Friday, May 23, 2014

The Artifice of Daedalus: Modern Minoica as religious focus in contemporary Paganism

I have a paper in the upcoming conference, New Antiquities: transformations of the past in the New Age and beyond, happening in Berlin in June 2014.

The conference focuses on the twentieth century surge of fascination with the religious culture of the ancient Mediterranean, whose allure was appropriated in innovative ways by various actors and movements ranging from Rudolf Steiner to Goddess-cult(ure)s, from Neo-Gnostics in Brazil to the Russian New Age.

In these diverse interpretations and productive misunderstandings of antiquity, ancient gods, philosophers, religious specialists, sacred institutions, practices, and artifacts were invoked, employed, and even invented in order to legitimise new developments in religious life. Focusing on the contemporary period (from the 1960s to the present day), the goal is to identify these appropriations and changes of ancient religious life. Conference papers will address transformations of the past in the literature and cultural discourse of the New Age and beyond, extending into movements such as Neo-Paganism and Neo-Gnosticism.

My paper is titled: "The Artifice of Daedalus: Modern Minoica as religious focus in contemporary Paganism", and this is the abstract: 

That human society was peaceful, matriarchal and goddesses-worshipping during the Upper Palaeolithic period (45,000–10,000 years ago) until around 3000 BCE with the rise of patriarchy is a common belief within both the modern feminist Goddess Movement and contemporary Paganism. This gynocentric utopia is thought to have reached its height during the Neolithic period (ca. 9500–4000 BCE) but subsequently degenerated, its “last flowering” occurring during the Bronze Age in Minoan Crete (3000–1450 BCE) where it was eventually extinguished by the patriarchal Mycenaean Greeks.

This paper examines the representation of Minoan Crete within the literature of the feminist Goddess Movement from the 1970s up to the present day. In addition it investigates the utilisation of outdated and erroneous interpretations of Minoan religion within the separatist feminist practice of Dianic witchcraft, the predominantly female pursuit of goddess tourism and pilgrimage, and the formation of the male-only Neo-Pagan group, the Minoan Brotherhood. Analysis and critique of the interpretation of Minoan material culture by these groups demonstrates that these archaeological objects are interpreted in a highly ideological manner in order to support both contemporary religious belief and magical practice. That such interpretations often have little to do with actual Minoan religion is emphasised by focussing upon a group of the most important and evocative feminist icons of the Minoan past: the faience and ivory “snake goddesses”. Recent scholarship has demonstrated that these objects range from being heavily reconstructed to outright forgeries and consequently are not reliable representatives of ancient Minoan religion.

The interpretation of “goddesses” for these figurines can be located within the early twentieth century Hellenist intellectual milieu of the Cambridge Ritualists, particularly Jane Ellen Harrison, herself heavily influenced by Sir James Frazer and his model of a Great Mother Goddess and her Dying and Rising consort. The projection back in time of mythical characters from Homeric literature and classical myth onto the non-Greek Minoans, taken for granted as acceptable practice amongst Goddess worshippers today, can be located in Sir Arthur Evans’ early twentieth century interpretation of Minoan Crete. The use of Minoan artefacts of questionable authenticity along with an interpretative reliance upon outdated scholarship by modern Goddess worshippers means that their rituals, festivals and tours function as heterochronies, conceptually transporting participants to an idealised, imaginary past that provides aesthetic compensation for the imperfect world of today.