees. When we find her guarded by lions it becomes evident that she was the dreaded being who had to be propitiated, like Black Annis of Leicester. This savage aspect of her character must not be lost sight of. It still survives in Greek folk-belief. The mother who gave origin to demons as well as gods was evidently, like the Babylonian Tiamat and the blood-thirsty Ishtar, possessed of primitive demoniac traits. The peasants of Greece at the present day remember Lamia, the "Queen of Libya" who was loved by Zeus. Her children were robbed by Hera, and she "took up her abode in a grim and lonely cavern, and there changed into a malicious and greedy monster, who in envy and despair stole and killed the

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children of more fortunate mothers". Another kind of Lamia, the Gello, transforms herself into a fish, a serpent, a kite, or a skylark, and devours babes also. When one of these demons is slain, no grass grows where her blood falls. 1 In Gaelic folk-tales no grass grows under whin-bushes or holly-trees, because the Cailleach has touched the ground there with her hammer.

The Cretan mother-goddess appears to have possessed the attributes of the various goddesses who were differentiated in classic mythology. The pre-Hellenic Mother, one of whose names appears to have been Rhea, was taken over by the Greeks and given a place in the Olympian group. Her original character became vague. She was seated on a throne beside which her lion crouched in repose, and her ancient functions were performed by her children: Hestia, who resembled the Roman Vesta; Demeter, who resembled the Roman Ceres; Hera, who resembled the Roman Juno; and the gods Zeus and Poseidon, her sons, who link with the Roman Jupiter and Neptune. Her husband was the savage Cronos, who devoured his children like so many other primitive deities in various lands.

But the Hellenic Rhea, although called the "Mother of the Gods", was not a self-created being, but the daughter of Gaia, the earth mother, and Uranus, the sky father, who equate with the Aryo-Indian Dyaus, and Prithivi, the sky father and earth mother of Indra. In Egypt, on the other hand, the mother goddess was Nut of the sky, and the father the earth-god Seb. The Libyan Neith, however, who appears to have been a form of Nut, was an earth, sky, and atmospheric goddess. Her worshippers made her declare:

I am what has been, what is, and what shall be,

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and those of Nut said of that Great Mother:

She hath built up life from her own body.

It would appear that the pre-Hellenic and Cretan Rhea was at once Gaia, Demeter, Artemis, and the earlier Aphrodite, and that she was originally identical with the pre-Hellenic Athene and Artemis, and the Phrygian Cybele.

Gaia was vaguely defined, yet belief in her was widespread. She was a divine prophetess, a fate, a power behind the gods. Like all primitive deities, including the Sumerian Tiamat, she had to be propitiated or fought against. Apparently one of her incarnations; was the Delphian snake, others being snakes of different cults which were oracles. The priestesses who drank the blood of bulls and entered sacred caves to prophesy were believed to hold commune with the earth mother, the divine revealer. The wisdom with which serpents were supposed to be endowed was of great antiquity. They were also protectors of tribes and households, and symbols of fertility. In Egypt Isis and Nepthys had serpent forms. The tutelary goddess of the Delta was Uazit, the winged serpent, and oracles were ascribed to her. She was the guardian of the child Horus when Set sought for him with murderous intent. Snakes, "dragons", and "worms" were protectors of hidden treasure. Sacrifices were offered to these blood-thirsty monsters, so that they might be propitiated, either as protectors of households or givers of crops and edible animals. The ancient custom of slaying a human being or animal when foundation-stones were laid or seeds were sown appears to have been connected with the belief that the earth genius must be sacrificed to so that her goodwill and co-operation might be secured. In the snake-goddess of Crete we should

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recognize, it would appear, the anthropomorphic form of the primitive Gaia.

The earth mother who possessed stores of hidden treasure was, as Anesidora, "she who sends up gifts". One of her gifts was the food-supply. She provided grass for flocks and herds, caused trees to blossom and bear fruit, and to her agricultural worshippers gave rich harvests.

The specialized form of the goddess most closely associated with crops was Demeter. Meter signified "mother", but the meaning of the prefix is uncertain. According to W. Mannhardt deai was the Cretan word for "barley", and the goddess was the "Barley Mother". 1 Others hold that the prefix is a dialectic variant of the word for "earth".

But although the etymology of her name may remain doubtful, her real character is otherwise revealed. Melanippides and Euripides identified her with Rhea when they called her "mother of the gods", and the fact that the "earth snake" was invariably associated with her shows that she shared the attributes of Gaia, the elder "mother", and resembled closely the snake-goddess of Crete. She was associated with tree-worship, and the story was told that she punished Erysichthon by causing him to suffer dreadful hunger for cutting down trees in her sacred grove. In one of the hymns she is petitioned to gift the apple crop. As tree-goddesses were also water-goddesses, it is interesting to find that springs were dedicated to her in Attica and elsewhere, and that Euripides referred to her wanderings over rivers and the ocean. This poet also associated her with mountains, so that she must have been a guardian of animals like the primitive Scoto-Irish Cailleach, and a mountain-goddess like the Cretan "lady" who was depicted on the summit of a high peak.

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It was chiefly, however, as a provider of the food-supply that Demeter was addressed. She was asked for gifts of cattle and corn and fruit, and bulls and cows were sacrificed to her. Consequently she was a deity of fertility and a love-goddess. The pig was also sacrificed to her as to other earth spirits. As has been stated, pork was tabooed in Crete, and appears to have been eaten sacrificially only. Demeter's connection with the underworld emphasizes her character as a Fate--a goddess of birth and death, who controlled and measured the lives of mankind.

Demeter's great festival was called the Eleusina, the legendary explanation being that it was first celebrated at Eleusis, in Attica. One of its features was the mystic ceremony of initiation. Little is known regarding the Eleusinian mysteries. It would appear, however, from stray literary references to, and sculptured scenes of, the ceremony performed, that it was of elaborate character. The candidate fasted, and bathed in the sea with a young pig which was to be sacrificed. Having thus been purified, he entered the sacred place, where he drank of a posset prepared from the "first fruits"--barley or grapes. For a time his head and shoulders were covered by a cloth, so that he could not see what was happening about him. Probably he was terrorized. A priest instructed him, and he performed symbolic acts, and took vows.

The ceremony appears to have had a religious significance. "Whoever goes uninitiated to Hades", says Plato, "will lie in mud, but he who has been purified and is fully initiate, when he comes thither will dwell with the gods " 1

According to Diodorus Siculus, 2 the Cretans professed that they gave the mysteries to Greece, and that they

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were performed openly on their island and communicated to everyone in ancient times. The same writer says that the Cretans received the mysteries from Egypt, the mysteries of Isis being the same as those of Demeter and the mysteries of Osiris the same as those of Dionysus. 1 Plutarch expresses a similar view. 2 Herodotus, referring to the festival at Busiris, in the Delta, says that "it is in honour of Isis, who is called in the Greek tongue Demeter". 3 Apparently there were strong resemblances between the mysteries of Isis and those of Demeter.

It does not follow, however, that the Cretans had no anthropomorphic goddess, and knew naught of the mysteries until they began to trade with Egypt across the Mediterranean Sea. The resemblance between Isis and Demeter may have been due to both Egyptians and Cretans having inherited similar beliefs from their common ancestors in the area where the Mediterranean race was characterized. As much is suggested by the fact that there existed apparently in Crete, and undoubtedly in pre-Hellenic Greece, an ancient myth in which Demeter is associated, not with the young god Dionysus, who links with Osiris, Attis, and Tammuz, but with a young goddess. This myth did not survive in Egypt; that, however, it existed there at one time is suggested by the close association of Isis and Nepthys, the joint mothers of Osiris. In India the story of Sita, who was an incarnation of Lakshmi, is suggestive in this connection. This heroine of the Rámáyana, having served her purpose on earth, departs to the Underworld.

The earth was rent and parted, and a golden throne arose,
Held aloft by jewelled Nagas 4 as the leaves enfold the rose,
And the Mother 5 in embraces held her spotless, sinless child.

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Then they vanished together. "In the ancient hymns of the Rig Veda", says Romesh C. Dutt, "Sita is simply the goddess of the field furrow which bears crops for men. We find how that simple conception is concealed in the Rámáyana, where Sita, the heroine of the epic, is still born of the field furrow, and after all her adventures returns to the earth." 1

The daughter of Demeter was Kore-Persephone. The ancient legend regarding the abduction of the young goddess is as follows.

It chanced that one day Persephone, daughter of Demeter, was wandering in a flowery meadow gathering lilies and violets, roses and crocuses, and hyacinths and narcissuses. Suddenly the earth opened, and Pluto, god of Hades, appeared, seated in a golden car. Seizing the maiden, he carried her off. Her cries were heard by the golden-haired Demeter, who assumed a dark mantle and wandered over mountains, rivers, and oceans, searching in vain for her daughter. On the tenth day she met Hecate, who conducted her to the sun-god. This all-seeing deity informed Demeter that Pluto had carried off Persephone with the consent of Zeus. On hearing this, Demeter withdrew from Olympus, and she vowed never to return until her daughter was restored to her. She also cast a blight upon the earth, and men ploughed and sowed in vain; no barley grew, nor did trees yield fruit. The goddess retired to Eleusia, and the king's daughters found her sitting at the Maiden's Well below an olive-tree. Celeus, the king, received her hospitably, and she became the nurse of his sons Triptolemus and Demophon. She desired to make Demophon an immortal, and put him one night in a fire; but his mother screamed aloud, with the result that the spell was broken, and he perished.

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[paragraph continues] Similarly, Isis thrust into the fire the infant son of the King of Byblus, whom she had been engaged to nurse, when searching for Osiris. 1 Demeter compensated the parents for their loss (or sacrifice) by giving Triptolemus seeds and instructing him in the art of agriculture. She also conferred upon him a chariot which was drawn by winged dragons. Pausanias says that she instructed Triptolemus and his father in the performance of her rites and mysteries. 2

Many stories were related regarding Demeter's wanderings. One was that she fled from Poseidon as a mare, and that he assumed the form of a stallion. She afterwards became the mother of the horse Areion, which had the gift of speech. Hesiod, however, makes Medusa the spouse of Poseidon in his horse form and the mother of the winged Pegasus.

In Phigalia Pausanias 3 saw the cave "sacred to Black Demeter". Here she was fabled to have dwelt for a time sorrowing for her daughter. Meanwhile the blight remained upon the earth, and mankind were perishing from famine. The gods searched for, and Pan discovered, her hiding-place. Then Zeus sent the Fates to her, and when he was informed that she would not remove the blight until Persephone was restored to her, he commanded that she should be released by Pluto. The god of Hades accordingly restored Persephone to her mother. She was brought from Hades by Hermes, and was received with glad heart by her mother, who at once restored fertility to the earth.

Zeus, however, had made it a condition of Persephone's release that she had not eaten aught in Hades. To secure her return, Pluto gave her a pomegranate seed before her departure, and when this fact was revealed the young

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goddess had to return again to the gloomy Underworld. Once more Demeter sorrowed, and cursed the earth in her wrath. A compromise had, therefore, to be effected, and Zeus decreed that Persephone should spend one-third of each year on earth with her mother, and the remaining two-thirds with Pluto in Hades.

In this Demeter-Persephone myth the young goddess plays the same part as Tammuz and Adonis, who spent part of the year on earth with one goddess, and part of the year in the Underworld with the other. She is not slain and dismembered like these gods and the Egyptian Osiris. The part of Osiris is taken by Triptolemus, who received the grain seeds from Demeter, as Osiris, the deified king, received them from Isis. It is evident, therefore, that if the Cretans and pre-Hellenic Greeks borrowed the mysteries from Egypt, they did so before the Osirian myth was fully developed-that is, before the migration from North Africa of the tribes of the Mediterranean race. It is unnecessary to assume that the earliest agricultural settlers in Greece and Crete had no knowledge of the Mysteries. Even the Australian savages have their initiation and other rites.

It is evident that the primitive form of Demeter in Arcadia bore a close resemblance to the repulsive hags of England and Scotland. Like the snake-goddess of Crete, she retained in her symbols her early demoniac traits. Pausanias 1 tells that in the cave of Phigalia the ancient figure of the Black Demeter was of wood; it was seated on a rock and had a mare's head, 2 which had above it the figures of snakes and other monsters. She held a dolphin in one hand and a dove in the other. When this statue

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was accidentally burnt, the Phigalians neglected the festivals and ceased to offer up sacrifices. Then a terrible famine afflicted the land. An oracle was consulted, and the people were informed that they were being punished for forgetting that Demeter had introduced among them the cultivation of corn.

Professor Frazer, 1 dealing with the form of the myth as it is given in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, regards Demeter and Persephone as personifications of the corn--the former as the old corn of last year and the latter as the seed corn in autumn and sprouting in spring. Persephone's period in Hades was the period in which the sprouting seed remained under the earth. 2 The Black Demeter appears to have been the personification of the barren earth in winter, the Green Demeter the goddess of growing corn, and the Yellow Demeter the harvest deity. In their seasonal festivals the ancient agriculturists rejoiced and sorrowed alternately in sympathy with the goddess.

It would appear that the various names of the ancient earth mother were in turn individualized as separate deities. "As pre-Homeric offshoots of Gaia", says Dr. Farnell, "we must recognize Demeter, Persephone, and Themis." 3 Themis was the Titan who became the second wife of Zeus. Kore appears, too, to have been originally identical with Demeter. "From the two distinct names", Dr. Farnell considers, "two distinct personalities arose. . . . Then as these two personalities were distinct, and yet in function and idea identical, early Greek theology must have been called upon to define their relations. They might have been explained as sisters, but as there

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was a male deity in the background, and Demeter's name spoke of maternity, it was more natural to regard them as mother and daughter. And apart from any myth about Demeter's motherhood, Persephone-Kore might well have been a very early cult title, meaning simply the girl-Persephone, just as Hera, the stately bride mother, was called, 'Hera the girl' at Stymphalos . . . or the facts could be brought into accord with another supposition. 'Kore' may have been detached from such a ritual name as Demeter-Kore, 'the girl-Demeter'." 1

In Crete, therefore, the snake-, dove-, and mountain-goddesses may have been seasonal forms of the Mother Earth. Until the inscriptions are read, however, it cannot be said with certainty whether or not they developed into separate personalities. All that can be said is that the legends which associate Rhea and Demeter with Crete are highly suggestive in this connection. Athene, a pre-Hellenic goddess, who was associated with the ubiquitous earth-snake, may have been a specialized form of Gaia also. Like the Libyan Neith, she developed as a war- and fertility-goddess, and was identified with that deity by Herodotus and other writers. The animals sacrificed to her were the bull, cow, sheep, and pig, and, once a year, the tabooed goat.

What appears to be certain is that in pre-Hellenic Greece and Crete, and elsewhere throughout Europe, the Earth Mother was worshipped and propitiated from an early pre-historic period. Her mysteries were performed in caves, as were also the Palæolithic mysteries. In the caves there were sacred serpents, and it may be that the prophetic priestesses who entered them were serpent-charmers.

Cave worship was of immense antiquity. The cave

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was evidently regarded as the door of the Underworld, in which dwelt the snake form of Mother Earth. Swine were sacrificed to her, a custom which appears to have had origin in the Archæological "Hunting Period". In the Scoto-Irish Fian (Fingalian) stories the love hero, Diarmid, the Adonis of the pre-Agricultural peoples, is slain by the boar leader of the swine-herd of Mala Lith, "Gray Eyebrows", the dark-visaged Cailleach (Old Wife), who was the mother of men and demons and wild animals. This legend may be a reminiscence of human sacrifice. Demeter's pig, like Athene's goat, was perhaps of totemic origin. The boar clan and the goat clan would have made blood offerings to their totems, as do the Australian Kangaroo and Witchetty-grub tribes to theirs, to secure the food-supply.

In the "Pastoral Period" sacrifices of bulls and cows must have become prevalent. The goddess was then the cow mother, who caused the herds to multiply, and provided them with grass. Hathor, the Egyptian goddess, had the body of a woman and the head of a cow. In one of the archaic versions of the Osirian myth Horus cuts off the head of his mother Isis, and the moon-god Thoth replaces it with a cow's head. Isis had also a serpent form, being evidently an earth-mother in origin.

When agriculture was introduced, the various tribes recognized their earth-black and grass-green mother-goddess in a new form--the harvest-haired corn spirit. But she still retained all her immemorial attributes: she did not cease to be the earth-snake, the hag huntress among the mountains and in valleys, the cow goddess of grassy steppes and green oases, and the spirit of fig-tree and olive and vine. Around her, too, hovered the animistic groups who were remembered in after time as nymphs and fairies. She also retained her association

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with the animal forms she assumed in season as the deity of fertility. There were serpents in her hair, a dove in one hand and a dolphin in the other, like the Demeter of the cave of Phigalia Withal, she was the standing-stone which was visited at certain phases of the moon by women who prayed for offspring. In the Scoto-Irish legend, the Cailleach, after the period of spring storms, transforms herself into "a gray stone looking over the sea". In India goats are sacrificed to the stone of the goddess Durga, which stands below a sacred tree. The legend of the birth of the Cretan Zeus is of special interest in this connection. Cronos swallowed a stone, believing it was Rhea's son, and it was afterwards set up as a sacred object at Delphi. The original Zeus was evidently worshipped as a stone pillar--the pillar which enclosed his spirit, or the spirit of his earthly representative, the priest-king.

The earliest form of the agricultural myth, judging from the Demeter-Persephone legend, appears to have been one in which goddesses only were concerned. All the ceremonies performed were based on the experiences of the sorrowing and wandering mother, the dark woman who concealed herself in a cave, and the abducted daughter condemned to pass part of the year in the Underworld.

It is possible that the Osirian legend, in which the daughter is displaced by the slain young god, came to Crete from Egypt by an indirect route-perhaps with a community of late invaders from Syria or Anatolia. After Osiris taught the Egyptians the art of agriculture he went abroad on a mission of civilization, and when he was slain, and set adrift in a chest, Isis voyaged to Byblus to recover his body. This may be a memory of the missionary enterprise of the Osirian cult. Minos, the Cretan king who resembles Osiris as an earthly king and lawgiver, became, like his prototype, a judge of the dead.

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[paragraph continues] His mother, Europé, a princess of Phœnicia, who was abducted by the Zeus bull, may have been a form of the cow Isis.

The Minotaur may have been a still more primitive form of Osiris. That god, as Apuatu, his earliest known form, was "the opener". He was therefore identical with the animal-headed Anubis. The mother of the Minotaur was Pasiphaë, the queen. Like the Egyptian Queen Isis, she appears to have had originally a cow form, which gave rise to the legend that Dædalus constructed for her the image of a cow, which she entered. The legend that the Minotaur was slain by Theseus may have displaced an earlier myth about the slaying of the corn-god in his bull form. In the Anpu-Bata Egyptian story the sacred bull is slain so that its spirit may enter its tree incarnation. The Apis bull was periodically sacrificed in early times.

Although human sacrifices were offered to the Minotaur--the victims, no doubt, of the bull-ring--that fact need not be urged against the identification of the bloodthirsty monster with Osiris. It is not improbable that the primitive Osiris was a bull-headed man like the Minotaur, which in one of the Cretan seal impressions is depicted seated on a throne below a tree conversing with a priest; its close resemblance to Anubis and Sebek is highly suggestive of Egyptian origin. 1 Professor Breasted has proved, from the evidence of the early Pyramid texts, that Osiris had at one time as unsavoury a reputation as the Cretan Minotaur. He calls him "a dangerous god", and adds: "The tradition of his [Osiris's] unfavourable character survived in vague reminiscences long centuries after he had gained wide popularity. At that time [the prehistoric period] the

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dark and forbidding realm which he ruled had been feared and dreaded. In the beginning, too, he bad been local to the Delta, where he had his home in the city of Dedu, later called Busiris by the Greeks. His transformation into a friend of man and kindly ruler of the dead took place here in prehistoric ages." 1

Osiris in his later form was a deified ruler, who received knowledge of the art of agriculture from the earth-goddess, like the Greek Triptolemus. His violent death, with dismemberment, is suggestive of the sacrifice of the old king so that his spirit might pass to his successor. There can be little doubt that human sacrifices were at one time prevalent among the peoples of the Mediterranean race, although they were forbidden ultimately in Osirian texts. Isis and Demeter, as has been shown, burned children before they revealed to mankind the art of agriculture. Dr. Farnell favours the view that the ancient custom of human sacrifice has survived as a memory in the legend which relates that the daughters of Cecrops, having been driven mad by the goddess Athena, flung themselves down from the rock of the Acropolis of Athens. Of similar character is the tradition that the first lot of maidens who were sent from Locris to be priestesses and handmaidens in Athena's temple were slain and burnt, their ashes having been afterwards cast from a mountain into the sea. "It is clear", Dr. Farnell comments, "this is no mere story of murder, but a reminiscence of peculiar rites." 2

Europé, as bride of Zeus, was probably, like Pasiphaë, wife of Minos, a developed form of the Earth Mother. Minos and the Minotaur may similarly be regarded as forms of Osiris, the former an eponymous patriarch whose



From the painting by John Duncan, A.R.S.A.

(See page 287)


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spirit passed from king to son, and the latter as a link between the animal and anthropomorphic forms of the tribal deity, who was also the eponymous ancestor. According to Pausanias 1 the Arcadians believed that the first settler in their land was Pelasgus, the eponymous ancestor, apparently, of the Pelasgians. Asius, he says, referred to him as follows:--

Divine Pelasgus on the tree-clad hills
Black earth brought forth, to be of mortal race.

"And Pelasgus", he proceeds, "when he became king contrived huts that men should be free from cold and rain, and not be exposed to the fierce sun, and also garments made of the hides of pigs, such as the poor now use in Eubœa and Phocis. He was the inventor of these comforts. He, too, taught people to abstain from green leaves and grass and roots that were not good to eat, some even deadly to those who eat them. He discovered also that the fruit of some trees was good, especially acorns." 2

A similar legend is related by Plato regarding the patriarch of his Lost Atlantis. He states that on the hill above the palace (Knossos) lived "one of those men who in primitive times sprang from the earth, by name Evenor. His wife was Leucippe. They had only one daughter, named Clito". Clito became the wife of Poseidon, and the ancestress of all the tribes. 3

Minos, like Pelasgus, was evidently a semi-divine patriarch. Sir Arthur Evans shows that the "tomb of Zeus" was at one time called the "tomb of Minos". This "seems to record a true religious process", he says, "by which the cult of Minos passed into that of Zeus". 4

Probably the legend of the birth of Minos was appropriated

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by the Zeus cult. The child was suckled, according to one legend, by a sow, and to another by a goat--totemic animals, perhaps, from whom the food-supply was received. A Knossos seal impression depicts a child suckled by a horned sheep. Sir Arthur Evans refers, in this connection, to the legends of the son of Akakallis, daughter of Minos, being suckled by a bitch; of Miletos, "the mythical founder of the Cretan city of that name", being nursed by wolves; and of the fabled suckling of the Roman twins by a she-wolf. "There is", he says, "some interesting evidence of a cumulative nature, which shows that Rome itself was indebted to prehistoric Greece for some of the oldest elements in her religion." 1 The Indian heroine, Shakuntala, was guarded at birth by vultures, as Semiramis was by doves, while the eagle protected Gilgamesh and the Persian patriarch Akhamanish. In Egypt Horus was nourished and concealed by the serpent-goddess Uazit.

All the eponymous heroes had probably animal forms at the earliest period. Serpents figure prominently in the winged disk of Horus, suggesting the fusion of the falcon and serpent clans of Egypt. The young god was usually depicted with a falcon's head and a human body, and he was an eponymous ancestor. In the bull-headed Minotaur, therefore, it would appear that we have a survival of an early form of a Cretan Osiris or Horus, the link between the bestial deity and human beings.

The Minotaur, however, was not the only man monster who received recognition in Crete. At Zagros Mr. Hogarth discovered a large number of clay sealings depicting man-stags, man-lions, man-goats, eagle-women, goat-women, and so on. One of the forms of the Sumerian Tammuz-Ningirsu was a lion-headed eagle.

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It may be that, before the legendary Minos established his empire, Crete was divided into petty states, each of which had its separate animal-headed god or goddess. These deities may have been originally totems. When the totem was slain the priest-king was wrapped in its skin, as was the Sumerian Ea in the skin of the fish. The priest-king was an incarnation of the totem. If the custom of depicting deities partly in bestial and partly in human form arose in this way, it was of exceedingly remote origin, for, as we have seen (Chapter II), there were animal-headed deities in the Late Palæolithic Period.

Greek legends regarding Crete take no account of the stag- and eagle-headed monsters. The Minotaur with bull's head and forelegs and human body and legs overshadowed them all. This fact is highly suggestive. Possibly the explanation is that the bull clan of Minos, which was established at Knossos, attained political supremacy over the whole island, with the result that its Minotaur became the chief deity. This would account also for the myths regarding the sea-bull forms of Poseidon and Zeus, and the notorious ceremonies associated with the bull-ring at Knossos. The Minos clan may have invaded and conquered the island. Some authorities are inclined to regard Minos as a conqueror. Plato says of Atlantis that it was governed by a warrior class which lived separately in the more elevated parts, and had "common rooms of entertainment". 1

The same writer goes on to say that after a bull was captured at the annual festival, the people gathered round the fire in which it was sacrificed, to judge transgressors of the laws inscribed on a certain column. 2 The laws were probably those which were credited to Minos.

The conclusions which may be drawn from the evidence

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available are as follows: Traces survived in Cretan religion of various stages of culture. New settlements were effected on the island from time to time by peoples of common origin, who introduced advanced systems of religion which were grafted on to the old. The worship of the Earth Mother was ever pre-eminent. At first she was the culture deity who instructed mankind. Then the tribal hero whom she favoured was elevated to the Pantheon, the living king being his incarnation on earth, while the dead king was his incarnation in the Underworld as the judge of the dead. As this deified hero displaced an earlier man-monster, who was the son of the mother goddess, and her earthly representative, the legend arose that the hero had actually slain him. 1 Minos, who hated the Minotaur, may have been the original of the legendary Theseus. That is, Theseus may have been a real king who released Athens from the sway of the Minoan kings and absorbed the Minos-Heracles myth of Crete. The Minos clan came, perhaps, like the legendary Europé, from the Syrian coast, where it had adopted the later Osirian faith. After Crete traded directly with Egypt cultural influences filtered across the Mediterranean. It is unlikely, however, that the religion of the Cretan people as a whole was so profoundly affected by the imported beliefs of the rival cults of Egypt and Libya as they were by those of kindred peoples who settled on the island and exercised direct political influence there. In pre-Hellenic times the Minoan kings colonized parts of Greece, and traditions of Crete's cultural influence survived long after the Homeric Age, although the splendour of its ancient civilization became a blurred and faded memory which in time was associated with the Lost Atlantis.


165:1 Chapter III.

166:1 Herodotus, II, 53-5.

166:2 That is during the ninth century B.C.

167:1 Herodotus, II, 52.

167:2 Cults of the Greek States, Vol. III. p. 195.

168:1 Celtic Religion, Prof. Anwyl, pp. 41, 48.

168:2 Rouse's Greek Votive Offerings, p. 246.

168:3 Modern Greek Folk-lore and Ancient Greek Religion, J. C. Lawson, p. 141.

169:1 Pindar, Nem. VI, 1, quoted by Lawson in Modern Greek Folk-lore, p. 65.

169:2 Indian Myth and Legend, p. 229.

169:3 The Burden of Isis, Dennis, p. 49. ("Wisdom of the East" Series.)

170:1 Herodotus, I, 131.

170:2 The Thousand Nights and a Night, Vol. X, p. 231 (1886).

171:1 Indian Myth and Legend, p. 89.

171:2 The Syrian Goddess, pp. 17, 18.

171:3 Egyptian Myth and Legend, p. 156.

173:1 Lawson's Modern Greek Folk-lore, pp. 173 et seq.

175:1 Mythologische Forschungen, pp. 292 et seq.

176:1 Phædo, 69 c.

176:2 V, 77.

177:1 Phædo, 1-96.

177:2 Isis et Osiris, 35.

177:3 II, 59.

177:4 Serpents.

177:5 Bashudha, the earth mother.

178:1 The Rámáyana condensed into English verse (Temple Classics, 1898).

179:1 Egyptian Myth and Legend.

179:2 II, 14.

179:3 VIII, 42.

180:1 VIII, 42.

180:2 The result, apparently, of the local fusion of the old earth-goddess cult and the horse cult of invaders.

181:1 Golden Bough ("Spirits of the Corn and Wild"), Vol. II, pp. 37 et seq.

181:2 The length of the period is differently estimated by various writers.

181:3 Cults of the Greek States, Vol. V, pp. i 19 et seq.

182:1 Cults of the Greek States, Vol. V, pp. 119-24.

185:1 The British School at Athens, Vol. VII, p. 18.

186:1 Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt, p. 38 (1912).

186:2 Cults of the Greek States, Vol. I, pp. 260 et seq.

187:1 VIII, 1.

187:2 Pausanias, trans. by A. R. Shilleto, Vol. II, pp. 61-2.

187:3 The Critias, Section VIII.

187:4 Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. XXI, p. 121.

188:1 Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. XXI, pp. 128, 129.

189:1 The Critias, Section VI,

189:2 Ibid., Section XV.

190:1 The sacrificial slaying of the sacred animal may have also survived in the legend.

Next: Chapter IX. Growth of Cretan Culture and Commerce