II — Middle Bronze Age. The Goddess of Fertility and her Young Mortal Lover

The evidence that, both for childbirth and for harvest, women and fields needed to be previously fecundated by a seed, bore the idea that the Goddess of Fertility had a lover with whom she was used to mate every year. From such idea arose the myth —widespread in all ancient agricultural societies— of a Mother Goddess accompanied by a young and beautiful boy, who goes through a premature death. The young boy, whose rôle in Greek mythology is usually known with the name of páredros (= “that who sits beside”, from pará, “beside”, and hédra, “seat”), can indifferently be either the lover or the son of the Goddess: when he dies, the Goddess grieves him for a while, and then gives birth to a quite similar son.

It’s the myth of the Phrygian goddess Rhea-Cybele and the youthful Attis; of the Semitic Ishtar and Tammuz; Aphrodite and Adonis; Aphrodite and Anchises, early replaced by the son Aeneas; Selene and Endymion; Eos and Cephalus; perhaps, Thetis and his premature dying son Achilles; Isis and Osiris. Such relationship survives in the Goddess of Christians with her son, who of course dies in youth.
The sculptural type of the Pietà —the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Jesus Christ on her lap or in her arms— was elaborated in Italian Renaissance on the basis of the Hellenistic type of the Goddess grieving her prematurely died young lover.
The meaning of the myth is well known to anthropology. The Goddess represents of course the Earth, while the páredros represents the ear of wheat. The ear has a short life, but only after its death —the harvest— it can be restored to life, because the grain of wheat that lies in the ear is also the seed of next harvest. Mating with the Earth, the seed gives birth to another ear, in a never ending circle. That’s why the young lover is often thought to be also the son of the Goddess. It’s nothing more than the natural cycle of death and rebirth: the latter cannot exist without the former.
It’s important to keep in mind that, in Stone and Bronze Age Europe, the páredros was not a god: the main feature of all deities is immortality, while the páredros dies every year, and that who is given to birth next year is not the páredros himself restored to life, but only the son of him and of the Goddess, who will mate with her starting so a new cycle. Thus, it is clear that the páredros could never be reckoned as a god, but only as the mortal escort or lover of the Goddess. Although in Near East culture the páredros was often believed to be a god who died every year and was then restored to life —as Semitic Tammuz or Egyptian Osiris—, in European tradition there is no evidence for this, as witnessed by the presence of both lover and son, and their substantial interchangeability: Eros (= Cupid) too, imagined as Aphrodite’s son, originally was a páredros of her.
In Minoan Crete, the archaeological evidence for the existence of a páredros beside the Goddess starts only from Middle Bronze Age (1500-1000 B.C.E.), after the conquer of the island by Mycenean Greeks, a Indo-European patriarchal and warrior people which slowly replaced female deities with male.
In this Minoan gold seal is depicted the Goddess, sitting below a holy tree, honoured by female worshippers; above, on the right, lies a male figure bearing the typical Mycenean “eight-shaped” shield. Many scholars think him to be a páredros of the Goddess: since Minoan art did not know the technique of perspective, it can be argued that the small size of the male figure in comparison with females does not mean that he is far situated in the skyline, but that his status is much lower than theirs*.
Something similar is witnessed by the following seal, with the Goddess on the left and her tiny páredros above, in the middle.
The emergence of male deities in European religion took place only after the Indo-Europeization of Europe, i.e. the replacement of the agricultural and matriarchal society with a patriarchal and warrior one since 1500 B.C.E. It was since then that the mortal lover began to be thought as a god: it is well known that, in the beginning, both Poseidon and Zeus were nothing more than the páredroi of the Goddess, as witnessed by the name Poseidaon itself, that in Mycenean Greek means “Husband of the Earth” (from posis, “husband”, and Da, “Earth”), and the Homeric formula for Zeus, erígdoupos pósis Héres, “loud-thundering husband of Hera”.
The great importance of motherhood in Old Europe was displayed in social organization. Society was matrilineal, that means that the children were thought to belong to the mother, not to the father: and since mother is always certain, she could have children from other men than his mate, who did not care whether or not he were the natural father, because his rôle was only that of mate and lover of the woman, not of father of her children. Therefore, couples were relatively open, and women were free to choose their men, replacing them when getting tired.
Furthermore, it was believed that above all the nature were goddesses; below them were women, who were a mortal manifestation of them. Since goddesses had their mortal lovers, with whom they were used to mate every year, replacing them after mating, women too had their lovers —men—, also them easy replaceable. Thus, men were thought to be only women’s escorts and lovers, not having the direct touch with goddesses that women —as a mortal manifestation of them— had.
At the light of all this, womanhood was reckoned in very high consideration, at any age. Maidens assured the renewal of seasons and vegetation with their circular dances, helped their parents with the harvest and their grandmothers in the preparation of magical potions, gathering herbs, flowers, and leaves. Women not only bore, nourished, and brought up children, but worked both at home, sewing and crafting, at in the field, together with men, especially during the harvest, threshing, and vintage, while in the ploughing and sowing season men carried out the former, women the latter. Elder women, thanks to their wisdom assured by their direct touch with goddesses, led their own families and communities, being either healers, sorceresses, priestesses, seers, or prophetesses.
Although during the religious festivals as solstices, equinoxes, or Full Moon, the main rôles of rituals were played by women, all the inhabitants of the community, both female and male, and of all ages, were present at the celebrations: thus, it was easy for girls to choose their boyfriends, and for women tired of their lovers to replace them. Such civilization lived following the natural course of seasons and of the Moon: its only rules were those of nature, with no taboos of sex and sexuality. Furthermore, the seldom archaeological evidence of ruined, burned, or destroyed settlements shows that it was also quite peaceful.

*In such seal it can also be seen, below the sun and the waxing Moon, the double axe, symbol of waxing and waning Moon, very common among Minoans.