Minotaur - The Horned One and The Devil

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Horned One and The Devil

This is the story: Poseidon, Greek Lord of the Sea, sent an amazingly beautiful white bull from out of the ocean to King Minos of Crete with instructions for Minos to sacrifice it to him. Minos had good intentions but that bull was so incredible he didn’t have the heart to kill it and so substituted another, less magical, bull for the sacrifice.

Poseidon wasn’t pleased. He punished Minos by causing Minos’ wife, Pasiphae, to develop an overpowering lust for the bull. She persuaded the master inventor Daedalus to build her a lifesize, hollow model of a cow in which she was able to hide and consummate the relationship. She conceived and bore a child with the head of a bull and the body of a boy. He was called Asterius, the Minotaur, which means the Bull of Minos. Minos was horrified and embarrassed.

In other Greek myths, unwanted sons are exposed in the wilderness or put out to sea in barrels, sometimes together with their sexually transgressing mothers. Not the Minotaur: Minos’ solution was to build him his own underground domain, the labyrinth.

According to the Greek myth, the Minotaur lived within the labyrinth in total isolation and was never permitted to leave.

The labyrinth was a maze: the Minotaur who dwelled within knew it inside out but others who entered allegedly never came out. At some point, the Minotaur was placed on a diet of fresh meat. People were sacrificed to him: forced to enter the labyrinth where death awaited.

This sacrifice was locally unpopular; Minos found another solution. Following a dispute with Athens, the Athenians were forced to send seven young men and seven young women to Crete every nine years to serve as sacrificial offerings.

Theseus, son of the King of Athens, vowed to end the shipment of Athenians to Crete. He volunteered to be among the sacrificial youths. In Crete, he meets and seduces the Minotaur’s beautiful sister, Ariadne, a high priestess. In love, she vows that Theseus will not die and with help from the inventor Daedalus who, in essence, was responsible for the Minotaur’s conception, forms a plan that enables Theseus to battle with the Minotaur, kill him, and escape from the labyrinth.

The Minotaur is usually portrayed as diabolical and blood-thirsty; he is a consistent feature of books devoted to Classical “monsters.” However, the story is an Athenian story, told from an Athenian perspective: the hero is the man who kills the Minotaur. It is, however, the only surviving story: accepting it at face value is akin to accepting stories about witches told from the perspective of the Inquisition.

Whether or not there was an actual living, breathing Minotaur in Crete, there was a labyrinth. Archeological remains survive in the palace of Knossos in Crete. The palace is a vestige of Minoan civilization, the pre-Hellenic people who once ruled Crete. Little is definitively known about them. Their writing remains undeciphered. Even their true name is unknown: historians named them Minoan after King Minos.

Much of what is known about the Minoans is gleaned from artwork and artifacts.

Bulls were a significant part of their culture: images exist of youthful acrobats joyfully vaulting over bull’s horns. The Minotaur existed too, but apparently not as a scary monster: his image adorns Minoan coins. Minoan religion seems to have centered on a female divinity associated with snakes and a male divinity in the form of a bull. Clues that the Greek myth of the Minotaur is about spiritual conflict rather than merely killing a monster derive from the identity of the women in the tale, powers in their own right.

Image Pasiphae, the Minotaur’s mother, is the sister of Circe, lending this tale of animal transformation a different aura.

Image The name of Ariadne, his sister, indicates “Holy One.” She is believed to have originally been a Minoan goddess and would eventually become the beloved wife of Dionysus, another deity identified with bulls.

See DIVINE WITCH: Circe, Dionysus.