We Are an Old People, We Are a New People

Part Three,  Cybele and Priestesses

by Cathryn Platine


When discussing the pre-history of the Mother Goddess it is best to start with a brief discussion of socio-political blinders that much of the prior research has suffered from.  Even the very word "mother" conjures images and expectations that, upon closer examination, bear little relation to the Anatolian Great Mother Goddess and other Mother Goddess forms, yet colour almost every account written about Her  In her introduction to In Search of God the Mother, Lynn Roller touches on many of these issues along with an excellent recap of the history of the examination of the very concept of a Mother Goddess and deconstructs both the paternal "Mother Goddess primitive, father God superior" linear viewpoint of the majority of scholars as well as the "Golden Age free of strife and warfare" views of many modern Dianic pagans.  Were the ancient Anatolian civilizations matriarchal?  The plain fact of the matter is we may never know but my own research would indicate they were not as the cultures that spread the Mother Goddess we do have records for were not.  They were equalitarian in nature and almost certainly matrilinear, but to a western world that only recently started to grant equal rights to women in the past hundred years, I suppose an equalitarian society could look downright matriarchal.  To those who feel that a progression from a Mother Goddess to a father god is progress, I'd remind them that the religion of Cybele was the official religion of Rome for 600 years as well a major part of the religious landscape of the known world.   When the Roman empire turned from Magna Mater to Christianity, the empire promptly fell and the long dark ages began.......hardly progress unless progress means something entirely different to you than to me.  A historic note, while several other religions were called "state religions" such as Mithrianism, only the Cybeline religion was ever officially given that position by the Roman Senate until the Christian take over in the late fourth century CE.

We started our journey into the ancient past at Catal Huyuk where the first representation of the Great Mother was found in a granary bin circa 8000 BCE.  I am giving one of the earlier dates for this representation that is used because there has been a marked pushing backwards of the dating of ancient civilizations with increased knowledge recently.  In part one of this series we examined how neo-lithic life was considerably more advanced than most people realize.  Before dismissing Catal Huyuk as the exception, know that several other settlements from Anatolia show the same level of advanced home building and home life as well as considerable trade over a wide area.  Indeed, several newer discoveries have pushed back the date of the ancient neo-lithic Anatolian civilization past 10,000 BCE and there are literally hundreds of known sites that haven't been touched yet.  In addition from the sites we have explored we've discovered evidence of wide spread trade and the several contemporary sites show they are most likely from the same culture as they patterns of housing, religious artifacts and manner of daily life are very similar.

Lynn Roller dismisses the connection of Catal Huyuk seated Goddess with Cybele and although she gives excellent reasons, I feel she also overlooks compelling evidence for the direct connection of the seated Catal Huyuk Goddess to Her.  Many writers on the subject of ancient Goddess worship assume, based on widespread finds of female figurines from the neo-lithic age on an almost universal Goddess religion.  While I agree that you cannot assume these were all Goddess representations it is also apparent that the concept of a Great Mother Goddess associated with lions and bulls spread from ancient Anatolia to Sumeria, India, Egypt and the Minoans by 3000 BCE.  That the spread of the ground loom developed in central Anatolia also spread during this exact same time is evidence that this, indeed, was a factor spread and not a rising of a separate but similar concept.  Sometimes, as in Sumeria, a formally somewhat minor Goddess was elevated to this position.  Sometimes the Mother appears alone.  That this happened cannot be denied and is readily apparent by looking at timelines, deities and maps of the ancient world.  The point of origin is clearly central Anatolia.  Also quite telling is that the Great Mother is almost never associated with children, but rather with wild places and beasts and the very earth, moon and sun.  As we have seen in parts one and two, transsexual and intersexual priestesses are almost always associated with Mother by Her various names.  Just as interesting is that when one digs back into the various mythologies of Her origins how often one finds vague references to Mother originating as a hermaphrodite.  By Phrygian times, this hermaphroditic connection is transferred the consort Attis but even the earliest versions of the Attis myths start with Cybele as a female identified  hermaphrodite Herself.  The idea that humanity started from a hermaphroditc norm that separated into two sexes is a very very old idea and almost universal.

Central to Lynn Roller's discussion of the Phrygian Mother, Cybele, being of later origin is that the Phrygian people were preceded by the Hittites and co-existed with the neo-Hittites.  Compared to some of the other groups we've discussed, the Hittites are relative late comers, rising to power circa 1600 BCE and apparently worshiping an entire pantheon of gods and goddesses.  While the name associated most with Magna Mater, Cybele or Kybele almost certainly was from this period, it is important to note that the Phrygians themselves simply referred to Her as "Mother".  As we have seen, this concept of Mother Goddess is far older and widespread.  Prior to the Hittites as far back as 4000 BCE we find a Mother Goddess associated with both cattle and lions in the Halaf culture of eastern Anatolia.  

We know a flourishing civilization was in place in central Anatolia by 10,000 BCE.  We know it abruptly ended around 4000 BCE.  We know that Mother Goddess worship was central to this civilization.  So what happened?  Walled cities appear around this time period throughout the Middle East.  The answer to many of these previous mysteries is fairly simple.  There was a mini ice age that affected the area that began around 4000 BCE and lasted roughly 1000-1500 years.  Central Anatolia was simply not as fit for civilized life during that period and it's people spread out east and south.   This is when the Minoan civilization arose, the flowering of the Tigris and Euphrates civilizations and the migration of people and ideas to the Indian subcontinent.  This is also when areas that had pantheons, such as the Sumerians, adopted a Mother Goddess to head them, the elevation of Inanna being one the best known examples.  This is the time of the first evidence of a unified culture arose in the Nile valley.  It is at this time we first encounter Shakti in India, the Divine source of All present in everyone but needing to be awakened....

Looking at timelines and migrations what literally jumps out at you, if you are looking, is that Mother Goddess spread from ancient Anatolia and the banks of the Caspian Sea throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean and all the way to India all in the same period of time as the ending of the ancient neo-lithic cultures of Anatolia.  When this mass migration started, we then started seeing the appearance of walled cities as conflicts arose between those migrating and those already in the areas. It is the period between 10,000 BCE and 4000 BCE that was the model for the "peaceful matriarchal civilizations" of the modern Dianics......except it wasn't a matriarchy and the conflicts didn't start because of the introduction of patriarchal thought.  It was simply a matter of people competing for increasingly less resources as a result of weather forced migration.

Moving ahead to around 2500-1500 BCE, much of the non-archaeological material on the religious practices of Anatolia come to us from Greek and Roman sources.  Considering that these sources were dependent on oral traditions, for the most part, and comparing our own misunderstandings of Greek and Roman history today, a similar distance in time, and that the Greeks were fearful or scornful of matrilinear cultures, over reliance on this material could be very misleading without taking all of this into account first..  When you add the factors of ethnocentric thinking (cultural bias) and the fact that the accounts come to us from ancient scholars who were not part of a Mother Goddess religion themselves and add a pinch of transphobia the bias is practically assured.  No, what is remarkable is that associations between the concept of a Mother Goddess, bulls, snakes, bees, transsexual priestesses, and lions reoccur over and over in the same  general area in different civilizations.  Even more remarkable when you consider that the Phrygians themselves, who only worshiped Mother, lost some of these associations and yet as soon as Cybele encountered the Aegean people (proto greeks) these associations were once again added back.

We have accounts that Mother's priestesses not only practiced in cities but also roamed in small nomadic groups and did so throughout the Phrygian, Hellenistic and Roman periods in Anatolia.  It is a small step to suppose that these groups also predated the Phrygian period and provided the link in traditions that is so clear from culture to culture.  We need only look at the modern example of Christianity to understand that the central figure of one religion can be incorporated into another as happened with Hinduism and Islam. Again, we need look no further than the Catholic church to see that even in a poppa god religion, Mother will once again rise as She has done there in the Marian movement within Catholicism.

To understand Cybele's relationship to the Greek and Roman schools of religion it is necessary to deconstruct widely held misconceptions about the various gods and goddesses.  The Cybeline faith was the first of the mystery religions.  A mystery religions teaches with stories, plays and oral traditions.   The various stories about Attis, Cybele's consort son/daughter, appeared around the same time as the origins of the Greek mythological stories.  Attis and the so-called Greek Gods were never meant to be taken as literal truth, but rather as poetic expressions of the world and morality stories.  It is no accident that the only "stories" Cybele appears in are those about Attis yet, as we shall see, She was above all the various gods and goddesses in both ancient Greece and later Rome.  1600 years of literalist Christian tradition makes understanding the nature of the Greek and Roman pantheons all but impossible for the average person today.  The famous Greek mystery schools developed from the Aegean contact with the Phrygian Cybelines.  The faith spread throughout the Mediterranean as far as Spain and southern Italy at a much earlier time than previously had been believed.  In Alexandria, Cybele was worshiped by the Greek population as "The Mother of the Gods, the Saviour who Hears our Prayers" and as "The Mother of the Gods, the Accessible One." Ephesus, one of the major trading centres of the area, was devoted to Cybele as early the tenth century BCE, and the city's ecstatic celebration, the Ephesia, honoured her. It was also around this time that Mother's temples underwent a change from a beehive shape to a more Grecian looking columned pattern.  This shows in the various "doorway" shrines to Kubaba/Kubele that appeared during this period throughout the Phrygian mountains.

During the Phrygian period, Cybele's Mellissae and Gallae priestesses were wandering priestesses as well as  those living in religious communities.  We know that both were fairly common in Greece from various accounts such as the mistreatment one Galla received in Athens. She was killed by throwing her in a pit.  Athens fortunes fell so low afterwards a Maetreum was built and dedicated Cybele that was viewed as so important that all of the official records of Athens were kept there and it served as the centre of all legal actions of the citizens.  There is also much evidence that Sappho of Lesbos was a Mellissa priestess and several Phrygianae were spread throughout the islands.  Careful examination of art work showing the greek gods often reveals Cybele's image over them which continued into the Roman times.  Historians tell us that the transsexual priestesses were not found in Greece and yet the information we have from at least one Greek Mystery school include a "joking at the gate" that involved a preoperative transsexual exposing herself to the participants as part of the rituals.  Greek culture was patrilinear and so we find an early reference to the behaviour of a proper wife.  Among the things listed in that early statement was "she does not participate in the Cybeline rites".  This would refer to the common practice of matrons of Greece and later Rome, following the same practices we found in Canaan, participating in sacred sex at the Temple at specific holidays.

The story of Cybele's presence in Rome begins circa the early sixth century BCE at the dawn of Roman history.  According to the story, King Tarquinius Superbus the Seventh (and last) legendary King of Rome, was approached by an old woman bearing nine scrolls of prophecies by the Sibyl.  She asked for three hundred gold pieces for the set, but Tarquinius thought she was a fraud and refused.  She then burned three of the scrolls in his hearth and again offered the remaining six scrolls for the same three hundred gold pieces.  Once again Tarquinius refused.  Again she burned three more scrolls.  When she offered the remaining three scrolls for the same three hundred gold pieces, Targuinius suspected he was dealing with the Sibyl of Cumae herself and agreed.  These were the original Sibylline prophecies of Rome.  They were housed in the Capitoline temples as the most sacred books of Rome and accesses to them limited to a specially appointed priesthood who only consulted them in times of threat to Rome.

One such threat to Rome came during the second Punic Wars.  Rome was being badly beaten,  rains of stones from heaven falling on the city itself, and according to legend, numerous other ill portents such as comets with tails of fire visible during the day.  The Sibylline scrolls were consulted and it was found that if a foreign foe should carry war to Italy, if Magna Mater Idaea was brought to Rome from Pessinus, Rome would not only endure, but prosper.  This was made all the more impressive by the arrival of pronouncements of the Sibyl of Delphi of a similar nature at this exact moment.  Romans had prided themselves on their Phrygian origins from Troy so the introduction of a Phrygian religion was actually embraced.  Five of Rome's leading citizens traveled to Perganum by way of Delphi to see King Attalus.  The Sibyl of Delphi confirmed that Rome's salvation could be had from Attalus and that when Cybele arrived in Rome She must be accorded a fitting reception.  They went to Attalus' royal residence at Perganum, were conducted to Pessinus and arrangement were made for the Mother of Gods to Rome. Word was sent ahead and the senate voted young Scipio the best and noblest and he was given the task of greeting Magna Mater at Ostia and overseeing Her procession to Rome.

Scipio was accompanied to Ostia by the Matrons of Rome, who were to carry Magna Mater (in the form of a statue with a black meteoric stone in Her forehead) by hand to Rome from Ostia.  When the ship arrived, it became stuck at the mouth of the Tiber and resisted all attempts to free it.  Among the Matrons of Rome was Claudia Quinta, who's reputation had been questioned.  She waded into the waters, shoo'd off the men and pulled the ship free by herself according to the legend.  Thus she restored her reputation.  Cybele arrived in Rome April 12'th, 203 BCE and was greeted with rejoicing, games, offerings and a lectisternium (7-day city-wide feast).  Until the mid fourth century CE this event was celebrated in Rome with games, festivals and feasts as Megalesian every year.  We encounter the house of Claudia (note the matrilinear implications) later in Roman history and always supportive of Magna Mater and Her priestesses.

Cybele was installed in the Temple of Victory on the Palatine close to where Her own temple was already under construction.  That summer Scipio defeated Hannibal and Rome's devotion to Cybele was cemented.  The Maetreum on the Palatine was dedicated in 194 BCE .  The Cybeline faith remained the only "official" religion in Rome up until the introduction of Mithraism, a faith that allowed male priests and official only in recognition, never voted as such by the Senate.  Mithraism spread like wildfire among the Roman legions at roughly the same time, first century CE, that Christianity arrived and the emphasis on Attis became pronounced among the Cybelines.  It was the time of the "dying son" and Attis, Mithra and Jesus all competed for the role.
 
 


Next Chapter

Previous Chapter
 
 


copyright 2004-2007, Cathryn Platine.  All rights reserved.  This page may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any electronic or print media without the express written permission of the copyright holder.