Middle Eastern Mythologies

The Phrygians

What is the story of Attis?

The man-god Attis and the Great Mother, Cybele, were the central figures in the most important Phrygian myth cycle. This cycle has come down to us in several sometimes confusing versions. The most common version says that the Great Goddess in the form of the Virgin Nana, placed a pomegranate on her lap, causing one of its seeds to enter her and to make her pregnant. She then gave birth to Attis at the winter solstice. Attis grew into a beautiful boy who was much loved by the Great Goddess, as Cybele. He was also loved, however, in a sexual way by the evil Agdistis, who had himself been miraculously conceived by Cybele when semen from the sky god Pappas fell on her lap as she slept on the Agdos Rock. Attis, not wishing to be unfaithful to Cybele, refused Agdistis’s advances. The conflict between Attis and Agdistis—good and evil—culminated in Attis’s sacrificing himself by castration on or near a sacred tree. It was said that he came back to life at the vernal equinox. In Rome, ceremonies recognizing the resurrected Attis as a fertility god of vegetation, were held at the equinox on a day known as the Hilaria (Day of Joy). A sacred meal was part of the celebration.

Many elements—the virgin birth at the winter solstice, his struggle against evil, his death on a tree, his resurrection in the spring—associate Attis with other dying hero/gods such as Osiris in Egypt, Adonis in Greece and Rome, and, of course, Jesus, whose rival for recognition he became for a time in the early years of Christianity in the Roman Empire.


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