And for the third time we get the Black Virgin.
My first thought upon seeing Her was that, gee, maybe I should get around to painting an image of Cybele one of these days. (It surprises me the major Goddesses I have not drawn; there are some interesting loopholes in my work, like, say, Demeter. All right then, I'll officially take that as a hint.)
And along those lines I'm inclined to interpret this card, for this week anyway, as Cybele Herself, and not just as an unusual form of the Virgin Mary Who is linked to the worship of the old Goddesses such as Cybele and Isis. After all, this card is about roots, and the old under the mask of the new: what would happen if this time we focused on the old, those roots?
Now, Cybele is an ancient Anatolian Goddess, Anatolia being the name for (roughly) modern Turkey; Her worship was adopted in Greece, and later Rome. She was known for orgiastic worship, with wild dances and drumming and cymbal-playing; but Her worship was looked upon a little askance, at least by the Romans (who could be pretty uptight about some things, like, oh I don't know, fun). Probably this was because, in addition to the raucous partying aspect, some of Her priests practiced self-castration, in imitation of the story of Attys, the beloved of the Goddess.
Attys was a beautiful boy, the son of a river-nymph, conceived when She ate an almond (i.e. parthenogenetically, a virgin birth); Cybele fell in love with Him, and made Him promise to be faithful to Her. Her swore He would; but in time He fell in love with a hamadryad named Sagaritis. When Cybele found out She cut the nymph's tree down, thus killing Sagaritis; and Attys went mad on a mountaintop, castrating Himself. He died under a pine tree, and the blood from His wound sprang up as violets.
A three-day festival was celebrated to Him in the Spring, in which a pine tree was decorated with violets (echoes of the Maypole, though I don't know that they are necessarily connected); and for two days the participants mourned and searched for Attys with wild rites. On the third day, however, He was found; and the mourning and sadness turned to joy at His rebirth.
Attys, then, falls into the category of the (vegetation) God Who dies and is reborn, like Dionysos, Adonis, or even Inanna's Dumuzi; and Cybele, as the Great Nature Mother, is properly His lover (or mother).
That, of course, is the Classical version of Her story. But we are interested in roots today: so what of Cybele's actual Anatolian origins?
Well, first of all, the Attys story is something that was attached to Cybele at rather a late date and is not known before the 6th century BCE. Cybele Herself is a particularly complex Goddess, and would appear to have a variety of strands making Her up; one of them may trace back to the deified Sumerian Queen Kubaba, Who was eventually adopted into the Hittite pantheon through the Hurrians, where She was identified with Hannahhannah (She, Who, in the story of Telipinu sent the bee to wake Him); She may also be related to the Hurrian Mother-Goddess Hebat. She may even, though this is pretty speculative, be related to the Goddess depicted in the famous statue from Çatalhöyük, a neolithic city in southern Anatolia, dating from the eight to sixth millennia BCE. This small statue shows a large, nearly nude woman perhaps giving birth, seated on a throne flanked by lionesses; though there is quite a large gap in time, it does recall later depictions of Cybele, Who was shown in much the same way, enthroned with a lion to either side.
Old roots, then. Old Mountain Mother Cybele, old as the hills, old as the mountains; old as the first cities, whose walls She wears as crown. She is wildness and civilization both; or, She is the wildness within us that does not go away despite civilization.
And I recall, that while I was away last week on my vacation at an event of the large festival type, that one night I stood behind the drummers drumming loud and wild and watched the dancers, while I added my zils, my little finger cymbals, to the drumming. I have, myself, been celebrating Cybele.
So, then, what does She have to say?
Old Mountain Mother am I. Yes. I am old, old old, old as the first stirrings of humans, old as the first bands of hunters following the wild animals, old as the green and dangerous mountains themselves.
And I am still here.
Remember your wildness; it will connect you with something vital, something not to be ignored, something that must be remembered to life live best; the drum is the heartbeat, after all, the very center of who you are.
Fireworks and drumming and dancing, all open your heart, all BAM! explode it out, open it up, loudly, joyously, raucously. It must needs be done. Especially now, when the world is inhabited by the timid, those who have forgotten what it is like to live.
Strip off your civilization! Dance far into the night! Collapse exhausted at dawn, then do it again the next night! Mourn, mourn the old you, then celebrate the new that is born through my grace; I will be here to birth you.
Well then! What do you think?