If we were to open a hidden window into pre-historic Crete, the waking world might glimpse the way things ought to be. More than 5,000 years have flowed past like the sacred waters of Eden, and still, the fates are reticent to unveil secrets humanity lost. Keftiu, the place, and the people seem to have been the “nail that held up the world.” Her mystique, and the myths that resonate more than modern truths, can lead us to a better understanding of who we once were, and of who we can be.
A long-lost song of Keftiu still echoes eastward, across the waves off ancient Palaekastro, the modern name for a fantastic Crete coastal town in the east. The so-called “Hymn to the Greatest Kouros” is an unimaginably powerful ancient Greek anthem to Zeus, sung before recorded history to honor the son of Kronos, Diktaian Zeus. Priestesses at the Diktaion in ancient Palaikastro chanted the dutiful hymn at each Spring festival, bringing back memories and the spirit of God’s birth, his rescue by Rhea, and the mighty Kouretes who protected him from his angry father.
The Keftiu and Unknown Horizons
The ceremony was an annual ritual to the fabulous life cycle that still rules all things, the death and rebirth motif celebrated from the time humans first walked upright on this world. The hymn evoked not only ethereal prayers for peace and prosperity, but it also bound the people of Keftiu to their benevolent benefactor, born high up on Lassithi Plateau, to play as a child in the fields of Crete’s Amari Valley, beneath Mt. Psiloritis. This pillar still holds up the sky. The Keftiu, the name given Cretans before there were libraries to hold the histories, inhabited the island of the dead, a place referred to as the nail of the Earth. Ancient seafarers saw Crete’s highest mountain as one of the four pillars that held up the sky.
…for here they took you from Rhea,
babe immortal, the shielded wards
and beat the dance with their feet.
of Dawn’s fair light.
and the seasons were fruitful
when men served Justice
and prosperous Peace swayed all creatures…
Of all the artifacts archaeologists have unearthed here on Crete, the fragments of a limestone slab where part of this hymn is etched could be the most important. Found in the votive pits near Roussolakkos at Palaikastro in 1904, these fragments of prayer confirmed that Palaikastro was the site of the ancient Diktaion – the sanctuary famed in antiquity for the worship of Diktaian Zeus. The hymn, which seems to have been composed in the fourth century B.C., is significant for many reasons. Of utmost importance is the fact that the refrain of the hymn refers to the great god not by name, but only as “Greatest Kouros,” which seems to be by design. Some experts think this omission of the name Zeus (or Poseidon) was because of a prohibition of using God’s name. On this point, I agree.
The Time Before War
God, if I may be so bold, has been called by many names throughout human history. No one knows that the ancient Minoans called him (or her), but in Crete, the almighty seems to have been a vegetation spirit, reborn every year, like the Egyptian Osiris. To early Cretans, God was the master of everything that went beneath the Earth and the redeemer of our immortality. And at this Diktaion temple, we find another critical piece to the Minoan puzzle, a somewhat nebulous explanation from the fourth stanza of the hymn referring to Hesiod’s Golden Age and the time before men knew war. There’s also a reference to the heliacal rising each morning of every month’s morning star, which might help explain Minoan palace/temple planning and orientation. But this is a much more intricate subject, best dealt with in the independent study. Still, the idea of a time before humanity knew war is so appealing, especially in the situation we find ourselves today.
This “Hymn to the Greatest Kouros” is undoubtedly tied to the famous Palaikastro Kouros, a supremely fascinating work of Aegean art, only from a much older tradition. This incredible statue, which was found burned, broken, and defiled by archaeologists, was probably a sacred statue to revere the dance of the Kouretes, which was reenacted by cult followers at Palaikastro 1500 years later. The Palaikastro Kouros is a young god who was a consort of the great mother goddess presumed to have been worshiped by the Minoans (Keftiu). The object further magnifies the importance and significance of this part of Crete and reveals technological and cultural advancements akin to creations from mythical Atlantis. Thinking now of the world before warfare, the fable of Atlantis’ end rings more loudly.
If we look at the detail of carving and materials used to make this Palaikastro Kouros, it is not difficult to understand how people in other prehistoric places would have reacted to such breathtaking art. If we consider other ancient civilizations in Post-Palatial Minoan times (1500 BC), for instance, the Hyksos sphinxes from Egypt, from ancient Tanis at about the same period, bear nowhere near the same artistry or skill of craftsmanship, even though the statues are magnificent in their own right. And the beautiful Tell el-Yahudiyeh Ware of the Egyptian Middle Bronze Age seems archaic by comparison. But my story today is not about discussing the arguments for Crete being the long-lost Atlantis. Today, I want to tease the reader’s senses about the immutable spirituality of Crete island, and especially this part of the land the Egyptians called the “island of the dead.”
Very little is known about these mysterious Keftiu (or Minoans). Despite the efforts of some of the world’s most brilliant archaeologists, the piecing together of a fabulously wealthy civilization as old as time is a process almost as painstaking as creating such an empire must have been. Fragments of undeciphered writing, bits, and pieces of iconography, pots, artwork, and monumental building stones only serve as fragmented clues as to the origins and lifestyle of these people. The Keftiu must have seemed blessed by God one moment and cursed a millennium later. Ring seals portraying these Kouros dancing in the air over the outstretched arms of high priestesses, frescoes of fantastic scenes of life and prosperity, and scant evidence of a pugilistic thought even remind us of every fable ending we ever heard. But the biggest fable of all, our image of God, is the most compelling aspect of Minoan lore.
I am sure now that these Minoans knew the name of God, but at a point, that name became forbidden. It might be that the Palaikastro Kouros and its destruction is a milestone that leads us to Biblical citations about Yahweh, “I am,” and the newer ideas of who God is. What if God were perceived as much more approachable back when, and only after some massive cataclysm (like Atlantis sinking) was he (or she) so unapproachable Moses himself was not allowed to know him (or her) more personably? There is some evidence that the last Minoans ended up in Caanan, where the proper name of God was known for a while. ʼĒl ʻElyōn, you see, is even in Hebrew and Christian tradition, considered the supreme God, or if I may, the “Greatest Kouros” in the land of the Israelites. Yes, Elyon is an epithet of the God of the Israelites in the Hebrew Bible. And in Psalms, ʼĒl ʻElyōn is referred to as the redeemer. Again, I’ve touched on a subject far too deep for this report. I will deal with ʼĒl ʻElyōn in a work to come, where theories of Keftiu influence on Egypt, the fabled Garden of Eden, and the true origins of the Israelites will be addressed.
However, even though we cannot delve into the sons of the God of the whole universe (El Elyon), our Minoans forebears are a testament to peace and prosperity, as well as the epitaph was written for those who fall out of favor with the divine. In the case of eastern Crete, which was probably the most important part of the Minoan empire, it seems likely that God swept away Eden with the swipe of his watery hand about 1540 BCE. The Thera eruption, the biggest volcanic event in human history, sent wave after tsunami wave to rip huge pieces of ancient Itanos, Palaekastro, and the landfalls near Zakros Minoan Palace off of the main island of Crete.
If my ideas are correct, the desecration of the Palaikastro Kouros was part of the final act of the greatest fall from grace Earth ever experienced. Poseidon just ceased his protection of the Minoans, and the sea swept away the sons and daughters of the god. The Keftiu, the most advanced maritime empire of antiquity, was enveloped by the darkness that separated them from the brilliant Egyptians. For Egypt and other societies of the time, the Keftiu occupied the Liminal space between the physical world and the unknown. This world view, the security layer of mystique that surrounded them, was key to their centuries and centuries of peace and prosperity. They were, figuratively and literally, the gatekeepers of the great unknown. Imagine how the myth of Atlantis formed in the psyche of Plato, from an oral story he heard from his grandfather Solon, who in turn heard the legend from an Egyptian priest. The sources, the priests and sages, described what seemed to them an expansive world, but one with edges. And the Keftiu seemed to rule both the light and the dark. No, Atlantis never was. But Keftiu and the people whose ships reached the corners of the world, are a story that had to be told.
Dr. Beth Ann Judas delves more deeply into this aspect of the Keftiu-Egypt relationship in her thesis entitled “Keftiu and Griffins: An Exploration of the Liminal in the Egyptian Worldview.” My takeaway here is that the throne room at Knossos was the seat of the priestess representation of the mother goddess Britomartis (Potnia Theron), the Keftiu’s version of Hathor. This goddess, along with the goddess of childbirth Eileithyia, may have been two partners of Poseidon (Enesidaon). In the end, Minoan religion, a unique form of animism, was inextricably tied to their greatness. Whatever it was that allowed them to have unbridled development and an unheard-of peace, was unimaginably powerful. Powerful in the same way the idea of the real name of God is. Next, I’ll delve into the nature of El Elyon, and how modern Crete reverberates with his voice.