Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Attis: A castrated god honored with pine trees

In his book Hermaphrodeities, Raven Kaldera tells the story of Agdistis and Attis.

The mythical Agdistis was born, he writes, "in the land of Asia Minor that was long ago ruled by the Great Mother Goddess Cybele". Agdistis was both male and female and had many sexual partners. The gods feared that Agdistis would become too powerful. They asked Agdistis to choose between being male or female. As Kaldera put the dialogue: "If you choose to be female, we will cut off your male parts. If you choose to be male, we will sew up your female parts." The gods were afraid to kill Agdistis lest they be cursed, so they asked Zeus's son Dionysus to do it.

Dionysus cut off Agdistis's male organ. (In some versions of the myth, Agdistis dies here; in others, not.) An almond or pomegranate tree grew where it fell. The river nymph Nana (of the river Sangarius) ate of it and became pregnant. She exposed her infant son, Attis, to die, but he was raised by a male goat.

When Attis grew up, he attracted the attention of the goddess Cybele, who wanted to sleep with him. Instead, Attis slept with Agdistis, who seduced his/her own son because he was the connection to Agdistis's lost genitals. Later, when Attis understood that the apparently female Agdistis was his biological father, he fled, and then sought to marry a woman. Cybele and Agdistis disrupted Attis's wedding. The bride cut off her breasts and died, while Attis attempted suicide by self-castration. Agdistis repented, and Cybele preserved Attis in a permanent sleep in which he would not decompose.

Attis is worshipped each year, two days before the Sanguinaria (March 25), when a young pine tree is cut, wrapped in linen, and carried. On the Sanguinaria, priests called the gallae would self-castrate during ecstatic dance in front of the temple.

The gallae were documented in Phrygia 2300 years ago. Gallae is the feminine form of the word; contemporary writings often use the masculine form, galli. The Romans imported Cybele's eastern religion to pretend that they had descended from the Trojans, yet the Romans were embarrassed by the gallae and decreed that they could not be citizens and that any Roman who underwent ritual castration would lose citizenship. The gallae were wandering fortunetellers and blessers and had temples called metro'ons. They would adorn statues of Cybele and parade them around on donkeys. They bleached their hair and wore jewelry and bright clothes. Their leaders wore tall hats. They carried musical instruments or antique weapons and engaged in ecstatic dance. The worship spread, and they were found from Spain to Anatolia.

Source

Raven Kaldera. Hermaphrodeities: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook. USA: XLibris, 2001. pp. 18-19, 148-150.

Further reading

Lucian of Samosata wrote De Dea Syria (About the Syrian Goddess) in the 2nd century C.E.

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