Attis is a «dying-and-rising» fertility god modeled on the Mesopotamian Dumuzi. He is thought to have originated as a shepherd. Some traditions have Kybele, the «great mother,» as either his mother, or strictly his consort.


Another legend tells of him being immaculately conceived by the demigoddess Nana when she placed a ripe almond in her bosom. Legends concerning his death say he was killed by a wild boar, or he castrated himself under a pine tree to offer his vitality to Kybele.


The known period of worship of Attis was probably between 500 BC and 400 AD. In Phrygia, the Attis spring festival was in honored of the self-mutilated and resurrected god, the son of the mother Kybele. In one legend Attis castrated himself because he was harassed by an affectionate monster. Another story recounts the god was put to death because of his love for Kybele, the daughter of the King of Phrygia and Lydia.


The sanctuary of the mother goddess was at Pessinus, by the River Sangarius, in the reeds in which she discovered her youthful lover. Kybele, or Cybele, equates with Inanna and Attis with Tammuz. Kybele was attended by lions, and the castration, death, and rebirth of her consort, usually shown as an effeminate youth, was recalled in an annual ceremony of blood-letting.


Rams were sacrificed, their blood was used for baptism initiates unmanned themselves, and her eunuch priests cut themselves in frenzy.

However, this castration tradition became enshrined in spring rites during which Greek, and later Roman, priests (Galli) wearing effeminate costumes castrated themselves or gashed themselves with knives and offered blood sacrifices to the goddess by burying them in the ground.


The main center of the cult was at Pessinus (Phrygia). The cult was brought to Rome in 204 BC when the stone symbolizing the presence of Cybele (the Roman version of the goddess’ name) was carried from Pessinus and installed in the Temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill.

On the day sacred to Attis, March 22, a pine tree was carried into the Temple of Cybele and decorated with flowers and figures of Attis in grave linen.


Just as the god died and was restored to life again, to the initiates, in union with him, entered a state of blessedness that was thought to endure beyond the grave. Union with the god was achieved either through self-mutilation or a sacred marriage. In Christian times Easter replaced the rites of Attis. A.G.H.



Cotterell, Arthur, A Dictionary of World Mythology, New York, G. P. Putman’s Sons, 1980, p. 27
Jordan, Michael, Encyclopedia of Gods, New York, Facts On File, Inc. 1993, p. 33