Cybele was the mother goddess during the Roman Republic dating back to the 204BC era. Within this religion there are many parallels and contrast to other religious cults of the same era. The Great Mother also known as Cybele, was one of chaste perfection and ominous powers. As critical as this religion was for the people of Roman, there was another that would surpass its great hold over the people. Christianity and the cult of Cybele are two religions that would have their hold over the Romans, but with vast numbers and a charitable God only one could withstand time.
Before there was Christianity the Roman people believed in the Gods and their holy control over their fates. The Great Mother also known as Cybele was called by another name as well, Rhea. “The wife of Cronus and hence the mother of the Olympian gods. “ She alone was one of the most powerful gods and thus the protector of the people. Cybele and her counterpart Rhea both were depicted as “sitting crowned upon a throne or riding a chariot pulled by lions. ” The story of Cybele “came originally from Phrygia ( in modern Turkey) and the Greeks are believed to have brought her cult with them after the Trojan War.
” Cybele’s original temple was said to have been based on Palatine Hill in Rome. The cult spread from Asia Minor due to the war with Hannibal and the Carthaginians. The Roman Empire was seeking a win against these invaders and “consulted a local oracle, which gave a strange response: “The mother is absent: seek the mother. When she comes, she must be received by chaste hands. ’” Because of this prophecy the Romans were afraid that when they brought her back to Rome, they might not be able to receive her for the lack of chaste hands.
Fortunately there was one still pure in nature by the name of Claudia Quinta. Even though she was accused of being unholy and defiled, she still swore her innocence. She prayed to Cybele to help prove this, so when the ship with the black stone that represented her grounded in the Tiber, she pulled the ship out with just the straps from her gown. The story continues with the following of this cult and their weird sacrifice to the Great Mother. Each member of Cybele’s court castrated themselves to prove their loyalty and purity to her. This came about because of a boy named Attis.
Attis was included in many versions of the religion and held different roles, but all were for the love of Cybele. Cybele or even the Magna Mater as the Romans also called her, wanted a guardian for her temple. When she fell in love with Attis, who “had a heart so pure”, she asked of him to remain a virgin and he agreed. Failing in his promise to Cybele, Attis would “seduce the dryad (wood nymph) Sagaritis, breaking his promise. ” In a rage, the Great Mother killed the nymph to which it drove Attis crazy and he then cut off his own genitalia. There was another version of this myth which came from Persia.
The story tells the tale of Agdistis (Cybele) who “was originally androgynous, but the gods castrated him. ” The genitals that were cut off grew into an almond tree where another god named Nana ate the almonds, thus making her pregnant and giving birth to her son, Attis. “Agdistis (now completely a woman after the castration) fell in love with Attis, but to make sure that he didn’t cheat on her, she castrated him. ” These parallels all describe the devotion her followers had for her and the price they would pay to prove their faith. Cybele’s entire group of priest castrated themselves to prove their love for the Great Mother.
But this also had its price because of Roman rules, “no Roman citizen could be and retain his citizenship” if he were to become a eunuch. Later on this cult loses some of its faithful followers because of the eclectic manner in which people prayed to their goddess. Another reason that the Romans believed in the Great Mother was because they were in a low point in their history. Looking for a shining light in their future they turned to the Goddess because she was an agrarian god. Not only would she help protect them but she would also provide food and fertility amongst the people.
This depiction as the “goddess of fertility and mother of all living things” helped bring the people of Rome together during those dark days. During these times though, many groups stopped believing in the old gods and started to look for something better. This came in the form of Christianity. Different aspects of Cybele’s cult may have been the reason for its departure during this era. Christianity was offering a peaceful, loving, and individual god that could take care of all your problems as well as provide numbers of like followers for their causes.
The cult of Cybele was still requiring that you castrate yourself to prove you faith. The people where starting to question their devotion to this religion because of the spread of Christianity. But there are similarities between these two religious factions though. Both have an individual that sacrificed themselves for the cause. In Christianity, Jesus gave his life for the sins of the people so that they could have another chance to prove themselves. Attis, the son of Cybele in one story or the lover in another, chastised himself to remain pure because Cybele wanted him to remain a virgin.
Even though these are on two different sides of the spectrum, both felt they were doing the right thing in the name of their god. Another parallel that these religions shared would be the power of their god. The Christian god can heal, predict future events, and could help with birth and renewal of resources. The Great Mother could do all these things as well but would ask for a sacrifice of some sort to obtain these gifts, whereas in Christianity they would only ask that you believed in their god.
Even though there were many gods right up to the beginning of Christianity, the Romans started to weed out the little gods and began to believe in a single god, Cybele or Christ. The confusion lead by the amount of gods would later sway the followers because they would only have to follow one. I feel that Christianity became more popular with the people because it was easier for the weak, poor, and slave cultures to belong to something or some purpose. For these groups of people it was hard for them to consider themselves members of society let alone worthy of being a faithful follower to a god.
They had nothing to offer or a family name to cling to for recognition. It was easier for the people to be accepted now because Christianity would take anyone with no question. This religion also appealed to the heart of the people. It was a more peaceful and loving following which made it easier to follow. The afterlife was also a big part as to why people choose Christianity over Cybele, because in Christianity the gods did not come back in a vengeful manner and attack the followers for not believing in them.
The god was forgiving of these actions and just asked in return to do better. In the end, Christianity would overtake the cult of Cybele because of the sheer numbers and word of mouth in which how it was spread. I believe if Cybele were to relax the restraint of castration of its followers we could be praying to a different god. Due to the lack of respect that most people have for religion today, they lose what the main purpose of this belief system is, faith. No person’s god is better than the next or their religion is far greater than yours.
The religion that is followed is an individual practice for personal beliefs. Christianity had beaten the cult of Cybele not because of the lack of belief but because of the amount of followers that choose that path. Yet, still today there are a few places that still practice some part of the cult and pray to the Great Mother. Will this ever come back as a main stream practice, no one knows except the cults faithful followers. Cybele, the Great Mother of all gods was once a powerful titan, now only recognize as a fallen deity of the Roman Republic and the runner up to Christianity.
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