These days, the definition of “cabal” is:
1. The artifices and intrigues of a group of persons secretly united in a plot (as to overturn a government); also, a group engaged in such artifices and intrigues.
Merriam Webster gives these examples:
1. a cabal plotting to overthrow the government.
2. a conspiracy theory about the existence of an international cabal devoted to world domination.
I thought it would be interesting to have “cabal” in the Bronze Age Mediterranean mean something else, very different yet somehow linked to its modern-day definition.
In The Greek Myths, Robert Graves has these things to say. He uses the word tanist the same way I use “cabal.”
“Once the relevance of coition to child-bearing had been officially admitted, man’s religious status gradually improved, and winds or rivers were no longer given credit for impregnating women. The tribal Nymph, it seems, chose an annual lover from her entourage of young men, a king to be sacrificed when the year ended; making him a symbol of fertility, rather than the object of her erotic pleasure. His sprinkled blood served to fructify trees, crops and flocks, and his flesh was torn and eaten raw by the Queen’s fellow-nymphs – priestesses wearing the masks of bitches, mares, or sows. Next, in amendment to this practice, the king died as soon as the power of the sun, with which he was identified, began to decline in the summer; and another young man, his twin, or supposed twin – a convenient ancient Irish term is ‘tanist’ – then became the Queen’s lover, to be duly sacrificed at midwinter and, as a reward, reincarnated in an oracular serpent.
When the shortness of the king’s reign proved irksome, it was agreed to prolong the thirteen month year to a Great Year of one hundred lunations, in the last of which occurs a near-coincidence of solar and lunar time. But since the fields and crops still needed to be fructified, the king agreed to suffer an annual mock death and yield his sovereignty for one day – the intercalated one, lying outside the sacred sidereal year – to the surrogate boy-king, or interrex, who died at its close, and whose blood was used for the sprinkling ceremony. Now the sacred king either reigned for the entire period of a Great Year, with a tanist as his lieutenant; or the two reigned for alternate years; or the Queen let them divide the queendom into halves and reign concurrently.
The title Hecate (one hundred) apparently refers to the hundred lunar months of the king’s reign, and to the hundredfold harvest. The king’s death by a thunderbolt, or by the teeth of horses, or at the hands of his tanist, was his common fate in primitive Greece.
The twins’ mutual murder recalls the eternal rivalry for the love of the White Goddess between the sacred king and his tanist, who alternately meet death at each other’s hands.
The column, on which the Death-in-Life Goddess perches, marks the height of summer when the sacred king’s reign ends and the tanist’s begins. (At the heliacal rising of two-headed Sirius.)
This combat is mythologically recorded in the story that the Olympic Games began with a wrestling match between Zeus and Cronus for the possession of Elis, namely the midsummer combat between the king and his tanist; and the result was a foregone conclusion – the tanist came armed with a spear.
The historical setting of the Scylla myth is apparently a dispute between the Athenians and their Cretan overlords not long before the sack of Cnossus in 1400 BC. The myth itself, almost exactly repeated in the Taphian story of Pterelaus and Comaetho, recalls those of Samson and Delilah in Philistia; Curoi, Blathnat, and Cuchulain in Ireland; Llew Llaw, Blodeuwedd, and Gronw in Wales: all variations on a single pattern. It concerns the rivalry between the sacred king and his tanist for the favor of the Moon-goddess who, at midsummer, cuts off the king’s hair and betrays him. The king’s strength resides in his hair, because he represents the Sun; and his long yellow locks are compared to its rays.
In The Year-god’s Daughter, The Thinara King, and In the Moon of Asterion, the sacred king has a tanist, but I didn’t want to use that term. In my timeline, the word is “cabal.” At Mycenae, it simply means “brother,” but on Crete, the word “cabal” has twin meanings: brother and killer. The cabal is the king’s “tanist,” or symbolic “brother,” who also kills him, thus turning him into a god.
In the course of the series, the word “cabal” gradually and eventually transforms into its modern definition, which plays a part in the story.
The sacred cave
In The Year-god’s Daughter, Aridela, Selene and Iphiboë sneak out of the palace to meet their fates. They travel by cart to Skotino Cave, which even these days attracts large numbers of tourists. It lies some distance to the east of Knossos.
Of course, in the Bronze Age, this cave would have had another name. I chose for my story The Cave of Velchanos.
Within the walls of Skotino, Aridela’s life forever changed.
Minos is a well known title, accepted across the world as the name of a dynasty of kings on Crete. But Robert Graves translates the word “minos” as “Moon-Being,” which suggests it is feminine. Here’s what Graves says in The Greek Myths:
“Minos was a royal title of an Hellenic dynasty which rules Crete in the second millennium, each king ritually marrying the Moon-priestess of Cnossus and taking his title of ‘Moon-being’ from her.” ‘Hellenic’ suggests the term ‘Minos’ relating to a ‘king,’ did not come about until the Hellenic era. It also suggests very strongly that the title belonged to a woman.
Here are several more of his quotes:
“The triumph of Minos, son of Zeus, over his brothers refers to the Dorians’ eventual mastery of Crete, but it was Poseidon to whom Minos sacrificed the bull, which again suggests that the earlier holders of the title ‘Minos’ were Aeolians. Crete had for centuries been a very rich country and in the late eighth century BC was shared between the Achaeans, Dorians, Pelasgians, Cydonians (Aeolians) and in the far west of the island ‘true Cretans’.” This line also suggests that the male “Minos” won the title at a later date.
“Pasiphae and Amphitrite are the same Moon-and-Sea-goddess, and Minos, as the ruler of the Mediterranean, became identified with Poseidon.” Again, the suggestion is that Minos is a later invention, perhaps after an overthrow.
“Zagreus: this myth concerns the annual sacrifice of a boy which took place in ancient Crete: a surrogate for Minos the Bull-king. He reigned for a single day, went through a dance illustrative of the five seasons – lion, goat, horse, serpent, and bull-calf – and was then eaten raw.” The holy Day out of Time, which plays an important role in my books.
Graves also says that “Two or three Minos dynasties may have successively reigned in Cnossus.”
In my story, “Minos” is the title of the High Priestess and holy oracle, Themiste. Minos is a secret title, known only to those initiated into the Cretan Mysteries.
Jacquetta Hawkes theorizes about Crete’s ruling house BEFORE the familiar “King Minos” in Dawn of the Gods:
“In the scenes from the seal-stones, not only is the Goddess always the central figure, being served and honoured in a variety of ways; she is sometimes shown seated on a throne. Supposing that a king did rule as consort of the Goddess, one would expect at the very least that at the royal court, which elsewhere, in Egypt and the Orient, was seen as the human reflection of the divine order, there would have been a throne for the queen as the counterpart of the Goddess. Yet in the sacred throne room at Knossos, and apparently also in the state apartment in the residential quarter, the throne stood single and alone.
If it were not for the tradition of King Minos, and the corresponding absence of any recorded memories of Cretan queens, and perhaps also certain strong if unconscious assumptions among Classical scholars, it seems that the archaeological evidence would have been read as favoring a woman on the ritual throne at Knossos.”
She also says: “In addition to these characteristics, there was another which much more strongly implies the self-confidence of women and therefore their secure position in society. This is the fearless and natural emphasis on sexual life that ran through all religious expression and was made obvious in the provocative dress of both sexes and their easy mingling.”
Iakchos, the great star (Sirius)
From Dionysos (Archetypal Image of Indestructible life), by Carl Kerényi:
page 73, 74: “When in Egypt the early rising of Sirius became the beginning of the year, the approach of a better season could be foreseen by the first swelling of the Nile. Yet this was also the time of the most dangerous heat: a highly ambivalent season! The same was true in Crete and Greece (with the exception that there was no Nile). The heat was obviously evil, and so was the star with whose appearance it began. But in a mysterious way the season was also good. In Greek it was called opora, a word that is not easy to translate because it means not only the season but its fruits as well. Homer knew Sirius as “Orion’s dog.” As Alpha canis it belongs to the great hunter whose gigantic figure had already dominated the heavens for months and would continue to do so for several months more until, stung by the celestial scorpion, it sank below the horizon. The full ambivalence of Sirius is expressed by a metaphor in the twenty-second book of the Iliad. As Achilles ran, “the bronze on his breast flashed out like the star that comes to us in autumn, outshining all its fellows in the evening sky–they call it Orion’s Dog, and though it is the brightest of all stars it bodes no good, bringing much fever, as it does, to us poor wretches.”
page 77: “At Knossos we find the name i-wa-ko, whose Greek reading can be “Iakos,” “Iachos,” or “Iakchos”; at Knossos and Pylos it often takes the form of i-wa-ka. “Iakar,” a name for Sirius that seems utterly alien to the Greek language, may not really have been so foreign. An Egyptian story can be cited in connection with the Minoan names “Iakar” and “Iakchos.” “Iachen” or “Iachim” was the name of a wise and pious man in Egypt who allegedly lived under King Senyes. This man may also have been a divine figure. He was said to have softened the fiery power of Sirius at its early rising and thus to have wiped out the epidemics that raged at that time. After his death he was buried in a temple tomb, and when the appropriate sacrificial rites had been completed the priests took fire from his altar and carried it about, apparently in a magic ritual directed against the destructive fire of the star.
Through Dionysos this fire was transformed into the “pure light of high summer.”
From The Myth of the Goddess (Evolution of an Image), by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford:
page 119: “The Cretan New Year began at the summer solstice, when the heat was at its greatest, and 20 July was the day when the great star Sirius rose in conjunction with the sun, as it did also in Sumeria and Egypt. In these two other countries Sirius was explicitly the star of the goddess (Inanna in Sumeria, and Isis in Egypt), and Minoan temple-palaces in Crete were orientated to this star. The rising of Sirius ended a forty-day ritual during which honey was gathered from the hives of the bees in the darkness of the caves and the woods. The honey was then fermented into mead and drunk as an intoxicating liquor, accompanying the ecstatic rites that may have celebrated the return of the daughter of the goddess as the beginning of the new year–as, perhaps, in the seal of the double axe. All these rites are present in the Classical Greek myths of Dionysos, himself originating in Crete and called the Bull God. A bull was sacrificed with the rising of the star Sirius, and the bees were seen as the resurrected form of the dead bull and also as the souls of the dead.”