The Priests of the Magna Mater (Great Mother), Cybele, Were Eunuchs

(Funerary relief of a priest of Magna Mater (gallus) from Lavinium. Rome, Capitoline Museums (mid-second century AD), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
It took balls to be a priest of Cybele


Around 204 BCE, when Scipio Africanus was preparing his invasion of Africa during the Second Punic War, the cult of Cybele was invited into Rome’s pantheon of gods. The cult of Cybele was one of the strangest of Rome’s Mystery Religions, but nevertheless, the mysteries of the Magna Mater would become one of the empire’s more popular cults.

The Magna Mater’s priests (known as Galli) did not adopt the traits of their goddess, Cybele, but of her lover, Attis. Unfortunately for the priests of Cybele, they were expected to reenact an uncomfortable myth of Attis. As the myth goes, Attis was a man who, in a craze instigated by Cybele, castrated himself. After Cybele revived him, Attis adopted a feminine personality and donned womanly dress. The Galli of Cybele underwent this ordeal of castration and adoption of a feminine demeanor to become priests of the Magna Mater’s cult.

Read our article, HERE, for a more in-depth look at the myth and cult of the ancient goddess, Cybele. Beware, some sections are graphic!


  • The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook of Sacred Texts edited by Marvin W. Meyer. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987.

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