The Goddess Cybele – Matron of the Transgender and Intersexed in the Greco-Roman World (part II of V)

Much of the lore and iconography surrounding the Great Mother Cybele concerns her relationship with the shepherd, Attis.

III. There are several differing mythical retellings of Cybele’s love-affair with the young shepherd, Attis. He was conceived as a result the union of a river-nymph and an enchanted almond-tree. Disowned by his mother at birth, he was adopted by shepherds. He grew up to possess such handsomeness, that Cybele, Mother of the Gods, fell in love with him. She exalted him to office as Her priest, but required that he commit himself solely to Her and never pursue intimate relations with women. Attis disobeys and becomes engaged to the daughter of a king, but in in another account, he falls in love with a river-nymph (possibly his birth-mother!). Cybele catches Attis in his infidelity and drives him to such an extreme of remorse that he performs self-castration. In alternate accounts, Attis is described as having been born as a eunuch. Even with his femme appearance, Cybele took a fancy to him. Attis served Cybele as a sort of evangelist, spreading Her worship across Anatolia ( The mythical accounts in which Attis was born a eunuch mirrors my own life. As I matured to adulthood, I discovered a physical incapability of intimate relations with women. In my loneliness, I became convinced of the Goddess as an Ever-Present Reality in the world around me. I gradually discovered that my entire inner-world: mind, emotions, and personality, are female, as opposed to my male body. Throughout my process of social and pharmaceutical tranformation to female outer appearance, I came to feel as if I were being “set aside” by the Goddess. My change from male to female thus served as a sacrament of ordination. In short, for Attis, as well as for myself, “Boy meets Goddess, Goddess turns Boy into Girl.”

IV. The love between Cybele and Attis was unfortunately ill-fated, true to the form of Greek Mythology and Tragedy. In the stories where Attis castrates himself, he bleeds out from the traumatic amputation and dies. In the stories where Attis is a born eunuch, he is mauled to death by a wild boar. Cybele, sorrow-stricken from the loss of her lover, expresses her grief through the beating of drums and cymbals. The depths of the Goddess’s despair was reputed to lead to crop failures and famines. In memory of Her lost Attis, She required memorial drumming/dancing celebrations and also that Her priests become eunuchs. When the worship of Cybele moved westward to Greece around the 6th century BCE, drumming was already established as the characteristic sacrament of Her priesthood. Nearly all icons and statues of Cybele portray Her seated and holding a circular frame drum or tamborine under one hand. She holds the other hand outward and palm up as if inviting people to participate in Her drumming.


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