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Cybele the Phrygian Fertility Goddess, Great Mother, Dindymene, Agdistis, Kubaba


Cybele and Lions

Cybele and Lions

Cybele, an ancient fertility goddess whose worship is thought to have spread from Anatolia to Greece in the Archaic period (c. 800-500) and further during the Hellenistic period (c. 300-50), is known by many names, including
  • Great Mother
  • Dindymene
  • Kubaba
  • A(n)gdistis, and
  • Mater Deum Magna Idaea (Great Idaean Mother of the Gods).
    In Greece the worship of Cybele was associated with that of Rhea, the mother of Zeus and wife of Cronus.

Besides fertility, represented by fruit in art, Cybele is associated with cities, and so, on her crown there is a gate. In the picture of Cybele, from Oskar Seyffert's Diciontary of Classical Antiquities, copied here, lions flank Cybele to suggest her strength. Sometimes leopards accompany Cybele.

Mysterious rites were performed in the name of Cybele -- as they were for the other earth mother type goddesses, like Demeter and Isis. Worship of the Great Mother involved substantial sacrifice in order to commemorate the great myth of death and rebirth. See Day of Blood.

"Well then, the Pergameni took Ancyra and Pessinus which lies under Mount Agdistis, where they say that Attis lies buried."
- Pausanias 1.4.5

Cybele in Rome

When the Second Punic War appeared to be going against the Romans, they consulted their chief oracular tool, the Sibylline Books, which told them that they needed the Great Mother at Rome if they wanted Hannibal to leave the peninsula. In 204, a black stone was shipped from Phrygia to Ostia and brought to Rome where it was worshiped as the Great Mother or Cybele and especially celebrated at the Ludi Megalenses.

During the Republican period at Rome, the cult of Cybele was severely restricted. Romans couldn't serve as priests and the priests could perform their rituals only on certain days, according to "Domitian and Roman Religion: Juvenal, Satires Two and Four," by Roberta Stewart; Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 124, (1994), pp. 309-332, who adds that those non-Roman priests in Rome were confined to their temples. He continues to explain the ambivalent reception of the cult in Rome in the period that followed the Republic, the Roman Empire.

Under the first Roman emperor Augustus, the goddess Cybele, giver of victory, was promoted, but, at the same time, the Senate restricted practice of her cult, Juvenal, who also lived during the Principate, but under the second dynasty, that of the Flavian emperors, criticizes the foreign rites, especially castration, that Cybele worshipers perform:

"No decency
of language is there here: no regard for the
manners of the table. You will hear all the foul talk
and squeaking tones of Cybele; a grey-haired
frenzied old man presides over the rites; he is a rare
and notable master of mighty gluttony, and should
be hired to teach it. But why wait any longer when
it were time in Phrygian fashion to lop off the
superfluous flesh?

"110 hic nullus verbis pudor aut reverentia mensae,
hic turpis[6] Cybeles et fracta voce loquendi
libertas et crine senex fanaticus albo
sacrorum antistes, rarum ac memorabile magni
gutturis exemplum conducendusque magister.
115 quid tamen expectant, Phrygio quos tempus erat iam
more supervacuam cultris abrumpere carnem

Next page > > The Story of Attis and Cybele

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