It was one of the principal high places in all of human history. Once fully forested, its summit has been swept bare like the head of an old man.1 Its slopes oversaw the Troad, ruled by Priam’s city of Troy in the northwest, and Sappho’s island of Lesbos to the south. In the north a canal once connected the Sangarius River to a lake and then the city of Nicomedia on the Sea of Marmara, offering a waterway from the west into Anatolia according to Livy and Pliny the Younger.2 Gordium, the city of Midas, greeted those who brought goods up that “river of blood,” or so it came to be known because of the blood of transgender priestesses that freely flowed in ecstatic offerings to the Great Mother at Pessinus. But Mount Ida stands like a sentinel of the Gallic lands watching over the Aegean Sea as if waiting for worshippers to return.
But no priestess officiates there anymore. Its rich mythical history has faded into old hauntings that a few stop to savor.
The Turks call the place Kazdaği or “Kaz Dau” to our ears, and set up its own province of Balıkesir around it. They set up a national park of a scant 2.4 square kilometers to protect its slopes, an patch of ground hardly worthy of the mountain’s biodiversity. It’s a money maker for Turks and tourists, a place for hiking, biking, or other sports but will also accommodate those who pay to simply take in its natural and legendary richness.3
The gods walked here. Mount Ida was sacred to Cybele (Κυβέλη or kü-BEH-lē), also identified with Rhea and the Great Mother acknowledged by the patriarchal Hittites and earlier matriarchal Anatolian peoples beyond memory many millennia ago.
Zeus raptured away his beloved Ganymede here. Paris grew up here, and later took Aphrodite’s bribe to choose her as fairer than Hera and Athena. Helen was that bribe according to Apollodorus, unleashing a turn of events that would shift the center of the history of civilization away from the East and into Europe.4
It’s hard to regard the deities as separate and distinct from one another. The Greeks had other great mother goddesses. Demeter took her name from Δή + Μήτηρ or “Great Mother,” the initial “dē” being a particle of intensity toward whatever it enjoins. Hera’s name was a metathesis of the name Rhea which in turn developed from the concept of a flowing goddess (ῥέω or “I flow” → Ῥέα → Ἓρα → Ἥρα) and her powers, like those of Cybele, magnified at Mount Ida. At times the story of Cybele-Rhea merges with that of another Mount Ida in Crete where Zeus was born, his cries drowned out by the Curetes, spirits who protected him from his cannibalistic father. The Curetes, in turn, oversaw the ecstatic dances of the Corybantes so that people often regarded them as interchangeable.5
People likewise associated the Gallī*, the transgender priestesses of Cybele with the Corybantes so that they were often thought to be one and the same. Homer spoke of Curetes in The Iliad, presumably in context of Corybantes. He made no mention of Gallī. But we may infer that transgender people may by then have taken a role in the worship of the Great Mother consistent with the sacred eunuchs of Mesopotamia and the Levant, and would have figured in the mythos of the Trojans.6
Scattered Celtic tribes had invaded the Aegean and Asia Minor at various times in history from the north since their initial evolution from the Kurgan peoples who thrived near the Volga Delta prior to 2200 BCE. Celtic tribes merged with various cultures throughout Europe, especially in the more ancient societies in present day Bulgaria and the Balkans. Tribes connected with the Kurgan people appear to have interacted with the Hittites, as Gerhard Herm attests in The Celts:
“This brings us within reach of the first Indo-European people whose existence is attested in written documents: the Hittites. They advanced around 2000 BC into what is today Turkey, where they founded, a good four hundred years later, one of the most powerful empires of the ancient world, which at its apogee reached into Syria.
“These steppe-warriors could not have acquired the capacity to set up and govern a state in their homeland. This they presumably learnt in the Trans-Caucasian region, where they had to test their own hierarchical order against a more highly developed people. Their military prowess will also have benefited, for the mountain people seem, like themselves, to have been of a warlike disposition. While the Hittites’ forefathers were setting off, the Churri, who probably lived in Armenia, left their homelands and set up several states in Mesopotamia that were dominated by chariot-borne armies. Half a millennium later they were followed by the Cassites who conquered Babylon and held it for almost four hundred years. Some scholars reckon that, though not Indo-European, both peoples were at least led by Indo-European chieftains. They were at all events characterized by a rigidly hierarchical social order. All of this permits us to suppose that a warrior people lived on the slopes of the Caucasus, in the modern Soviet republics of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaidjan, which at one time had not only the military but also the organizational capacity to undertake the great march to western Europe.”7
It was a remarkable and too often overlooked development. Transgender priestesses served more or less served at the time in which Celtic influence spread into southern regions including the Aegean. Alexander the Great, despite educational and cultural ties to Athens, had more genetically in common with the Celts of the Balkans, being himself Macedonian.8
More importantly, the Thracians had more in common with the Celtic Cimmerians before the Scythians (a closely related people) pushed them westward than they had with the Greeks. The Thracians sided with Troy in the Trojan Wars instead of with Agamemnon. Why they did so seems to be a cultural one that may tie in with Magna Mater herself with Mount Ida near the epicenter and what the mountain in turn represented in that region.9
The Great Mother had been known in Anatolia at Çatal Hüyük, from perhaps 8,000 years ago, and enjoyed Hittite veneration. But the name “Cybele” suggests a possible Sumerian origin.10
The Sumerian King List, estimated to appear at 2,100 BCE, lists a queen in the 3rd dynasty of the Kish city-state named Ku Bau. Estimates place her reign around 2,400 BCE. Ku Bau was originally a tavern keeper before being elevated to the throne of Kish. According to this theory, Ku Bau merged with the goddess in Hittite Carchemish called Kubaba. Over the following centuries the name became applied to the existing Great Mother religions of Anatolia and beyond, eventually becoming the Cybele in Phrygia where her mythos at times melded with other Great Mother deities by the time of the Trojan War about the 12th Century BCE.11
By the time of Midas the Gallī had established themselves at the Sangarius in the Gordium area where the Cybelline religion takes the turn in the form of the Attis myth we know today. According to the opinion of Andrew Gough:
“The story of Attis is ancient and complex. Not surprisingly, it originates in Pessinus. The conventional story attests that Attis, a young man born from an immaculate conception, raised by a goat, and who captured the eye of Cybele with his beauty, was sent to Pessinus to wed the King’s daughter (King Midas, according to some versions), only to have Agdistis/Cybele (the vegetation-goddess of the neighbouring mountain) intervene during the ceremony’s opening song. This provoked Attis to go mad and castrate himself, which in turn prompted his father-in-law-to-be (the king whose daughter was to wed) to do the same, thus giving rise to the self-castrating Cybele worshippers known as Galloi, eunuchs, corybantes, and, tellingly, Attises.”12
Pessinus was a relatively late development in Cybeline religion. Pessinus derives its name from an aorist form of πίπτω (piptō = I fall) denoting a fall whether to shatter in ruins or in veneration. One thing did fall in that area: a meteorite. Celtic warriors more than once were quoted to say that their greatest fear was the sky falling upon their heads.13 The stone, once found, became identified with Cybele and was venerated in a temple there near Mt. Dindymus. Worshippers passed through a long narrow channel of water where they underwent a baptism by immersion before turning right (deosil – in the direction of the turning of the heavens) to face the shrine of Cybele and again turn deosil to exit, never turning their backs to the goddess.14
The baptismal aspect appears to be consistent with the Thracian equivalent. Cottys was the Thracian goddess comparable to Cybele but with elements also associated with Artemis via the form of Bendis. Cottys also had transgender priestesses: the Baptai.15
Could the Baptai have represented the cultural ties leading the Thracians to side with Troy? We might make that association if we could be sure that the timing coincided with Gallī being present at the time of the Trojan War. Unfortunately, we have no real certainty of this in any direct record. In fact the very name Gallī has no direct reference till the establishment of the Galatians in the 3rd Century BCE when they specifically identified as “Gauls” and referred to a river, presumably the Sangarius, as “Gallus” which may suggest the transgender priesthood adopted the name in connection with rivers and subsequent baptismal rites.16
There are some who trace the name Gallī to an earlier time, even to Mesopotamia. One modern priestess MaatRaAh cites a version of the story of Inanna in the Underworld, contending that the Gauls derive their name from the Gallī instead of Gallī from the Gauls. In this version a Galatur sprinkles the water of life on the remains of Inanna instead of Asushunamir doing this and a Kugarra sprinkles the food of life on it, reviving her.17
While she draws this connection of the Galatur to the Gallī of Cybele, she does not cite her source. No other source known to this writer corroborates this connection, neither has this writer found this version of the story in any source not connected to modern Pagans. No other version even speaks of the “food of life,” only the “water of life.” However, we do have other references to the Kugarru as castrati who served alongside the Assinu in Mesopotamia. A. R. George states:
“The presence of a kulu’u in Marduk’s entourage is not without parallel. There is a tablet that specifically collects the Akkadian chants to be recited by alúur.SAL (Assinnu or kulu’u) during the progress of Marduk’s procession to the Akītu-temple on 8 Nisan. It may be that this person is identical with the subject of our text. One of the chants tells us that among those who took part in the procession were assinnus and kurgarrūs of Ištar, Lady of Babylon.”18
Regardless of whether the name of Gallī originated with Gaul or priestess, we may infer the persistence of transgender priestesses throughout Asia Minor and the Aegean to have expanded with Celtic interactions with the Mesopotamian cults at an early time, but the name Gallī isn’t certain till the Galatian settlement. By 275 BCE three Celitc tribes: Trocmians, Tolistoagii, and Tectosages, had established themselves in what became Galatia.19 The Celts were otherwise a highly mobile people in the ancient world with linguistic and narrative connections that at times seem to connect with far flung lands, even to India. For example the Irish goddess Danu, associated with the legendary race called the Tuatha Dé Danann, also figures in both name and aspect in the Indian pantheon.20
But what of Mount Ida in all of this? After the fall of Troy we read little about the mountain except as the source of the Sibyls. During the time of Cyrus of Persia the Hellespontine Sibyl purportedly uttered the Sibylline Books at Gergis on Mount Ida. These were preserved there at the Temple of Apollo. The collection of oracles passed to the Erythraean Sibyl, then to the Cumaean Sibyl who offered them to the last king of Rome, Tarquinius. The King is said to have sought to bargain down the price at which the Sibyl burned 3 of the books. The King, being displeased, set yet a lower price and the Sibyl burned 3 more of the books. In the end Rome secured only 3 of the Sibylline books for the price of the original 9 and entrusted them to the Decemviri Sacris Faciundis where they could be consulted in times of calamity.21
Calamity came with the invasion of Hannibal. The Romans consulted the books that purportedly instructed them to negotiate their bringing the meteorite associated with Cybele from Pessinus to Rome and to acknowledge her in their worship. So it was done. The onslaught of Hannibal’s forces dwindled into nothing as Fabius constantly nipped away at the Carthaginian Army with guerilla tactics.22
For Romans the connection was purportedly an ancestral one, a belief acknowledged by Virgil in The Aeneid. Aeneas, after the fall of Troy, led a contingent of Trojans to Carthage and then to the Italian peninsula.23 These Trojans were purportedly the ancestors of the Romans. Romans, by acknowledging Cybele as an ancestral goddess, also brought over her transgender priestesses to serve at the Palatine, then at the Vatican before the ascendancy of the Christian cult.24
In the 4th Century CE Romans replaced the Gallī with a monastic priesthood and eradicated open Cybelline worship. The Vatican would soon fall under total control of the church.25
From there Mount Ida diminished in importance, towering over the ebb and flow of Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Ottomans, Brits, and Republican Turks. No sacrifices mark the high place anymore. But the vegetation there never entirely recovered as if the mountain remembered and even the trees dare not cross the summit where Cybele would have been remembered.
It’s as if Eris’ apple of discord demanded of more than just Paris’ judgment of the aspects of the Great Mother. They demanded the judgment of the nations thereafter in waves of discord. The oneness of the goddess aspects evolved to forms separate and distinct from one another. Hera was a Great Mother goddess by association with Rhea and Cybele. Athena’s association was though the early Egyptian Great Mother Neith.26 Aphrodite’s Great Mother connections reached to her Phoenician roots and whose epic concerning Adonis paralleled that of Attis in the Cybele myth, though Aphrodite persisted more as a maiden goddess than a mother goddess and maintained thereby a freshness that appealed to the Trojan.27 Athena retained her primacy in Achaia, Aphrodite at Cythera and Paphos. But Hera fell into more general disrepute as an embittered and manipulative goddess obsessed with retaining an adulterous Zeus as well as worshippers who increasingly left her communion. Another Great Mother aspect, Cottys eventually merged through Bendis in the person of Artemis, but also caused a split. To some she was the hunter goddess. To others she was the many-breasted transcendental goddess of Ephesus. These refinements should cause anyone to question. Questionings manifested in a movement that began in Miletus with Thales and would sweep up Ephesus, Athens, and beyond: greater examination of specificity and causes in naturalistic terms… the beginnings of Classical Philosophy.
Philosophy took on faith itself; not only those of the Pagans, but also those of the Abrahamists. At times they seem to work together. At times the apple of discord clogs their throats so that they cannot stand one another. The constant discord of faiths eventually left the transgender priesthoods without support, and with the Edict of the Vicar of Rome in 390 CE, forced them underground in an Abrahamic Oppression that would last for centuries.28
Today’s Gallae, as they prefer to be known by the feminine, if they visit the mountain, do so in stealth because of the general hostility of the Muslim Turks who long forgot transpeople’s contributions to the history of Asia Minor. Today’s followers may have practical differences from the ancient Gallī though not inconsistent with them, honoring Cybele in a matriarchal society much like what originally existed, and in a more pastoral environment where it could. The Maetrium represents an Earth religion comparable to modern Wicca.29
But if one becomes immersed amid the song of birds and the whisperings of the wind of the mountain, one might hear the fleeting sound of the flute and timbrel as if the ages of worship have not entirely silenced their acknowledgement of the goddess in the Heroic Age. Magna Mater remains Mother Earth who never stopped giving rest and nourishment to her children so long as the children do not abuse her. Perhaps today’s barren summit stands as a warning to the environmental disaster threatened upon the world, as if saying day after day the best it could: “Lay aside your weapons and your machines of pollution;” and “Honor your Mother.”
*For purposes of historical reference, the classical term Gallī (Latin masculine plural) is used in most of this article instead of today’s preferred term Gallae (Latin feminine plural), thereby distinguishing between ancient and modern followers of Cybele. Modern followers also refer to the ancients as “Gallae” but their scholars do recognize that Latin and Greek records refer to those priestesses in the masculine. Certain quotes also follow the Greek equivalent: Γάλλοι.
- Rix, Martin. Wild About Ida: the glorious flora of Kaz Dagi and the Vale of Troy, (2002) Cornucopia 26, quoted by Web: http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/MountIda.html . Retrieved April 6, 2017.
- (n.a.) Sangarius (Sakarya) (n.d.) Web: org: http://www.livius.org/articles/place/sangarius-sakarya/?. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
- (n.a.) Mount Ida (n.d.) Web: Mlahanas: http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/MountIda.html . Retrieved April 6, 2017.
- (n.a.) Rhea (n.d.) Web: University of Pennsylvania: http://www.classics.upenn.edu/myth/php/tools/dictionary.php?method=did®exp=196. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
- Iliad , Book XIX v. 193.
- Herm, Gerhard. The Celts (1975) St. Martin Press, New York City NY, ISBN: 312-12705-7, pp. 79,80.
- Ibid, p. 34.
- (n.a.) Thrace (n.d.) Web: http://www.historyfiles.co.uk/KingListsEurope/GreeceThrace.htm . Retrieved April 8, 2017.
- Redmund, Layne. When the Drummers Were Women, A Spiritual History of Rhythm (n.d.) excerpt quoted by Web: FramedDrumsofCybele.com: http://framedrumsofcybele.com/FrameDrumsofCybele_home/About_Cybele.html . Retrieved April 13, 2017.
- Clark, Darci. Ku-Bau- The First Woman Ruler (December 10, 2011) Web: http://semiramis-speaks.com/ku-bau-the-first-woman-ruler/. Retrieved April 8. 2017.
- Gough, Andrew. Pessinus: The Origin of Cybele’s Abduction and the Attis Myth (May 2014) Web: http://andrewgough.co.uk/pessinus/ . Retrieved April 6, 2017. “Galloi” in this case follows the Greek masculine plural form Γάλλοι instead of the Latin Gallī.
- Herm, p. 35. Reports elsewhere refer to Caesar being told this upon which his ire was aroused at the supposed arrogance of the Celts.
- Op cit.
- Lansberry, Julia Cybele. Other Goddesses and their Male-Born Priestesses (n.d.) Web: Aztriad: http://www/aztroad/cp,goddesses.html. Retrieved June 23, 2008. The site, since its retrieval has come down after the death of the author but remains in hardcopy in the archives of the writer.
- Lemprière, John, G. & C. Carvill, translators. A Classical Dictionary (1831). 3rd Edition, University of Virginia. No ISBN, p. 587
- Pagan Goddess of the Sibyl and Cybele Oracle (2015) Web: Sabrina Aset: http://www.goddess.org/vortices/notes/cybele.html. Retrieved April 9, 2017.
- George, A.R. Babylonian Texts from the Folios of Sidney Smith, Part Three: A Commentary on a Ritual of the Month Nisan.175 .pdf download from “Guinan, 8th proofs” October 4, 2008. Hardcopy from the writer’s collection.
- Herm, p. 42.
- DANU: The Great Goddess of the Tuatha De Danaan (n.d.) Web: The Goddess Tree: http://thegoddesstree.com/GoddessGallery/Danu.html . Retrieved April 12, 2017.
- Sibylline Books: Ancient Prophecies Destroyed By Fire (February 17, 2016) Web: MessagetoEagle.com: http://www.messagetoeagle.com/sibylline-books-ancient-prophecies-destroyed-by-fire/ . Retrieved April 12, 2017.
- (n.a.) The Coming of the Sibyl (n.d.) p. 96 Web: Sacred Texts: http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/numa/numa05.htm . Retrieved April 12, 2017.
- (n.a.) Ancient Rome – Vergil – The Aeneid (n.d.) Web: Classical Literature: http://www.ancient-literature.com/rome_vergil_aeneid.html. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
- Cited by Fraser, Sir James. The Golden Bough. Chapter 34 (n.d.) Web: Sacred Texts.com : http://www.sacred-texts.com/pag/frazer/gb03400.htm . Etrieved April 13, 2017.
- Platine, Catharyn. We Are an Old People, We Are a New People: Cybele In Rome, Part IV. (n.d.) Web: Maetrium of Cybele: http://gallae.com/His4.html . Retrieved April 13, 2017.
- According to Plato in Timaeus. See Mark, Joshua J. Neith (September 14, 2016) Web: Ancient History Encyclopedia: http://www.ancient.eu/Neith/. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
- Fraser, Ch. 34.
- Rominarum et Mosaicarum Legum Collatio, Vol. III, translated and quoted by Eva Cantanellla in Bisexuality in the Ancient World, by Cormac O’ Culleanain (1992) Yale University Press, New Haven p. 177.
- (n.a) Maetrium of Cybele (n.d.) Website: http://gallae.com/ . Retrieved April 13, 2017. The Maetrium of Cybele also has a Facebook page.