“There was a tendency in Minoan Crete to combine the goddesses into one deity.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
Athene is mentioned again and again on the tablets and records from Crete. Her name was spelled “a-ta-na,” and most agree this was an early form of Athene. On at least one tablet, the name “a-ta-na” is combined with “po-ti-ni-ja,” which is thought to be Potnia. Thus in my book, you’ll see the declaration “Potnia Athene,” used several times. It simply meant “Lady,” or “Mistress.”
It’s important to remember when reading The Year-god’s Daughter (and the connecting books, The Thinara King and In the Moon of Asterion,) that what we know about these ancient, pre-Hellenic deities is sparse and fragmented. That Athene existed on Crete and was very important is pretty clear. That there were other goddesses is not so clear; the various names might well have been titles used for different aspects or roles of the same goddess. My story takes place before the familiar pantheon we all know from Classical Greece. Most experts agree that Athene existed long before they did, and that she came from somewhere else, not Greece. So I chose to use Athene almost exclusively, incorporating the various names as alternate names for her. Athene was The Great Goddess, basically, and all these other images or personalities were simply variations of her. Robert Graves also influenced my decision to use Athene this way. In The Greek Myths, he talks again and again about Athene being a pre-Hellenic goddess of vast importance, to whom the sacred kings were sacrificed, and he shares with his readers many of her Names and Titles.
Many mythologists call The Goddess “She of Many Names.” Here are a few titles and names I used in The Child of the Erinyes.
POTNIA: “Mistress,” or “Lady.”
“The Great Goddess or Mother Goddess held sway until the very end of the Minoan civilization and was even for a time in a dominant position in the Mycenean pantheon, until her position was supplanted by Zeus. The Great Goddess seems to have been called Potnia, at least in the final decades of the Labyrinth’s history. The name recurs in place after place, not just on Crete but throughout the Mycenean world. Meaning no more than ‘The Lady’ or ‘The Mistress’, it nevertheless carried powerful connotations and resonances: it was clearly the proper name of an important goddess.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
“Potnia had a domestic aspect as a guardian of households and cities. She was the wife and mother, the dependable figure of order and reason. In a sense she represented the conscious mind. Hers, probably, was the double-axe symbol that we find at so many Minoan sanctuaries on Crete, but possibly the pillar and the snake were her symbols too.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
BRITOMARTIS: “Lady of the Wild Things.”
“There were wild goddesses too, associated with untamed landscape and consorting with wild beasts. . . . A chaste and free wild goddess, who was a huntress and tamer of wild beasts, is now often referred to as the Mistress of Wild Animals or Queen of Wild Beasts. It seems that the Cretans called her Britomartis, said to mean ‘sweet virgin’, and she became the Artemis or Diana of the classical period.” Rodney Castleden, The Knossos Labyrinth
Eleuthia: Goddess of mothers and childbirth
“She was named in the temple records at Knossos and her nearest sanctuary, the Cave of Eileithyia as it is known today, is at Amnisos. The Cave of Eleuthia was an important centre of worship from neolithic times right through the bronze and iron ages, into the Roman period. It is even mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey, Book 19. Inside the Eleuthia Cave is a natural stalagmite protected by an artificial stone wall, the focus of the cave cult and probably regarded as the manifestation or dwelling of the goddess Eleuthia.
Dictynna: Goddess of fishermen, or “of the net.”
It appears that Dictynna, too, was later merged with Artemis. Imagine how important fishermen were on an island like Crete. It’s not surprising they would have their own special goddess, “She who cast the nets.”
“grim faced.” A title of Athene’s, according to Robert Graves. The fearsome aspect, the face of Athene at the moment of death.
Meaning unknown, but this was one of Athene’s titles and/or names. If one types “definition of Areia” into Google search, what comes up are several sites describing Athene.
Laphria: “the goat goddess.”
Graves says that this was Athene’s title representing her as a “goat goddess.” He says that the word Laphria suggests that “the goddess was the pursuer, not the pursued.”
Velchanos was the goddess’s son. He was also her lover. He was well-known on Crete but didn’t make a big splash on the mainland (another god who was absorbed by Zeus) and has been largely forgotten in the annals of time. I extrapolated from what I could find in the existing myths, and merged in some African myths, which is where I believe Athene originated. I wanted Crete to have an African flavor to its religion. Remember: Athene is universally accepted as being “Un-Greek,” (and pre-Greek pantheon) and is thought to have come from “Libya,” which is the name given by the ancients to the whole of (the then explored) Africa. Since nobody really knows what the Cretans believed or how they operated, I felt I had some freedom.
Here’s what Rodney Castleden says in Minoans: Life in Bronze Age Crete:
“Since the goddess herself was not permitted to die, the annual death and rebirth were acted out by a young male Year-spirit, a small and inferior deity who took the roles of son and consort, and represented the important principle of discontinuity in nature. In the Minoan period he remained important; his original Minoan name, Velchanos, seems to have endured into the classical period as one of the titles attributed to Zeus on Crete. Zeus Velchanos was also known on Crete as ‘Kouros’, ‘The Boy’. Velchanos was always subject to the goddess and always shown in attitudes of adoration. The two ivory ‘Divine Boy’ figurines described by Evans as probably having come from the Labyrinth, may well be representations of Velchanos before and after puberty.”
“Often Minoan worshippers tore branches or boughs from a sacred tree and venerated them on altars or planted them in the sockets between sacral horns. Sometimes, they built shrines round sacred trees, apparently providing access to them by means of double doors and safeguarding them by means of wooden fences or stone walls. In some ceremonies, an attendant, often male, tore a bough from the shrine-tree to the accompaniment of gestures of lamentation from the priestess and others present; this overwrought scene, shown on several rings, seems to have symbolized the death of the young god and may conceivably have been followed by the sacrifice of the male attendant who represented him.”
Rodney Castleden gives more attention to Velchanos in his book, The Knossos Labyrinth: A New View of the ‘Palace of Minos’ at Knossos.
He talks about a few of the goddesses worshiped on Crete in Chapter 9 “The Lady of the Labyrinth,” and goes on to say: “Another was a Goddess of Renewal and she was connected with the central rites of the vegetation cycle. Often the annual death and rebirth were acted out by a young male deity, a Year-spirit who took the roles of both son and consort. This small but heroic figure who died and was born again every year, just like Adonis, seems to have been the prototype for Zeus, although in the Minoan period he was subordinate to the goddess whom he served. The cult surrounding this proto-Zeus continued after the Minoan civilization came to an end and it seems that his original Minoan name survived in one of the titles attached to Zeus on Crete–Velchanos.
The Greek Myths, (Robert Graves) contains probably the most well-known description of Velchanos. He translates the meaning of Velchanos as “the king who drags his foot.”
“Hephaestus is sometimes described as Hera’s son by Talos (see 12.c), and Talos as Daedalus’s young nephew; but Daedalus was a junior member of the House of Erechtheus, which was founded long after the birth of Hephaestus. Such chronological discrepancies are the rule in mythology. Daedalus (“bright” or “cunningly wrought”), Talos (“sufferer”), and Hephaestus (“he who shines by day”), are shown by the similarity of their attributes to be merely different titles of the same mythical character; Icarus (from io-carios, ‘dedicated to the Moon-goddess Car’) may be yet another of his titles. For Hephaestus the smith-god married Aphrodite, to whom the partridge was sacred; the sister of Daedalus the smith was called Perdix (‘partridge’); the soul of Talos the smith flew off as a partridge; a partridge appeared at the burial of Daedalus’s son Icarus. Besides, Hephaestus was flung from Olympus; Talos was flung from the Acropolis. Hephaestus hobbled when he walked; one of Talos’s names was Tantalus (‘hobbling, or lurching’); a cock-partridge hobbles in his love-dance, holding one heel ready to strike at rivals. Moreover, the Latin god Vulcan hobbled. His cult had been introduced from Crete, where he was called Velchanos and had a cock for his emblem, because the cock crows at dawn and was therefore appropriate to a Sun-hero. But the cock did not reach Crete until the sixth century B.C., and is likely to have displaced the partridge as Velchanos’s bird.
Current dating at the time of this publication places the construction of the cyclopean walls and lion gate at Mycenae in either the twelfth or thirteenth centuries. These dates often change; long ago I began viewing “secure” dates with suspicion. When Mary Renault wrote The King Must Die, then-current dating placed the Thera eruption in the fourteen hundreds quite confidently, but with better technology, that date has moved backwards to the sixteen hundreds, about 300 years before Theseus. At any rate, I decided to include both the walls and gate, as they are familiar to modern readers.
An intriguing theory is the possibility of a link between the lion gate at Mycenae and the “Lady of the Beasts” on Crete. A seal ring found at Knossos shows two lionesses in an identical pose as at the lion gate, with their front paws on a central pillar. The seal also contains a goddess, standing atop the pillar holding out a spear, and a youth, saluting her. Current dating shows the seal ring to be about the same age as the lion gate.
Anathema (from Koine Greek ἀνάθεμα “something dedicated, especially dedicated to evil” from ἀνατίθημι anatithēmi, “I set upon, offer as a votive gift”) originally meant something lifted up as an offering to the gods; it later evolved to mean:
- to be formally set apart;
- banished, exiled, excommunicated;
- denounced, sometimes accursed; or
- a literary term.
There is some difficulty translating this word, especially since it has now become commonly used with the term accursed or accustomed. The original meaning of the Greek word, as used in non-Biblical Greek literature, was an offering to a god. The Hebrew word herem (חרם) referred to something forbidden or off limits. It was used in verses such as Leviticus 27:28 to refer to things offered to God, and hence off limits to common (non-religious) use. Because the Greek word anathema meant things offered to God, it was used to translate the Hebrew word herem in such contexts. Thus, the meaning of the Greek word, under the influence of the Hebrew word, was eventually taken as meaning “set apart”, (like herem) rather than “offering to god”, and eventually the word came to be seen as meaning “banished” and to be considered beyond the judgment and help of the community.
In Greek usage, an anathema was anything laid up or suspended; hence anything laid up in a temple or set apart as sacred. In this sense the form of the word was once (in plural) used in the Greek New Testament, in Luke 21:5, where it is rendered ‘gifts.’ It is used similarly in the Book of Judith, where it is translated as ‘gift to the Lord.’ In the Septuagint the form anathema is generally used as the rendering of the Hebrew word herem, derived from a verb which means (1) to consecrate or devote; and (2) to exterminate. Any object so sacrificed or devoted to the Lord could not be redeemed (Numbers 18:14; Leviticus 27:28-29); and hence the idea of exterminating was connected with the word. The Hebrew verb (haram) is frequently used of the extermination of idolatrous nations. It had a wide range of application. The anathema or herem was a person or thing irrevocably devoted to God (Leviticus 27:21, KJV); and “none devoted shall be ransomed. He shall surely be put to death” (KJV). The Hebrew word therefore carried the idea of devoted to destruction (Numbers 21:2-3; Joshua 6:17); and hence a majority of scholars have treated the word anathema similarly, generally as meaning a thing accursed. For example, in Deuteronomy 7:26 an idol is called a herem = anathema, understood to mean a thing accursed. There is however, an alternative view that the Greek word ‘anathema,’ in these passages, was used by the Greek Septuagint translators to mean “offered up to God.”