WHO IS ARIADNE?
Ariadne is best known for providing guidance through the mysterious temple-maze of ancient Crete, where she presided as priestess. Her famous thread was the means by which seekers could find their way safely in and out again.
The maze or labyrinth can be understood on many levels. Patriarchal myth has taught us to view it as a frightening place, built to imprison the dangerous Minotaur, who fed upon innocent youths and maidens. The conquering hero Theseus, said to be the savior who liberated Crete from this scourge, was assisted by Ariadne and her magic ball of thread. She instructed him to place it on the ground upon entering the labyrinth, and the ball would roll and unwind of itself, leading him to the central chamber. To return he had only to pick up the thread and rewind it, following the strand back to the entrance. In the story Theseus successfully penetrated the maze and slew the monster, then fled Crete with Ariadne, his lover and promised bride, whom he later abandoned on a nearby island.
Stories such as these are curiously compelling, even when we don't fully comprehend them. This is because the images they contain are powerful, and resonate deeply within the psyche. The labyrinth, the thread, the priestess... these are very old ideas that go back and back into the shadows of prehistory. To unravel their meanings is a labyrinthine journey in itself.
In this first Theseus-strand, Ariadne is represented as priestess and princess, daughter of King Minos, a mortal woman of historic myth. Her primary role is as a supporter in the hero's journey, used when needed, discarded in the end.
In the next unraveling we discover Ariadne, still mortal, still human, but with a pivotal part to play in the historical shift on Crete from matriarchy to patriarchy. In June R. Brindel's account (Ariadne) we watch through Ariadne's eyes the crumbling of one age and the installation of another. Much like the parallel Arthurian saga as retold in The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, or Clysta Kinstler's The Moon Under Her Feet, which depicts a similar shift in the Middle East, we see women in key positions, struggling with or giving in to the men of the new order. In this view the maze is now a dance floor, fashioned by the clever magician Daedalus, where Ariadne performs the ritual movements of Cretan spring ceremonies. We see Minos deliberately rewriting the liturgies of these rites, changing the goddesses to gods, forcing the priestesses to mouth the new words before the people.
Robert Graves unwinds the next strand in The White Goddess and The Greek Myths. Here the labyrinth becomes the battleground where one hero/god slays another. Graves shows a mixed view of Ariadne as both mortal and divine, yet always through the eyes of men and their gods. As matriarchal princess, the human Ariadne is representative of the Triple Goddess, who weds the victorious hero, thus bestowing upon him the status of sacred king. Graves is well known among scholars for his retelling of the many myths in which two gods must repeatedly overcome one another for the sake of the Goddess who is their Mother, Lover, and Destroyer. Graves tells us that the Minotaur is really the old matriarchal Moon-Bull, beloved of the Goddess, and sacrificed each year for the fertility of the earth. This tale of the dying and reviving gods, he explains, is the Perennial Theme of all true poetry and myth, and the basis of much religious belief today.
In the end it is feminist scholars like Monica Sjoo, Barbara Mor, Barbara G. Walker, and Patricia Monaghan who take us back to the beginning.
We come to see that Ariadne is the Goddess Herself.
"Most Holy" and "High Fruitful Mother of the Barley" are the original meanings of Her beautiful name. Worshipped primarily by women, Her rites are peaceful, and concerned with the womanly cycles of body, mind and spirit. Like Persephone, the Dark Maiden, She is the cycle of growth and decay, the fate of the grain, giver of life, receiver of souls at death. The labyrinth is Her own body, the place of Her mysteries, the cave/womb of initiation. We find this spiraling labyrinth in pre-patriarchal cultures around the world, such as that of the Hopis in the American Southwest, or the ancient Celtic peoples of Europe. The stories always tell of a numinous woman who presides at these sacred sites. With her guidance the seeker travels through the labyrinth to the spirit world and back again, learning the lessons of ecstasy, transformation, and immortality.
The thread that guides us in and out is the same thread spun, woven and cut by the Goddesses of Fate, makers and unmakers of destiny. It is the same thread pulled from the body of Spider Woman of Hopi myth, with which She wove the universe, and which She attaches to the crown chakras of all Her children, to keep us connected to Her. It is the umbilical cord of birth and rebirth, from womb to tomb and back again.
The monster is not a monster, but only the still heart center of woman, that men have so long suppressed and feared. Like the wheeling of the heavens, the twisting of serpents, the convolutions of our brains, the labyrinth unfolds and folds again upon itself, and all the meanings we hear about it are true. Back and back it goes, taking us into history, into herstory, into myth, into time and death and birth, into the Goddess, and into our deepest Selves. And if we can keep our hold upon the thread, it will lead us back and out again, as we traverse corridor upon corridor, labyrinth upon labyrinth, outwards and outwards 'til we have found spiritual rebirth, and escaped at last the tangled web of patriarchy.
At the time of the writing of this prologue, war has just begun again on this planet, in the region of the Middle East. It is difficult not to be aware of this, as I ply words to paper, and think upon ancient things. And I realize that the world in which Ariadne's original rites were practiced was a gentle world. No implements of war have been found amongst its ruins- only tools, art and pottery. Evidently there is a connection between Goddess-reverence and social peace. Perhaps this too is the lesson taught to us by Ariadne's thread...
Image at top of page: