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'Our Lady of Anatolia': A Reflection on the Transliminal Spirituality of the Meter Theon

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

by Antheia Narvalo


Ought I to say something on this subject also?
And shall I write about things not to be spoken of
and divulge what ought not to be divulged?
Shall I utter the unutterable? Who is Attis or Gallus, who is the Mother of the Gods, and what is the manner of their ritual of purification? And further, why was it introduced in the beginning among us Romans?
It was handed down by the Phrygians in very ancient times, and was first taken over by the Greeks, and not by any ordinary Greeks but by Athenians who had learned by experience that they did wrong to jeer at one who was celebrating the Mysteries of the Mother. For it is said that they wantonly insulted and drove out Gallus, on the ground that he was introducing a new cult, because they did not understand what sort of goddess they had to do with, and that she was that very Deo whom they worship, and Rhea and Demeter too.

The Emperor Julian, Oratio V, Hymn to the Mother of the Gods, Trans. Emily Wilmer cave Wright, on the Magna Mater and the arrival of her cult in Rome bearing the sacred black stone of the 'Great Mother' from her temple in Pessinus, Anatolia.


 

Flavius Claudius Julianus made pilgrimage to the temple of the Meter Theon and wrote his Oration to the Mother of the Gods shortly before to meet his demise on campaign against the Sassanid Persians in the year 363 of the Common Era. This ended the emperor's two-year reign and the brief restoration of monistic, Neoplatonic pantheism to Rome and its subjugate territories. Julian is remembered as 'Emperor,' 'Apostate,' or 'Philosopher' depending on who you ask.

~

Our Lady of Anatolia. The Phyrgian Mother. Koubaba. Kybele. She who traverses the Celestial Realm by lion-drawn chariot. Hers is the sacred mountain Kybela from which inspiration springs. And the mountain of Agdistis, which is also her name. She is a deity-form archetype of the uncreated, transcendent Divine Creatrix, both the Mother of the Gods and the mother of wisdom and prophecy. The Great Mother, the Mother of the Gods, the Meter Theoi, are among her many epitaphs as representative of the all-encompassing, all-containing, Goddess, herself, of the divine realm and the principle of generativity in the material. Rhea. Hera. Quite often she hides within plain sight, known only to those initiated, those called (for that is all it may be termed) into her mysteries. Her followers similarly and often ecstatically, embrace this transliminal space of original creativity. This is particularly so in challenging the assumptions of gender and what constitutes divine union. In the stories of the Magna Mater, of Kybele and other archetypal goddess deity-forms are represented many and varied additional aspects of the divine feminine. Healer. Prophetess. Divine Protectress, Warrior, Huntress, Weaver of Destiny... of Spells. The Night itself. And the Moon.


Homeric Hymn 14 TO THE MOTHER OF THE GODS Tr. Hugh G. Evelyn-White, 1914 (1-6) I prithee, clear-voiced Muse, daughter of mighty Zeus, sing of the mother of all gods and men. She is well-pleased with the sound of rattles and of timbrels, with the voice of flutes and the outcry of wolves and bright-eyed lions, with echoing hills and wooded coombes. And so hail to you in my song and to all goddesses as well!

From the mythologies of Agdistos, Attis, Dionysios and (Herm)Aphroditus, and recalling the transference of this very particular wisdom tradition from the Sumarian and Babylonian Gala to the Phyrygian Gallae in their encounter with the Hellenic and Roman worlds, we are engaging in the philosophy of union, inclusive of, but not limited to, the generational realm. The mystery of this union of opposites, embodied in the Creatrix and her followers is a paradox of being which unlocks a kind of understanding or knowing of the Divine. She is also a chthonic goddess, of the primordial earth and the caverns within her sacred mountains which touch the sky. She is the darkness of night as well as starry heavens, the underworld as well as the great dome of the sky. The Goddess is both immanent to the world, encompassing it, sustaining it; and yet, mysteriously, she transcends it.


The Great Mother was always an eternal deity who contained time and duality, the completion and renewal of the seasonal cycle of life, death and rebirth. She would become a deity of agricultural fecundity, and patroness of royalty.


Transfeminine Spirituality and the Numinous


The proposition being put forth here is twofold. The first is that there is a conceptual spiritual framework, a comprehensive "theological" model or structure, to be found in our collective, "western" mythologies. By this is meant those stories and cosmologies whose origins lay in the Mediterranean circle of wisdom transference. Secondly, that these cosmologies speak to the reality of transgender and, here specifically, transfeminine experience and that this framework is inclusive of that reality in the generative creational stories, though clearly not from the perspectives of those who lived out these experiences.


The transliminal journey is that of the transition between worlds in these cosmologies. That creational role may be located at the in-between space between ideation and manifestation, the division demarcating the divine and material realms. This in-between space, like Plato's notion of the receptacle, creates the possibility of actuation by giving it definition, a place in which to be. It is the womb. It is the moment just prior to the moment of motion, when stillness bursts into activity, silence breaks into cacophony of sound. All of this mirrors the process initiated at the level of the divine, above. This is described by the emanational process, the in-filling of the vessel, or, we may say, that of the Cosmic Yoni. Plato's receptacle. Those who traverse this third path are the midwives of creation, they who birth the worlds, the third principle.


I am of the opinion that this third principle is regarded as subsisting according to essence, inasmuch as it is supposed to exist in the nature of male and female, as a type of the generating principle of all things. -from The Theogonies, Damascius, (tr.sacred-texts)

The Philosopher Julian, in his Oratio V, offers us a systematic application to the ancient tale of Attis and the Great Mother that affords one an understanding of just where in the story, the cosmology of creation governed by this generating principle of things, might transfolk not only be found but whose role is found to be pivotal. We who are called, indeed summoned, are the descendants of healers, visionaries and seers. We are representatives of the Goddess who has bidden us, who indwells us. We are of royal houses... a spiritual lineage.


This narrative began long before the Emperor set ink to parchment. Or Damascius. Or Plato, for that matter.


Crash of cymbals. Kettle drum. Awash in swirls of blue, white and gold. An amalgamation of color and sound. We stand again at the very heart of Imperial Rome, announcing our presence... A.N.

One can only know a narrative (a textual model) from the inside. By internalizing it. By participating in it. Only by entering into the text, is it possible, even permissible, to engage and dialogue with the story, to hear it breathe. It may reveal itself in some of its mysteries. To do so, however, requires us to learn something of its own "hearth language". [1]


The Emperor Julian's highly sophisticated cosmological narrative and exegesis, much like those of Proclus and the Divine Iamblichus, arrived at the height of the Neoplatonic and Neopythagorian systemizations of late antiquity. It breathes, this ancient text; it whispers the ineffable. It is also just a blueprint. The map, though it is ensouled, is not the thing. It merely points us the way.


What if one doesn't fit into the cis hetero-normative and neurotypical storyline or, we can say, the storylines as they have been handed down to us. Can one see oneself in the narrative? The mythos? How did gender-nonconforming individuals, often (though not always) on the margins of society, see themselves in the ancient myths? How did they explain themselves to themselves? To the often unaccepting societies around which they needed to survive? To often unaccepting families upon which they may have depended? To the State?


How does the dominant culture explain those who do not fit into the general societal mold but have been ever-present throughout history? The mystery religions, and especially the cults of the Great Mother such as that of Cybele and Attis, offered solace and a sense of the numinous to the outcast, the deviants, the sacred prostitutes, the itinerant healers and the foreigners speaking strange tongues and behaving even more so. Even ordinary people embedded in the ordinary life of Athens or Rome sought a closer relationship to the Gods than the civic religion could offer. They often found it in the mystery cults. These were communities with their own historical lineage, spiritual sister or brotherhood and sense of purpose outside of the generally accepted roles imposed on the populace. The larger society may, as in Greece and Rome, allow for this deviation under certain circumstances, though always keeping a suspicious eye.


Antiquity of one's cultus, as long as it paid homage to the local civic cult of the ruling class and performed some desired, somewhat acceptable role in society, was often the prerequisite for admittance to the party. This was certainly the case in Rome. The mytho-historical narrative is central here. Of course, for the Romans, who did put themselves into the story, they also wanted to "own" it. They were in for somewhat of a surprise; thus the significance in the description of the entry into the eternal city of the sacred artefact and the Cybeline women by the Emperor Julian.


These women, these disciples of the Goddess, offered themselves that they might be indwelt by her, symbolically slain, and liberated. This offering represented the rebirthing of self. These were the children of the black stone, the daughters of Mt. Ida.


In Rome, the patrons of the Great Mother were more strict than those who had established her Metroon in Athens, not far from the nearly contemporaneous installation of the temple to Cyprian Aphroditos, also protecting the Greek city. There the goddess from Asia Minor had been Hellenized and syncretized with other local expressions of the divine feminine and of the Creatrix, while her followers relegated to the role of record-keepers and archivists. The Sisters were made into bureaucrats of the State.


The social and legal restraints were much more In the imperial city. The authorities eventually usurped control of the cults by official appointment to the office of Archigallus. This was due to the growing power, wealth and influence they had accrued as followers of the Great Mother ventured everywhere that could be reached by Roman roads. There is evidence of their habitation and activities as far away as Britain.


Entering the River, and the Eternal City


Artifact is text. It is ensouled. It breathes our stories. These texts are living, evolving, artifacts in which, gods willing, we might participate.


Julian records, nearly six centuries after the building of a temple to the Mother of the Gods in a place of honor upon the Palatine, the entry into the eternal city of her sacred artifact, the black stone that fell to rest upon Mt. Ida and taken to the Temple of Kybele in Passunus in south-eastern Anatolia, near the site of Troy.


The traversing of the black stone, and that of the cults of the Great Mother with her retinue, mirrored the story of Aeneas' voyage in Virgil's account of the founding of Rome, commissioned by Augustus. This establishes the connection of the Magna Mater to the city. In the story, those fleeing from Troy in the aftermath of war with the Greeks, rebuilt their ships near Mt. Ida, a place sacred to the Meter Theon. The Goddess rose to the surface those ships lost in the siege and water nymphs ferried them to safe harbor at her bequest. The Goddess blessed their journey and was blessed of Rome, of whom she was now protectress.


Imagine the surprise of ordinary Romans, the shock to Roman sensibilities. At the same exact moment, a year marked by war and unusual meteoric activity, that they lay claim to direct civic descent from the Mother of the Gods along came her faithful retinue, defying all norms of Roman decorum and decency. Mother Kybele arrived under the auspices of blessing the State. But she held a secret.


Flavius Claudius Julianus' Oration to the Mother of the Gods recounts the journey of the black stone across the Aegian to the mouth of the mighty Tiber and the imperial city itself.


As soon as the Romans had received the oracle of Apollo, the inhabitants of Rome, the friend of divinity, sent an ambassador to the kings of Pergamus, who then reigned in Phrygia, and ordered him to request of the Phrygians the most holy image of the goddess: but the ambassador receiving the sacred burthen, placed it in a good-sailing vessel, and which was in every respect well adapted to swim over such a length of sea. The ship therefore, having passed over the Ægean and Ionian, and sailed about the Sicilian and Tyrrhene sea, drove at length to the mouth of the Tyber. But then the common people of Rome, together with the senate, poured forth to the spectacle: and the priests and priestesses in particular were far more eager on this occasion than the rest; all of whom, invested with becoming ornaments, and such as were agreeable to the custom of their country, attentively fixed their eyes on the ship sailing with a prosperous course, and on the impetuosity of the parted billows as they dashed about the keel. - Oration V, pp. 100-101, (tr.sacred-texts)

The Procession was a sight never imagined by the denizens of the eternal city. The wailing of the gallae was said to mimic that of the nymphs who watched over the infant Zeus-Helios, in order to hide him in the cave upon Mt. Ida on the island of Crete.


Many who wrote on the subject described the "womanly" chorus, the unworldly wailing of this retinue of the Goddess. The Galli (or Gallae) were mocked for their "effeminacy." Like Livy, who described these disciples of Kybele as "soft-necked", Ovid reports:


Eunuchs will march and thump their hollow drums, and cymbals clashed on cymbals will give out their tinkling notes: seated on the unmanly necks of her attendants.

These commentators saw the Galli as shameful, disgusting, in service to the Goddess for having offended her. After all, who would willingly divest themselves of their "manhood," especially Roman "manhood?" These disciples represented the negation of that gender construction, the binary "structural" foundations of Rome itself. And these by emissaries of the Goddess to whom the city, according to Virgil, owed its foundation and continued protection. These Cybeline women inspired awe and fear, attraction and repulsion. Mostly, it seems, they were simply misunderstood.


I am daunted by the shrill cymbals’ clash and the bent flute's thrilling drone. - Ovid, Fasti 4, 183-7

The Galli represented everything Rome abhorred. And this fascinated them. It repelled and angered them. It drew them irresistibly, this encounter with fear and trembling at this inversion of the social order, this affront to the ideal of "masculine" Roman citizenry. It must also be said that the Roman state closely monitored and eventually all but controlled the cult itself, perhaps because it had become too wealthy and influential. In truth, the State has put in place sanctions on the independence of the foreign priest(esse)s from the first days of official recognition. That patriarchal systems would fear and try to control these spiritual traditions is not, probably, surprising as they undermine the foundations of that power itself by simply being, and by being "other than."


These Sisters, though they served a spiritual role and were protected of the Magna Mater, were seen as monstrous aberrations and grotesque abominations that undermined the natural order. This was a question of gender more than sexuality. The Roman understandings of sexual roles were pretty straightforward, depending entirely upon class hierarchy and differing markedly from most contemporary western constructions, though culturally they also largely viewed gender primarily through a binary lens. The rules were simple: penetration and reception, dominance and subservience. The roles were clear. Family roles revolved around generative ones. And property, wealth and honor. The role of the prostitute was hugely important, and also varied immensely by class. Female household slaves often suffered the same fate as their Victorian counterparts. It was expected. It was about power and property, exactly as it was designed. Who dares threaten the status quo?


These divine catalysts, catalysts of change, motion2 inspired the fear of the "other." They acted as the catalyst that challenges those assumptions upon which the notion of "otherness" is based. Any deviation, especially from generative roles in family, state, and cultis, needed to be explained, and explained in terms of that generativity. This is true even for the Neoplatonists, such as Julian. It is true even when that generativity is born on the Mountain of Ideas (Mt. Ida in western Anatolia) as it is for Proclus3.


We can see in this quotation from Catullus, the remorse that the Roman cis-hetero imagination attributed to disciples of the Goddess, upon first initiation and the realization of all that they had left behind:


'Fatherland [Rome], oh my creator, fatherland my begetter, sad me who, deserting you as the masters the fleeing slaves do, to the woods if Ida I have taken my foot so as to be near the snow and the frozen dwellings of the wild beasts and go to all their raging dens...' - Catullus 63, C. Vallarius Catullus (Leanord C. Smithers, Ed.; Perseus.tufts.edu)

Yet, this cult of the Magna Mater, even with its unashamed Cybeline Women, enjoyed popularity and had imperial patronage as well. The Cultis spread to the provinces, to Gaul and Hispania, but as an extension of the State and financed by it. Its galli(ae) had to be imported, as Roman citizens were barred from the practice of giving oneself over to the Goddess bodily by self-castration in ecstatic ceremony. There were other rites of union with the divine feminine, of divination and healing, of which fairly little is known. The drum and cymbal, mysterious and seemingly incongruent erotic rites. Femininity flaunted and sanctified, a femininity that refuses to be "less than," though society would relegate this state as below that of biological women and even that of slaves. It was a reality, a counter-narrative, that was actively felt and preferred to the ideal of the male Roman citizen. It found protection and paradoxical status, the ancient story told by these holy women, as foundational to that civilization as well as somehow its source. And it was.


How do we explain the popularity of this foreign cult of the Magna Mater that was also paradoxically seen as part of their own mythos. And what of these strange priest(esses) and their celebrations? Ecstatic, at turns in pain and joy; somehow both. Who were this cadre of gallae priestesses from Passinus, the mother temple from which the artifact that fell from the sky was transported to Rome? What secrets did they hold? What mysteries?


The 'One' and the 'Many'


The monad, as we learn from the extracts preserved by Photius from Nicomachus, was called by the Pythagoreans intellect, male and female, God, and in a certain respect matter. - The Theoretic Arithmetic of the Pythagoreans, Thomas Taylor, Extract,from Book III, Ch. 3

For the Neoplatonic philosophers, the Divine is generally known as the One, Hen, the Monad, or described as the Good - tou agathon - or simply God - Theos. This is the story of the One and the Many. It lives, this ancient cosmology. It is ensouled. It is also just a blueprint. The "map" is not the thing.


This Neoplatonic (and pseudo-Mithraic) late classical model, following those of Pythagoras and Plato, is one of spheres. If the general framework of the ancient cosmology was comprised of the four cardinal directions, and the upper and lower regions, each similarly a square meeting at a central axis pole, or tree of life, the early philosophers and geometers rounded its six points and located the Center of the Great Circle. It resembled the sun. And the story was a familiar retelling, a tale of Hestia containing within Herself the fire of creation.


The Demiurgos, the Demiurge, is, according to Plato, the maker, the prime mover if you will, of the worlds. While according to generally more rigid dualisms, the Gnostics saw this "being" as tied to the material and thus not a representation of the higher true divinity, the neoplatonists and hermeticists saw the demiurge (and the demiurgic stages of creation) as part of the inevitable emanational progression from the One. The material realm is, if "lower," still intimately connected to Source.


What this cosmological map describes is termed by these philosophers emanationism, which is the philosophical explication of the ancient narrative of descent from, and return to, the Divine Source. Like other esoteric schools and wisdom traditions, these philosophers divided up the One into several categories. Four to be precise, each a creative aspect of Divine Unity. That Oneness manifests as descending emanations, each containing the next and mirroring the One, of the cosmos revealing itself as from a fountain. This divine unfolding from these four categories of the Monad proceeds down through the noetic, psychic, and the generative kosmos, the lowest realm of which is the encosmic realm where we all reside, physically at least, in the 3D space we now inhabit.


This plane in which the intelligible and the intellective overlap is that of the celestial demiurge, Zeus-Helios. For Plotinus (as, indeed, for Porphyry and Proclus whose versions of monism or henism similarly emphasized philosophy or contemplation as the means of theosis, divine union. This point of merger at the upper levels of neoplatonic cosmologies is the highest plateau (divine revelation or theurgistic union aside) of discernibility through human faculty and is called by him nondiscursive or intuitive reason. Nondiscursive reason, as we know from the divine Plotinus, is a wisdom of reflective intuition, an all-encompassing non-divisible state of pure knowing.


Nondiscursive reason might be thought of as an intuitive knowing of an "all-ness" beyond the confines of language or linguistic parameters or seeing behind the totality of those parameters. It is the truth in the allness, the reflection of the One, though this does not mean cognitive or even intuitive comprehension of the One-Self. The transliminal state of being, between the intellective and the intelligible realms and their attendant deity-forms is the space of overlap held by the celestial demiurgos. It is also as a place of intuitive knowing of the allness at each level of being through the central pillar of demiurgic ascent.


This model appears to be a hierarchy of the gods. In a sense it is, and this is how it has been somewhat dismissively taught. It is useful to read any tree of creational map in this way and this is the perspective from the "lower" material plane, our 3D "reality." But, as with Julian, the understanding here might be thought of as a type of monistic pan(en)theism. Each emanation is an aspect of the One. Each diety-form contains and is contained by every other. The Tree is descriptive of the moments of creation, all of which are always happening. The model is also cyclical, like the seasons. It's a Great Circle. The "end" is always the "beginning." That we read it in a linear fashion is a convenient way to reflect the percieved order of this unfolding according to this cosmology.


This space between the intelligible and the intellective, just like the space between the intellective and the generative occupied by Attis (Adonis, Dionysius) which mirrors it demiurgically, is a transliminal place apart. Here, it is a state of pure apprehension of the simultaneous potentiality and actuation of being, stillness and motion. Non-duality. Awareness of eternity unfolding or better, in-folding always upon itself. The Lotus. The secret of Harpocrates. It is that of the Anima Mundi, perhaps we may say that of the collective consciousness, the archive of Mnemosyne.


The points of intersection (overlap) between the emanational levels are the Demiurgoi. The demiurgic journey traverses from the center of each demiurgos (-sphere) towards the One. If one's point of reference is the material, corporal world of generativity, that begins with the sub-lunar demiurge or demiurgic moment. Here is Porphyry's stairway to the gods, the point of intersection, the axis-point, symbolized by Attis (and, at least by later solar association, the Aegean Sun-god Atys) as gateway to the visible sun, the celestial demiurgos (Zeus-Helios), and the One. Beyond even this 'allness' is the Divine Creatrix, Before even Aion, she is the zero, within and behind the One. Chaos. Void. Ocean. She is absolute potentiality and the principle of self-organization; of form, of shape. The Mother of the Gods ensouls the Cosmos.


The ascent or descent between worlds, begins at the demiurgic planes of intersection at each successive stage, following the moments of creation back towards Source. This transliminal space lies between the self-enfolding spheres (like Russian dolls), for that is what the hierarchical model of creation is, though we tend to visualize it as linear and vertical, a descent of the Divine from the heavens. Instead, at each level the "highest" and "lowest" of adjacent levels meet, as do, ultimately, the very lowest and the very highest. Humanity, on the lowest rung, stands closer to the One, to the Center, than all the gods in all of the heavenly realms, save perhaps for fair Attis, who has always occupied both. S/he represents, and rules, according to the philosopher Julian, the fifth body at the base of the demiurgic tree.


Retelling (and Re- Creating) the Narrative


I shall hymn Rhea’s Attis, Not with the chiming of bells Or the bellowing of the flute Of the Idaean Curetes mingled with it; Rather, I shall mix lyre-playing With my Phoebeian Muse. Euhoe! Euhan! (You are) as Pan, as Baccheus, As a shepherd of the white stars! - Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies 5.9.8–9 (ed. Litwa)

Neoplatonic literary theory as interpretive method places mythos within a larger meta-narrative that describes the process of creation unfolding and repeating via emanationism: the stages of creation unfolding, the eternal birth, life, death and rebirth of the cosmos. If Plato sought to demythologize the text of mythos, the Neoplatonists sought to re-mythologize it, to recontextualize it.


Julian's Oration (V) to the Mother of the Gods is essentially a Neoplatonic reinterpretation of the narrative, the mythos of Attis and the Great Mother from the east, incorporating the same imagery and essential cosmological allegory as found in Porphyry's account of the Cave of the Nymphs in Homer's Odyssey. His treatise illumines the cosmological subtleties of late Neoplatonic philosophical speculation.


Porphyry, a disciple of Plotinus, was among the first we term ‘neoplatonist’ and among the first in the philosophical lineage of Plato's academy to apply a (neo)Platonic literary theory. In Porphyry's description of Homer's Cave of the Nymphs from the Odyssey, he describes the aforementioned cavern, its moisture and its attendant nymphs, like bees, fabricating the material world. Within the depths of this cavernous underworld - this ‘before’ world- there are two stairways, two entrances. One leads to the physical realm of generation, life and death and rebirth, while the other ascends to the gods - and the One. The Cave of the Nymphs is the abode of Zeus-Helios, where the divine fire and air meet the waters of creation in the depths of the earth. And at the center, according to Julian, the Goddess, the "Eye of Helios.", the Sacred Hearth. What Julian offers us seems to be a version of Porphyry's account of the "Cave of the Nymphs," using a neoplatonic literary theory of interpretation from the later theurgic period.


In Rome maiden priestesses guard the undying flame of the sun at different hours in turn; they guard the fire that is produced on earth by the agency of the god. - Julian's Oration IV, p. 122, (tr.sacred-texts)

Older versions of this story of Attis and Kybele include the gender-challenging deity form of Dionysius, also hailing from the mysterious east, in a complex, catalytic archetypal relationship to the figure of Agdistis or Kybele/Agdistis who hirself acts as the catalyst of Attis' metamorphosis.


Kybele and Agdistis are also a coupling not unlike Aphroditus and Aphrodite on Cyprus, distinct deity-forms of the Divine Feminine and what we may term a particular manifestation, or type, of a transgender divinity, those who stand on the threshold between worlds. Agdistis, as Goddess, or Kybele/Agdistis may be seen as singular, insofar as archetypal union, just as the Monad is singular. Hermaphroditos also represents the union of the Divine Marriage in singularity, though often cast, following Ovid, as a cautionary tale that reinforces the "traditional" gender binary. This is less so in alternative accounts where Hermaphroditos is raised by Salmacus, or, very intriguingly, born of Cronus in the manner of Aphrodite. Agdistis, instead, introduces us to a different archetypal relationship to the Goddess, one of inhabitation, possession, indwelling or perhaps symbiosis.


Of the many versions of this myth, is the following, by Pausanias in the second century of the Common Era:


The local [Phyrgian] legend about him [Attis] being this. Zeus, it is said, let fall in his sleep seed upon the ground, which in course of time sent up a Daimon, with two sexual organs, male and female. They call the daimon Agdistis [Kybele]. But the gods, fearing Agdistis, cut off the male organ. There grew up from it an almond-tree with its fruit ripe, and a daughter of the river Saggarios (Sangarius), they say, took the fruit and laid it in her bosom, when it at once disappeared, but she was with child. A boy [Attis] was born. - Pausanias, Descriptions of Greece,7. 17. 8, (tr.Thomas Taylor)

Kybele, through Agdistis, is jealous of Attis and, driving him mad, Attis castrates himself, while his betrothed, the daughter of the king, cuts off her own breasts. The Goddess, in remorse, places Attis among the stars that hir body "should neither rot at all nor decay."


Reimagining the Mythos


Julian the Philosopher reports the story of Attis rather differently in his Oratio V, though in all likelihood drawing on other, though uncertain, sources including perhaps his teacher Maximus of Ephesus who had studied with the Divine Iamblichus.


Such, then, is the intellectual god Gallus, i.e. a deity who contains in himself [hirself] material and sublunary forms, and who associates with the cause presiding over the fluctuating nature of matter. [...] But, according to the fable, this divine providence [the Goddess], which preserves all generated and perishable natures, fell in love with their demiurgic and prolific cause, and exhorted him to generate rather in an intelligible nature, and to be willing to convert himself to her essence, and to dwell with her divinity; and lastly, she commanded him to associate with no other than herself. But her intention in these injunctions was, that he might at the same time pursue a salutary union, and avoid verging to matter ... For the fifth body, indeed, is on this account more fabricative and divine than terrestrial natures, because it is more converted to the gods. - Oration V, pp. 114-123, (tr.sacred-texts)

The Goddess contains our worlds within the eternity of herself, and yet stands apart. She is at the center of each demiurgic expression, at the Center of the Center of the Monad, the unspoken name of the ineffable demiurge, the realm of the celestial demiurgos, Zeus-Helios and that of the visible sun, the encosmic, and the sub-lunar demiurge that rules the material world below. Attis proceeds from the third demiurgos, the active principle of the Goddess, as the rays of the sun dancing across the heavens. Hir reflection is the moon. Hir contenance the fiery stars themselves, those eternally fixed in the sky and those that burn across the horizon.


Hence, since it was necessary that infinity should, some time or other, be restrained and stop in its progression, Corybas, or the mighty sun, who has the same establishment as the mother of the gods, who fabricated, and providentially governs, all things in conjunction with her, and who performs nothing without her, persuaded the lion to announce the descent of Attis into the lowest matter. [...] But who the nymph is, we have already explained: and the lion is said to be subservient to the demiurgic providence of things, i.e. without doubt, to the mother of the gods; and afterwards by his detecting and betraying Attis, to have been the cause of his castration. But castration is a certain repression of infinity: for things in generation are not established in bounded forms, and restrained by a demiurgic providence, without that which is called the insanity of Attis; which, when it departs from measure, and transcends all bound, becomes, as it were, debilitated, and is no longer able to preserve the prerogative of its nature. And it is not irrational to believe that this should take place about the last cause among the gods.

In Julian's tale of Attis/Gallus, it is the draw towards materiality and generativity, represented by the nymphs and moisture - the alchemical component which with the element of divine fire, create life, that would threaten to separate Attis from the gods.


Behold, therefore, the fifth body unaltered according to every variation, and terminated by the illuminations of the moon, that this rising and perishing world may be in the vicinity of the fifth body. For, in the illuminations of the moon, we perceive that a certain variation and passion takes place. It is by no means therefore absurd to assert, that Attis is a certain demigod, (for this is the meaning of the fable) or rather he is in reality a god: for he proceeds from the third demiurgus, and after his castration is again recalled to the mother of the gods... [...] And the Corybantes, who are the three ruling hypostasis of the more excellent genera after the gods, were placed round him by the mother of the gods as his guards.

Attis, then, is occupying the (non)space overlapping with the generative cosmos - the space of the encosmic demiurge - which has no designation as it IS the in-between space, the negative space between earth and sky and surrounding them both. We may deem this to be, with Julian, the fifth or cyclic substance; aether. This space of the Mother of the Gods. She is both removed from it and present to it through stellar Attis. Similarly, it is through Attis that she is removed and present to the third demiurge, the sun, at the head of the material sublunar realm and the physical world below. Attis is therefore associated with the moon as transliminal gateway or point of entry along the demiurgic path. The story of Attis, as indeed are all of our stories, is one of returning to a state of union.


But Attis likewise rules over the lions, who, being allotted a hot and fiery nature, together with the lion, their leader, are indeed, in the first place, the causes of safety to fire; and through the heat and motive energy derived from thence, preserve other natures from decay. Add too, that Attis spreads himself round the heavens, which cover him like a tiara, and tends, as it were, from thence to the earth. And after this manner does the mighty Attis present himself to our view; and from hence the lamentations for his long departure, and concealment, for his vanishings and falling into a cavern, arise.

The ineffable demiurgos is identified with lion-headed Aion, of whom the Meter Theoi is the active principle. The lion and the lioness have always been sacred to her, always. They pull her chariot across the skies of the celestial demiurgos, the realm of Zeus-Helios. She is the eye of the sun. The lions are representative of the dwelling of Helios.4


But the time in which his mysteries are performed sufficiently evinces the truth of what I have here advanced: for they say that the sacred tree should be cut down on the very day when the sun arrives at the extremity of the equinoctial arch; that on the following day the sounding of the trumpets should take place; that on the third day the sacred and arcane fertile crop of the god Gallus should be cut down; and that after all this, the hilaria and festive days should succeed. [...] For what can be more joyful, what can be the occasion of greater hilarity, than the soul flying from infinity and generation, and the storms in which it is perpetually involved, and by this means returning to the gods themselves? - Oration V, pp. 114-123, (tr.sacred-texts)

The Mother of the Gods, through her intimate connection at each demiurgic level, may also be envisaged as active at the lower (hypercosmic/encosmic) stellar realm of the heavenly bodies through Attis as agent of the third demiurge while still standing apart from the sub-lunar, generative and material world. This is the cosmological role of the Great Mother. The divine emanations move between the poles of the material realm and ineffable Source or One. The lowest, encosmic realm contains within it the sublunar realm, whose demiurge, the visible sun, rules it. Attis (associated with the moon) occupies the space of the demiurge between the generative and psychic domains, at the head of the intellective (lower) order and east or lowest among the gods. Attis stands between and apart from these two worlds, that of the divine and that of humanity. S/he is thus closest to both.


The Goddess is reluctant that separation should occur but enables it to do so as it cannot be otherwise, and to do so through the third demiurge and fair Attis. Like those, neither male nor female, who could traverse the boundary of the Sumerian underworld and return, Attis is called to endure the madness of the generative, material world and return. Stellar Attis ever watches over the material realm from atop the great bronze-domed sky, encircling us and forever retelling the tale. Attis/Gallus emanates from the center of the third demiurge and is the Axis Stellaris.


This cosmological model may be envisaged as spheres within spheres and the empty space, that of Attis as representative of the Goddess, that lies between and surrounds them. The center-points always connect. This map is both linear/hierarchical and circular/cyclical depending on your angle of perspective. Every central point at each of the three levels (the connective thread, top to bottom) is the place of intersection and balance just as the air holds the space between fire and water, sky and earth.


The River Gallus, in Julian's rendition of the tale, represents the Galaxy (Hellenic Faith). It mirrors the cosmos. The sun. The moon. The wandering stars. Attis/Gallus, god or demi-god, is the eternal principle of temporal life, death and rebirth in both material descent and in the ascent towards the divine, the very source of the River. One enters the gateway of the gods, Julian indicates, through the mirror itself, the sub-lunar reflection of the visible sun, and the rays of Attis Hirself.


The Image Maker


Attis, an intellective deity, participates the world. S/he "orders" it. The descent and ascent of souls is possible only through this point of the logoi as the active principle of the Goddess, as the image-maker, eidolopoios. The limitations of death and rebirth must occur, for they contain the principle of separation or division and reunion. The third demiurge stands outside of time but contains and sustains its eternal flowing. Attis enters, through a kind of union or theosis, the eternal realm of the intelligible and the divine at the very point at which it intersects with temporal materiality, decay and rebirth.


We can see in Julian's Oration that Attis is not the third demiurge (visible sun) but rather adjacent and subordinate to it. At the same time, s/he is representative of and in service to the Mother of the Gods at the higher encosmic realm of the fixed stars and planetary wanderers that fill our astral sphere just as Oceanus encircles us below. Attis represents the ascent from materiality, the stairway of the gods. The way of madness, indeed; or its cessation.


If Zeus-Helios, as celestial demiurgos, is the "eye of the visible sun," the Goddess is the eye of Helios, the center - the hearth of Vesta containing the creative fire itself. And Attis is her agency, expansiveness and limit. S/he alone represents simultaneously both this division and reunification, this absolute motion and pure potential, of the logoi. As an archetype of the logoi, or divine intellect, s/he is the representative of the Creatrix, who ensouls and forms the worlds. Attis resides at the point "just before" or "just after" generativity in the physical, material world, the point in-between, the transliminal horizon-line of being.


Attis of the river, of the cave and of the stars, exists and moves between polarities and liminal spaces. Inhabiting none in fullness, or rather all in fullness, s/he sees into the many realms of being. S/he knows the space in-between the worlds. Attis is thus the active principle of the Goddess (the principle of separation) in the encosmic realm, including the material, sub-lunar world, just as the Great Mother herself is the active principle of Aion. The god or demi-god Attis/Gallus also embodies the Goddess as the passive principle of reception, original union, here manifest as the second stairway, that arching towards the gods, in Homer's (or Porphyry's) allegory of the Cave of the Nymphs. Stellar Attis stands between the temporal and the eternal. S/he embodies in Hirself and represents the active principle, the ideation of the forms and the potential motion of the generative world, descent and ascent. The end is always the beginning. Hirs is the story of the eternal cycle of completion, just as the stars fixed in the tiara of fair Attis come full circle in the night sky. Hirs is the point of stillness and motion.


The deity-form of Attis, however, for our cis-heteronormative commentators and historians, was still defined in terms of male generativity, in this case restrained though active at the border of the metaphysical plane. Still, transliminal and gender nonconforming figures such as Attis, for most chroniclers, retain a male foundational essence that defines them. Lamentation or madness is their certain fate. No sane male Roman citizen, it was thought, could fathom even considering such a voluntary act. That they did, we know from the laws forbidding it. The Galli(ae) were referred to as un-male, as eunuchs. Inherently "other", inherently "less than." At best, they played a devotional role. No one wanted to offend the goddess who, alongside the Olympiadic deities, protected the city and guarded over her populace.


Rome had claimed, somewhat dubiously, their story as central to its own mythos. They had longed for Hir. Patriarchal civilization suppresses the Goddess to the shadows; impresses upon her an intolerable weight. Hir return, to fill that void, to restore balance, was inevitable. She had, of course, never left.


'What did they see?'


Wherein resides the soul? The self? Of what is the vessel, the vehicle of the soul? Or, indeed, that of the spirit-body? To what extent does the soul, the anima or spirit originating in the Goddess, descend into and participate the generative plane of matter? These were questions of great debate. As with the concept of the nature of the demiurge (Gnostic or Neoplatonic) or notions of the superiority of contemplative practice(Plotinus and Porphyry) versus theurgic (Iamblichus and his successors), not nearly so problematic as it might at first seem. These points of philosophical contention in the waning light of late classical antiquity have perhaps more to do with historical context and emphasis than theology. In this case, Proclus and Damascius provide the middle ground. Wherein resides the "self," the "soul?" Answers vary.


Following Julian (with Proclus and Damascius) down the center of the center, we are left with an image of material being-ness in which material-ness is far from concrete; in which our bodies, our vessels, have an avatar-like quality defined by spatial parameters, a space in which being is dynamic. Attis, mediating the divine and corporeal realms, may be seen as a representative, in a sense, of the undescended soul described by Plotinus (Numenius?), or better perhaps, of Proclus' partially undescended soul. We are, it seems, our spirit-bodies inhabiting that space, that horizon-line, between the eternal and the physical. And those between our outer presentation of self, that persona as perceived by others, and our own inner feeling or deep sense of self.


Attis/Gallus is the Axis Stellaris, the Gateway, the point of ascent and descent, the portal of the stars. Here are both the generative gods, the katagogic or genegogic, pulling creation into the material plane and the anagogic, assisting one to ascend. Here, one may enter the cave... and the text. The evolving text is as the interior of the great sphere upon which the human story plays out, the theater we inhabit. It contains every story ever enacted and every narrative yet to be written. It is the beginning and the end. To see it is to glimpse the Omega, to peer beyond the veil. It is the birth-remembrance of eternity begetting itself. This is a description of the middle path, the central pillar of ascent. This is the story of the One and the Many and of returning to Source, the Creatrix, along the third path.


The Goddess at the center of the Center of the sun. She represents the demiurgic pathway towards the One and the space in which the One manifests as Many.


The philosopher Julian, for as such we might justly remember him above all else, nonetheless missed something; he could not have but otherwise. He was a cis-hetero male of his time and place and, though a devout follower of the Goddess and of the sky-father, Zeus-Helios, he no less than the unknowing Callistus, lacked comprehension of the varied motivations of the Cybeline women. He did not and could not have understood. Nor did these women, for that they were, share their mysteries. Not in entirety. Not even with the Emperor.


We only very recently, sixteen or so centuries after Julian, have terminology to describe variances in gender perspectives. This even as people's experiences of gender have varied from the normative binary biological polarization since the beginning of time.


He did not understand the "madness of the galli(ae)" because he could not have. His exegesis, however, is extraordinary. What we are missing is the perspectives of the priestesses themselves. Not the documents of the eventually Roman appointed Archigallus, not merely accounts of ecstatic revelry on the "Day of Blood" on which initiates gave themselves over to the Goddess within. But the words, the tears and ecstasies, of the Idaean sisters themselves, those devoted servants of the Goddess locked away from the populace of the imperial city for all but annual festival days. Those words are missing.


These Cybeline women, like the Great Mother, Dionysius, Agdistis and lovely Attis Hirself, are archetypes of the catalyst, a challenge to one's perception or perspectives, and a gateway to the numinous.


What did they see, these sisters, when they looked at the moon?

What do we see?


Beyond Ascended Attis and the Stellar Realm


To find one's place in the story, the text, we must look to the entirety of these archetypes and transcend them. It is to inhabit the mysteries, engage with and learn these songs, our ancient narrative, even as we write our own. That's the whole point of the story and the practice. We are reclaiming the narrative.


Our commonality lay in the story itself, or rather in the acting out of the eternal story by embodying the ancient and evolving narrative. It is one of encounter. It is about the syncretism of ideas and in actively contributing to the on-going conversation that is history. The great discourse is born of encounter. It is constituted by the exchange of ideas, made manifest in the world.


History is neither linear nor does it move by measured tempo, though we can measure it after the fact and speculate. It arrives, as with the manner of evolution, in jumps and starts. It operates by repetition of movement but changes over time. And it is ceaseless. It is more like the endless flow of sea, its waves encountering the rocky coastline and falling back upon themselves. It forever envelops and retreats from the shore, revealing its forms, shaping them. History does not so much repeat itself as come in recurring waves. A similitude of complex interacting patterns that are each, nonetheless, entirely unique and self-contained within their own text, their own "is-ness," their own reality.


In the distance, over the mountains,

could be heard the crash of cymbals,

the drums beckoning...


Notes:

[1] Ed. Bernard O'Donoghue, The Cambridge Companion to Seamus Heaney, Cambridge University Press, 2009.

[2] Kaldera, Raven, Hermaphrodieties: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook, Hubbardston, MA, Asphodal Press, 2010.

[3] Proclus: Commentary on Plato's 'Republic'. Volume I: Essays 1-6. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

[4] Porphyry: On the Cave of the Nymphs, Tr. Robert Lamberton, Barrytown, NY, Station Hill Press, 1983.


Sources:

Exploring Gender Diversity in the Ancient World, Ed. Allison Surtees and Jennifer Dyer, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2022.

Iamblichus on The Mysteries, Ed. Emma C. Clarke, Atlanta, Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.

Kaldera, Raven, Hermaphrodieties: The Transgender Spirituality Workbook, Asphodal Press, 2010.

Kupperman, Jeffrey S. Living theurgy: a course in Iamblichus philosophy, theology and theurgy. London: Avalonia, 2014.

Plato, Timeus and Critias, Penguin Classics, revised edition, 2008.

Sallustius, On the Gods and the Cosmos, 4th Century AD, accessed July 19, 2017, platonic-philosophy.org/files/Sallustius(Taylor).pdf

Shaw, Gregory. Theurgy and the soul: the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. Second ed. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press, 2014.

Transgender Studies Quarterly, Mapping Trans Studies in Religion, Volume 6, Issue 3, 2019.


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