Rites of Attis ( Tree god) of Phrygia, Anatolia: Roman

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

Under Emperor Claudius a new cycle of festival was introduced, from March the 15th till March the 27th.  The beginning of spring and vegetation growth became personified in ATTIS.

 “The prelude was a procession of “cannophori” or reed-bearers on the fifteenth; undoubtedly they commemorated Cybele’s discovery of Attis, who, according to the legends, had been exposed while a child on the banks of the Sangarius, the largest river of Phrygia, or else this ceremony may have been the transformation of an ancient phallephory intended to guarantee the fertility of the fields.” 

“The ceremonies proper began with the equinox. A pine was felled and transferred to the temple of the Palatine by a brotherhood that owed to this function its name of “tree-bearers” (“dendrophori”). Wrapped like a corpse in woolen bands and garlands of violets, this pine represented Attis dead. This god was originally only the spirit of the plants, and the honors given to the “March-tree” in front of the imperial palace perpetuated a very ancient agrarian rite of the Phrygian peasants” The next day was a day of sadness and abstinence on which the believers fasted and mourned the defunct god. 

 “The twenty-fourth bore the significant name of “Sanguis” in the calendars. We know that it was the celebration of the funeral of Attis, whose manes were appeased by means of libations of blood, as was done for any mortal. Mingling their piercing cries with the shrill sound of flutes, the Galli flagellated themselves and cut their flesh, and neophytes performed the supreme sacrifice with the aid of a sharp stone, being insensible to pain in their frenzy. Then followed a mysterious vigil during which the mystic was supposed to be united as a new Attis with the great goddess” 

“On March 25th there was a sudden transition from the shouts of despair to a delirious jubilation, the “Hilaria”. With springtime Attis awoke from his sleep of death, and the joy created by his resurrection burst out in wild merry-making, wanton masquerades and luxurious banquets” 

“After twenty-four hours of an indispensable rest (requietio), the festivities wound up, on the twenty-seventh, with a long and gorgeous procession through the streets of Rome and surrounding country districts. Under a constant rain of flowers the silver statue of Cybele was taken to the river Almo and bathed and purified according to an ancient rite (Lavatio).” 

REFERENCE: The Oriental Religions in Roman Paganism (1911): By Franz Cumont

CONTRIBUTOR: Cade Pomeraan

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