The worship of Cybele, the primary god in a mystery religion similar to that of the Greek Pantheon, originated in Asia Minor and slowly spread out over North Africa and Europe. She was considered ruler of fertility, mountains, forests, bulwarks, city walls, androgyny, transvestites, eunuchs, bees, religious ecstasy, reproduction of wild plants and animals, single motherhood, building with stone, turrets, fortresses, holy madness, and untamed nature. Although there were variations on her appearance as her worship spread, she was most commonly portrayed in a bright, flowery dress with two lions on each side wearing the crown of the city, sometimes in a chariot drawn by panthers.
For twelve days, from March 15 to March 27, her worshippers celebrated the Feast of Cybele. Held in order to ensure agricultural fertility for the next year, the ceremony centers on the death and resurrection of Cybele’s son and lover Attis. Attis died when he castrated himself by allowing a pig to bite off his genitals.
The key days of the festival look like this:
March 15 – There is a Procession of Reed Bearers, followed by a week of worshipping Cybele in a Temple.
March 22 – A Pine tree (a tree considered sacred to Cybele) is cut down and dragged to the Temple of Cybele. There the trunk was treated like a holy corpse – wrapped in linen and mourned over. This tree was the personification of Attis. It was covered in violets to represent blood.
March 23 – This day was spent mourning Attis (the tree).
March 24 – The Day of Blood. This was the highest point of the festival, where all the fervor was culminated into one day. The priests would publicly draw massive amounts of blood from their arms and offer it as a tribute to the goddess. At this point the energy and excitement were so high that many common townspeople would castrate and flagellate themselves in the streets, in imitation of Attis. Some would even cut off various parts of their body and run through the city throwing fingers, penises, genitals, hands, and sometimes even arms in houses at random.
March 25 – The Feast of Happiness. The pine tree was placed in a crypt and a massive feast was held in honor of Attis’ death.
March 27 – Attis is found alive, in front of a statue of Cybele. This was a day of rejoicing, and great parades were held with many statues of Attis and Cybele.
As a side note, in an early Christian sect founded by Montanus in the second century, Jesus Christ was believed to be Attis, Cybele’s son, resurrected.