Poppy Goddess

by Dr. Alena Trckova-Flamee, Ph.D.

The image of the so-called Poppy Goddess appears in pre-Hellenic iconography. She is represented as a large female figurine with raised hands in a gesture of greeting or blessing. Her face expresses a state 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, 79 cm tall, was discovered in a small shrine at Gazi west of Knossos in Crete and dates back to the thirteenth century BCE.

A goddess with the same emblems — three poppies — in her hand is depicted also in a gold signet ring from Mycenae. This ring, inspired by the Cretan style, depicts a goddess sitting underneath the Sacred Tree, while the priestesses adore her. Between the small objects originating from Mycenae was also a golden pendant (shaped like a poppy). There is no doubt that the figurine depicted with poppies during pre-Hellenic times 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 the role of the bringer of sleep and death (Sakellarakis), or that she represented a goddess of drug-induced peace and forgetfulness (Higgins). In Crete there probably existed a close link between the worship of this goddess and the consumption of opium during certain ecstatic rituals. It seems that priestesses practiced a form of herbal magic there in order to achieve states of meditation, trances, or awareness. These states are depicted on golden rings, but no concrete information survived. There is a supposition that the old cult of Knossos was close to this one, which later survived in secret at Eleusis.

Also, it has to be noted that a sanctuary of Demeter, which was built a short distance from Knossos, based its rituals on earlier Knossian rituals. The motif of a seated goddess (who was called Demeter) on a throne with poppies in her hand is found on a Greek vase (plate) of the fifth century BCE.

There is presently not enough evidence to connect a real name to this so-called Poppy Goddess of the pre-Hellenic period; nevertheless there are links to the Greek pantheon and to a ritual performed, later in honor of the goddess Demeter.



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