Monday 4th April is Magna Mater (the Great Mother) in the Ancient Roman calendar, the festival of Cybele, Phrygian Great Earth Mother.
Her priests took on female identities and clothing to commemorate her lover (or in some sources her son) Attis, who, following a castration, died of the wounds but was subsequently resurrected.
Phrygia was a kingdom in what is now Asian Turkey, then part of Anatolia, centred on the Sangarios River. After its conquest, it became an important region within a succession of great empires.
The cult of Magna Mater is arguably the oldest religion of all, with stone-age sculptures featuring this mother-goddess, and a 6000-year-old idol found in Çatalhöyük, depicting her as a seated woman flanked by two leopards. This is the form in which She came to be venerated as Cybele in Phrygia.
The worship of this Goddess evolved over the millennia, but She remained a symbol of the powerful female forces in the universe. Many different interpretations developed, and various religious factions have interacted.
Not much is known about Her worship in ancient times, but the cult involving Her incarnation as Cybele, in ancient Phrygia, later evolved into the cult of Magna Mater in Rome.
The legend tells of a small child who was left die in the wildness, as a victim of the big cats which roamed the area. However, instead of killing Her the lions and panthers nurtured her, allowing Her to develop into an intelligent, headstrong and beautiful woman.
Perhaps She was a child mage who was later deified. She was said to have invented pipes and drums, as well as magickal medicines which She used to heal sick children and other creatures in the Phrygian vicinity.
She befriended not only the local animals and people, but also the satyrs and other supernatural beings.
According to one myth, She fell in love with prince Attis, but their love-story has a tragic twist; the intense Divine love of Cybele was overwhelming for the mortal prince, who went insane, castrated himself and died. Cybele, subsequently driven mad by grief, roamed around to sound of pipes and drums seeking Her lost love. In some other versions of the story, Attis was Her son but he succumbed to the same grisly fate.
The links between this story and the cult of Auset/Aset/Isis/Inanna/Ishtar/Asherah are very apparent, and these cults influenced each other heavily. Attis was identified with Dumuzi, Tammuz, Ausar/Wzr (Osirus) and other dead and resurrected gods.
There are also obvious parallels with the story of Sekhmet (Khemitian lioness Goddess) and Het-Hert (Hathor), the alter-ego of Sekhmet, whose worship merged with that of Auset/Aset (Isis) in various periods of Egyptian history. And similarly, the Essene Angel Camael, Guardian of Mars and Tuesdays, who is linked with the She Leopard.
In around 200 BCE, the holy black rock relic of the Goddess was moved from Her cult centre in the Phrygian city of Pessinos, to a new centre in Rome, where Her following flourished.
Seemingly, once in Rome, Cybele was merged with the Greek Goddess Rhea, and re-identified as Magna Mater, the Great Mother. Men, called Galli, who had castrated themselves in front of Her image, became Her Priests but most of the followers were women.
The cult plummeted into a somewhat depraved and ecstatic affair with only castrated men and women being allowed to attend the principal celebrations of the goddess, which quickly became associated with wild orgies. It was only protected from prosecution due to the protection of influential people.
The faction became led by the female priestesses and the Archigalli, the high priest of the subordinate Galli; the latter being responsible for most of the dance, divination and healing of the cult.
The worshippers gradually fragmented into fraternities, most notably the Dendrophori ("Tree-bearers") and Cannophori ("Reed-bearers"), with the liturgy of the cult being Greek.
Members of these fraternities enjoyed a degree of social influence and elevated status, gathering important followers. The ceremonies generally commemorated the deeds of Magna Mater and Her love for Attis; who represented the fertility and germination of the land. By his castration and death, the land was infused with new life. Again, much like the Auset (Isis)/ Auar/Wzr (Osirus) religion.
Many plays, known as ludi, were performed featuring carnivals with elaborate banquets and enthusiastic comedic performances.
One of the prime annual festivals was Megalesia, 4th-10th April. At the peak of the celebrations a taurobolium was performed, where a bull was castrated and sacrificed, and new initiates were baptised in its blood. Sadly, another parallel with the association of Asar/Wzr (Osirus) with the Bull Cult and Serapeum (where bull remains were mummified) and a possible connection with the later development of the European Bull Fights, which I really hope will soon be ended.
Caves, mountains and natural springs were sacred to Magna Mater, and Her temples were often built close to them. Women sought help from the Goddess, who favoured mothers and children, by sleeping in the temple. Midwifes were affiliated with the cult, and several of the priests were venerated as healers. Whereas the priestesses were more involved with Her tantric aspects, celebrating Her mysteries in secret. Little detail is known about them, other than that they were exclusively women. Eventually the cult vanished along with most other mystery beliefs of antiquity.
It seems another major festival was celebrated the 25th March to commemorate the castration and death of Attis. The Cannophori carried and Idol of Attis together with reeds and stalks to the temple. Once again, the taurobolium was performed, this time with the genitals of the bull being thrown into a cave (or well) consecrated to Magna Mater. After three days of grief and sorrow for Attis, the carnival returned with the Day of Joy, known as Hilaria, when Attis was resurrected, and fertility of the land was re-instated thanks to the power of Magna Mater.
Fascinatingly, this strongly resembles an Khemitian ceremony, thought to convert to October/November in our current calendar. Hilaria, usually connected to 3rd November, is also the name of the culmination of the Egyptian Festival of Isia on the 28th October, when Isis (Aset) resurrected Osiris (Asar) by re-membering him; no doubt contributing to the definition of our word remember meaning to recall someone from memory. Co-incidence? I don’t think so …
Book: In Search of God the Mother; The Cult of Anatolian Cybele, by Lynn E. Roller, Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999.
By keeping traditions, ancient cultures retained a sense of harmony and connection, thereby bringing balance and wellbeing into their lives.
Through Harmony Healing, Joanna offers a wide spectrum of events designed to nurture your welbeing. If you are looking for regular spiritually enlightening activities which help to connect you with the lunar cycle, we have our monthly Full Moon Guided Healing Meditations. The next one is Saturday 16th April (Easter Saturday) at 7.30-9.30pm (UK time = GMT). Participants all receive a deeply healing experience. Cost to participate is £20 by online BACS payment (£1 admin fee added for PayPal) or half price to RSE graduates. There are multi-buy packages for regular attendees. Book at the Harmony Shop.
Harmony Healing utilises the philosophies of the Ancient Egyptians, in the form of Reyad Sekh Em (RSE) Egyptian Alchemy Healing, to bring balance and harmony. Our recent Reyad Sekh Em (RSE) Level 1 interactive training course with Mindful Chakras (started 10th March) and Essene Angelology started 16th March. Missed sessions are fully recorded so that late registrations are possible. Reyad Sekh Em (RSE) Level 1 run about three times a year.
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