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The Life of the Cybeline Priestesses

The Rule of the Women of the Goddess Cybele

Rev Dr Caillean McMahon


Pagan monasticism has existed since the beginning of human time. Undertaking it in the modern era posed a challenge to be met with research, scholarship and prayer to bring a re-birth of the life that the priestesses of the past shared.  The challenge is daunting as there is no continuous tradition of western pagan monasticism; the movement was gradually eliminated between 397 and 500 by others who in the end copied some of our forms for another faith.

Nature frequently develops similar solutions for the same challenges when appropriate.  The Goddess Cybele does not oft seek to re-invent the wheel when other solutions will serve well. Hence, it was to Christian monasticism and the remaining descriptions of the lives of our sisters of the past that we looked for traces of our own past and the the broad outlines for development of Pagan monasticism in the modern era. We possess writings of ancient Romans and Christian apologetics on the lives of our sisters. We have a wealth of commentary on the ancient Rule of St Benedict for Women, which came into existence just as the last vestiges of Cybeline Monasticism waned and faded away. We borrow freely, gratefully and unapologetically from these sources.

The Rule of the Women of the Goddess Cybele outlines a particular way of life. It gives us a specific posture in relationship to the Mother Goddess, to community and to the world. Cybeline Spirituality is a reverence to Cybele. We learn reverence to the Goddess who is always with us and present in all places and things.

Reverence is a spiritual response to live. It arises out of our faith as Cybeline priestesses, and is shared with the greater community of Pagan believers, and the world at large as we carry it with us always if it is properly nourished.

We live in a home, the Phrygianum, dedicated to the Goddess Cybele. In what way can we convey that to our visitors? Will they sense it in the art and music? Will they uncover it in periods of reflective silence, or joyful playfulness at different points in the day? Will it be poured forth as the priestesses gather to dine as a family as the daughters of the Great Mother of us all, or as we gather at night to thank mother for our day and ask her blessings upon the world?

To be a true community we need a shared commitment. In a culture with an emphasis on individualism we know within ourselves that we need community to come to spiritual wholeness in our paths as priestesses. That yearning for spiritual wholeness, that desire to serve and honour the Goddess Cybele is that commitment.

To that end, for ourselves and for the paths of the sisters who will follow, we established this rule for living, not as a thing to restrict the life of the individual, but as a teaching tool to allow the individual to find and to develop the priceless gifts within that called them to become a priestess, to share them with their sisters benefit from the gifts their sisters share with them.

Part I:  The Spiritual Life of the Community

We see ourselves as the daughters of the Goddess, as women called to a specific role as those who carry her message, who bring the light of Her love and concern back to a world hungering desperately but oft unknowingly for it. Our lives need to reflect our role and calling, not only in our public rituals, writing and other works but in our day to day lives as well.

Our home has reminders of our vocation; altars in rooms, statuary on mantelpieces, books, papers and images of the Goddess. In places where mundane tasks are performed, reminders that we show our love for the Great Mother and her daughters our sisters in all that we do.  That we serve the Goddess in our labours and tasks ought to be visible to remind us in the frustrating moments when things seem unfair or a pointless drudgery. These features assist us in keeping our focus, of not losing perspective. We see the visible and physical reminders of our relationship with Cybele and can draw from that not only to perform our tasks but also to use all of our experiences to enhance and renew our spirituality.

At mealtimes, prayers of thanks are offered to the Goddess. In the evening, we gather for Evening Praise, to give thanks for our day, ask blessings upon the next, and to ask for further blessings upon the world, and all creation within or upon it. We ask for peace, wisdom, patience and perspective.

Each weekend the priestesses gather to conduct a ritual to energize, renew, heal and strengthen out selves, our connection with the Divine Mother whom we lovingly serve, and with our beloved sisters. No rancors or anger ought to be carried away from the weekend ritual, all ought to be left there with the Goddess as she soothes and blesses us that we might start the coming week with a fresh emotional slate.

The Evening Praise is a brief gathering held at a time set by the community to be attended by all present if physically capable. It's duration is short, it is a succinct thanks to the mother and request for blessings, a sort of "checking -in" with our divine parent.  Evening Praise is hosted by a different priestess or novice each day and can be followed by a relaxed gathering of some of the priestesses to enjoy their sisters' company and discuss the day, or to simply share the joy of the spiritual uplift that honouring the Goddess in Evening Praise brings.  Other priestesses may use the time following Praise for quiet time.

One mealtime a day is designated by the community as a family meal that all of the priestesses are asked to be present at. This helps build the sense of sisterhood amongst us and reminds us that we are part of a very special family.  Short prayer is offered by a novice or priestess at the meal. Problems concerning the community are not to be discussed at the family meal to keep the event one that is relaxing and a form of renewal that is peaceful in it's nature.

"Goddess Time" or personal time is that part of the day that the priestesses and noviciates use for personal matters, secular or spiritual and often parts of both, that require some solitude or freedom from interruption.  A priestess may share some of that time with another priestess or with other priestesses but at her own discretion.  To the degree possible, there will be an attempt by the community of sister priestesses to co-ordinate these times at least partially so that there can be quiet times in the Phrygianum.

Priestesses are encouraged to participate in discussion of our faith, philosophy and history with other priestesses and noviciates to further knowledge through sharing.  Noviciates are expected to make use of the Mellissae and Gallae priestesses for discussion, as well as keeping instruction sessions with the Battakes.  Ongoing research and writing is undertaken by some of the priestesses and the results are shared with the community.  Additionally, the Mellissae priestesses lecture at public workshops to share with the larger community of the world the message of peace, responsible stewardship of creation and honouring of the Great Mother of all that our faith carries.

The Lunar celebrations and major holiday rituals are held either in the Phrygianum or outside at the Maetreum as the weather permits.  To reinforce and remind us as our roles as priestesses, we encourage the wearing of tunicas, stolas and pallas at the gatherings at the Maetreum, and stolas or tunicas in the Phrygianum.  We are priestesses of the Goddess, and whenever possible we can benefit from wearing the garb of our ancestress-sister priestesses as a reminder of our connection with them, with the faith that they loved and served, and with the Goddess who has called us to the same service as the Mellissae and Gallae of a two thousand years ago.

The Battakes presides over the Season of the Tree ritual in the springtime.  Other rituals are generally performed by Mellissae priestesses.  Rituals other than the Season of the Tree ritual can also be led by a Novice under the supervision of a Melissa or Galla.

The Spiritual life of the Women of Cybele is a joyful one, with a commitment to stewardship of the earth, of respect for all and the recognition of the imminence of the Mother in all of creation. We may be involved in specific causes that serves the needs of the people of the larger community that ours lies in or advances the protection of creation and the environment. Further, in our study, in our chores, in our reflection, and in our leisure play we try to exemplify and offer to others the boundless love of Magna Mater, the Goddess Cybele.

Part II: The Governance of the Community

The community of women devoted to the Goddess is governed by the Goddess. At first glance, that might seem a whimsical and idealistic concept. Let us, though, take a look at our theological underpinnings to see how that can be.

The Goddess is immanent in all of Her creation, our souls flow from Her spirit and breath. Realizing that, we see how the gathering of members of the Phrygianum represents a gathering  of extensions of the Goddess herself. When the Daughters of Cybele come together with souls open to the wisdom of She who truly is wisdom we can truly accomplish great things. If one wishes to see the best reflection of the desires of the Goddess or her wisdom, it is sought in the gathering of her daughters who leave themselves open to the sweet whisperings and wisdom of the Mother.

Using that theological idea as a basis, it is logical then that to seek the Goddess' wisdom in the operation of the house, the decision making to handle the day to day function of the Phrygianum as well as resolution of conflicts must reside in the gathering of the residents of the Phrygianum. Every member of the house, from pre-initiate to Melissa has equal responsibility in the gathering of the community.

Issues in the Phrygianum are submitted to the Gathering of the Community by the Battakes. If a member wishes an issue discussed, she brings the issue to the Battakes to be included in the agenda. The Battakes herself does not take part in the Gathering; She meditates and reflects during the Gathering that the Goddess act amongst us to inspire.

The Gathering of the Community is responsible not only for developing solutions or directions,  but also for having a plan to implement those decisions. The entire matter is then reviewed with the Battakes at the end of the Gathering when she is called down to be informed of the outcomes.

Two issues that permanently reside in the Gathering of the Community are maintenance of the Phrygianum and household chores. A schedule of chores with assignments is developed weekly by the Gathering. Projects for the community may be submitted by the Battakes, or added through the Battakes by the community.

Once the agenda is submitted by the Battakes for that specific Gathering, the issues listed must be addressed and solved and an implementation plan developed. Other issues not on the list are not to be discussed. This keeps the meeting focused and productive. From a theological standpoint, it permits the spirits of the priestesses to act in unison on concepts that they have all reflected upon and have had the opportunity to have the spirit of the Goddess within to inspire the wisdom to act upon.

The governance of the community of the Women of Cybele relies upon the spirituality of the collective members to inspire wisdom and to leave us open to the voice of the Goddess.


Part III: The Reception of Guests

From the earliest times, the Women of Cybele have been visited by those seeking knowledge of the faith as well as friends from the communities that they resided in. The Priestesses are part of a larger secular community, and their spirituality and unique energy draws people to them. Many who we come in contact with will become friends, who will desire to visit us in our home. Others will come to inquire about our beliefs and our lives.

Hospitality is a form of worship. Magna Mater, who rejoices in our music and dancing, has welcomed us as daughters and we in turn extend that welcome and joy to others. Our meetings with guests should reflect those qualities. There ought not be slowly and increasingly bitter discussions about conflicts or unpleasantness at the table of the Phrygianum. Instead, we ought to radiate the love of She whom we serve and who's children we are proud to be.

Guests of the Phrygianum are guests of the community as a whole. The welcome that they receive at our door should reflect that. They are a blessing and a gift.   As such, they should remain with two or more priestesses while present. Should they stay overnight, they are accorded a room for themselves and place at the table with the Priestesses.

From time to time individual Priestesses may have personal guests visit. This is a matter for that guest and the individual Priestess.

Guests of the Phrygianum are invited to take part in the Gathering of the Community if the Battakes so desires. They are offered the opportunity to attend Evening Praise or Ritual if one is held.

In a society of increasing isolation, Cybeline Hospitality is a step away from an coldness that has crept into society. Our hearts are open to our callers, our lives are shared with those who come looking for our spirituality.

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