Friday, 29 November 2013

The Gallae - Ancient and Modern : Part 2 - Modern

In this second article on the religious movement centred on the ancient Mother Goddess Cybele and her transsexual priests we look at its modern reinterpretation was practised today in parts of the trans community.

As I mentioned last time, established religions evolve over centuries, but the worship of Cybele was outlawed in the Roman Empire when Christianity became the official state religion. To worship Cybele today exactly as the ancients did would not truly represent the spiritual needs of the modern transgender community, and probably also include several  practices which are illegal!

The current status of Cybele and Gallae worshippers is small compared to that of other lgbt faiths. It can be argued that it may not exist at all if it hadn’t been for the internet. What was known about the ancient cult was restricted to academic publications and a few historical journals. With the explosion of information created by the internet and worldwide web this knowledge of Cybele became available to everyone, and it came at the right time.

In the 1990s several feminists and transgender people began their own research into ancient religions, beliefs and cults that had some affinity with their modern lifestyles. In the world of the Modern Gallae the women credited with being the founders of the revival of Cybele include Laura Lansberry (1939-2002) and Laura Seabook (b.1957).

Laura Seabrook encountered Cybele and the Gallae for an art project on the Tarot card deck during her studies at Newcastle University, New South Wales, Australia. From then she became more involved in the Gallae movement and set up a website which features many comic strips and artwork on gallae and transgender issues. Recently Laura became the custodian of the Transgender Day of Remembrance Webcomic Project.

Perhaps the most significant centre of the Modern Gallae movement is the Maetreum of Cybele Magna Mater in the Catskill Mountains, New York State. I say this because the sisterhood there established the first Phrygianum, a convent housing the priestesses. The ancient Gallae lived in Phrygianums/Phrygiana, and these were all destroyed when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity. This made the Phrygianum in New York the first one to be established in over 1500 years.

The Catskill Phryiganum was established in 2003 though the priestesses held their first public ritual on 24th March (the old New Year’s Eve) 1999. Since then it has become the focus of a small group of world-wide priestesses, including Laura Seabrook in Australia.

One problem with a small religious group that doesn’t belong to an established faith is that the authorities may not recognise the spiritual nature of its places of worship. This has been the case with the Catskill Phrygianum.

Several years ago the Catskill Gallae applied to their local authority to obtain tax exemption of the Phrygianum because of it’s use as a place of worship. The authorities turned them down on the grounds that not all of the property was for religious use, and because several of the Gallae lived there, making it a residential property. The Gallae appealed, and earlier this year their attempt to get tax exemption failed again. No doubt the battle will go on for a lot longer.

There are other small groups of Modern Gallae around the world, some of whom are sole worshippers with no physical access to any established convent because of distance. Again, this is where the internet provides vital support and contact.

To end this look at the Modern Gallae her is one flag designed by the faith by Laura Seabrook. This is a black flag with the Rainbow Pride colours on a central disc. A black pentagram is placed in the centre, and in the centre of that is the white symbol of the Gallae. This flag was designed in 1997. In 2006 Laura modified  the design by removing the gallae symbol. In this form it was first displayed in public at the 2006 Sydney Mardi Gras on the Bi-Bachanalia float. Laura interprets the design as representing the intersection of Queer and Neo-Pagan communities, and is intended as the general flag of Queer Paganism.

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