A Gryphon Newsletter

Volume 1, Number 4, Summer 2001

Did gryphons play a larger role in ancient religion than anyone ever guessed? It may be, according to:


Michael D. Winkle

The Ring of Nestor

Centuries before Herodotus and Aristeas of Proconnesus, an influencial Mycenaean man -- perhaps a prince -- founded a town on the southwestern coast of Greece near Pylos. He lived well, but his wife died at an early age. He interred her near their palatial home, and he commissioned an artisan to create an odd artifact -- a signet ring -- that would always remind him of her. He wore the ring on a necklace, and he looked at it on occasion to remind himself that he would join his love again someday in the Court of the Griffin.

Eventually the Mycenaean merchant-prince died, and his body was entombed next to his wife's. The artifact was sealed in with him. As countless years passed, the Mycenean civilization vanished into the sands of time, and tomb robbers broke into the couple's resting place, making away with many treasures and even the remains of the ancient dead.

The thieves overlooked one prize, however. .

In the year 1907, a Dr. Dorpfeld visited the area and discovered "a prehistoric acropolis and the remains of three great beehive tombs" that resembled tombs found in Mycenae. In these days of historical and preservation societies it may sound strange, but even as Dr. Dorpfeld came upon the site, local peasants were carting away ancient blocks to use in new buildings. A tomb uncovered by this activity appeared to have once held royalty, but vandals of past ages had already ransacked the sepulcher.

The relics that did remain in what is now known as The Palace of Nestor dated it to the 16th Century [some sources say 13th Century] BC. The completely Mycenaean nature of the architecture pointed to an extremely wealthy Mycenaean who founded a colony to take advantage of the Adriatic amber trade.

Noted archeologist Sir Arthur Evans writes:

"A remarkable discovery which I am now able to lay before the Society [for the Promotion of Hellenic Studies] shows that it was not only blocks for building material that the peasants had been able to carry off from the larger tholos, known as the 'Tomb of Nestor.' In the massive gold signet-ring, originally, no doubt, contained in the grave pit itself, they had secured an object which outweighs in interest anything that the careful researches of the German explorers were able subsequently to bring to light.

"On the death of the peasant who had the good luck to find it, the ring passed into the possession of his son, who in course of time ceded it to the owner of a neighbouring vineyard. On information reaching me of its existence from a trustworthy source, I made a special journey into that somewhat inaccessible part of Greece and was finally able to secure it." [1]

The artifact is known as the Ring of Nestor, a misnomer on two counts. First, the hoop is too small for a human finger, so most likely it was worn on a cord around someone's neck or wrist. Second, the Minoan/Mycenaean Ring, Tomb, and Palace probably had nothing to do with the Homeric (Greek) hero Nestor.

The amazing thing about the Ring, whoever owned it in life, is the scene depicted in the intaglio -- the raised surface that could be impressed into clay. It "gives us the first glimpse into the Elysian fields of Minoan and Mycenaean religion, and throws a singular light on the eschatology of the pre-classical age in Greece." [2]

The scene is quartered by a huge tree with two thick branches sticking out to the left and right. What is this huge tree? "The one obvious and largely satisfying comparison is, in fact, supplied, in a very distant quarter, by the old Scandinavian 'Tree of the World,' the Ash of Odin's steed, Yggdrasill." [p. 51] The symbol of a Cosmic Tree/Tree of Life is found in cultures all over the world, but it is not usually associated with pre-Hellenic Greece. [3] At the base of the tree stands a doglike animal. Is it the ancestor, so to speak, of Cerberus, his legendary stature growing (and gaining two extra heads) over the centuries? One is also reminded of Nithhogg, the dragon of Norse myth that gnaws at the roots of Yggdrasill.

In the upper left quadrant, two female figures sit facing each other. One is presumably the Minoan Great Goddess. "The appearance of the Goddess with an adult handmaiden seated before her has been already illustrated in the subject of a gold ring from the Thisbe Treasure." [p. 52] Two butterflies and two chrysalises hang over the Goddess' head, these being symbols of rebirth. Since there are two of each, they presumably represent the two other figures in this quadrant, "a youth, whose long locks fall behind his shoulders. . . standing in front of a woman with his visible arm half lifted, as in the act of greeting her." [p. 64] "We see here, reunited by the life-giving power of the Goddess. . . a young couple whom death had parted." [p.64]

A huge lion, couchant on a bench or altar, takes up most of the upper right quadrant of the carving. Two small figures kneel before him, implying he is a being of importance rather than a simple jungle beast. "The lion, with his head raised and turned back as if in the act of listening, may be described as in the attitude of vigilant repose." [p. 65] Leafy vines shade his head -- implying sunshine rather than the gloom of Hades. This mighty lion appears to be a benign guardian of the dead.

The lower half of the ring carving is called "The Griffin's Court" by Arthur Evans. Several figures are seen here. "On a high stand or throne to the right of the group, and in apposition as it were to the lion on the couch, is seated a winged griffin of the Minoan type, while behind it stands a female figure in whom we must in all probability again recognise the Goddess herself." [p. 68] But there is more in this scene than just an ordinary griffin:

"Immediately in front of the seated griffin, with two others in the background, are seen fantastic creations of a new class. These may be described as 'griffin ladies.' Except for the griffin's head and crest they are, in fact, represented as women dressed in the usual short-skirted fashion of the early part of L. M. I [First Late Minoan period], and even show long tresses falling down their backs. . . A steatite bead-seal has now come to light in Central Crete, showing the parallel type seen on the Ring of Nestor, a flounced female figure, namely, with a griffin's head.

"It is in connexion [sic] with these 'griffin ladies' that the young couple whose reunion in the Land of the Blessed is depicted in the upper field of the ring make their reappearance. It is impossible indeed not to recognise the same youthful pair, male and female, occupying the same position in the section immediately below. The female personage, who here takes the second place, lays her hand on the waist of one of the griffin ladies, who with her upraised hands unmistakably warns off a youth beyond as unworthy to partake in this Elysian mystery of initiation. The more fortunate youth in front looks back on his spouse and lays one hand on her wrist, while he seems to beckon her forward with the other. . . On the other side of the tree a griffin lady evidently awaits them, with one hand raised in their direction, and seems to be about to conduct them to the presence of the enthroned griffin and the Goddess behind him. The two griffin ladies nearest to the throne raise their hands in the act of adoration, and we are left to infer that a similar function should take place in the case of the young couple. We feel ourselves in highly aristocratic company, indeed the whole ceremonial is rather suggestive of a presentation at Court. We may conclude that, when the obeisance of those thus presented by the griffin's own kin is once accepted the debutantes have the entree to the Court of the divinity who reigns in the halls of the blessed." [pp. 69-70]

Sir Arthur Evans finishes: "It [the Ring] gives us our first real insight into the pre-Hellenic eschatology, and is the first glimpse that we possess into the World Beyond as conceived by the Minoans." [p. 70] Is Heaven a Griffin's Court full of vivacious Griffin Ladies? We gryph-o-philes should be so lucky.

STOP THE PRESSES: A recent book by Joseph Alexander MacGillivray (Minotaur: Sir Arthur Evans and the Archaeology of the Minoan Myth), has a lot of Bad Things to say about the famous archeologist. MacGillivray accuses Evans of moving artifacts from one historical level to another, "interpreting" inscriptions in Linear B (a language Evans himself discovered) any way he saw fit, commissioning the creation of fake artifacts, and basically mislabeling everything he looked at. Indeed, the implication is that the "Mycenaeans" were as much a fantasy as Atlanteans or Hobbits, created in the mind of Arthur Evans and given to the world, not in a novel trilogy, but in falsely interpreted and hoaxed archeological remains.

The Ring of Nestor does not escape notice. A man named Emile Gillie'ron is accused of creating many fakes that Evans accepted as genuine -- including the Ring.

So far all the references I've seen in journals and on the Internet still accept Evans' authority, but the storm-clouds of controversy are surely gathering on the academic horizon.

So did the Mycenaeans -- or whoever dwelt in the Palace of Nestor -- believe in guardian lions, a "griffin's court," and "griffin ladies" in the afterlife? I believe it is quite possible. Even if the Ring of Nestor is a fake, the creator carved a marvelous scene. Could it have been pure imagination? Evans was certain the intaglio was a mere copy of a much larger and more detailed landscape, probably a fresco painted on a wall now lost -- a statement that might be true even if the Ring is false.

As The Encyclopaedia Britannica states: "Apparently the griffin was in some sense sacred, appearing in sanctuary and tomb furnishings, but its precise meaning is unknown. The few references in the ancient authors give no clear idea of the creature or its role in cult or legend." [4] Unless Sir Arthur Evans was totally full of crap (a difficult proposal to accept for a man of his accomplishments), I'd say we've seen quite an important role for our favorite bird-beast in this life and beyond.

1. Evans, Arthur. "'The Ring of Nestor': A Glimpse into the Minoan After-World," in Journal of Hellenic Studies Vol. 45 (1925), p. 46.

2. Ibid., p. 48. Unless otherwise specified, all page references are from Evans.

3. In my own fantasy world, I made a "Cosmic Tree" quite central to the mythology of the gryphons, as mentioned in "Origins" (Eyrie vol. 1 no. 3). There seemed to be no connection at the time; I just liked gryphons and the idea of a Cosmic Tree. I get a kick out of this seeming vindication of my imaginary origin-myth.

4. Perkins, Ann. "Griffin". Encyclopaedia Britannica (1973 edition), vol. 10, p. 924.


"Serious UFO research groups, who tirelessly sift, sort, and systematize reports, will never forget 1973," writes UFO investigator Leonard H. Stringfield. "Autumn of that year staged the biggest UFO flap since bush pilot Kenneth Arnold captured headlines in 1947 with his sighting of nine 'saucer-like things' over Mt. Rainier, Washington." [1]

Entire books have been devoted to the UFO events of 1973 (such as David Webb and Mimi Hynek's 1973 -- Year of the Humanoids and Kevin Randle's The October Scenario), but the subject of Unidentified Flying Objects lies outside the parameters of this little newsletter. There is one occurrence during this period that strikes me as amusing, if not quite relevant.

A UPI release datelined Griffin (!), Georgia, September 10, 1973, read in part:

"Sunday night, a Spalding County deputy answered a call reporting an object hovering over a house. The deputy radioed his office that he saw 'two red lights descending slowly to Earth,' and then the lights disappeared.

"Mrs. Hugh D. Beall told local police an 'upside-down cup and saucer-shaped object' hovered over her house. She said the object had gold, red and green lights on the bottom.

"Mrs. Beall said the object, which she said made a 'funny' noise, was too low for an airplane and was just above tree-top level. She said the lights changed colors.

"There were at least two other reports in Griffin and other sightings in Newnan, Ga., 30 miles to the west." [2]

One wonders what such phenomena had to do with another strange event that occurred in the town of Griffin on the same night:

"A something described as a 'golden egg' fell slowly onto the lawn of the Res Clanton house in the Orchard Hill area, September 10, 1973. Mr. Clanton said that the object 'twisted' as it fell and that there was a sharp report and a cloud of smoke as it touched ground. The object had vanished but the soil stayed extremely hot for an unusually long time afterward. An agronomist from a local college recorded a temperature of 300 degrees Fahrenheit four hours later."

What can you say about the Golden Egg of Griffin, Georgia? I'd like to suggest it was the egg of a Cosmic Griffin -- that the "two red lights descending" reported by the Spalding County deputy were the eyes of the space-gryph as it searched for its egg -- that the unidentified objects' multicolored lights were its shiny rainbow feathers -- but that would be reaching. Maybe the last word should go to the "egg" witness: "Clanton's opinion was that the 'egg' was 'brimstone from heaven, to show folks they better straighten up fast.'" [3]

[1] Stringfield, Leonard H. Situation Red: The UFO Siege. (New York, NY: Fawcett, 1977), p. 19.

[2] Ibid., p. 21.

[3] Brandon, Jim. Weird America. (New York, NY: E. P. Dutton, 1978), p. 69.

Shortest Gryphon Article Yet

The eleventh chapter of Leviticus begins: "And the Lord spake unto Moses and to Aaron, saying unto them, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which ye shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth."

There follows a long list of animals that the Israelites can eat, plus a list of creatures "Of their flesh shall ye not eat." Eventually we reach the bird kingdom:

11:13-14: "And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the osprey, And the vulture, and the kite after his kind. . ."

Several lines on we reach (11:20): "All fowls that creep, going upon all four, shall be an abomination unto you." "Fowl" obviously includes all birds, but how many birds go upon all fours? The most famous four-legged "avian" I know is -- a gryphon!

I don't know how the bird-lions would take to being called "abominations", but they can be grateful for one thing:

Gryphons ain't kosher.

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