Friday, April 4, 2014

Hail, Mountain Mother!

Today begins the Megalesia, the Roman festival of the Magna Mater, the Phrygian Cybele. The Romans, following a prophecy in the Sybilline books, brought her to Rome during their war with Carthage, and she eventually came to be assimilated with other goddesses, such as Rhea, Terra, and Demeter, though she always maintained her individual identity as an adopted foreign goddess.

I was born on the second day of the festival and have always felt a deep attraction to the Magna Mater, though it wasn't until recently that I knew who she was.

Hail to the Magna Mater deorum Idaea, the great Idaean mother of the gods, mother of Sabazios, stone-faced Queen and nurse of lions!

According to Wikipedia:
Romans seem to have perceived Megalesia as either characteristically "Greek"; or Phrygian. In the late republican era, Lucretius vividly describes its "war dancers" in three-plumed helmets, clashing their shields together, bronze on bronze, "delighted by blood"; yellow-robed, long-haired, perfumed Galli waving their knives, wild music of thrumming tympanons and shrill flutes. Rose petals are scattered, and clouds of incense arise. The goddess's image, wearing the Mural Crown and seated within a sculpted, lion-drawn chariot, is carried high on a bier. At the cusp of Rome's transition to Empire, the Greek Dionysius of Halicarnassus describes the procession as wild Phrygian "mummery" and "fabulous clap-trap", in contrast to the sacrifices and games that he admires as being carried out in "traditional Roman" style. Roman citizens can observe the procession, but their own laws forbid them to join it, or to know the goddess's mysteries; and slaves are forbidden to witness any of these proceedings. The Roman display of Cybele's procession as an exotic, privileged public spectacle offers signal contrast to what is known of the private but socially inclusive Phrygian-Greek mysteries on which it was based.
I am not an expert on the Magna Mater. She told me her name in a dream once, but it wasn't until I started investigating Roman religion that I knew who she was. I am taking this opportunity to make this the start of an in-depth study of her. I hope that next year, when the Megalesia rolls around again, I will be able to feast to her properly.

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