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Poppy Goddess

by Dr Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.
Poppy Goddess The image of the so-called Poppy Goddess appears in the pre-Hellenic iconography. She is represented as a large (79 cm height) female figurine with raised hands in a gesture of greeting or blessing. Her face expresses a kind of meditation or ecstasy. Just above her forehead at the center of her diadem, three poppy heads are carefully modeled. This terra-cotta statue of a goddess, discovered from a small shrine at Gazi west of Knossos in Crete, is dated to the 13th century BCE.

A goddess with the same emblems - three poppies - in her hand is depicted also in a gold signet ring from Mycenae. In the scene of this ring, inspired by the Cretan style, a goddess is sitting under the Sacred Tree, while the priestesses are adoring her. Finally between the small objects originating from Mycenae a gold pendant (shaped like a poppy) was also discovered. There is no doubt, that the figurine depicted with poppies during the pre-Hellenic time represented a goddess or symbolized her appearance on earth in a human form. The role of this goddess was correlated together with her attributes -- poppies and its effects in a form of opium. The poppy seeds are often explained as a symbol of fecundity and as a sign of an opium producing plant. (Davaras)

There is a suggestion, that the Poppy Goddess appeared in her role as the bringer of sleep and death (Sakellarakis), or that she represented a goddess of a drug-induced peace and forgetfulness (Higgins). In Crete existed probably a close link between the worship of this goddess and opium taking during some ecstatic rituals. It seems, that a form of herbal magic the priestesses practiced there, to bring the states of meditation, trances or awareness. These states are depicted on the scenes of the golden rings, but no real information about it survived. There is a supposition that the old cult practiced in Knossos was probably close to this one, which was later on kept in secret in Eleusis.

Also it has to be noted, that a sanctuary of Demeter, which was built a short distance away from Knossos, organized its rituals on the earlier Knossian religious base. Finally a motif of a seated goddess (who was called Demeter) on a throne with the poppies in her hand was pictured on a Greek vase (plate) of the 5th century BCE. Concluding, we have not enough evidence to identify a real name for the so-called Poppy Goddess in the pre-Hellenic period; nevertheless some links exist to the Greek pantheon and to a ritual performed, later on in honor of the goddess Demeter.


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