Friday, October 2, 2009

The More You Wish You Didn't Know: Ancient Goddess Cults

Secret Society Cover

I saw the cover for Secret Society by Tom Dolby at I Heart Monster. What struck me about it was the similarity between the cover and a famous Minoan painting--not because of its similarity to the painting per se, but more because of the ankh on the back of the girl's neck.

The painting in question is called La Parisienne (so-called because of her striped dress, which was popular in Paris at the time of Knossos'--an ancient Minoan fortress on Crete--initial excavations). You'll notice that the back of her dress has a strange loop and then two scarf-like fringes hanging down. Ancient Aegean women used knotted cloths during menstruation; but Arthur Evans, the lead archaeologist at Knossos, noticed that many images of women there had a looped and knotted scarf on the back of their clothes, as well. Evan speculated this was because the knot had become a symbol of a goddess the women worshipped. He also casually mentioned the knot's similarity to the Egyptian ankh.

The origin of the ankh symbol is unknown, but some speculate that it evolved from the knot of Isis, a symbol of the goddess which was worn on girdles by her priestesses, and which appears in Minoan art as well! Is it possible goddess worship at Knossos developed directly from Egypt, or vice versa? The art certainly seems to suggest it. Various Egyptian objects were found at Knossos, and snake goddess statues from both Knossos and Egypt show a definite similarity (for more about this, I recommend Christopher Whitcombe's excellent article, Women in the Aegean: Snakes, Goddesses, Magic, and Women).

Apparently, there was a connection between the ankh, the symbol of life, and goddess cults--to be more specific, snake goddess cults--in both Egypt and Ancient Crete. Minoan women wore knots on either the back of their necks or on ceremonial girdles to signify their affliation with this cult. Does this have anything to do with the book Secret Society? I have no idea; I haven't read it. But if it does, I will have to give both the author and cover artist huge props for doing their research.

the more you wish you didn't know

Next up, more fun with art history curiosities from The Lost Symbol!

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