|Patera depicting Cybele and Attis, 4th century CE, source: ancientrome.ru|
As the traditional time to mourn and then celebrate the death and resurrection of Cybele's beloved Attis (a festival since subsumed by Easter) draws near there is perhaps no better time to look at the role of the galli in ancient Rome. The galli were priests of the great Goddess Cybele, also called the Magna Mater. In imitation of her lover, Attis, who was said to have castrated himself after being driven into a frenzy by a jealous Cybele, the galli castrated themselves during the festival of Attis. Thereafter these “mad eunuch priests” (to quote Lucretius) dressed in women’s clothing, which were typically brightly coloured, wore earrings and heavy make up, and became well known for their wild rites in which they ritualistically flogged and mutilated themselves whilst in an ecstatic frenzy brought on by boisterous music and dancing. They were also well known fortune tellers and were perhaps the only priests permitted to beg during the Roman era.