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Dove Goddess

by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
Golden figures with the doves, Mycenaean collection, National Museum Athens. Without doubt birds, and especially doves, played an important role in Minoan belief. According to a current interpretation, doves could be understood as embodiment (epiphany) of a divinity, a representation of a goddess in a bird form nearby her sacred place - a shrine or on a tree. This idea can be supported with literature: according to Homer the goddess was able to take on the shape of a bird. From the Early Minoan period the libation vases and amulets or models in a bird form existed in Crete and they were used for a ritual reason. We can observe a shape of bird even among the signs on the famous Phaistos Disc. The clay models of birds and their images on the ritual vessels are also amongst the regular furnishings of the shrines like those at Knossos, Gournia or at Karphi. The type of these birds has been a subject of long discussions between scholars, but usually they are considered as representing doves.

From the Old Palace of Knossos a model of the so-called "Dove Shrine Deposit" shows three pillars with capitals and beams, on which three doves are sitting. Two doves are incised in a stone vessel used as an offering table in Phaistos and some doves are pictured also sitting on the double axes at a sacrifice scene on the sarcophagus from Hagia Triada. Finally, the doves with the other sacred symbols are surrounding the clay figurines with upraised hands and cylinder-shaped bodies from the Late Minoan civic and rural shrines from Gortyn, Gournia, Knossos and Karphi. Some of these figurines with the birds sitting on their head or perching near of their body are called as a representation of the Dove Goddess. The doves are interpreted as an emblem of a celestial goddess and are a symbol of her heavenly power, contradictory to a snake, which has been regarded as an underworld aspect of the goddess and a symbol of her earthly power. But mainly in the Late Minoan period the sacerdotal symbols are mixed as the ritual objects and figurines, discovered from the shrines, are proving. The models of birds were found on the same places together with the snake tubes. One of the figurines from the shrine at Gortys is represented with a bird flying close to her cheek, while she is holding the snakes in her hands.

Unfortunately, we cannot identify the so-called Minoan Dove Goddess from Crete explicitly as a celestial goddess, having not enough material supporting this idea. But this is sure that the Dove Goddess was linked to the Snake and Poppy Goddesses, who are connected with the household role in Crete. All of these divinities were worshipped in the Late Minoan civic and rural shrines, where the traditional Minoan religious cults were kept alive.

It is not clear if the dove was only a symbol of a divinity or an attribute for a certain goddess in the Pre-Hellenic mythology. As well, we have no evidence if in the Minoan religion only one universal goddess was worshipped with various aspects, or if many goddesses shared a spiritual realm and governed over the sacred world of these people. The symbol of the dove spread out from Crete to the mainland of Greece and to Cyprus and to the other Aegean places.

In the Mycenaean iconography the doves appear as early as in the second half of the 16th century BCE. But the unique golden ornaments of a naked goddess and a tripartite shrine, surrounded by the doves from Mycenae, are interpreted as foreign imports. Bird pictures exists in the Mycenaean iconography more often from the end of 14th century BCE and were becoming a common decoration in the 12th century BCE. This motif is interpreted mostly as the symbol of epiphany of a goddess, similarly like in Crete. But we have no prove that in the Mycenaean mythology the same believing existed as in Crete and we can not attribute a dove to some Mycenaean goddess. Also it has to be mentioned that many different kinds of birds are represented in the Mycenaean memories, in which specially the water animals have a priority. Concluding we have to point out that the dove is connected with the sacred places and used as an offering, created from an expensive material in the Elamic culture in ancient Iran. So, we can suppose, that all of these sources mentioned here -- the Minoan, the Mycenaean and the Oriental played a role, when a dove came into the Greek and Roman mythology as one of the attributes of the goddess of Love - Aphrodite.


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