Monday, April 7, 2008
Cybele, Golden Lion of Change
Yesterday, I was up at the New York Open Center, participating in a workshop led by Alessandra Belloni. This all-day event focused heavily on the drumming and dancing associated with the tammorriata rhythm, which connects to the Black Madonna and Cybele.
The rhythm is a very resonant, powerful beat that provides an easy entree into trancing out, and I really noticed yesterday how body-centric the rhythm is. The drumming style takes physical stamina, and moving the entire body helps to keep the flow going. Plus, the placement of the drum for different drumming techniques causes different areas of the body to vibrate, notably the heart, solar plexus and sexual chakras.
I began working with Cybele in earnest after reading more about the Galli, her priestesses, who were often queer men. They were an ecstatic cult that used drumming (with the frame drum), dance, ritualized performance and sexuality to access divine experiences. Notably, they often mocked the status quo - after all, they often wore long, blond wigs and wild makeup. They were legendary for a certain yell they let loose that was deafeningly loud; I suspect these cries actually held ritualized magical power.
These men frequently castrated themselves in wild, sacred rituals, throwing their genitals on a large rock or onto the earth. Although this initially gave me shivers (and not in a good way), I soon realized what a powerful act this self-castration was in a society like Rome that was so patriarchal - these priestesses kept their power while being physically emasculated. (Pictured above is a gallus, with frame drum and other instruments close by.)
Cybele is frequently associated with and pictured with lions, and the Galli were sometimes called the lions of Cybele. In my own visions of her I see her as a large, maned lion, although she also appears to me in a large woman's form. (The image below was one found at an ancient archaeological site, Catal Huyuk, in Turkey. Some researchers believe this statue was of Cybele. Note the lions at her sides.)
Yesterday, we learned a chant dedicated to the Black Madonna, who, in later years in Italy, became the newest outward appearance of Cybele, a way of blending the conquering the Christianity with the old ways. Alessandra talked about an area of Southern Italy where men still play the drums while walking up a specific mountain, going into a cave and into a sacred spring. The women soon follow singing the song dedicated to the Great Mother.
We learned that chant and rhythm, and it is most beautiful. All the while, a painting of the Black Madonna hung by an altar, and throughout the day, I would look up and see her beautiful face. I felt so grateful to be there and access the rituals and dances associated with Cybele and her priestesses - men, women and those in-between. I felt as if I was connecting to a deep part of my spiritual history as a queer priestess when doing these sacred dances dedicated to her.
Of course, we also worked our juju with the Pizzica Tarantella, a tarantella dance ritual, and it was really moving and, I suspect for myself, deeply powerful. More on that later, as I get a deeper understanding of what this particular ritual meant.