“All we had done, to watch Mother Kriti slip away;
and here was the sea.”
Deucalion “Sweet Wine”—once, Ariadne’s brother—and the survivors of the fall of Minoan Crete have languished too long on their high mountain refuge called Karfi, “The Nail” (Day 1 of these pages). They rise again to their rightful pride in the long dynamic age built by their ancestors, centered on Knossos (Day 2). With their elders and countrymen slain or reduced to serfs in service of a mainland Mycenaean occupation, it’s time for some kind of new life, if they survive what it will take to put an end to Knossos Labyrinth.
Once they accept that their most sacred place must be “killed” or broken (like any holy object past its use or desecrated), the living figure of that new life comes into their midst (Day 3): Pyrrha, from Alashiya (Cyprus), where “post-Minoans” like her already take the best revenge of living well.
Day 4 they’ll remember as Night of the Griffin—this chapter sparing nothing of the killing and destruction that come to The House of the Double Axe. No one comes through this intact or ever the same, least of all Deucalion.
Boarding a few stolen ships, here begins a new way of life with a long hard future—in short and long intervals, “island-hopping” as you see in the vase on the cover of People of the Sea. Coming as it does from the inland city of Ekron in “the land of the Philistines” ten generations on from here, the image on that vase speaks these peoples’ long memories of their families’ ancestral adventures: its use was central to the feasting-and-festival ways of life and spirituality that fostered community and remembrance.
At left is an Early Minoan seal-design with a cross-hatch web like a net, or a figure woven of X’s (a form we see from Crete to Cyprus to Palestine)—or, like the vegetal webbing of a nest built by common cranes (grus grus), a coastal and rhythmically-migrant bird well-known to the ancient Mediterranean. Cranes had ancient seasonal and tribal associations in Minoan Crete, and their images go on for centuries after like a totem of group cultural identity. So do Deucalion and these families find new ways to say who they’ve been and who they are, not least with the unlikely combination of still-sacred bulls at some kind of play with these birds:
When all you knew and many you loved with your soul are left behind—when all you have is what you can carry on a boat, and the company of a few familiar faces—new kinds of community begin. This clay model (below) from ancient Cyprus shows people sharing a likely “sacred meal” (think, family holiday) in honor of ancestors, probably present in the doubled snake-like forms on the climbing-frame between the two large separated figures. Sharing food, making offerings and raising the wild human spirits of festival was, according to archaeologists, the key means of bonding people across many differences, and Cyprus’ forms were hardly strangers to Deucalion’s out of Crete…
Here below are two other signs of the lives these refugees found in Cyprus:
At left in this detail from a Cyprus vase, seashells and crane-chevrons flank the familiar Minoan horned mountain of the ancestors, with Labrys the double-axe posted also between skulls of sacrificed bulls, with their doubled pairs of horns. The mountain, axe, bull and doubled pairings—plus at right, the inscribed concentric circles that match Minoan writing-signs for heavenly bodies—speak of spiritual and social ways based in ancient cycles of nature, sun, moon and the human soul that had held “the old country” together for millennia.
In the hands of Deucalion’s families—called by archaeologists “very conservative” and “wholly eclectic,” flexible, adaptable—they would visibly go on doing so, as we’ll see down the days of their adventures coming here.
Settled with Pyrrha’s help into Cyprus homesteads that make the most of their skills from farming to metallurgy and trade(s), there’s a long-awaited chance to get their breath. And finally here, the crowning image (to me) of the spirit and the lifeways that they carried and planted again in good new soil. This ceremonial altar—from a many-functioned place of Labyrinth-like “sacred economy” called Myrtou-Pighades, in northwest Cyprus—shows every trace of a Minoan stonecutter’s classic form, betokening ancestors and their living generation’s community:
I can only invite you to explore this our Western heritage in the labyrinth of spiritual and political time that is Calendar House (at Ancientlights)—because these people of the sea are carrying it with them, the core of their harmony with nature and their resistance to the tyrannies of would-be kings and masters. What then—if not some rigid ideology, or warring nation-state—held them so close together for so long?
Till next time, consider this answer from archaeologist Louise Hitchcock, who found a way to express the dimensions of ceremonies and festivals round that Cyprus altar: a shared celebrational journey of senses and spirits beyond the petty ego and returning, refreshed and enlarged, to a new community:
“…Chanting proceeds for more than an hour and builds to a crescendo prior to the sacrifice. Approximately 45 sheep are simultaneously dispatched in a brief moment, with blood collected in a stone-lined channel as the children of the community mingle among the participants….
“An ash altar is used to burn the viscera of the animals, the aroma mingling with aromatic wood shavings and sent heavenward….When all is ready, the impaled animals are simultaneously cast into the roasting pits….
“How does one give shape to the intangible realm of the senses?…I have crossed a spiritual threshold from the profane order of things into the sacred order of intimacy. It is a place…transporting the participant into the world of otherness and the sacred, through fasting [before the feast], through the intense heat and danger of the fire-pit: a growing anticipation and transformation heightened through rhythmic chanting. There is also a purposeful formlessness—where oppositions, of pollution and purity, disgust and desire, subject and object, inside and outside, all collapse….The chanting seems to have been going on for hours, [and] time loses all meaning….And as I am drawn further in, abhorrence melts into ‘anxious fascination.’ I am changed forever….”