Papadaki Project

Elements and aspects of magic in Minoan civilization

From the time of the earliest written testimonies to the most “rational” times of the human spirit, the subject of magic has always been at the forefront, sometimes as a  practice, serving the illusion of interfering with supernatural forces, and sometimes as the object of study and criticism. In general, archaeognostic sciences continue to use the term magic in the framework of two opposing, but not unrelated, interpretations, one descriptive and one evolutionary, which paradoxically transforms it into a phenomenon of either prehistoric times or late antiquity. That is why F. Graf suggests that a modern definition of the concept should be created, distanced from ancient meanings, and in particular Frazer’s theories, or the term should be used in its ancient meaning without influence, as it cannot be adopted in the modern “description” of the phenomenon.

The research of traces of magic in the Minoan civilization was originated from my involvement with the Minoan cult in my doctoral dissertation. References to magic exist in multiple studies of Minoan religion, but they are almost always incorporated into the descriptive-evolutionary context, according to which magic is prior to the already established -at the beginning of the second millennium BC -“palace” ritual. The lack of synthetic studies is not so much due to the indifference of scientific community, but mainly due to the difficulty of reading the sources. That is why it is necessary in the first place to settle our skepticism about the possibility of magical acts and effects on Minoan civilization, considering that people of that world may have perceived magic as a reality and thus have distanced from it.

A basic axis in tracing possible magical elements in Minoan civilization is fertility aspect of Minoan religion, since the rebirth of nature, which took on a ritual and mythological significance with the death and resurrection of the fertility deities, could not be left only to the will of the divine, but may have been aided by “extra” actions of a “magical” nature.

This study aims to investigate both tangible and intangible aspects of magic in the Minoan world, by setting the following research questions:

  • What is the essence and meaning of magic in Minoan civilization?
  • Are there really any criteria for distinguishing magic from religion, and if so what could it be?
  • Could magic be defined as lower or popular religion?
  • Could magic be identified with a psycologicl-emotional process, a theatrical action or fantasy inspiring technological progress?
  • How is magic analyzed? Is it a symbolic system or a simple representation with specific morphological and functional aspects and context?
  • Is Minoan magic harmful or passive?
  • What is its relation to the dead and the “chthonic” element?
  • How similar is Minoan magic to traditions of the Near East and Egypt?
  • What are the possible actors of Minoan magic? Can we recognize Minoan magicians and witches?

The aforementioned questions and prospective answers will trigger future research, by designating the volatile ability of magic to mutate and adapt, while concealed in the “official” religion.