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Myths of Crete & Pre-Hellenic Europe

By Donald A. Mackenzie


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When I first saw learned of the existence of this book, I was a little suprised, since very little concrete information is available on this topic, and even less was known in 1917. However, to paraphrase a recent President of the United States, Myths of Crete depends on what your definition of of is....

There is substantial mythology about Crete. The Minoan civilization, which predated the better known classical Hellenic period by several hundred years, disappeared catastrophically, battered by volcanic eruptions and barbarian incursions. Successive generations, starting with the classical Greeks, created a vast number of myths about the vanished sea-empire. The Homeric epics, Daedalus and Icarus, King Minos and the Minotaur, and even, as Mackenzie points out, Atlantis, were all influenced by hearsay and speculation about the lost Cretan empire.

At the beginning of the 20th century archeologists finally started to excavate the Minoan ruins. Based lagely on circumstantial evidence such as the vivid wall art and the startling Goddess iconography, popularizers like Mackenzie built an entire new set of myths about the ancient Cretans. This mythology was eagerly adopted by neo-pagans, starting with Robert Graves, who wrote a little-known science fiction novel on the subject, Watch the Northwind Rise.

What do we actually know about Minoan mythology as of today? In a word, nothing. The Minoans developed the first known European writing systems, known as Linear A and B. Linear B was deciphered by Michael Ventris in 1952. Only commercial documents have been found, as befits a sea-trading empire. The other Minoan script, Linear A, remains a mystery. Although the phonetic values of some Linear A symbols have been tenatively identified, they have yet to be translated. So we have no translated Minoan religious documents to work with, although we can infer that certain Linear A texts are magical or religious in nature because they are inscribed on ritual objects.

We can assume from the prevelence of female images in ritual contexts that the Minoans worshipped one or more Goddesses. We also know that animals played an important role in their rituals, particularly snakes and bulls. However, any attempt at this point to make definite statements about their mythology or spiritual practices is inferential at best.

One factual correction must be noted. The story of Schliemann's Atlantis bequest, reported in Chapter V, page 98, turned out to be a complete hoax. This yarn appeared in a sensationalist Hearst newspaper in 1914, and as this book was written only a few years later, we can probably forgive Mackenzie for reporting it as fact. The entire article, How I found the Lost Atlantis, along with our analysis of it, is also at sacred-texts.

Nevertheless, Mackenzie, who also wrote Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt, manages to stretch the subject matter out into a full 300 page book. Informative, well researched and very readable, Myths of Crete is a unique book about a very opaque period of history.

--J.B. Hare, June 2002.

Title Page
Plates in Colour
Plates in Monochrome
Chapter I. Primitive Europeans of the Glacial and Inter-glacial Periods
Chapter II. Palæolithic Magic and Religion
Chapter III. Ancient Peoples of the Goddess Cult
Chapter IV. History in Myth and Legend--Schliemann's Discoveries
Chapter V. Crete as the Lost Atlantis
Chapter VI. The Great Palace of Knossos
Chapter VII. Races and Myths of Neolithic Crete
Chapter VII. Pre-Hellenic Earth and Corn Mothers
Chapter IX. Growth of Cretan Culture and Commerce
Chapter X. Trading Relations with Troy
Chapter XI. Life in the Little Towns
Chapter XII. The Palace of Phæstos
Chapter XIII. Cave Deities and their Symbols
Chapter XIV. Decline of Crete and Rise of Greece