Attis: Mythology, Origins, and Cult Practices of the Dying-and-Rising Fertility God

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.

Attis fertility god

 

Relationship with Kybele

One of the intriguing aspects of Attis’ mythology is his relationship with Kybele, often referred to as the «great mother.» In various traditions, Kybele is depicted either as Attis’ mother or as his strict consort, emphasizing the intimate connection between the goddess of nature and the fertility god.

 

Immaculate Conception and Mythological Tales

A captivating legend surrounding Attis describes his immaculate conception by the demigoddess Nana. According to this myth, Nana placed a ripe almond in her bosom, leading to Attis’ miraculous birth. This tale underscores the divine and mysterious nature of Attis’ origins.

 

Myths of Death and Sacrifice

Attis’ myths also include accounts of his untimely demise. In one version, he is killed by a wild boar, symbolizing the cyclical nature of life and death in the natural world. Another narrative tells of Attis castrating himself under a pine tree, offering his vitality to Kybele. This act of self-sacrifice is laden with symbolism and underscores his connection to the goddess of nature and fertility.

 

Period of Worship

The known period of worship of Attis is believed to have spanned from approximately 500 BC to 400 AD. During this time, his cult and rituals played a significant role in the religious practices of the regions where he was venerated.

 

The Attis Spring Festival

In Phrygia, the Attis spring festival held in honor of the self-mutilated and resurrected god, served as a central religious event. This festival celebrated Attis’ story and his unique role in the cycle of life and rebirth.

 

Cult Practices and Rituals

The sanctuary of Kybele, the mother goddess, was located at Pessinus, by the River Sangarius, where she discovered her youthful lover, Attis, in the reeds. The cult of Kybele and Attis was known for its distinctive practices, including the annual ceremony of blood-letting. During this ritual, rams were sacrificed, and their blood was used for baptism. Initiates, in a symbolic act of emasculation, would also partake in self-mutilation, demonstrating their devotion to the goddess.

Kybele, or Cybele, equates with Inanna and Attis with Tammuz

 

Spread to Rome

The cult of Attis and Kybele eventually made its way to Rome in 204 BC. A stone symbolizing the presence of Cybele, the Roman counterpart of Kybele, was transported from Pessinus and placed in the Temple of Victory on the Palatine Hill. This marked the integration of the cult into Roman religious practices.

 

Union with the Divine and Transition to Christian Times

Participation in the rituals surrounding Attis was believed to grant initiates a state of blessedness that extended beyond death. Union with the god could be achieved through acts of self-mutilation or through a sacred marriage. Over time, as Christianity gained prominence, the Easter holiday gradually replaced the rites of Attis, reflecting the enduring influence of ancient mythologies on evolving religious beliefs.

 

Legacy and Influence

Attis remains an intriguing figure in the tapestry of world mythology, representing themes of death, rebirth, and the eternal cycle of life. His association with Kybele and the unique rituals of their cult highlight the rich diversity of religious practices in ancient times and their enduring impact on subsequent belief system

 

Sources:

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