The Minoan Mother Goddess

Multifaceted Goddess or Many Deities?

According to numerous scholars, the primary deity in the Minoan religion was a multifaceted mother goddess who was solar in nature. Usually, “she” was depicted alongside animals (both mythical and native to the land), a male consort, and/or priestesses. While there is no true consensus, she is considered one deity with various aspects, including a mountain, dove, poppy, snake, and fertility goddess. This presumed multidimensional goddess would eventually become the Artemis, Athena, Ariadne, Medusa, etc. of the Ancient Greek pantheon. At the same time, there’s a good chance that their religion was polytheistic, and these were all separate gods with their own unique attributes. (I’ll probably create future posts about the “individual” goddesses at some point.)

Snake Goddess from the Palace of Knossos – Wikimedia User Photo by Chris73

The Maternal Snake Goddess (or Priestess)

What typically comes to mind for the Minoan Mother Goddess is the Snake Goddess figurine that was restored by British archeologist Arthur Evans along with Danish artist Halvor Baggeartist. The main problematic elements are that her head and part of her arm was missing and it’s not 100% certain that she was a true goddess. In general, it’s been difficult to distinguish between deity, priestess, ruler, etc. in Minoan art. However, the symbolism behind The Snake Goddess in particular is creation, fertility, welfare of the household, and wisdom. And if we were to take a retrospective approach from an Ancient Greek perspective to this particular deity depiction, we can see some of those traits in goddesses like Athena, goddess of wisdom and protectress of cities. In fact, “Atana Potnia” (thought to be Mistress Athena) is one of the Minoan Mother Goddess’ many names (that could be the names of other goddesses if the religion is in fact polytheistic).

Illustration of “Faience figure from Knossos – A votary of the Snake Goddess” in The Outline of History written by H.G. Wells and illustrated by J. F. Horrabin

A Breakdown of Key Mother Goddess Traits

Domains: renewal, household welfare, wisdom, renewal, fertility, sexuality, creation
Other Names: Diktynna, Great Mother Goddess, Great Goddess, Atano Djuwaja, Atana Potnia, Mater Theia
Deity Type: cthonic, creatress, household
Symbols: sun, various animals (especially snakes). A cat is depicted atop the Snake Goddess figurine’s crown, but that is a controversial addition to this day. In fact, a replica that I bought from the Knossos gift shop has an owl on top.
Precursor to: Artemis Eileithyia (Greek goddess of childbirth) and Athena Parthenos (Greek virgin warrior goddess)
Goddess Equivalent: Neith (Egyptian goddess of creation, war, and weaving)
Other Associations: Ariadne (Greek goddess of labyrinths and Cretan Princess), Medusa (one of the three Gorgons in Greek mythology)

Art History Resources: