A dream shows me how to craft a new group shamanic journey into mythic territory in quest of the Minotaur. Then the Minotaur turns up, thirty feet tall, on a building haf a mile from my house in a little rustbelt city in the Northeast United States.
Like the Great Goddess,a myth we can live by may turn any one of a thousand faces to us. Sometimes they shine on us in dreams, as in a dream I recorded on May 13,2018. Here is my unedited journal report:
Ariadne's Magic Ball
Overnight I led a workshop in which I guided eager participants on a new group journey modeled on the story of Ariadne's thread. The assignment was to find your way through a confusing maze to confront your own version of the Minotaur: the shape of the fear that prevents you from claiming your full creative gifts. I instructed the journeyers to take with them a magic ball of luminous thread. They would tie one end of the thread to the lintel at the entrance to the maze and then let the ball roll before them, guiding them to the place of encounter with the Beast. They would then follow the thread back, like Theseus the Minotaur-slayer.
Feelings: I came out of this dream cheerful and satisfied, also curious about the variation from the familiar story of Ariadne's thread,
Reality check and research: Ariadne's thread is usually described as something that will get you out of a hairy situation, rather than into it. I was excited to find that Robert Graves reports (in The Greek Myths) that Daedalus, the builder of the Cretan Labyrinth (actually more like a maze) gave Ariadne "a magic ball of thread" that would roll along winding ways to the place of the Minotaur. This is what she loaned to Theseus to get him to the "innermost room" of the Minotaur and back.
Dreaming with a myth: What was actually going on here? Is it possible the original reason for braving the labyrinth was not that you had been condemned as a blood offering to a monster,or called to a hero's quest to slay the monster,but invited to a place of initiation and union with the sacred?
Revisiting old sources, I was reminded that Minoan culture was Goddess-centered and that the hieros gamos (sacred marriage) between the Goddess and her Moon Bull consort was an essential rite. It has been suggested that the Goddess, embodied by her priestess, wore a cow mask and horns and that the King wore a bull mask and horns.
Was the place of the Minotaur (literally "Bull of Minos"; Minos means "Moon-being") a place of enactment of the sacred rite? Or an ordeal that must be survived to earn the right to enter the divine embrace? Was passage through the labyrinth (not the neat unicursal labyrinth of later churches but a wilderness of wandering ways) initiation in the deep womb of the Great Mother?
Has the simplified and familiar story of the hero killing the monster been overlaid on the more ancient Goddess story, and the Goddess reduced to a crazy queen and a girl with a crush on a strapping Greek?
"Without the names, the meaning of things is lost," wrote the great lexicographer Isadore of Seville,and that is especially true in threading this myth. When you know that the name Ariadne may be related to a Greek title of the Queen of the Underworld and may originally derive from a Sumerian name (Ariande) meaning “High Fruitful Mother of the Barley" you'll be freed from the notion that she is just a romantic girl with a useful ball of thread.
When you learn that the name of Queen Pasiphae, mother of the Minoteur and his half-sister Ariadne, means "Shines on All" you might doubt those versions in which she is a cracked tauromaniac who has a wooden frame constructed so she can have sex with a very special bull by tricking him into thinking she was a cow You may then be able to visualize ancient Minoans and Hellenes chortling over the rubes who bought an exoteric, literalistic telling of the Goddess's relations with the bull.
You'll find that boughs heavy with fruit were carried in rituals in her honor. She was worshipped as a goddess of the fertile earth, as well as the Underworld and the Moon, and was attributed the power to bring men inside the experience of women. In Cypriot rituals devoted to her, men simulated the pain of childbirth.
A ball of yarn is also called a clew. This, from Middle English, is the origin of our word "clue". Ariadne's clue can take you to a place of creative discovery,where you step beyond fear and blockage into the embrace of a greater power.
Let's hear from Joseph Campbell. Still writing in hero more than Goddess mode in The Power of Myth, he gives us further valid perspective:
“The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we thought to find an abomination we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another we shall shay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence."
If we find that we have to face a monster at the heart of the labyrinth, we may discover that the monster is no stranger, but a shadow self that must be recognized and integrated or overcome.
Men and women may have differing experiences of the Minotaur. A man man may be more inclined to fight,a woman more poised to gentle and heal and embrace. In his extraordinary short story "The House of Asterion", Jorge Luis Borges speaks in the voice of the Minotaur (one of whose Cretain names is Asterion) expressing his longing to be released from self-imposed isolation by the bronze sword of the hero.
Whatever we find at the heart of the labyrinth, let's be ready to recognize that what we feared as a monster may prove to be a teacher, as promised in the derivation of the word. Our word "monster" comes from the Latin monstrum, which means "portent" or "oracle" and is related to monstrator,or "teacher" and demonstrator, one who shows what we need to see. Threading the maze brings us to the center of the self, to what we need to confromt in order to release our full creative and erotic power, marry separated aspects of our energies, and embody the god/goddess of our greater nature.
Last week in my current online course Dreaming Your Mythic Life I invited participants to go on a group shamanic journey to thread the Labyrinth and meet the Minotaur. This went very deep and the journey reports shared later were amazing, turning the face of the myth in hundreds of fresh and original ways.
Then the Minotaur appeared, 30 feet tall, on the wall of a building half a mile from my home. We learned from a local news report that a downtown meadery called The Bull and Bee commissioned an artist to paint him. Unknown to me, this was accomplished in the dark the night before my class. The message, for me, is clear: when a mythic power comes after you, invoked or uninvoked, be ready for it to show up in the street.
The National Archaeological Museum of Spain in Madrid houses an Attic black-figure cup from around 515 bc with this painting ofthe Minotaur iniside. There are letters around the edge. start just before the Minotaur’s left foot and ead in a counter-clockwise direction and you will the Greek phrase, χω παις καλώς ho pais kalos, which translates as “I play well”. Maybe not would expect and a clue tyhat a sacred game is afoot. It may be a sexual come-on. Such cups were used in symposia where older and younger men and boys partied together.