My next post is going to be a shorther one, without that heavy linguistics stuff - if possible. All I intend to put together are a few facts about the names and attributes of some Minoan divinities, and the way their cult survived into the classical era.
Eileithyia - the goddess of childbirth and labour - is perhaps the best known Greek goddess of certainly Minoan origin. Her cult was quite widespread in the classical Hellas, with temples found in all the major cities of Greece: Athens, Megara, Korinthos, Argos, Mycenae, Sparta, Olympia etc. But her most holy sanctuary was a sacred cave near Amnissos. This tradition is quite unusual when compared to other divinities, and undoubtedly a continuation of the Minoan cave-sanctuaries. A high number of similar underground sanctuaries existed on Crete in the classical period: such as the Dictaian (Psychro) cave or the cave of Mount Ida (Psiloritis). Though these likely served other deities as well (e.g. Rhea), some subterranean sites are known to be associated exclusively with Eileithyia: such as the cave of Inatos. It seems that the Minoans firmly associated caves with childbirth, so divinities with the appropriate portfolio were primarily worshipped there. Some of these goddesses might have possessed healing abilities as well, judged by bronze leg and the human figurines found in the Diktaian and the Idaian caves. Both of the latter caves were famed as being the alleged birthplace of Zeus, thus also associated with his mother, Rhea. If we believe the Egyptians, Raziya (=classical Rhea) was also associated with healing, alongside with the mountain-goddess Amaya (=classical Maia).
The 2nd century AD author Pausanias gives us a description of the cult of Eileithyia at Mount Kronios, Olympia. From him, we know that the priestesses of Eilyeithyia had to live in chastity, as virgins - an interesting association with the goddess of childbith. The main gifts offered to the deity were honey-cakes and incense - reminiscent of the gifts customary in the Mycenean era, as recorded by the Knossos Linear B tablets. Pausanias also relates a story about how a woman appeared before the army of Arkadians, holding a child in her hands. But as soon as she placed the child onto the ground, he changed into a terrifying snake, chasing the entire hostile army away. Then it simply burrowed into the ground and disappeared. That was the story explaining the foundation of this sanctuary of Eileithyia and her child (titled Sosipolis, saviour of the of the city).
The latter tale also points to an interesting thing: somehow Eileithyia was also associated with snakes. This is when Minoan figurines depicting a goddess with prominent breasts, holding two snakes into the air come to the mind. It seems to be a genuinely Minoan concept, to associate snakes with childbirth. Although in Classical Greece, snakes were associated with life-force, even with healing (e.g. as the attribute of Asclepios), but not with procreation. To understand this strange Cretan association, we have to know a bit more of the snakes themselves!
For quite some time, snakes were identified as a chtonic symbol in Minoan iconography. For example, the female figurines with the characteristic triad of animals: snakes, cats and doves are thought to sybolize the goddess' omnipotence over three domains (underworld + earth + heavens). But this is not the only explanation, and not the best explanation of the association of a snake with a newborn child. I do not know how many of you are a fan of zoology, to know: many snake-species, like addlers, are fairly unique among reptiles with the ability of being viviparious. That is, they do not lay their eggs, but give birth to new little snakes after a certain gestation period - much like us, mammals. Members of the family Viperidae (the addlers), that show such characteristics, are among the most common snakes in the Mediterranean. Thus anyone who had noticed their viviparity could have made an association between snake reproduction and the human one. The argument is tempting, but there is a slight problem: The most famous snake-symbol of Greece: the staff of Asclepios (and perhaps the Caduceus, the staff of Hermes, too) depicts the non-poisonous Colubrid snake Elaphe longissima, which is actually oviparous. This makes me rethink the theory.
Now let us turn our attention to the origins of the name Eileithyia. It has been long suggested because of the characteristics of her cult, that the worship of the goddess is of Minoan origin. Fortunately enough, the Linear A and B tablets enable us to reconstruct the full evolution of her name. The earliest record of the cult of Eileithyia is the Linear A tablet KH5. The goddess is named there as A-RA-U-DA (*Alauta), and worshipped at WI-NA-DU (*Winatu = Inatos) directly corresponding to the goddess E-RE-U-TI-JA (*Eleutia) mentioned on the Linear B tablets from Knossos. From the Mycenean name, the classic Greek terms Eileithyia, Eleithya, Eiléthyia, Eleuthya (Ionic) , Eleusia (Laconian doric), Eleiuthya (Cretan doric), and Eileitheia (Northwestern Greek) were born - from one of them comes Latin Ilithia. The origin of the name seems to be Indo-European: The name Alauta does match with the PIE stem *h1leudh- = 'free': the same stem that underlies Greek eleutheros = 'free', Latin liber = 'free', German Leute, literally 'free people', even the non-IE Etruscan lautni = 'freedman'. As I expressed it before, the theonym is likely a loan-word from an unspecified Anatolian language (not necessarily Luwian - many of the Anatolian-Minoan borrowings seem to predate the diffusion of Luwian dialects onto the Aegean shore). That explains the first step of evolution: *H1(e)leudh-a to Alauta. While the Myceneans barely changed the name of the goddess they took the cult over of, It is not the easiest to explain the later Greek variants. While the lengthening of -e- poses no problem (remember: -ει- is not necessarily diphtongal!), the methathesis of -υθ- to -θυ- is more problematic. Also, do not forget the addition of aspiration, as a novelty. I think the best explanation is a re-analysis of the stem by later Greeks, and its contamination with the Greek word ἐλεύθερος and its hypothetic ancient verbal form *ἐλευθώ, explaining an evolution Alauta → Eleutia → *Eleuthwia → *Elethuia → Eileithyia. The funny thing is that the Greek re-analysis was mostly correct: they added aspiration back to a stem that originally possessed it in PIE.
I would also like to use the current post to debunk some incorrect hypotheses regarding the Minoan divinities. From time-to-time I have seen mentions of an alleged Linear A term, KU-PA3-PA3. Some sought to identify this term with the Lycian goddess Cybele. But the sad truth is, the cited word was only found on a single Linear A tablet, HT88. Recently, Kiminoa (who also maintains a neat blog on Linear A) helped me to clarify that KU-PA3-PA3 on HT88 is a misreading, for the correct word is KU-PA3-NU, a place-name (perhaps related to Cyrba = Hierapetra) frequently mentioned on other Haghia Triada tablets as well. So better dismiss the hypothesis that Cybele was a Minoan goddess. It does not fit the (Minoan-inspired) Greek mythology, either. It is much more plausible to believe that the position of 'overmother' was held by a familar figure: Rhea, and not some obscure Anatolian divinity otherwise unknown to the marority of the Greek word.