Kalika – Goddess of Crete

"The Priestess Snake Dance" Art by Vasilis Zikos

By Artesia



Sacred Symbols – labrys, bull horns, snake, poppy,

breasts, caves, nature


Sacred Foods – opium, olive oil, wine, grain, honey


Colors – white, red, black


Seasons – all


Aspects of Life – birth, childbirth, death, love.  She is also connected to ecstatic dancing and art, especially pottery, faience, weaving and painting.  Favored patterns in Cretan art included spirals and life-like studies of plants, marine life and animals. 


Animals – snake, dove, bull, dolphin, bee, octopus


Elements, Rocks, Metals – clay, shells, gypsum, gold, earth and water


Flower – poppy, trees


“Out of the dark blue sea there lies a land called Crete, a rich and lovely land, washed by waves on every side…” Odysseus describing Crete to his wife Penelope from Homer’s Odyssey.  

Map of the Mediterranean
"Used with permission by Random House, copyright The Bodley Head"



Crete is a Mediterranean island now part of modern day Greece.  It is almost equidistant from Europe, Asia and Africa.  The island measures approximately 150 miles east to west and is covered with many mountains, the tallest being Mt. Ida which has an 8,000 foot summit.  The island experiences mild and sunny winters with hot summers. (1, p.7) 


The island’s highlands are excellent for growing sheep and goats and the lowlands, including the massive plain, Messara, grow cereals, beans, olives and grapes.  The island currently grows citrus fruits, but these would not have excited long ago and Crete was heavily wooded in ancient times. (1, p.7) 


 "Artist's rendering of Knossos"
 "Used with permission of Random House, copyright The Bodley Head." 



Archaeologists have found evidence of people settling on Crete during the Neolithic period pre 6,000 B.C.  The people lived on the eastern side of the island along an almost centrally located river that does not evaporate during the dry season. (1, p.13) The Neolithic dig sites are situated close to the ruins of the ‘Palace of Knossos’.  The first excavator of the ‘palace’, Arthur Evans, suggested Crete had a monarchy and the ruins therefore were of a palace.  Others speculate they were independent religious centers.    


The early people bred sheep and goats, cultivated crops and fished.  They lived in mud brick houses.  Gradually, they began to make pottery and spin and weave cloth. (1, p.13)



Ancient Cretan history is divided into two significant parts, Minoan and Mycenaean.   The term Minoan is a misnomer, getting its origin from King Minos (more about him later).

Map of the Labyrinthine Site of Knossos
 "Used with permission of Random House, copyright The Bodley Head."


During the Pre-palatial period (from 2600 to 2000 B.C.), the people did metalwork with copper, bronze, silver, tin and gold.   The indigenous Cretans lived on the island flourishing in the arts and traveling the seas, trading with Egypt, the Hittites in Asia Minor and Syria.  (1, p.23) Sometime near 2000 B.C., they built the ‘palace’ at Knossos which was ruined by an earthquake around 1700 B.C.  A new palace was built at the same site shortly after the devastation of the first.  From 1700 – 1400 B.C. there were goldsmiths, silversmiths, ivory workers, seal engravers, faience workers, fresco painters and potters producing art at the ‘palace’.  During this period the people spoke a language that was not Greek and wrote using Linear A which has never been deciphered. (1, pp.19-24)      


Minoan women are depicted in art with white skin, the men with red.  The women are bare breasted, as are statues of the Goddess.  They wore flounced skirts, corsets and jewelry.  Minoan men wore a kilt and high leather books.  They did not wear jewelry except some had a signet ring. (1 p.21)



Minoans also practiced an acrobatic physical game called ‘bull leaping’ where both men and women leapt over the backs of bulls.  Given the importance of bulls in Minoan art, it is probably safe to conclude that bull leaping was an important part of ritual celebrating the cycle of life.  There is a surviving fresco depicting bull leaping with a woman ready to leap.  As she stands in front of the massive animal, I can easily see where the phrase “grab the bull by the horns” originated.  And today, in Landes, France men still do somersaults over charging cows. (1, p.21) 


Up until 1600 B.C., the Minoans buried their dead with some possessions, pottery and their seals.  A man would have his tools/weapons, a woman her jewelry.  The dead were trussed into a fetal position and buried in round stone communal tombs.  They did not practice cremation. (1, p.23)  



Experts think that at some point near 1450 B.C. the Mycenaeans, from mainland Greece, invaded the island and assumed control, either by force or default.  This takeover coincides with some type of natural disaster that destroyed the other cities of Zakro, Mallia and Phaistos.  At this point, there is clear evidence that the rulers of Knossos spoke Greek and recorded events using Linear B which has been translated.  In 1370 B.C., the Palace of Knossos burned, but we can only speculate the cause – accident or rebellion.  Near 1100 B.C., Mycenaeans began experiencing economic difficulty and possible pressure from the Dorians, a group north of them.  (1, p.17) In either case, the Mycenaean culture collapsed and with it, the glory of Crete.   


By the time Homer wrote the Odyssey, the Cretan civilization had been reduced to oral histories and ruins, the people living in poverty compared to their previous state. (1, p.17) 


Classical Greek mythology is full of Cretan references.  There are the several myths surrounding Minos, a possible King or title of several Kings, including his claim to rule Crete with Poseidon’s gift of a white bull. Minos’s wife, Pasiphae, fell in love with the bull and Daedalus built her a mechanical cow so that she could copulate with the white bull.  The story of Pasiphae’s son, the Minotaur, Ariadne and Theseus also takes place on Crete.  Daedalus lived on Crete before until he escaped with man-made feathered wings (you may remember his son flew too close to the sun and didn’t make it).  

And later, Zeus left Olympus to return to Crete when he changed himself into a bull and abducted the beautiful maiden Europa.  Once Europa climbed on his back, he swam away with her from her homeland to the island of Crete.  Incredibly sad, Europa lamented her kidnapping and felt consoled knowing that the entire continent of Europe would be named after her.



Britomartis - the goddess of mountains and hunting, she is also known as Diktynna and Aphaea.  Myth tells us she was Zeus’ daughter.  King Minos relentlessly pursued her.  Attempting to escape Minos’ advances, she ultimately threw herself off a cliff and was caught by the nets of fisherman.  Artemis made her the Goddess Diktynna and she was the goddess of mountains, shores and ports.  In another version Britomartis escaped to Aegina where she was worshipped as Aphaea, a protectress.  She is a forerunner to Potnia Theron (The Mistress of Animals). Aphaea is connected to Athena at temples on Aegina and sites near Athens known as Athena Aphaea. (2) 


The Goddess of the Sea (Mistress of Fishes) - appeared in Minoan art and had shrines along the Minoan shore line.  She is sometimes depicted on seals and golden rings traveling in a boat.  (4)  The importance of the sea is evident by a huge fresco found at Knossos depicting dolphins and there is an entire style of pottery called ‘Marine Ware.’ 


Eileithyia – Goddess of Childbirth.  Eileithyia has a cave on Crete where people traveled and made offerings for fertility, pregnancy and childbirth. 


Ariadne – daughter of Minos and Pasiphae.  She fell in love with Theseus and promised to help him escape the great maze if he would take her with him.  Daedalus gave her a ball string so that Theseus could find his way out of the labyrinth.  Ariadne gave him a sword so that he could slay the Minotaur.  Theseus either left her on the island of Naxos to get rid of her, or because the god of wine, Dionysius told him to.  Ariadne wed Dionysius and her crown became the Aurora Borealis.  




Very little is known about her.  She is closely associated with the Hittite goddess Cybele who was depicted with a panther, lion and dove.  She is also closely related to Astarte in that she is part of a regeneration cycle.  (3)  Kalika’s consort, the bull, is sacrificed and reborn each year.

Cretan Goddess Names:
Affiliated Goddesses:
The Mother of Mountains Atemis
Hunting Goddess
Potnia Theron
Goddess of the Sacred Tree or Pillar
Snake Goddess
Dove Goddess
Poppy Goddess
Mother Goddess – nursing an infant
Sea Goddess – carrying weapons.



 Unhappy with men’s random name choices which tended to describe the artifact they found rather than the Goddess, I felt she deserved a name and was led to choose Kalika.  Kalika is a Greek word for the pod, bud or outer covering of a flower.  The pod is both the final phase of the flower and yet it contains seeds, the promise of rebirth, thus it succinctly depicts the cycle of life.  Kali also means beautiful or good and is used in contemporary Greek speech today in such phrases as:


Good morning – pronounced as - kaleemera

Good afternoon – pronounced as - kaleespera

Good night – pronounced as - kaleeneekhta  (5)


Other Greek Women’s Names Include:


Kalidas – most beautiful

Kalligenia – most beautiful daughter

Kalliroe – beautiful stream  (6)


Kalika was worshiped at the main ‘palace’ sites of Zakro, Phaistos, Mallia and Knossos.  She was also worshipped in caves and at mountain peak shrines.  Her worship included epiphany, the appearance of the Goddess to the people, ecstatic dance, blood offerings of small and large animals and agricultural offerings of grain, olive oil, honey and wine. Her worship probably included the ingestion of opium.


15 Minute Heart/Blood Ritual:


Clear your space and light your candles.  Then put in your favorite dance music.  Crank it up and dance your heart out for fifteen minutes. 


Bless yourself by doing a little cardiovascular exercise today and everyday.  Take joy in the way your body moves.  Relish that you are alive.   


When you are done, be sure to thank the Goddess for all that you have and hug someone you love to share your energy.


Original Work


Art by Marta Aguado



Lovely Lady,

Mother to the Pantheon,

grant me appreciation

of the blessings

that encircle me.

Help me to protect

your sacred places

and be an advocate

for your animals.

Live within me

that I may face my fears

and fiercely love

the gifts you’ve sent -

my animal companions,

my consort,

my children,

        and myself.         






1 – “The Archaeology of Minoan Crete” Reynold Higgins, Henry Z. Walck, Inc., New York, 1973


          2 – www.pantheon.org/articles/b/britomartis.html

          3 – www.fhw.gr/chronos/02/crete

          4 – www.pantheon.org/articles/g/goddess_of_the_sea.html

5 – “Berlitz Greek Phrase Book” Berlitz Publishing, Singapore, 2004

          6 – “Baby Names From Around the World” Pocket Publishing, 1991


Additional Sources:



                   (an excellent site for photos of Crete)

This page is the creative and intellectual property of Artesia
Copyright 2006