The Last Priestess
The temple she serves.
The people and the gods she loves.
Having given up her only child and her very identity to become a priestess in ancient Crete, an idealistic young woman struggles to find meaning in the day-to-day life of the temple; but when she is chosen to be the next High Priestess, she must call on both mystical and practical skills to protect her people from the encroaching Mycenaeans, who want to destroy the Minoans’ way of life.
Their island steeped in ritual and tradition, unchanged for centuries, the Minoans keep to their ways as the world around them moves on.
Within the temple of Malia, Aria upholds the practices of her ancestors and the values that have kept her people—the children of the Great Mother Goddesses—safe and happy for generations, even when doing so chafes against her ambition.
She knows that the rites of journeying, divination, and sacrifice are the foundation of the people’s relationship with the gods. And the public ceremonies and feasts are the basis of the temple’s relationship with the lay people: the balance between the divine and the material, the people’s assurance that the High Priestess and her clergy will take care of them and provide for them, the way they have always done.
Aria knows that as long as Ida’s children take care of each other, the Great Mother will take care of them.
But their tradition of sharing their goods and themselves with each other and the gods becomes a liability when the people from the mountains in the north of the mainland decide that wealth is something to be hoarded rather than given away.
The newcomers’ demands increase along with their greed, and the Minoans are hard pressed to maintain their traditional ways.
What will become of a peaceful trading culture when their rivals decide to arm themselves and take what they want?
Get a taste of the story here:
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Reader love for The Last Priestess of Malia:
I’ve read some of Laura’s other works before, such as her fascinating work on Minoan spirituality. I’d also very much enjoyed her ghost-love story, The Bed, which is a fantastic example of “Witch Lit”, an exciting genre of magical writing.
The Last Priestess of Malia is on a completely different level. I feel like Laura has emerged as an incredible world-builder. She’s created a fascinating insight into what the Minoan culture may have been like, allowing the reader to fully immerse themselves in that world.
Aria is a dedicated child of the temple, a priestess whose initiation occurs amidst visions and auguries. Her journey involves strenuous and tedious duties, exciting rites and rituals, and sacrifice the likes of which we could not bear to endure. She grows from puzzled child to petulant acolyte to powerful priestess. Yet all the while something else is growing inside her; the ability to analyze and question, whilst remaining utterly devoted to her Goddesses, Gods and Spirits.
Meanwhile, the world continues to move and change outside the firm foundation of temple life. Not everyone is happy with the power the Goddess continues to hold. Aria learns the hard way that not everyone walks with goodness in their hearts. She has to learn how to deal with this much sooner than she ever thought she may have to.
At times, this book is bleak and emotionally shocking. Themes of losing a child, rape, human sacrifice, animal sacrifice, and ritual sexual acts are all woven into the narrative, but never simply to shock. Laura builds her world in painstaking detail. All these points are necessary to make it clear how different this culture is. This is how utterly devoted to their religion these people are, and how fragile in the face of losing it.
Her characters are completely believable. They’re flawed and doubt their own abilities, act wrongly at times, and even the protagonist makes poor choices and acts out of envy or pettiness. You can’t help but feel for Aria and her impatience. She’s frustrated with her slow progress through her temple education, and a sense that the High Priestess is punishing her in some way. You yearn for her to leap forwards, to discover her purpose- which makes it all the more shocking when you finally do.
Laura has also managed to make a startlingly relevant exploration of current themes. Suddenly, women outside Aria’s home are not treated as equals. Men start to use and abuse women and disregard the priestesses and Goddesses of old. The men and women of Aria’s temple do not understand this. They’re completely unprepared when it affects them directly and in the most disturbing of ways.
In a world where leaders mock the #MeToo movement and speak about women as if they were commodities, how can we not resonate with this? When women all over the world still lack the same education and rights as their male counterparts, these themes are all too relevant. This makes this story feel incredibly modern, despite the Minoan setting.
Laura also explores the dilemma between wanting to honour one’s Goddesses, Gods, Spirits or Ancestors, and being intelligent enough to question everything. Aria begins to doubt the accuracy of the rites and rituals they perform. She wonders how anyone can be sure this is what the Gods want- something anyone of any spiritual leaning will have pondered at some point.
This is a completely fascinating tale, beautifully written and completely gripping. The descriptions of the rites, from the trances to the dances and the opiates used to achieve journeys into other worlds are just incredible. I relished every page and can’t wait to read more from Laura Perry.
|| Mabh Savage, author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors and Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways
Laura Perry is an author of several non-fiction titles about ancient Minoan culture and belief. She’s worked extensively with the imagery of this fascinating culture. Now, Laura has written a novel set at the end of the Minoan civilization and it is a truly remarkable piece of work. There is a powerful sense of place here, rich with details of everyday life and underpinned by a wealth of historical insights.
The central character of the novel is a priestess, so the rituals and beliefs of the Minoans are very much at the centre of the tale. Obviously, much of this had to be invented/discovered/remembered. I was struck by how powerfully this had been done. Too many representations of ancient Pagans just retro-fit contemporary belief or play out modern Pagan fantasies. There’s none of that here. The rituals feel specific, and culturally rooted. Many of them relate to specific locations and seasonal events and while we have no way of knowing exactly what the ancient Minoans did or believed, this all feels utterly plausible and convincing.
This is a story about the end of a civilization, and as such, I felt it speaks to the present in a powerful way. One way or another, we are also approaching the end of an era, and perhaps the end of western capitalist culture. Either the climate crisis will destroy us, or we will have to radically re-think how we do everything. We aren’t the first people to have stood and the end of their known world and there’s a lot we can learn about resilience by looking to the past.
The Minoan world Laura describes is one of a peaceful culture based on co-operation, sharing, trust and mutual care. During the story, we see this culture brought down by an aggressive, hoarding, greedy, power-hungry culture. We see respect replaced with violence. We see consent replaced with conquest. It’s a tough read, but also a pertinent one. Culture is what people make of it. We all get to make these choices and decide what we support and enable, what we resist, and what we do with ourselves.
What do you do when the Goddesses seem to have abandoned you? What do you do when everything you hold sacred is in peril? What do you do when your power is taken from you by people who decide you have no right to self-determination? What do you do in face of abuse, contempt, violation, sacrilege and cruelty? When there is no magic solution to restore justice or give you back what was rightfully yours? These questions are so very pertinent right now, with international companies killing and displacing indigenous people around the world.
This is a beautifully written tale that will break your heart. There’s no making entertainment out of horrors here, but if it sounds like you could be triggered by the content, approach with caution – there are some very difficult scenes in there. Even though it is a book that will break your heart, it has potent and inspiring messages about how to keep going in face of overwhelming adversity.
|| Nimue Brown, author of Intelligent Designing for Amateurs and Pagan Dreaming, and co-author of the Hopeless, Maine graphic novel series
The Last Priestess of Malia takes place in Minoan-era Crete. I've included several maps in the book to help readers get their bearings in the various locations in the story.
The maps in the e-book editions of the novel can be resized so you can see the details as you like. But the maps in the paperback are limited to the size of the printed page.
So I'm sharing the maps here: the ground plan of the Malia temple complex, a map of the city of Malia, and a map of the whole island of Crete.
Click on the maps below to go to the full-size versions of them, where you can zoom in on the details as you like.