Today, I resume my exploration of the ancient, Near-Eastern, Greco-Roman Goddess, Cybele, and Her relationship with transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Cybele (pronounced “KIB-i-lah”) was known to Greeks and Romans by many titles: Mother of the Gods, Mistress of Animals, the Great Mother, and the Savior who Hears our Prayers (http://www.hellenicaworld.com/Greece/Mythology/en/Cybele.html). Cybele’s ceremonies and celebrations were officiated by a priesthood of male-to-female, transgender-like persons.
V. Many of the features associated with Mistress Cybele are seen in female figurines excavated from Stone Age archaeological sites throughout the Middle East. One particularly famous figurine was unearthed at the site of an ancient city in Turkey, Çatalhöyük, which dates back to 6000 BCE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother-goddess#Anatolia). This clay sculpture depicts a nude, pregnant woman on a throne with lion-headed arm rests. She was found in the remains of a granary, suggesting a role in guarding the ancient town’s food supply. It is not clear whether the figure represents a supreme, Mother-Goddess or if the figure served merely as a talisman for good luck. A more elegant and better-preserved seated female figurine was unearthed at a site also dating back to 6000 BCE in Samarra, Iraq (see Figure). The full significance of these figurines to prehistoric societies may never be known, but variations on a Mother Deity appears to have resided in the hearts and visions of humanity in the Near East since the end of the last Ice Age. In cultures representing maternal love and provision for one’s family as Divine Feminine, the attributes of Mother, Protector, Nourisher, and Domesticator would have come together in Mistress Cybele. Hence, Great Mother Cybele was likely in existence long before the quarrelsome, all-too-human Gods of Mount Olympus appeared in the visions and stories of the ancient Greeks.
VI. As the full significance the Cybele-like female figures bore for their prehistoric societies is unknown, the nature of Her priesthood at such a bygone time is likewise unknown. However, by 1000 BCE, many larger-than-life-size sculptures had been carved into the mountainsides throughout Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), indicating a group of people dedicated full-time to Her worship. By the 6th century BCE, Her eunuch (transgender-like) priesthood was well-established, evidenced by the dismay expressed by some Greek writers over the effeminate appearance of Her priests. Based upon such historical accounts of males undergoing castration and living as women to serve the Great Mother, it appears that male-to-female transgenderism is an ancient phenomenon.
I am increasingly convinced that Mistress Cybele is a very real aspect of the Divine Feminine. Mother Cybele has become for me the one who specially chose transgender people in a similar manner to the way Father Yaweh chose the Jewish people. The great love the Goddess has for myself and other gender-nonconforming people inspires me to spread Her love through engagement in charity and service. The gentle, devoted manner in which my partner Monica loves me no doubt mirrors the love of the Goddess. As Mistress Cybele expected Her beloved Attis to reciprocate Her love and faithfulness, I am consequently moved to be a more committed partner to Monica.
VII. Mistress Cybele not only embraces the gender-nonconforming among humankind, Her own body was associated with gender-nonconforming characteristics. Some mythical retellings of Cybele’s birth and origins speak of Her as originally possessing both male and female anatomy, thus making Her intersex. In such an intersexed aspect, She went by the name, Agdistis. The Olympian Gods feared this person who could be both male and female and cut away Her male organs. Thus, Agdistis “transitioned” to become Cybele. Alternate stories relate how Cybele gave birth to a child, named Agdistis, born with intersexed characteristics who was similarly mutilated by the Olympians. Regardless of whether the intersexed being was a daughter of Cybele or Cybele Herself, the Olympian Gods embodied the arrogant notion that patriarchal human institutions are above the ways of Nature. To paraphrase my partner’s favorite quote in educating people about transgender and intersexed people: “Humans often lack the ability to think beyond two genders, male and female, but God is not confined to only two genders.” While Zeus and the other Olympian Gods seem to have gotten hung up on the two-gender thing, Cybele embodies the Divine power to transcend gender and sex. Mistress Cybele, being either intersex or the mother of an intersex child, stands alone among Western Deities as a source of hope and comfort to intersex men and women of the modern world. Many intersex people have been wronged by the self-appointed “gods” of the medical establishment. Yet intersex persons can find hope in the mythical accounts of Cybele and Agdistis, which suggest that anatomical intersexedness was known to ancient peoples.
In conclusion, intersexedness, transgenderism, and other manifestations of gender-nonconformity are not a modern deviation from norms, but rather a longstanding fixture of the human experience. I am moved to pray daily on behalf of all my gender-nonconforming sisters and brothers who struggle in the midst of a rejecting and godless world.