Sunday, 13 July 2014

Exploring the ancient palace of Minos, home of the Minotaur

The sun beat down on me as I passed through the metal barriers separating a sea of tour guides vying for my attention and a tranquil stone path up to the palace ruins. The Palace of Minos in Knossos, Crete, is a place of mystery and wonder, although being over 3000 years old there isn't much left to see.

Set in a mountainous backdrop, the Palace of Minos is the most famous Minoan palace and was occupied for the best part of 700 years, a beautiful structure with striking red pillars and lovingly reconstructed fresco paintings. As I wandered around the ruins that used to be stock rooms, halls and communal areas, my mind went into overdrive thinking about the legendary resident of the palace: the Minotaur.

Photo: Scott Malthouse

The palace gets its name from the legendary King Minos, ruler of Crete and son of Zeus. He was a tyrannical king who demanded that youths from Athens were sent over on a ship every seven years to be fed to the Minotaur, a beast he kept in the centre of a labyrinth beneath the palace. The beast had the head of the bull and the body of a man, often said to be the offspring of Pasiphae, Minos' wife, who was magically enchanted by Aphrodite after Minos insulted Poseidon for not sacrificing a pure white bull the god sent the king. Paintings of bulls around the palace really drove the story home as I explored the crumbling structure and the beautiful stone pillars.

Legend has it that when the time came for Athens to send its sacrifices, the prince Theseus decided to go over in place of one of the young people. He told his father Aegeus that he would return in a white-sailed boat if he were to survive, but if he were to perish the boat would return with a black sail.

When he arrived at the palace, Minos' daughter Ariadne instantly fell in love with Theseus and gave him a ball of thread to track his path through the labyrinth. So Theseus went into the underground maze with the thread and made his way to the centre where he faced the ferocious beast. He thrust his blade into the Minotaur's neck, killing him.

On his way back, he left Ariadne on the island of Naxos, but forgot to replace the black sail with white. When his father saw the black sail, he threw himself to his death, presuming his son had perished. Theseus took the throne of Athens, but forever lived with the guilt of what he had done.

The palace of Minos is a beautiful place, evoking the legends that spawned from its ancient existence. I could almost sense the Minotaur deep below me, living in the dark, awaiting its next sacrifice.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Bedding the St Fillan's healing stones

Crikey, is it 2014 already? Happy New Year everyone! I hope you're doing great and 2014 is off to a flying start.

Today I was looking at the folklore news as I do everyday and came across this nice little tradition. In a tiny wee village called Killin in Dundee, Scotland they have just carried out a ritual that has been going since the 8th century. That's likely the same time that Beowulf was written. That's old stuff.

The ceremony is called the bedding of St Fillan's healing stones, which involves replacing the twigs, river wrack and straw that the mystical eight healing stones sit on. They are held in the Breadalbane Folklore Centre, where local schoolchildren helped with the ritual.

St Fillan is the patron saint of the mentally ill and was said to have healing powers as well as a glowing arm, allowing him to read scriptures in the dark. There is a St Fillan's Pool in Stirling, Scotland, in which people were dunked, bound and left on a pew or near the font. If the bonds were loose the following day it as said they had been cured of their ailment.

Stones have been believed to have healing properties for centuries, which has recently evolved into a new age belief regarding crystals.