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The Ancient Gallae
Information and Opinions about the ancient Gallae of Rome
Cult Rituals 
26th-Aug-2005 08:39 am
There were two basic types of rituals in the Cult of Cybele -- annual celebrations and other rituals.

Annual Celebrations

The following cycle developed in Rome over a period of time. It represents the death of Attis after his castration, and later resurrection.

Canna intrat (15 March)
The brotherhood of cannophori went into procession through the streets, carrying reeds cut from the banks of the Almo. This was the beginning of nine days of penitence when people abstained from bread, pomegranates, quinces, pork, and fish. Milk was mainly drunk instead.

Arbor intrat (22 March)
Before sunrise, a pine tree was felled in a sacred grove of Cybele. An effigy of Attis was attached to it and decorated in violets and ribbons. It was then carried in procession through Rome by the dendophori (to the weeping of the gallae) to the sanctuary, where it was exposed to the adoration of the crows before being laid in state.

The following day was a "day or mourning" and lamentation. The Salli (who were priest dancers of Mars) went in procession sounding their trumpets and beating their shields.

Dies Sanguinis (24 March)
This was the "day of blood". The high priest and the gallae did a wild dance around the sacred pine tree. He flagellated himself and them with a whip hung with knuckle bones. Clarinets and cymbals were played, and timbrels beaten furiously. People would also beat their breasts with pine cones and cut their arms and shoulders with knives. The blood from this was spilled on the pine tree or altars, with screams and yells that were echoed by the crowd. Some spectators entered the frenzied dances themselves and even participated in the next step. This was ritual castration of initiates, performed with broken pottery, sharp flint, and glass (in later times only the testicles were removed) (2). The pine was then buried. The high priest said prayers for the protection of the emperor and Empire.

Hilaria (25 March)
On the following day the resurrection of Attis was proclaimed. This was the day of "Hilaria" or rejoicing. The first day when day is longer then night. It was a festival of Spring and life rediscovered.

There was a triumphal procession which would feature Cybele's idol; borrowed works of art; knights and senators; freedmen; flute players; trumpeters; drummers and chanters. This was followed by a lavish feasting.

Requietio (26 March)
This was a day of rest. People probably needed it after the previous day.

Lavatio (27 March)
A procession was made with Cybele's Idol along the Appian Way until the Almo river was reached. Then the idol would be dipped into the river, rubbed with ash and then washed. Other religious artefacts were also washed. The Goddess was asked if she would return to Rome, and then taken back the way She came (so we assume the answer was YES).

Megalensia (4 April)
This was the anniversary of the entry of Cybele to Rome. It marked the start of season for plays, games, and other forms of entertainment.

Dies Natalis (10 April)
This was the anniversary of the founding of the Temple. People were entitled to chariot races in the Circus Maximus, where a statue of Cybele stood beside the central obelisk. It was on this day that the gallae were allowed to collect money.
The festivities from the 15th to 27th of March are clearly those of a dying and reborn God. Attis was originally a god of vegetation. Later he became associated with the Sun. There are also clearly similarities between these rites and those of Easter, but it most likely that the Christian rites were influenced by these, not vice versa. Christianity had a habit of incorporating pagan practices as a way of gaining converts. Mithra, another dying and reborn God, also had a popular cult about this time.

Of what relevance are these festivities to transgendered pagans today? The obvious correlation would be with reassignment surgery. Some of my male--female friends celebrate a "fanniversary" on the anniversary of their reassignment surgery. Not every transgendered person undergoes this, but at some point we give up the old life (and gender) and start living a new one (and a different gender).

Either can be involved in a cycle of grieving and celebration. Grieving, because he have let go of all the possibilities inherent in who we presented ourselves with. This might involve saying goodbye to friends, lovers and family (hopefully not). But in any case, something is lost, for better or worse. But something is gained too. We gain a new life and the possibility of developing ourselves in new ways and directions -- ways that were impossible before.

I won't describe a set of modern rituals here -- rather I'll leave that up to you. But grieving and rebirth are valid rituals to perform, and reflect the nature of The God within yourself, regardless of which direction you are moving (male to female or female to male). Set the dates for whatever is personally relevant to yourself. It need not be connected to spring rites.

Other Rituals

Two rituals should be noted in particular -- the Taurobolium and the Criobolium. These involved sacrifices of a bull or ram respectively to produce a baptism of blood. The initiate would stand underneath the sacrificial animal in a pit. It was then slaughtered and the blood poured up the person beneath it. Sometimes the testicles of the animal would be removed as well. It is thought that this was intended as a substitute castration. Instead of the initiate castrating themselves, the animal was sacrificed and castrated instead.

The rituals date from a much later period and were probably mechanisms by which citizens became archigallus and could remain citizens. I see no reason why this ritual should be revived today. rather then sacrifice our animals, let's respect and treasure them.

The gallae were also associated with fortune telling for money. They were also known to compose spells, create philtres, fashion amulets and talismans (for lovers, farmers and travellers) and supposed to hold power over wild animals. Some people thought they could make rain, and exorcise spirits and engage in rituals of purification.

I wish I could give you a list of suggested rituals and practices for these, but I can't. All this knowledge has been lost. However, there are numerous books and groups available now to help. Being a galla is not an exclusive things and doesn't stop one from following other disciplines and belonging to groups.


(1) After the castration, the lower bellies of the gallae were tattooed, and sometimes gold leaf was applied to the healed wound.

Sources for this page include:

  • Conner, Sparks and Sparks (eds); Cassell's Encyclopedia of Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit; Cassell, ISBN 0-304-33760-9.
  • Rousselle, Aline; Porneia: on desire and the body in antiquity; Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-19208-5
  • Nanda, Serena; Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India; Wadsworth Modern Anthropology Library, ISBN 0-534-12204-3.
  • Sexual Life in Ancient Rome; Constable and Company, ISBN 0-09-4731705.
  • Turcan, Robert; The Cults of the Roman Empire; Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-20047-9.
  • Vermaseren, M.J.; CYBELE AND ATTIS, the Myth and the Cult; themes and Hudson, 1977.
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