By Cathryn Platine
Re-posted here to archive it as it was taken down from its original source.
When I was three years old I had a series of dreams. Now everyone dreams, but what is strange is my memories of my waking times at that age are very spotty at best, but many of my dreams from that age are clear memories. I suspect I’m not the only one of my people for whom this is true. Who are my people? The Gallae, ancient and now modern. Dallas Denny once said that “transsexuality is a spiritual experience”, I think it is much much more. That it is a calling. Most transsexuals tell of knowing of their difference from an early age, usually about the same age of my dreams. I was also then well aware of who I was. I even, at that young age, knew what science now is proving; that my brain was female. Growing up different in our black and white, bipolar, science worshiping culture is almost always difficult at best for anyone different, but for transsexual people, particularly those classified as male at birth, comes a bombardment with the clear message from that early age on that who we know we are is wrong and must be suppressed, hidden away and buried and never to be spoken about. But there was another thing I knew about myself that had to be ruthlessly buried, buried so deep that even after I finally found the need to be myself overpowering and transitioned to the woman I am today, I still hid it from most others. I had to as the price of being declared “sane” by societies standards for the “permission” of the self-appointed gods of science and medicine for the means of my transition. That I am, and always was, a mystic who walked in both the spirit and the “real” world equally. That I was called.
For most people, direct knowledge of certain aspects of their lives are so ingrained in culture that they are unquestioned and unexamined. They are told they are male or female and know, from within, the truth of this. They are taught that dreams are not reality and so often forget them as soon as they wake. They are taught that experiences outside the senses science tells us we have are “make believe”, not “real” and because they have no conflict with who they are told they are and who they know themselves to be, they learn these lessons so thoroughly as to eventually believe that they also know them essentially and unexamined as well. It becomes the compact of shared reality. And yet……….something within tells them differently. Something they don’t understand and cannot examine but is just as real. They are fascinated by ghost stories, feel that odd tingle up their spine walking in the dark in a place of the dead, seek out other answers in the form of religion. Even for the most rational of people this is true, but because they have direct knowledge of the “truth” of the elemental aspects of their reality, who they are, confirmed by those around them, it takes an extraordinary effort to question the other “truths” they are taught on more than a superficial basis. The reality of science can thus mix with their religion as long as the conflicts are not too great or overt.
For transsexual women, even more so than transsexual men, the very first messages those others around them send are false. Told they are males, they know differently on a level so basic that even if this self-knowledge is ruthlessly suppressed, it re-emerges later in life. Viewed by others as having a sickness, a wrongness, the message hammered into the young transsexual girl by virtually all they come into contact with and cherish, the young transsexual internalizes this image of themselves as “sick”, as wrong and then learns to hide or suppress the other direct knowledge within her as well. The results are much the same as for non-transsexuals with a major difference. For deep within her, she still knows who she is, that the basic message about who she is told she is, was wrong and so on some level she also mistrusts the learned truths that form the basis of societys unwritten compact as well. It’s this further direct knowledge of the transsexual woman of the failure of others to know her essence that allows her to maintain a connection to the spiritual in the face of learned “truths”. It can be our greatest strength, it is one of our greatest gifts. It is the very nature of our calling to Her and the well of our spirituality. This spirituality of transsexual women often leads them to the Christian religion where, more often than not, they are treated with the same disrespect as they find in the rest of society. In this manner, many of us return to Her.
In the time before self-appointed gods of science and organized religion those things that could not be explained by the shared realities of daily living were seen as mystical and magickal. The result of direct intervention of the Goddess or the demi-gods. For the level that most people live on, magick and science are still interchangeable even today. Why did this strange thing happen? Science knows or the religious leader knows or the gods know and that is enough. That is accepted as sufficient explanation for anything not understood in the mundane world of everyday folks. Magick is every bit as valid explanation as science for the miracles of the modern world such as television and personal computers and cell phones if one doesn’t know electronics. It is one of the learned “truths” commonly shared and thus unquestioned. Someone in authority knows and that is enough. In this way, the modern sophisticate with his feelings of superiority over the ignorant superstitious people of the past is actually thinking and living on the exact same level. Nowhere is this more evident than in the superficial nature of modern Christianity which teaches that all one needs is to believe what one is told to believe. That belief is enough, for the leaders know the answers and will pass them on as needed. A religious version of the “need to know” basis of modern military. The transsexual woman, with her gut knowledge of the fallacy of this type of thinking, is much more likely to seek a more enlightened answer.
As a child I was drawn to any wild space within my grasp, just as the Gallae pre-Roman lived as wanderers in the wilderness of the mountains of Phrygia. I was aware of the connectiveness of my own conscious to the rest of nature and spent the bulk of my time as a child in the wild. I was blessed, when a young teenager, with living in India for several years, visiting and drinking in the sites of ancient knowledge in Rome, Greece, Turkey and the Middle East as well as on the journey to and from India. I was always aware of the other world all around us and interacted with it as much as I did with the mundane world. I was blessed with knowing I was outside the mundane and never lost those connections even if I also learned never to speak of them except in vague terms and even then, only to other mystics I encountered during my life. I communed with nymphs, dryads, the wisdom of the animals, and the spirits, even the spirit of my own daughter years before her conception. A conception that contained it’s own myrid mystical connections reinforcing my own gnosis. I spend a lifetime studying ancient magick and modern psychology and sociology taking germs of what I felt rang true and rejecting the rest. Without realizing it, I followed the footsteps of my ancient sisters, the Gallae of Phrygia, as my personal answer to my own difference while hiding the manner of my differences from those I knew.
In those ancient days a transsexual was literally considered to belong to the Goddess and so she had her place, a mystical and honoured place. Her difference might be feared, especially by males who shuttered in primal terror at the thought that someone would willingly un-man (castrate) themselves fully to become female then as today, but the fear was really that the Goddess might someday call them as well to do the same. The truth of this is evident in the long, somewhat forgotten, poem by Catullus about the Gallae where the protagonist literally begs Cybele not to call him as She calls Her Gallae and projects his own misunderstanding and fear of that call of Her Gallae by assuming they must also regret the calling! That fear literally drips like venom in the writing of Sir James George Frazer in his “Golden Bough” when he writes of Cybele, Attis and the Gallae (whom he calls gallus and male priests). His full-blown castration anxiety almost embarrassing and painful to read. It shows even in the somewhat more sympathetic accounts of the Gallae by Vermaseren in his “Cybele and Attis: The Myth and the Cult”. It led Conner to consider the Gallae to be gay males in his otherwise brilliant “Blossom of Bone”. That fear led many of the Roman emperors to ban admittance to the Gallae by Roman citizens and the locating of the home of the Gallae, the Phrygianum, outside the city of Rome even though the Metroon of Cybele was given a place of honour within Rome itself on the Palatine. That fear led St. Augustine to label the Gallae “castrated perverts”. That same fear today is given expression in the transphobic labelling of us as mentally “ill” or the newer understanding of our condition as a “birth defect” by science based “professionals”, our modern gods, rather than the simple variation of humanity it is. The birth of an intersexual is still considered a medical emergency with no thought of the eventual wishes of the victim or the future damage to their lives the unwanted, un-needed surgery yields. It is born out of their own misunderstanding that we, transsexual women, are not and never were, males and our calling took place at our births and so they need not fear becoming one of us. That our births are as natural in the real order of the universe in fact as their own……… just different. Just as our ability to see reality can be different, yet still natural. The natural result of the gifts She gave us.
Frazer needed suppose a lost tradition of human sacrifice to the Gallae and other ancient devotees of the Goddess in order to justify his own religious prejudices. The truth of history is different. Far from the brutal roots he imagined, was a level of advanced humanity among the Gallae and their earlier sisters far surpassing the norm of their cultures. For it was the Gallae who gathered up the infants abandoned on the streets who were born “defective” and then raised them. Today, the Hijra of India, those closest to the ancient Gallae, are brought these unwanted intersexed and others of birth variations for the same reason. The Gallae were the ones who comforted and helped return to Rome healed and whole it’s soldiers returning from their brutal experiences on the battlefield. The role of the Gallae and their sisters were understood to be healers, their connection to Divine widely regarded as giving them the ability to heal, curse, bless and make prophecies. Today we know, for example, that transsexuals are two full standard deviations above the norm in intelligence and creativity. Higher, on average, than any other group in society for any criteria other than intelligence itself! Such wondrous gifts we are given in return for our calling! How deceitful to label us as “ill” or “birth defects”!
Today’s transsexual has been cut off from her roots, her history, her rightful place. The early Catholic Church ruthlessly suppressed and erased the history of Cybele and Her Gallae more than any other rival. Mainline historians rewrote the even the very identity of the Gallae into “castrated male priests”. Dishonest translators changed Cattullus’ use of “gallae” (feminine) into “gallus” (masculine) even though both words are Latin. Gay historians rewrote them to be gay men, feminist historians likewise if they speak of them at all. Transsexuals today are even told by the gods of medicine and science that they are a modern invention of medicine and surgery with no history! The gatekeepers to our modern treatment label us as mentally ill or suffering a birth defect whose very sanity must be questioned and examined and passed before allowing us the basic tools to transform ourselves that they now control. If, from desperation, a modern transsexual woman follows the path of her ancient sisters, the Gallae, and attempts emasculate herself, she is virtually guaranteed a psychiatic confinement. Even today, a transsexual child is not safe from torture and brainwashing in the form of “behavioural modification” or even institutionalization if she fails to hide her own identity well enough. If she escapes that fate, she is as likely as not to be rejected by her own family and thrown out on the streets. Those of us who do hide ourselves in childhood are still labelled deviants, perverts or sick and rejected by loved ones as adults when we finally deal with our natures. Told we are “selfish” by our loved ones when we reach the point of crisis, asked the most intimate questions by perfect strangers as if they had a right to that knowledge. Suffering poor enough self-esteem, we grant that knowledge without the natural sense of outrage at such treatment anyone else in our society would have towards being treated this way. We are told we are deceitful for “pretending” to be “real” women when discovered/uncovered after our surgeries or transitions and even denied the basic tools of daily life by a society that has no place for us and doesn’t value our gifts. Worst of all, we believe them when they tell us we are sick and think we deserve no better treatment.
Rachel Pollack wrote a wonderful essay on this topic in 1995 called “Archetypal Transsexuality” which ends with words of wisdom for any transsexual:
“Transsexuality comes to us with all the power of a divine force who will not be denied. If we recognize it and accept it as a true vision of the self from the deepest part of the psyche, if we carry the Goddess with us …..then we may find it opens us to a life of spirituality and joy. If we try to deny or belittle it, or explain it away, it can destroy us. Knowing ignorance is strength. Ignoring knowledge is sickness. If one is sick of sickness, then one is not sick.”
The lesson is simple and yet vastly complex. We know who we are, we are born with a gnostic potential denied most of humanity and this beginning, by itself if we are able merely to take the next step, frees us to understand a further gnosis of our true nature as spiritual beings and what that means. We need only to simply learn to love and embrace ourselves as a start. Those dreams of a three year old transsexual girl? I dreamed night after night of the Goddess. She claimed me as Her own even then and has watched over and directed me ever since just as She came to the ancient Gallae in their dreams and called them.
We Are an Old People, We Are a New People: Part One, Understanding Our Roots
One of the traps of studying history is the tendency to project the social realities of our own culture on those we have limited information about. This is called ethnocentrism and cultural anthropologists are warned about the dangers of this type of thinking to true understanding of other cultures. It’s not easy for most people to distinguish between culturally imposed ethics and morality and biological inclinations so before we can journey back into the past we must first jettison some treasured misconceptions that blind us to understanding.
Archaeology began as a hobby of the rich and eccentric and as a result there is a current explosion of revelation about ancient lives based not only on new discoveries, but re-examination of prior ones as each layer of cultural bias is removed from those who study the past. Some of the cherished myths of the past are only now being understood as pure cultural imposition and in some cases, new, equally cherished myths are replacing them from new, equally flawed, motivations. The last trap is that in the attempt to view as dispassionately and bias free as possible, some understanding is lost from failure to see clear links and commonalties. Some bias is so ingrained that it becomes almost impossible go beyond them. Among these blind spots are gender and sexual morality. There are very real differences in the sexes that tend to be expressed in societies, but key to understanding the past is the importance of that word “tend”. An inclination is not a guarantee of a certain pattern or result.
There is a very real tendency for humans to think in linear patterns, seeing themselves as the result of progression and progress to an ideal state of being. This was just as true of ancient historians as it is of today’s and much of our ingrained misunderstanding of the past is over reliance on accounts of ancient historians writing from their own cultural blindness. But yet another trap is the wish of some to see the past as an Eden lost to patriarchal thinking. Modern feminists historians and many transsexuals are guilty of this type of thinking. Supposing a lost world-wide civilization of peaceful people ruled by women and where transsexuals were not only accepted but beloved and treasured, they are just as blinded as the most dogmatic christian historian who imposes his ideals and morality on the past. As is so often the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.
Our understanding of the Neolithic world has been turned on it’s ear in the past thirty or so years. Every year the clock gets turned back further and further about the dawn of civilization as we think of it. Despite the recent educational turn away from a liberal education, a true interdisciplinary approach is being used more and more at digs such as Catal Hoyuk as it is being done rather than after the fact. Let us now start from some things we do know about the ancient world and some we know about human nature and try to reach a new understanding free of our own desires and bias about transsexuals and the Goddess in the distant past.
First, a healthy dose of reality. Men and women are different. Their brains function differently, process information differently and give each different strengths and weaknesses. This we know from medically research using tools only recently available to us. Often overlooked, however, is the variation within each category that leaves some individuals more towards the centre of the differences than to the “ideal” edges. Overlooked as well is that radical departures from these differences are also a normal part of human diversity. Intersexed and transsexual births are as equally a normal part of the human condition, if much rarer, than so called normal male and female births. They were always a part of human reality. Ok, we have a beginning point of understanding. From recent discoveries, we’ve learned that hunter gatherer cultures were not always nomadic. Catal Hoyuk was such a culture that combined hunter-gatherer activities with domestication of some animals within the frame work of a very large metropolitan, almost even by modern standards, settlement. A far cry indeed from the past perceptions of neolithic people living in huts or caves.
Reconstruction of an excavated part of Catal Hoyak with detail of an individual “house”
Because of differences in physiology, tasks within a hunter-gatherer culture are divided mostly along the lines of sex. With the male brain pattern of focused, single minded attention and the physical traits ability for spurts of strength, hunting is more natural for males than females. Conversely, the female brain pattern that gives greater ability to multi-task combined with physiological greater stamina at lower levels of effort making women much better at gathering activities. There was overlap in these abilities and from paintings we see the occasional woman involved in hunting parties. These differences lead, in some cases, even to the development of separate languages for the sexes such as in ancient Sumeria where Emesal was the language of women and Eme-ku the language of males. As any modern transsexual would expect, the records show that the Assinnu (transsexual priestesses) of Sumeria spoke Emesal which was said to be a direct gift of Inanna.
Hunting and gathering are both equally important tasks for the survival of the community. Hunting tends to take the males away for prolonged periods, especially as the game closer by became somewhat scarcer. A transsexual individual in such a culture would likely prefer to stay with the women engaging in the more natural, to them, activities, but more importantly, that transsexual would be more likely to make the leap to the idea of staying at home and still providing meat by domestication of some animals! Today we know that despite the cultural invisibility of transsexuals, we are two full standard deviations above the mean in intelligence and creativity. The domestication of animals as an invention of transsexual women would explain much about their later, almost universal, role as religious leaders in a Goddess religion as well as the strong connection between cattle (bulls in particular) and Goddess worship throughout the ancient world. A woman identified transsexual providing not only meat, but milk and eggs as well, would have tipped the balance of contribution of resources towards women since gathering of grain to fed the livestock would still have been dependant on women as the would the care of that livestock depended on staying near the settlement, the women’s role. The male contributions would have been now a variety of diet and more of a luxury than a necessity. The natural focus of such a society towards the Divine would more likely have been feminine rather than masculine. Further evidence of the connection between transsexual priestesses, the gathering activities of women and the relationship to animal domestication comes in the surviving recipes for “sacred food” prepared exclusively by the transsexual priestesses of Cybele and Inanna. They are mixtures of milk or cheese with cream, ground nuts and seeds and spices and are referred to as the most ancient of Her sacred foods. A combination of the fruits of gathering, rather than cultivation, with the milk products of cattle raising. Could the exclusiveness of this preparation be a remembrance of the contributions of transsexual women?
From Catal Hoyuk we have the first representation of Cybele, recognizable by Her seated position flanked by two large cats found inside, not unexpectedly, a grainery bin. This is the type of association we could expect in a society that depended more on the efforts of women for essentials.
Reconstruction of the bull “shrine” found at Catal Hoyuk
The strong connections of Goddess worship with certain symbols cannot be denied. When raising cattle, the bulls become the excess available for meat since the cows are needed both for milk production and reproduction. For a people whose mundane and spiritual lives are intertwined, it would only be natural for the slaughter of bulls to become ritualized and the resulting meat a Divine gift. A gift of the Divine feminine………..the Goddess. This explanation answers, for me, a question that puzzled me for years…. why bulls in connection with the Goddess? Other connections are much easier to understand, but among the almost universal symbols associated with the Goddess in Her various forms, the connection with bulls was one I never found a reasonable argument for and yet it is one of the most enduring connections, lasting all the way into the late Roman period. Could this be the answer? Before you dismiss the idea of the domestication of animals being an invention of transsexuals, bear in mind that our contributions to mankind, while often overlooked, are very real even today. It was a transsexual woman, Lynn Conway, who made the breakthrough in technology that gave birth to the modern computer age. It was transsexual women who wrote much of the software that took that breakthrough to it’s current state. A transsexual woman, Wendy Carlos, gave us the first real electronic music. Even the basic electronic ringer in today’s telephones was developed by a transsexual woman. While we may be mostly invisible in today’s culture, we still have a large impact.
We Are an Old People, We Are a New People: Part Two, Transsexual Priestesses, Sexuality and the Goddess
Sexual “morality” is one of the major blind spots to understanding the past. The Western world has become so enmeshed in the Judaeo-Christian view of sexuality that it takes a major effort for most to take an unbiased viewpoint of cultures that had a much healthier view of human sexuality. Even today’s neo-Pagan, who is taught that all acts of pleasure, that harm none, are forms of Her worship, often still struggle with the “morality” of same-sex relationships and even the existence of transsexuals so it should not be a surprise that much written about ancient sexuality is tainted with unexamined bias. The term “temple prostitute” is an excellent example. The very term is extremely negatively emotionally loaded. To avoid this, I shall refer to those who practiced the institutional sacred sex role as hierodules, a greek term without that loading to the modern reader.
One other term widely used incorrectly is eunuch. Historians apply this term indiscriminately with clearly no idea of it’s meaning. It conjures up visions of large castrated male harem guards and castrati singers of Middle Ages which falls within the true meaning of the word but is widely applied to the transsexual priestesses of the Goddess, which is misleading at least, and at any rate, insulting in the extreme to those ancient transsexual women. Today it is widely applied to the Hijra of India as well, also in blatant disrespect of their own identity. When the term eunuch is not used, we find in it’s stead “castrated male priests” almost universally. Gay and feminist historians are particularly guilty of this last use. So what is the truth? The truth lies in examining the lives of these priestesses, for deeds speak louder than words and how they lived is the best record we have of who they were.
Some things never change regardless of culture. As any woman can tell you, men place a very high sense of their identity on their genitals and always have and so the idea that thousands upon thousands of “men” would willingly castrate themselves and then live as women the rest of their lives is just as absurd then as it is today. We aren’t talking about involuntary castrations of infants or young males by others such as is the source of the historic eunuchs, we are talking about individuals cutting off their own genitalia in order to live as priestesses. Any transsexual woman reading the accounts decodes the mystery instantly and effortlessly…….these individuals are not males, they are transsexual women. Knowledge about transsexuality is widespread enough today among the educated that continuing to refer to these ancient women as “castrated male priests” or eunuchs is out and out transparently transphobic. Unfortunately this transphobia runs rampant everywhere even today. Despite their expressed wishes, despite the way they live their lives, almost all accounts today of the Hijra of India refer to them as eunuchs or “neither male nor female”, a sort of third sex. If you ask a hijra about her sex, she’ll tell you she is female in her eyes just as any modern transsexual woman would. If you observe their lives, they live and function (as much as they are allowed to) as women. Even in our own culture it has been only a few years past that the press even wrote guidelines regarding the pronouns to use when writing about transsexuals and even with those guidelines, a lurid, post-mortem insult of “man living as a woman” is still too often the default of the press when one of us is murdered. Transphobia is rooted in gynophobia, it is the last socially “acceptable” form of bigotry, but is pure bigotry nonetheless. In ancient times as well as today, the imperative to bring one’s body in conformity with one’s identity cannot be truly understood by those who don’t have it. The non-transsexual will just have to accept the word of those of us called, a call that cannot be denied. Now we have the key to unlock truth of the transsexual priestesses, for indeed, that was what they were.
How common were transsexual priestesses in the ancient world? Almost every form of the Goddess was associated with them. Inanna, also called Ishtar, had Her Assinnu. The Assinnu were the hierodule priestesses of Inanna whose change was performed by crushing the testicles between two rocks in the earliest references. Inanna also had transgendered priests who did not do this and who wore clothing that was female on one side and male on the other called the Kurgarru. They were two distinct groups. Becoming an Assinnu was a mes, a call from the Goddess. This mes is a common thread among all transsexual priestesses. It was recognized that transforming one’s life and body was not a choice but a destiny, the call usually in the form of dreams of Inanna when young. We have several different accounts of Inanna’s decent to the underworld and rescue from Her sister, Ereshkigal. In one, Asushunamir (She whose face is Light), the first Assinnu, was created to save Inanna. In another version, two beings, the first Kurgarru and Kalaturru, neither males nor females, are created by Enki from the dirt under his fingernails for the mission. As hierodules, the Assinnu were seen as mortal representatives of Inanna and sex with Assinnu was congress with the Goddess Herself. As magicians, their amulets and talismans were the most powerful of magick to protect the wearer from harm, even just touching the head of an Assinnu was believed to bestow on a warrior the power to conquer his enemies. As ritual artists they played the lyre, cymbals, 2 string lutes and flutes and composed hymns and lamentations all in Emesal, the women’s language, said to be a direct gift of Inanna, as opposed to the common language of men, Eme-ku.
In Canaan we find the Goddess as Athirat also called Asherah or Astarte and Her hierodule transsexual priestesses, the Qedshtu. It should be noted that just as Gallae is changed into Gallus denying the very gender of these priestesses and erasing the truth of their lives, the bible refers to them as Qedeshim (masculine). The functions of the Qedshtu were almost identical to those of the Assinnu and sexual congress with the Qedshtu was considered sex with Athirat Herself. Apparently they also practiced a tantric sexual rite accompanied by drums and other instruments and also used flagellation to obtain an estatic state. The worship of Athirat dates back as far as 8000 BCE by the Natufians who were replaced around 4000 BCE by the Yarmukians. The young consort, Baal added around this time and somewhat better known in biblical times as El. By around 2000 BCE the Qedshtu worn long flowing caftans made of mixed colours, interweaved with gold and silver threads intended to envoke a vision of Athirat in Her full glory in the springtime and are thought to have also worn veils over their faces. They were renown for charity, maintained the garden like groves and temples of Athirat and were prized potters and weavers. Among the surviving rites was the preparation of a sacred ritual food made from a mixture of milk, butter, mint and coriander blended in a cauldron and blessed by lighting seven blocks of incense over the top while accompanied by music played by other Qedshtu.
The invasion of Canaan by the bloodthirty, patriarchial and fanatical followers of Yahweh, the people later known as the Israelites, took place around 1000 BCE. Yahweh’s worshipers insisted he was a jealous god that would have no rivals. Unable to completely conquer the Canaanites, they lived in close proximity for a while. It’s no wonder that the Israelite women were drawn to Athirat, now often called Asherah, whose followers believed in equality of the sexes. It is no wonder that the sexually repressed Israelite men would also want to participate in Her rites. For a time the religions mixed enough that Yahweh and Asherah were considered co-deities. The Levite priests of Yahweh were at their wits end, since even their wives often openly worshiped Asherah. That some of their “sons” became Qedshtu, can be decoded in the story of Joseph and his “coat of many colours”. It is believed that Rachel, Joseph’s mother, was a priestess of Asherah and the coat came from her. We’ve mentioned the colourful caftans with gold and silver threads that were the marks of the Qedshtu, both transsexual and non transsexual priestesses. Small wonder that Joseph’s brothers, devotees of Yahweh, would react badly to their brother becoming a woman, a hierodule priestess of Asherah, for indeed this is what the story indicates.
Almost all of the various levitian laws came from this period as an attempt to kept the Israelites from worshiping Asherah. Outlawed was the “wearing of cloth made from mixed fibres”, banned from the presence of Yahweh were the eunuchs who “had crushed their testicles between stones”, outlawed was the wearing of clothing of the opposite sex. Israelite men were given permission, even directed, to kill their own wives and children if they did not follow their teachings. The Levites were essentialists and not only would not recognize the womanhood of the trans-Qedshtu, but referred to them as men who laid with men. Among the Canaanites, homosexual behaviour wasn’t uncommon and was widely accepted. There are ample examples of artwork showing these relations that are clearly not with Qedshtu. Then, as today, these essentialists failed to understand the difference between a transsexual and a homosexual. It wasn’t so much the homoerotic sex that upset them, it was the idea that a man would become a woman and chose to live that way that terrified them.
The open warfare between the Israelites and followers of Athirat began in earnest soon after the rule of Solomon when Canaan was divided into Israel and Judah. That many Hebrew rulers were not only tolerant of the worship of Athirat, but sometimes were themselves worshipers cannot be denied. Qedshtu were welcomed and openly practiced in Hebrew temples. Jeroboam, Rehoboam and Abijam all openly worshiped Athirat and Baal. Rehoboam’s mother was a Qedshtu. Abijam’s son, Asa, who ruled between 908 to 867 BCE, converted wholy to Yehweh and exiled many Qedshtu and destroyed their temples and burned their groves. He removed his own mother, Maacah, from the throne because she was a Qedshtu priestess. Jehosphaphat of Judah, went further and “the remnants of the male cult prostitutes who remained….he exterminated.” ( 1 Kings 22:46 RSV) The war on the followers of Athirat continued, it’s interesting to note that Athirat was so feared, She is not even mentioned, but rather the biblical text refer to the followers of Baal, her consort, only. This pattern is repeated in much of the old testament. King Jehu, whose murderous attempt at genocide of Athirat and Baal’s worshipers is called “cunning”, pretended to convert and called all the Qedshtu together for a mass celebration at the temple of Jerusalem. When he had gathered them all together and invited them to partake of their rituals, he had the doors locked and his guards murder everyone and then throw their bodies on the city garbage dump. King Josiah, yet another son of a follower of Athirat, Amon, in the tenth year of his rule ordered all images of Athirat and Baal gathered together at Kidron and burned. Not content with this, he then committed total sacrilege and ordered all the bones of Her worshipers dug up and burned on the altars and then scattered to the winds. Then he proceeded to hunt out the remaining worshipers in their communal homes and temples (he broke down the houses of the male cult prostitutes……where the women wove hangings) and killed them all. The christian decendants of the Israelites a thousand years later would repeat these deeds, but more of that later. Let us now journey to ancient Russia then back to Anatolia and then on to Greece and Rome.
Reaching back as far as 8000 BCE the people of the area known today as Russia and the Ukanine worshiped a Mother Goddess. Our first records give Her name as Artimpasa or Argimpasa and like most other Mother Goddess aspects, She had her transsexual priestesses. What they called themselves is lost in the mists of time, we know them ony by the names the Greeks gave them, insulting names, the least of which was Enarees, meaning un-manned. Many authors suggest they are the spiritual decendants of the paleolithic shamans of Siberia and the source of the “twin-spirits” of the AmerIndians and Inuit. We do know something about them. The not only “lived like women” but also “play the woman” in all things. Artimpasa was associated with plant life and particularly cannabis. Like Cybele, She is accompanied often by a lion. We know the Enarees wore the clothes of women and spoke the women’s language and performed the tasks associated with women. Writing about them, the Greeks, who were somewhat transphobic, claimed that they were who they were as a punishment and made jokes about how they were the Scythians who had castrated themselves by spending too much time in the saddle. From a plaque that formed the front of a queen’s tiara dating from between 4000 to 3000 BCE, we know that they probably served the same function as priestesses as almost everywhere She was worshiped. From Herodotus we learned that they acted as diviners by “taking a piece of the inner bark of the linden tree” and cutting it “into three pieces and twisting and untwisting it around their fingers”. We also know that part of the rites included making a “sweat lodge” and burning cannabis inside to obtain an estatic state, some of the tripods, braziers and charcoal with remains of cannabis have been found in various digs in the area.
By the time of the Scythians, the relations with the Enarees were mixed, both respected as priestesses and seers and also ridiculed. This was the common pattern as societies turned more patriarchial and the fear of men of being “called” as were the trans-priestesses was given voice. By the sixth century BCE the Scythians had a far reaching empire and one of the more interesting tales was how they came into conflict with Amazons, made a truce and intermarried for a while then separating. Another tells of a Scythian noble, Anarcharsis, who traveled to the west in search of wisdom around 600 BCE. He joined a mystery religion and while visiting Cyzicus encounters a festival of Cybele. He made a vow that if he was able to return home safely, he would worship Cybele just as he’d seen. Good to his word, upon returning to his homelands he donned the dress of the Gallae and “went through the ceremonies with all the proper rites and observances”. As we shall see, the “proper rites and observances” of the Gallae included an initiation by working up an estatic state and then quickly removing both the penis and testicles with a sharp object and thereafter donning the robes and dress of the Gallae and living as female. Anarcharsis would have had to done this if he made the proper rites. He no doubt witnessed the rites if he attended the major festival of Cybele and would have been aware of this had he been initiated into one of the various mystery religions. While Aanrcharsis is refered to in the masculine throughout the account, it comes to us via those horrified by the Gallae. Fearing the re-introduction of Goddess worship to the Scythians, who had just recently separated into two camps, Anarcharsis’ brother, King Saulius murdered her. Centuries later, Clement of Alexandra wrote of it:
“Blessings be upon the Scythian king” ” When a countryman of his own (his brother) was imitating among the Scythians the rite of the Mother of the Gods as practiced at Cyzicus, by beating the drum and clanging the cymbal, and by having images of the Goddess suspended from his neck after the manner of a priest of Cybele, this king (Saulius) slew him (Anacharisis) with an arrow, on the ground that the man, having been deprived of his own virility in Greece, was now communicating the effeminate disease to his fellow Scythians.”
A few words about hierodules are in order. These priestesses were both transsexual and non transsexual women. Often, during the festivals of almost all these various aspects of Her, women who hadn’t also dedicated their lives to Her would take part and children concieved at these times were considered special gifts of the Goddess. Because transsexual women could not become pregnant, they had a special regard and sacred sexual relations with them, which were indeed viewed as a sacred rite and not some wild orgy, brought the partner into an even more sacred state. Today we’ve lost the connection of the sacred with sex because of the repressive nature of Judeao-Christian traditions towards anything pleasurable. Tantric sexual worship is still practiced today in India. Now let us talk of the Mother of the Gods Herself, Cybele, Her consort son/daughter Attis and Her Gallae.
When discussing the pre-history of the Mother Goddess it is best to start with a brief discussion of socio-political blinders that much of the prior research has suffered from. Even the very word “mother” conjures images and expectations that, upon closer examination, bear little relation to the Anatolian Great Mother Goddess, yet colour almost every account written about Her In her introduction to In Search of God the Mother, Lynn Roller touches on many of these issues along with an excellent recap of the history of the examination of the very concept of a Mother Goddess and deconstructs both the paternal “Mother Goddess primitive, father God superior” linear viewpoint of the majority of scholars as well as the “Golden Age free of strife and warfare” views of many modern dianic pagans. Were the ancient Anatolian civilizations matriarchal? The plain fact of the matter is we may never know. My own guess is that they were equalitarian in nature, but to a western world that only recently started to grant equal rights to women in the past hundred years, I suppose an equalitarian society could look downright matriarchal. To those who feel that a progression from a Mother Goddess to a father god is progress, I’d remind them that the religion of Cybele was the official religion of Rome for 600 years as well a major part of the religious landscape of the known world. When the Roman empire turned from Magna Mater to christianity, the empire promptly fell and the long dark ages began…….hardly progress unless progress means something entirely different to you than to me.
We started our journey into the ancient past at Catal Huyuk where the first representation of the Great Mother was found in a granary bin circa 7000 BCE. I am giving one of the earlier dates for this representation that is used because there has been a marked pushing backwards of the dating of ancient civilizations with increased knowledge recently. In part one of this series we examined how neo-lithic life was considerably more advanced than most people realize. Before dismissing Catal Huyuk as the exception, know that several other settlements from Anatolia show the same level of advanced home building and home life as well as considerable trade over a wide area. Indeed, several newer discoveries have pushed back the date of the ancient neo-lithic Anatolian civilization past 10,000 BCE and there are literally hundreds of known sites that haven’t been touched yet.
Lynn Roller dismisses the connection of Catal Huyuk seated Goddess with Cybele and although she gives excellent reasons, I feel she also overlooks compelling evidence for the direct connection of the seated Catal Huyuk Goddess to Her. Many writers on the subject of ancient Goddess worship assume, based on widespread finds of female figurines from the neo-lithic age on an almost universal Goddess religion. While I agree that you cannot assume these were all Goddess representations it is also apparent that the concept of a Great Mother Goddess associated with lions and bulls spread from ancient Anatolia to Sumeria, India, Egypt and the Minoans by 3000 BCE. Sometimes, as in Sumeria, a formally somewhat minor Goddess was elevated to this position. Sometimes the Mother appears alone. That this happened cannot be denied and is readily apparent by looking at timelines, deities and maps of the ancient world. The point of origin is clearly central Anatolia. Also quite telling is that the Great Mother is almost never associated with children, but rather with wild places and beasts and the very earth, moon and sun. As we have seen in parts one and two, transsexual priestesses are almost always associated with Mother by Her various names. Just as interesting is that when one digs back into the various mythologies of Her origins how often one finds vague references to Mother originating as a hermaphrodite. By Phrygian times, this hermaphroditic connection is transferred the consort Attis but even the earliest versions of the Attis myths start with Cybele as a hermaphrodite Herself.
Central to Lynn Roller’s discussion of the Phrygian Mother, Cybele, being of later origin is that the Phrygian people were preceded by the Hittites and co-existed with the neo-Hittites. Compared to some of the other groups we’ve discussed, the Hittites are relative late comers, rising to power circa 1600 BCE and apparently worshipping an entire pantheon of gods and goddesses. While the name associated most with Magna Mater, Cybele or Kybele almost certainly was from this period, it is important to note that the Phrygians themselves simply referred to Her as “Mother”. As we have seen, this concept of Mother Goddess is far older and widespread. Prior to the Hittites as far back as 4000 BCE we find a Mother Goddess associated with both cattle and lions in the Halaf culture of eastern Anatolia.
We know a flourishing civilization was in place in central Anatolia by 10,000 BCE. We know it abruptly ended around 4000 BCE. We know that Mother Goddess worship was central to this civilization. So what happened? Walled cities appear around this time period throughout the Middle East. The answer to many of these previous mysteries is fairly simple. There was a mini ice age that affected the area that began around 4000 BCE and lasted roughly 1000-1500 years. Central Anatolia was simply not fit for civilized life during that period and it’s people spread out east and south. This is when the Minoan civilization arose, the flowering of the Tigris and Euphrates civilizations and the migration of people and ideas to the Indian subcontinent. This is also when areas that had pantheons, such as the Sumerians, adopted a Mother Goddess to head them, the elevation of Inanna being one the best known examples.
Looking at timelines and migrations what literally jumps out at you, if you are looking, is that Mother Goddess spread from ancient Anatolia and the banks of the Caspian Sea throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean and all the way to India all in the same period of time as the ending of the ancient neo-lithic cultures of Anatolia. When this mass migration started, we then started seeing the appearance of walled cities as conflicts arose between those migrating and those already in the areas. It is the period between 10,000 BCE and 4000 BCE that was the model for the “peaceful matriarchal civilizations” of the modern Dianics……except it wasn’t a matriarchy and the conflicts didn’t start because of the introduction of patriarchal thought. It was simply a matter of people competing for increasingly less resources as a result of weather forced migration.
Moving ahead to around 2500-1500 BCE, much of the non-archaeological material on the religious practices of Anatolia come to us from Greek and Roman sources. Considering that these sources were dependant on oral traditions, for the most part, and comparing our own misunderstandings of Greek and Roman history today, a similar distance in time, over reliance on this material could be misleading. When you add the factors of ethnocentric thinking (cultural bias) and the fact that the accounts come to us from ancient scholars who were not part of a Mother Goddess religion themselves and add a pinch of transphobia the bias is practically assured. No, what is remarkable is that associations between the concept of a Mother Goddess, bulls, snakes, bees, transsexual priestesses, and lions reoccur over and over in the same general area in different civilizations. Even more remarkable when you consider that the Phrygians themselves, who only worshipped Mother, lost some of these associations and yet as soon as Cybele encountered the Aegean people (proto greeks) these associations were once again added back.
We have accounts that Mother’s priestesses not only practiced in cities but also roamed in small nomadic groups and did so throughout the Phrygian, Hellenistic and Roman periods in Anatolia. It is a small step to suppose that these groups also predated the Phrygian period and provided the link in traditions that is so clear from culture to culture. We need only look at the modern example of christianity to understand that the central figure of one religion can be incorporated into another as happened with Hinduism and Islam. Again, we need look no further than the Catholic church to see that even in a poppa god religion, Mother will once again rise as She has done there in the Marian movement within Catholicism.
To understand Cybele’s relationship to the Greek and Roman schools of religion it is necessary to deconstruct widely held misconceptions about the various gods and goddesses. The Cybeline faith was the first of the mystery religions. A mystery religions teaches with stories, plays and oral traditions. The various stories about Attis, Cybele’s consort son/daughter, appeared around the same time as the origins of the Greek mythological stories. Attis and the so-called Greek Gods were never meant to be taken as literal truth, but rather as poetic expressions of the world and morality stories. It is no accident that the only “stories” Cybele appears in are those about Attis yet, as we shall see, She was above all the various gods and goddesses in both ancient Greece and later Rome. 1600 years of literalist christian tradition makes understanding the nature of the Greek and Roman pantheons all but impossible for the average person today. The famous Greek mystery schools developed from the Aegean contact with the Phrygian Cybelines. The faith spread throughout the Mediterranean as far as Spain and southern Italy at a much earlier time than previously had been believed. In Alexandria, Cybele was worshipped by the Greek population as “The Mother of the Gods, the Saviour who Hears our Prayers” and as “The Mother of the Gods, the Accessible One.” Ephesus, one of the major trading centres of the area, was devoted to Cybele as early the tenth century BCE, and the city’s ecstatic celebration, the Ephesia, honoured her. It was also around this time that Mother’s temples underwent a change from a beehive shape to a more Grecian looking columned pattern. This shows in the various “doorway” shrines to Kubaba/Kubele that appeared during this period throughout the Phrygian mountains.
During the Phrygian period, Cybele’s Gallae priestesses were wandering priestesses as well as those living in religious communities mixed with Mellissae priestesses. We know that both were fairly common in Greece from various accounts such as the mistreatment one Galla received in Athens. She was killed by throwing her in a pit. Athens fortunes fell so low afterwards a Maetreum was built and dedicated Cybele that was viewed as so important that all of the official records of Athens were kept there. There is also much evidence that Sappho of Lesbos was a Mellissa priestess and several Phrygianae were spread thoughout the islands. Careful examination of art work showing the greek gods often reveals Cybele’s image over them which continued into the Roman times.
The story of Cybele’s presence in Rome begins circa the early sixth century BCE at the dawn of Roman history. According to the story, King Tarquinius Superbus the Seventh (and last) legendary King of Rome, was approached by an old woman bearing nine scrolls of prophecies by the Sibyl. She asked for three hundred gold pieces for the set, but Tarquinius thought she was a fraud and refused. She then burned three of the scrolls in his hearth and again offered the remaining six scrolls for the same three hundred gold pieces. Once again Tarquinius refused. Again she burned three more scrolls. When she offered the remaining three scrolls for the same three hundred gold pieces, Targuinius suspected he was dealing with the Sibyl of Cumae herself and agreed. These were the original Sibylline prophecies of Rome. They were housed in the Capitoline temples as the most sacred books of Rome and accesses to them limited to a specially appointed priesthood who only consulted them in times of threat to Rome.
One such threat to Rome came during the second Punic Wars. Rome was being badly beaten, rains of stones from heaven falling on the city itself, and according to legend, numerous other ill portents. The Sibylline scrolls were consulted and it was found that if a foreign foe should carry war to Italy, if Magna Mater Idaea was brought to Rome from Pessinus, Rome would not only endure, but prosper. This was made all the more impressive by the arrival of pronouncements of the Sibyl of Delphi of a similar nature at this exact moment. Romans had prided themselves on their Phrygian origins from Troy so the introduction of a Phrygian religion was actually embraced. Five of Rome’s leading citizens travelled to Perganum by way of Delphi to see King Attalus. The Sibyl of Delphi confirmed that Rome’s salvation could be had from Attalus and that when Cybele arrived in Rome She must be accorded a fitting reception. They went to Attalus’ royal residence at Perganum, were conducted to Pessinus and arrangement were made for the Mother of Gods to Rome. Word was sent ahead and the senate voted young Scipio the best and noblest and he was given the task of greeting Magna Mater at Ostia and overseeing Her procession to Rome.
Scipio was accompanied to Ostia by the Matrons of Rome, who were to carry Magna Mater (in the form of a statue with a black meteoric stone in Her forehead) by hand to Rome from Ostia. When the ship arrived, it became stuck at the mouth of the Tiber and resisted all attempts to free it. Among the Matrons of Rome was Claudia Quinta, who’s reputation had been questioned. She waded into the waters, shoo’d off the men and pulled the ship free by herself according to the legend. Thus she restored her reputation. Cybele arrived in Rome April 12’th, 203 BCE and was greeted with rejoicing, games, offerings and a lectisternium (7-day city-wide feast). Until the mid fourth century CE this event was celebrated in Rome with games, festivals and feasts as Megalesian every year.
Cybele was installed in the Temple of Victory on the Palatine close to where Her own temple was already under construction. That summer Scipio defeated Hannibal and Rome’s devotion to Cybele was cemented. The Cybeline faith remained the only “official” religion in Rome up until the introduction of Mithraism, a faith that allowed male priests. The Maetreum on the Palatine was dedicated in 194 BCE
We Are an Old People, We Are a New People: Part Four, Cybele in Rome
“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.
By Cathryn Platine