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The Cybelines: Multiculturalism in Modern Paganism

If History is, as the late Professor Frank Angotti opined, "the march of Ideas through Time," then the worship of the Great Mother is surely the march of Faith through Cultures. From Çatal Hüyük nearly ten thousand years before Caesar to the trials before the Inquisition of the last known practitioners of worship of the Goddess so closely associated with grain in 1675, the elder sisters of the modern Cybeline priestesses reflected a panoply of cultures covering the known world and various epochs.

Modern Cybeline Paganism developed as a Reconstructionist path out of necessity originally. The most readily available remaining source materials of the practices of our faith were those of the days of the Roman Empire. These included the writings of the Emperor Julian II extolling the Goddess as well as tracts and letters of the early Christian Church fathers demonizing Her. Nearly two decades of research involving reviews of archaeological discoveries of temple sites throughout the Mediterranean, as well as recent confirmation of the Oddessey of Goddess faith from Anatolian Turkey, to Crete and various cities along the shoreline, and back to Turkey after the catastrophic destruction of Minoan civilization has uncovered a record in stone ruins and pottery artifacts of the influence that each culture that hosted the Goddess had upon Her worship rites.

Temple architecture reflected the impact of the various host cultures. The square rooms with a plastered bull's head representation of a womb in Anatolia became the bee's hive shaped temples in Crete and Malta of the Minoan civilization. The march of Hellenic and Macedonian armies through Asia Minor left the Alexandrine Temple at Ephesus to Artemis-Cybele, a juxtaposition of traditions mirrored in the iconography left behind and still being unearthed. Roman-built Corinthian hexastyle peristyle was the last statement in stone in the Mediterranean basin of Goddess worship and extended beyond the sight of the sea to Frankfurt, Germany and Vienne, France. Caves endured throughout the Mediterranean housing traces of Cybeline practice.

Vestiges remained visible in women's societies in the United Kingdom as well as in tombs of priestesses and tools of worship found from London to York and to Catterick . More traces can be found in the murky origins of the Hijira in India. Descendants of the Roman priestesses continued honouring a Great Mother associated with grain harvests in the Basque regions into the 15th Century and in Italy until 1675 based upon trial records of the Inquisition. Interestingly, the Inquisition, unable to tie the accused followers of the Goddess to Occult Satanism as was usually the method of conviction, ultimately found these last recorded priestesses in direct line of descent from the women of the grainaries of Turkey to be guilty of heresy. All of us feel a sadness when we consider that an over eleven thousand year lineage of priestesses fell only decades short of surviving into the era of the Enlightenment and probable safety.
Ecstatic dancing associated with the Goddess, along with drumming, gradually re-emerged as the Tarantella in Italy. In France, the Revolutionary Government displaced Christianity forcibly with the brief enthronement of the Great Mother as a Goddess of Reason, largely free of dogma. Her ancient association with Justice and with Government, embodied in the frequent physical proximity of Maetreum Temples with Courts and Assemblies in various cultures endured in Her iconographic embodiment as the Goddess of Justice.

It is a veritable treasure trove of culture and practice that modern Cybeline Paganism has available for it to use in rituals to honour the Goddess in the 21st century. The fruits of the Earth and Her creation are remembered in their traditional forms of bread and wine. Like the bread, our drumming, using the original ritual rhythm, hearkens back to the Anatolian granaries as the frame drum itself arose from the framed grain sieves used by our elder sisters of eleven millenia ago, just as the bodhran of the Celts that honoured the Morrigan and Bhride was derived from the same source. The Goddess Cybele, the Magna Mater is most frequently represented in surviving statuary posed holding a frame drum, symbolizing the relationship between ritual drumming and Her worship, a relationship recognized by the Christian Church when it forbade women to drum, and eventually to have any participation in religious music at all for centuries. The priestesses remain referred to as "Mellissae," the Latin term for 'little bees" as they were in Roman times, evoking the image of the bee hive shaped temples of Malta and Crete. A short exercise of Chakras is frequently included in ritual, reminiscent of the spread of the faith with Alexander's armies that lingers on in faint traces in India. The open air Temple a few miles from the Hudson, with its gateway flanked by columns, touches upon the Hellenic and Roman civilizations that nurtured the path as well as those very last priestesses worshiping in forests and grain fields to escape detection in a dangerous age. Ritual, beyond honouring the Goddess, treasuring the divine feminine, recognizing our responsibility as stewards of Her gift of Creation rather than conquerors defeating Creation, recognizing and embracing our responsibility to nurture the spirit of creation in the community of women as well as the people of the Earth, remains flexible. Honour is done to the past with relevance to the present, and optimism towards the future.

Rev. Dr. Caillean Maureen McMahon

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