Cybele was the fertility goddess of Phrygia, an ancient country of Asia Minor*. In Greek and Roman mythology, Cybele personified Mother Earth and was worshiped as the Great Mother of the Gods. She was also associated with forests, mountains, and nature. Although usually shown wearing a crown in the form of a city wall or carrying a drum, the goddess may also appear on a throne or in a chariot, accompanied by lions and sometimes bees.
From Asia Minor, Cybele's following spread to Greece, where she was associated with Demeter, the Greek goddess of fruitfulness, and was regarded as the mother of all the gods. Around 200 B . C ., the cult of Cybele reached Rome, and she became well known throughout the Roman world.
According to myth, Cybele discovered that her youthful lover Attis was unfaithful. In a jealous rage, she made him go mad and mutilate himself under a pine tree, where he bled to death. Regretting what she had done, Cybele mourned her loss. Zeus* promised her that the pine tree would remain sacred forever.
cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god
rite ceremony or formal procedure
During the Roman empire, followers of Cybele held an annual spring festival dedicated to the goddess. The ceremonies involved cutting down a pine tree that represented the dead Attis. After wrapping the tree in bandages, the followers took it to Cybele's shrine. There they honored the tree and decorated it with violets, which they considered to have sprung from Attis's blood. As part of this religious ceremony, priests cut their arms so that their blood fell on Cybele's altar and the sacred pine tree. They also danced to the music of cymbals, drums, and flutes. During these wild rites, some followers even mutilated themselves, as Attis had. Cybele was usually portrayed by artists in a chariot drawn by lions.
See also .
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.