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We Are an Old People, We Are a New People

Part Four,  Cybele in Rome

by Cathryn Platine

"Rome was uneasy with the wild and colourful priestesses of Magna Mater"  How often do you run across a variation of this phrase when you delve into the history of the Cybelines in Rome?  You will find some variation of this theme in almost every single major work that covers the topic, but how true is it?

If you have been reading these essays in order, you have already read an account of our locating the Rome Phrygianum despite the false references that were passed down from scholar to scholar that it, or the Maetreum itself were located under the southwest corner of St. Peters.  No one prior to us examined this in terms of even being possible, it was just accepted as truth.  As soon as we turned our attention towards this, it became immediately apparent that it had to be false on the simple basis that two structures cannot occupy the same space at the same time.   The daughter of one of our priestesses who takes an interest in our research put it best........"the motto of Cybeline research should be, didn't anyone actually look?"

Let's actually look.  By 204 BCE the Cybelines were hardly confined to Phrygia.  We had been established in southern Italy for centuries centred at Cumae.  We were already all around north africa.  It was common knowledge then that the famous Sibyls were all Cybeline in origin and in fact that when Apolloian male priests tried to displace them, they failed almost immediately and the women oracles quickly re-instated.  The Greek mystery schools were open adaptations of Cybeline mystery and Greece, indeed the entire Mediterranean was littered with Phrygianae.

When Magna Mater came to Rome She was welcomed and viewed as having saved Rome.  It was popular in Rome to claim Phrygian roots by way of ancient Troy.  "Rome was uneasy with the wild and colourful priestesses of Cybele"?  hardly, they knew exactly who the Cybelines were.  They let the Cybelines design the Maetreum on the Palatine which endured as long as it did because the priestesses insisted that the foundations be taken down to the bedrock.  The Palatine was a prime location within the City of Rome, being the centre of Rome and the legendary location of Rome's founding.  Consider who the Cybelines were.  Consider that this was always a religion that celebrated wild spaces.  Consider that in 204 BCE the Cybelines essentially had a blank check as far as Rome was concerned, after all, mere months after Magna Mater arrived in Rome, the very roman given the task of Her welcome went to Africa and defeated Hannibal, the greatest threat to Rome ever up to that time!  So who's idea was it for the Roman Phrygianum to be built outside the city, across the river, on a hill that didn't even have a name at the time?  Isn't it natural that the Cybelines would wish to live outside the roman metropolis?  This must have been a huge relief to a lot of the roman senators!  Potentially, the Cybelines could have wielded a major influence on the politics of the senate and they actually asked to live outside the city.

Mons Vaticanus was on the west side of the Tiber and was about as "wild" as you could get and still be within easy reach of Rome.  Before the extensive changes to the contours of the hill, it had two peaks with a slight depression between them.  It was here that the Phrygianum was built.  The very name of the hill means "hill of the seers".  That's right, the famous Vatican and the hill it is named after is actually named for the Cybelines and their function as seers.  The Cybelines weren't exiled to outside the city, they chose to be there.

Let's look some other places that haven't been looked at before.  For the past 150 years virtually everyone writing research on the Cybelines in Rome concentrated on the Gallae priestesses.  "Castrated male priests of Cybele wearing the dress of women that shocked to the core the staid Romans"   Excuse me?  Romans staid?  What about the Mellissae?  The priestesses that arrived in Rome were mixed Mellissae and Gallae.  The matrons of Rome took to Cybele like fish to water, a few even commissioned coins with their own likeness as Cybele.  More than a few tombs of matrons of Rome proudly proclaimed the occupant's status of a priestess of Cybele.  Yes, throughout large periods of roman history roman men were forbidden to become Gallae priestesses and this is not all that difficult to understand, just read Catullus' poem 63 for the fear of being male and called to Cybele.  However, never were the women of Rome forbidden to become Mellissae.  Any attempt to impose such an idea on the matrons of Rome would have lead to an uprising.  Remember, the Megalesian was the major holiday of Rome.

Cybelines from the dawn of time have been sexual healers and practiced sacred sex.  Today this is called ritual prostitution from the rantings of the second century christian apologists.  Were the Cybelines prostitutes?  The institution of prostitution was always present in Rome.  By law, prostitutes wore the tunic (male dress) rather than the tunica (female dress) and wore their hair short.  So what was the dress of the Mellissae and Gallae priestesses?  Both groups not only wore the tunica, but also wore the stolla and palla.  The stolla and palla were reserved for matrons and married women of statue.  They wore their hair long and styled with the exception of during Megalensia when the hair was worn wild and free.  Cybeline choice of colour for both stolla and palla tended to be brighter and more colourful than typical for roman matrons but was essentially the same dress.  Gallae priestesses sometimes added the Phrygian cap to their outfits to show identification with Attis.

So where do we get this "Romans shocked by the colourful,  foreign, priestesses of Cybele" idea that is so prevalent in almost all the accounts of the Cybeline presence in Rome?  The facts don't seem to bear out this idea.  Scholars of the Classical period view by the Greeks and Romans as the ancient epitome of civilization and have done so for the past 200 years or more.  They have promoted an idealized picture of these cultures based on a limited examination of the realities of both of them plus almost all these scholars are men.  Perhaps more importantly almost all research on Cybeline practice was done by Christians.

Never has a religion been subjected to historical erasure as ours has.  Even a quick examination of second and third century christian apologists reveals several interesting aspects.  All other "gods and goddesses" are mocked as foolish beliefs of the uneducated, not so Magna Mater.  She alone is acknowledged in vicious language that exposes the underlying fear and belief of these writers......She alone is referred to as very very real.  By the end of the fourth century and beginning of the fifth there was a wholesale attempt to totally erase all statues, writings, temples and memory of Cybele, Magna Mater from the face of the earth.  Even today scholars refer to the "cult" of the Mother Goddess unknowingly continuing a tradition of denial of a faith that had spread and was the major religion of the known western world!  All one has to do to see the truth of this statement is merely open their eyes when examining the past.  The pantheons left from the ancient world often feature Cybele at the peak of the pediments, above all the other gods and goddesses.  Likewise, the various altars would arranged around the central altar to Cybele.  What amazes me is that almost no account of the mythologies of Greece and Rome ever mention this when it is still in plain sight.

So what of the various other gods and goddesses of Greece and Rome?  Weren't they the "religion" of the time?  In a word, no.  The various mythologies were teaching stories, morality stories.  They served the same function then as comic book heroes and heroines do today, or perhaps more accurately as does anime and manga.  Above all of them was Magna Mater.  It was considered "impolite" or improper to tell stories about Her just as stories about the "Adventures of Christian God" would be considered poor taste if someone wrote them today.

When the Mithrians came to Rome it was considered necessary for a Mellissae Priestess of Cybele to watch over the rituals of the taurobolium.  Consider, a religion for men felt it required to have the blessings of a representative of Magna Mater for their own rites!  This presence confused many of the past researchers on Cybele who confused the Mithrian rituals as being Cybeline when in fact the Mithrian recognized Cybele as the Mother of Gods as well.

more to come.........still a work in progress

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