The attempt to
reconstruct religious practices and ideas from
buildings and pictures is fraught with danger,
but some deductions can be safely
sites normally do not possess separate
buildings identifiable as temples, though a
curious exception to this rule has been
discovered at the Minoan "colony" on
Special rooms and areas of palaces
and important houses were set aside as shrines
for ritual purposes. Large cult images are not normally
found, but again Keos is an
The most characteristic religious symbols
are the double ax and the U-shaped "horns of consecration."
Cult figurines, however, are plentiful.
Many are crude and roughly made of terra cotta. The most common type is of a
standing female figure with uplifted hands. Several figurines of fine workmanship
show the goddess dressed in the height of Minoan fashion, holding a snake in either
hand. Snake cults survived into classical Greece, where they were associated with
the god of healing.
palaces, cult places were set up in two types of location. High on the mountains,
often on a conspicuous peak, small sanctuaries were built.
They were probably occupied only once a year
for a festival, like the modern Christian chapels in similar locations.
Offering-tables and jars found on these sites indicate that agricultural produce
was offered here to the deity.
Caves also were treated as
sacred. Some of these, too, were high in the
mountains, but a more accessible one at Amnisos
near Knossos had a long history, receiving
offerings from the Middle Minoan down to the
the Late Minoan II period Greek archives of
Knossos record offerings of honey sent to this
cave for the goddess known to the later Greeks
as Eileithyia, the patron of childbirth. This
cave is mentioned by Homer in the
tradition told strange tales of Cretan deities,
especially of a Zeus who died and was
How much of these traditions was founded on
Minoan beliefs is impossible to say. Clearly, when the Greeks took over Crete they
absorbed the local cults into their own polytheistic religion, identifying Cretan
deities with their own.
A painted sarcophagus
from the Greek (Late Minoan) period has been interpreted as depicting the
soul's journey to the other world and religious rites in connection with the dead.
As usual, such pictures provide a glimpse that is only tantalizing, so long as they
cannot be associated with a written text.