Sudden ordination: the Great Mother wants you!

In ancient Rome, unless you were a senator, almost anyone could “get religion” really rather suddenly.  Martial[1] records one such instance:

When a dismissed veteran, a native of Ravenna, was returning home, he joined on the way a troop of the emasculated priests of Cybele.

There was in close attendance upon him a runaway slave named Achillas, a youth remarkable far his handsome looks and saucy manner. This was noticed by the effete troop; and they inquired what part of the couch he occupied. The youth understood their secret intentions, and gave them false information; they believed him.

After drinking sufficiently, each retired to his couch; when forthwith the malicious crew seized their knives, and mutilated the old man, as he lay on one side of the couch; while the youth was safe in the protection of the inner recess.

It is said that a staff was once substituted for a virgin; but in this case something of a different nature was substituted for a stag [=runaway slave].

An item found in the River Thames near London Bridge has been identified as a “castration clamp”.[2]  It is decorated with images of Attis, and also animals.  It may have been used to geld horses and bullocks; or for “religious purposes”, such as helping attractive young men find a religious vocation as Galli, priests of Cybele and/or Attis.

Cybele castration clamp

Makes your eyes water, doesn’t it?

Apparently this implement was vandalised before being thrown in the river.  The author whom I read[3] stated that the Christians — the fiends! — destroyed it.

I imagine it will be a while before the pseudo-pagans of our day reimplement this particular feature of ancient paganism.

  1. [1] Book 3, No. 91.
  2. [2] Image from Wikimedia Commons, but I’ve seen an “open” version of the same in a book recently so it is genuine.
  3. [3] Lesley Adkins, Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome, p.289, I think, although I cannot access the page at the moment.

2 Responses to “Sudden ordination: the Great Mother wants you!”


  1. Craig Baugh

    Ouch!!! Are these on display somewhere?

  2. Roger Pearse

    I don’t know if they’re on display. But apparently they are in the British Museum. http://m.guardian.co.uk/uk/2002/may/22/research.humanities



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