Cybele, sometimes referred to as Kybele, was introduced by some the first inhabitants of Phrygia, an ancient country in Asia Minor, known later as Anatolia. Much later, after the empiric rise of Rome, Cybele, referred to as the Magna Mater or “Great Mother” became an important symbol of the empire.
Loved throughout the Hellenistic period of ancient Greece, by people of various backgrounds, Cybele came to be known as the mother of all gods and eventually of all life. Cybele controlled every aspect of life on Earth, from plants to animals to men. All fertility was her under control and people in Anatolia, who had a profound respect for nature, believed Cybele also had the power to spare mankind from the sometime destructive cycles of nature. For the people of that time, Cybele came to be regarded as a protectress of civilization itself and she was highly respected.
In one version of Cybele’s history, her parents are identified as the god of the sky and the goddess of the earth, Zeus and Gaia, a Titaness, respectively, making Cybele a half-Titan.
In another version of her history, Cybele was said to have been without parents, without creation. Some people believe this to be a more accurate origin story for this goddess and believe she always existed.
Like most gods and goddesses, Cybele’s likeness changed with the times. Her image, captured in paintings, murals, carvings, and writings, usually identify her as a heavy woman, which is common in how gods of fertility are portrayed in many cultures throughout the world. Later art more often depicts Cybele as pregnant, usually dressed in fine clothing.
Cybele was closely connected with various mountain dwelling animals, such as the lion and hawk. She is often show, or described, as sitting in a chariot drawn by a team of lions, with her throne surrounded by many wild animals, as well, acting as her attendants.
Cybele’s Most Enduring Story
Having fallen in love with a much younger and very handsome shepherd named Attis, Cybele fell into a fit of rage upon finding out that Attis had fallen in love with another, a nymph called Sagaris. Cybele showed up to the wedding feast and terrified the guests and Attis so greatly that he fled into the mountains where he fell at the base of a pine tree. In his madness, Attis mutilated himself and bled to death where he lay. Cybele, who came to deeply regret her actions and mourned the loss of Attis. However, Jupiter assured Cybele that the pine tree would become forever sacred. It came to be adopted by the priests of Cybele, the Galli.
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