Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Sellopoulo Chamber Tomb, Knossos, LM IA – LM IB, 1600-1450BC

The Sellopoulo ring seal is the type image for the baetylic ritual and the type II epiphany, depicting a straightforward and clear image of the central event at the sacred rock: the beckoning of and arrival or heralding of the deity, expressed as a descending bird bearing some kind of vegetation in its beak. The stereotypical baetylic posture is also clearly shown – the male celebrant's thorax and legs are turned towards the rock, judging by the position of the legs, but the upper body is flexed and facing towards the viewer.

Fig 35. Sellopoulo Ring – Image and Sketch

One arm rests upon the rock, the position of the shoulder here suggesting some level of tension within the arm, whilst the other arm is held outwards, beckoning to the epiphany. The gaze of the celebrant is also directed at the bird figure, suggesting a direct visionary experience rather than a symbolic enactment.

The artist has focussed in some detail on the bird, such that we may identify it as some species of crane, bearing a seed pod or possibly a branch or berries. No shrine building is seen here, but the tree emerging from rocks at far left lends a sense of wild nature: this ritual is taking place at some considerable distance from any urban space. The line surmounted by dots at far right may also depict another tree.

Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Tholos Tomb B, Fourni, Archanes, LM IA, 1600-1480BC

This is a straightforward type III epiphany – the deity is seen in abstract space without any beholding visionary or image of celebrants engaging in baetylic or epiphanic rituals. We must proceed carefully, however, as this may be a simple icon of a once-named deity, or a scene from a lost mythical episode in which the goddess cavorts with a griffin.

Archanes-Fourni #1
Fig 36. Archanes-Fourni #1 Ring – Image and Sketch

However, there are two or three striking aspects to this image which suggest an epiphany, most notably the downward-pointing feet of the female figure which fits perfectly with the visual conventions of the epiphany. The deity's outstretched arms and tilted body also imply movement and flight, and combined with the dynamic posture of the griffin, lend a powerful sense of rapid (and possibly skybound) motion.

Another interpretation is possible: the female figure at right is a celebrant or woman performing an enacted epiphany (or indeed both) and the griffin is an epiphany of type II – more specifically a modified type IIa where the bird has become a flying griffin. The downward-pointing feet might seem to contradict this, however we have already seen two examples of ambiguity between human-enacting-epiphany and visionary manifestation (the seated figure on the Ring of Minos, and the rightmost dancer on the Isopata ring), and so it seems perhaps not unreasonable to suggest a similar occurrence here.

Symbolically, the presence of the griffin in Minoan art tends to denote female authority. The most famous depictions are on the frescoes of the so-called 'Throne Room' at Knossos, which Evans traditionally interpreted as the domain of a male king. Warren considered the alabaster chair and libation pot in this room to have functioned more as a site for the enacted epiphany of a female deity, and thus the link between epiphany and griffin is established. We also note numerous depictions of the goddess – here probably intended as icons rather than epiphanies – seated between two griffins; one such sealstone (figure 24) was cited in the main essay as evidence of iconographic continuity between a Minoan goddess and the Greek image of Rhea.

Heraklion Archaeological Museum
Provenance, current location and dating not found

We have here another baetylic ritual, fairly simply expressed, with a woman in a similar pose to the Sellopoulou seal, beholding a vision of multiple epiphanic character. Her body displays the same upper-body torsion and tension in the thorax and the arm in contact with the rock, as well as a similar beckoning posture. She wears what appears to be thin diaphanous skirt and a jacket on her upper body with breasts bared – such attire is commonly depicted at Knossos on frescos of women dancing or partaking in other rituals, and the location of this find at Ayia Triada might suggest a palace ritual.

Ayia Triada #1
Fig 37. Ayia Triada Seal Impression #1 – Image and Sketch

The first aspect of the vision are two birds (type IIa) which bear some resemblance to doves, or perhaps partridges (there is a superficial likeness between the bird figures and the 'partridge' fresco from the palace at Knossos). The birds have a surreal, construal edge: there is the suggestion of womanliness about them, as if depicted in transition from bird figure to floating deity. The question arises: is this an epiphany convention or an idiosyncratic feature of the seal-owner's original vision, that birds hovered on the edge of transition to human female?

The second aspect of the vision is the robe at far left (type IId), another symbol of the deity. Warren has narrated at length the ubiquitous images of robing rituals in Minoan glyptic, and reconstructs a ritual narrative that beings with a procession or pilgrimage to take the robe to the sacred place, followed by its offering to the deity and ending with the deity (either a cult icon or human enacted epiphany) being clothed in the offered robe. Once again, there is an ambiguity here: the presence of the robe may be an epiphany of one of the deity's symbols, but equally it could represent a robe offered to the deity, and thus the robing ritual may have been an activity that accompanied some epiphany rituals.

Alternatively, we could hypothesise that the robe here belongs to the woman undergoing the baetylic ritual: she would then be identified as a deity surrogate (enacted epiphany) and, having been previously offered robes in a robing ritual, has now divested in order to partake of an epiphany.

It should also be noted that the upper left part of this seal impression is damaged and the image has been lost. It is just faintly possible that we might reconstruct the robe, not as a garment hanging in a sacred area, but as the lower part of a floating female deity. The lack of downward-pointing feet contradicts this conclusion, however.


'The Minoan Epiphany: A Bronze Age Visionary Culture'
Bruce Rimell, 2010 - 2013


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