I was going to write an article about the Pleiades in Minoan spirituality and culture for today’s blog, but the research time for that got pre-empted by the fact that my husband was hospitalized and then had major surgery. I promise to write about the Pleiades later. But the whole surgery-and-hospital thing got me thinking about the role of the gods in our lives and how that has changed—or hasn’t—since ancient times.
My husband just had surgery for diverticulitis, a problem he’s had for a couple of years now. Just a century ago, before antibiotics were available, the first bout of it would have killed him. But with antibiotics and modern medicine, he managed to out-wrangle the condition and may have kicked it for good.
In many ways, we have life a lot easier than our ancestors did. The Minoans may have had paved streets, enclosed sewers, and flush toilets but they didn’t have antibiotics. Something as simple as an abscessed tooth would have been deadly. Many of the common occupations back then—farming, fishing, smithing—would have been quite dangerous. And without an understanding of germs and contagion, many diseases would have appeared to be some sort of evil magic, spreading invisibly from place to place. So when their (actually quite extensive) herbal medicine wasn’t up to the task, the only place they could turn was to the gods.
I’m not saying the ancient Minoans were superstitious idiots. Far from it. They had herbal medicine so advanced that the Egyptians copied down their recipes in papyri that still survive today. Most ancient societies had practitioners who knew how to set bones and deliver babies. But life was still pretty scary in many ways. Many, possibly most, Minoan homes had shrines and altars to the gods and ancestors. The people prayed to them and petitioned them for help in everyday matters and in matters of life-or-death.
As I sat there in the hospital, praying to the gods and ancestors with whom I have relationships and waiting for the medical staff to come tell me my husband’s surgery was over, it occurred to me that life is still pretty damn scary in a lot of ways. It’s true, I don’t have to worry about dying of pneumonia (thank heavens for penicillin!) and I safely delivered two babies via c-section when I might have died trying to deliver them vaginally. But there are still wars (yeah, someone fix that, would you?) and people still get sick or injured in life-threatening ways. People still die of stuff other than old age and natural causes. And that will probably always be the case.
In spite of our iPhones and space stations, life is still scary and we still need someone/something bigger than us to call on, to lean on, to get us through those hard times. For me, that’s Ariadne, Dionysus, and my ancestors. For other people, the names will be different. But underneath all the technology and the shininess, people are still the same. And thankfully, the gods and goddesses are still hanging with us through it all, good and bad.
In the name of the bee,
And of the butterfly,
And of the breeze, amen.