The Circumcisers (1st Century)

The Circumcision heresy may have been the first heresy in the history of Christianity which may be summed up in the words of Acts 15:1: "But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’"



Many of the early Christians were Jews, who brought to the Christian faith many of their former practices. The first Christians obviously came from Jews. It was considered as a cult within Judaism. They recognized in Jesus the Messiah predicted by the prophets and the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Circumcision was the sign of being within the community of covenant which started with Abraham and so it was necessary to have it to start with.  It was like the tribal marks which are still practiced in the South Sudan and South Africa.  These marks were necessary to protect the tribal members in the case of constant warfare between the tribes. In the spiritual warfare these signs can be hidden visually. So was the circumcision.  Early Christian believed that many thought it would also be required for membership in the New Covenant that Christ brought in since it was the fulfilment of the Abrahamic promise. They believed one must be circumcised and keep the Mosaic law to come to Christ. In other words, one had to become a Jew to become a Christian.

But God made it clear to Peter in Acts 10 that Gentiles are acceptable to God and the new covenant symbol is no more circumcision but water baptism - again a more invisible tribal mark.  Since it was open to the gentiles also one may be baptized and become Christians without circumcision.  Baptism left no mark and was simply a ritual of becoming a disciple wherby the life of the disciple becomes a visible mark.  Thus it is only the desire and commitment to study the teachings of Jesus and experience His power within oneself is what makes a Christian. Baptism came to be the symbol of setting apart and hence the initiation into Christianity.  This was a new revelation through one person - Peter.  Evidently in terms of the Judaism this was a heresy.  Thus this defined a new religion.  The same teaching was vigorously defended by Paul in his epistles to the Romans and the Galatians—to areas where the Circumcision heresy had spread. Peter put the seal of new religion called Christianity.  Christianity was a heresy of Judaism.  In the same way Islam was a going back to extreme Monotheism from Christianity - Mohammed was defining a new religion.

Gnosticism (1st to 8th Centuries)

"Matter is evil!" was the cry of the Gnostics. This idea was borrowed from certain Greek philosophers. It stood against Catholic teaching, not only because it contradicts Genesis 1:31 ("And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good") and other scriptures, but because it denies the Incarnation. If matter is evil, then Jesus Christ could not be true God and true man, for Christ is in no way evil. Thus many Gnostics denied the Incarnation, claiming that Christ only appeared to be a man, but that his humanity was an illusion. Some Gnostics, recognizing that the Old Testament taught that God created matter, claimed that the God of the Jews was an evil deity who was distinct from the New Testament God of Jesus Christ. They also proposed belief in many divine beings, known as "aeons," who mediated between man and the ultimate, unreachable God. The lowest of these aeons, the one who had contact with men, was supposed to be Jesus Christ. I have dealt with this movement in another book.

Montanism (Late 2nd Century)

The next heresy within Christianity was the movement known as Montanism.

The exact origin of Montanus is still in dispute, though it is certain that it is within Phyrgia.   The sources speak of three possible towns: Pepuza, Tymion and Ardabau.  Eusebius of Caesarea, "the Father of Church History," (d. 339) tells us that Montanus was "a recent convert to the faith ... gave the adversary access to himself ... and began to speak and prophecy strange things" (Ecclesiastical History 5.16.7).  He was probably a priest of the Cybele and was an idol worshiper.   St. Jerome (Ep. ad Marcellam, vol. i. 186) uses the phrases “abscisum et semivirum ….Montanum (see W.H.C. Frend, “The Rise of Christianity (London 1984)) and suggest that Jerome may have thought Montanus was a priest of Cybele.  Looking at his approach to the concept and person of the Holy Spirit, this may well have been true.  He has carried his logical part of the past religion into the theology of Christianity which is what alienated the Church hierarchy.  

According to the Catholic New Advent Encyclopedia, this is perhaps a later invention intended to connect his ecstasies with the dervish-like behavior of the priests and devotees of the "great goddess". (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10521a.htm)

His position within the Church itself was in question.  He was probably a bishop or was he a lay member only? Looking at his influence within the community of Christian, he certainly was the head of that Church.  Most probably he was indeed a bishop.


The Cult of Cybele


Roman coin with Cybele. The seated figure (reverse) represents Cybele with words mater deum. deum is a syncopated form of deorum, translating to "the mother of the gods", a common epithet for Cybele. The obverse is Julia Augusta, daughter of Caesar Augustus. 

Cybele was known as Magna Mater ("Great Mother").  A Roman name for this goddess was Mater Kubile, and sometimes also simply Magna Mater, meaning "Great Mother". Her full official Roman name was Mater Deum Magna Idaea (Great Idaean Mother of the Gods). Cybele, like the Ephesian Artemis and many other goddesses, was also venerated in the form of a black stone. Once this stone had been brought to Rome, both stone and goddess were worshiped in the Roman Empire until the 4th century CE.  Agdos is another name for Cybele, when she takes the form of a rock..

In his work on the Christian Black Virgins and their origins, Ean Begg relates Cybele to the Ka'aba "Her name is etymologically linked with the words for crypt, cave, head and dome and is distantly related to the Ka'aba, the cube-shaped Holy of Holies in Mecca that contains the feminine black stone venerated by Islam" Begg, p.57


According to ancient mythology, Cybele discovered that her handsome and youthful lover called Attis ( a shepherd) had been unfaithful to her and planned to marry a nymph called Sagaris. In an uncontrollable fit of anger, jealousy, rage and frenzy Cybele burst into the wedding feast. A panic seized the guests, and a terrified Attis, became afflicted with a wild, temporary madness and fled to the mountains.  Attis fell under a pine tree and inflicted terrible mutilations by slashing himself in his madness. He castrated himself and bled to death under the pine tree.  This drove Cybele into great mourning, and it introduced death into the natural world. Cybele bitterly regretted her actions. Cybele mourned her loss and Jupiter promised her that the pine tree would remain sacred forever. But then Cybele restored Attis to life, an event that also brought the world of nature back to life. This practice of self-mutilations was adopted by the priests of Cybele, and were known as Galli.

Due to its agricultural nature, her cult had tremendous appeal to the average Roman citizen, more so women than men. She was responsible for every aspect of an individual’s life. She was the mistress of wild nature, symbolized by her constant companion, the lion. Not only was she was a healer (she both cured and caused disease) but also the goddess of fertility and protector in time of war (although, interestingly, not a favorite among soldiers), even offering immortality to her adherents. She is depicted in statues either on a chariot pulled by lions or enthroned carrying a bowl and drum, wearing a mural crown, flanked by lions. Followers of her cult would work themselves into an emotional frenzy and self-mutilate, symbolic of her lover’s self-castration.

Cybele, the Roman goddess of fertility
In Rome, Cybele was known as Magna Mater ("Great Mother"). In the Punic Wars, the Roman commander Scipio Africanus, on the advice from the Sibylline Books (Libri Sibyllini), introduced the goddess Cybele from Pessinos and established her worship to Rome. As a goddess of fertility she personified the earth and its abundant benefits, and was regarded as the Great Mother and unceasing producer of all plant life. She was also believed to exercise unbounded sway over the animal world including wild animals, especially the lion. Her exotic cult also introduced the masochistic and orgiastic rites (similar to those of Bellona, the goddess of war) performed by priests. Cybele is usually represented in art wearing a polos (a high, cylindrical hat) and seated on a throne, with lions crouching at her feet. Cybele is sometimes depicted sitting in a chariot, drawn by lions. The symbol of Cybele was the Pine Cone.


Ancient Mythology - Cybele and Attis
Some of the rituals performed by the priests of Cybele related to the ancient myths about the goddess, in particular the Myth of Cybele and Attis. According to ancient mythology, Cybele discovered that her handsome and youthful lover called Attis had been unfaithful to her and planned to marry a nymph called Sagaris. In an uncontrollable fit of anger, jealousy, rage and frenzy Cybele burst into the wedding feast. A panic seized the guests, and a terrified Attis, became afflicted with a wild, temporary madness and fled to the mountains. Attis fell under a pine tree and inflicted terrible mutilations by slashing himself in his madness. He bled to death under the pine tree. Cybele had made him go mad and mutilate himself and bitterly regretted her actions. Cybele mourned her loss and Jupiter promised her that the pine tree would remain sacred forever. The practice of self-mutilations was adopted by the priests of Cybele, the notorious Galli.

The Priests of Cybele - The Gallus (plural Galli) aka the Corybantes
The eunuch priests of Cybele were called the Gallus (pl. Galli) who practiced a variety of masochistic rituals and ceremonies. In 205 BCE the goddess Cybele was adopted by the Romans, imported to Rome from Phrygia (part of Asia Minor, now called Turkey). Her priests, the Galli, and their practices were imported with her. In Greece the Galli of Cybele were also known as Corybantes.

The cult of Cybele also introduced the masochistic and orgiastic rites that were performed by her priests. The notorious transgender Galli were known for their self inflicted castrations, loud music, use of hallucinogenic plants and frenetic dancing. Roman citizens were forbidden to become Galli priests, join in the frenzied celebrations or undergo ritual castration.


The Galli priests of Cybele practiced transgender-ism and made every effort to appear and behave as women. Their linen and silk clothes were a combination of fashionable feminine and priestly dress. They wore their hair long which was arranged in elaborate hairstyles that were complimented by various wreaths, ribbons and other adornments. They also wore the high, cylindrical hat called the polos. The Galli adopted female mannerisms and speech patterns and applied an extensive range of cosmetics to enhance their feminine appearance. The Galli participated in orgiastic rituals and ceremonies accompanied by loud, ecstatic cries and the frenzied music of flutes, drums, and cymbals.

Re-enactment of the Myth of Cybele and Attis
During the festival in honor of Cybele elements of the Cybele and Attis myth were re-enacted. Ceremonies and rituals involved cutting down a pine tree that represented the dead Attis. The tree was honored, wrapped in bandages and taken to the temple of Cybele. The pine tree was decorated it with violets, which were believed to be the flowers that had sprung from the blood of Attis. As part of this religious ceremony, the Galli priests of Cybele cut their arms so that their blood fell on Cybele's altar and on the sacred pine tree. They also danced to the music of cymbals, drums, and flutes. During these wild rites, some followers of Cybele even mutilated themselves, as Attis had in ancient mythology.

The Festivals of Cybele - The Megalesia
The Megalesia was the festival of the Magna Mater, or Cybele, and celebrated between April 4 - 10 by games and theatrical performances. Sumptuous feasts were held on the first day of the Megalesia and ended with chariot races at the Circus Maximus. The festival and ceremonies were opened by the sacrifice of the moretum (a dish of herbs). The Galii, the eunuch priests of Cybele, carried her image (bearing a polos crown) through the city of Rome to the sound of tambourines, horns, flutes and cymbals. As they danced through the streets of Rome, they beat themselves bloody in an ecstatic ritual. Another festival called dies sanguinis, the "day of blood" took place on the 24 March in honor of
Bellona the goddess of war. Her priests, called the Bellonarii, also practiced mutilation and the use of hallucinogenic plants leading to incorrect historical connections between the worship of two goddesses and their festivals. The cult of the Cybele was a foreign cult and as such the citizens of Rome were forbidden to become Galli priests or walk in the procession. However, some Romans became archigalii, who sacrificed a bull's genitals to the goddess Cybele instead of their own. This led to the rite of the taurobolium.

The Taurobolium
The taurobolium involved the blood sacrifice of a bull to the goddess Cybele and also to the goddess Venus. Following a rowdy, ecstatic procession emphasized by violent gesticulations, shouting, dancing the procession would reach the Temple of Cybele (Magna Mater) on the Palatine Hill in Rome. A platform was constructed over a trench, pierced with holes that would have been erected outside the temple of Cybele in preparation for the taurobolium. White animals were sacrificed to the goddesses of the upper world and the sex of a sacrificial animal had to correspond to the sex of the goddess to whom it was offered. A white sacrificial cow, complete with a garland of flowers, a crown of leaves taken from pine tree was therefore prepared for the sacrifice to Cybele. The word "Sacrificium" was generally referred to the "victim" of the more important public ceremonies. The animal was sprinkled with salt and incense. A priest dressed in fine, pure white linen, wearing a wreath on his head, would conduct the sacrifice. He would offer prayers to Cybele and sip wine in her honor. The ceremonial killing of the beast, or Immolatio, would follow. Music was played in order to drown out any unwanted, negative noises from the animal. The blood of the sacrificial animal poured through the platform onto the Galli priest or archigalii below, who received it on his face and body, he literally bathed in the blood. After the bloody baptism he would present himself before his fellow worshippers of Cybele, purified and regenerated, and received their salutations

The Taurobolium - Blood Sacrifice to Cybele

At Cybele's annual festival (March 15-27), a pine tree was cut and brought to her shrine, where it was honoured as a god and adorned with violets considered to have sprung from the blood of Attis. On March 24, the "Day of Blood," her chief priest, the archigallus, drew blood from his arms and offered it to her to the music of cymbals, drums, and flutes, while the lower clergy whirled madly and slashed themselves to bespatter the altar and the sacred pine with their blood. On March 27 the silver statue of the goddess, with the sacred stone set in its head, was borne in procession and bathed in the Almo, a tributary of the Tiber River.

Symbol of Cybele - the Pine Cone
The Pine Cone was the symbol of Cybele and related to the myth of Attis. Pine cones were worn by her priests and worshipers as a symbol of the goddess. The priests of Cybele were famous for their strange, unfathomable behavior, and like their goddess, and were treated with the utmost caution. People believed they had supernatural powers and practiced a form of witchcraft. Followers of Cybele, called metragytes, were roaming Galli who would wander the countryside, begging for alms and telling fortunes. As a protective and cautionary measure it became customary to the symbol of Cybele, the Pine Cone, on a pole in the vineyards, to protect them from blight and witchcraft. The pine cone was also mounted as an ornament on the gateways and rails of the entrances of some houses in the countryside - a tradition that still exists in Italy modern times and a reminder of the ancient goddess Cybele.

Cybele  preached a doctrine of life-after-death, a promise to all its faithful of immortality through union with Cybele in the beyond.  


One of the major festivals was Megalesia, April 4-10. At the height of the celebrations the taurobolium – the baptism by blood - was performed.    A bull was castrated and sacrificed on perforated roof, and new initiates were baptized in its blood as they stood under the flowing rain of blood from the sacrificial bull.

Another major festival was celebrated the 25th of March to commemorate the castration and death of Attis. The Cannophori carried reeds and stalks to the temple together with the idol of Attis. The taurobolium was performed, and the genitals of the bull was thrown into a cave or well consecrated to Magna Mater.  

The cult was received in the roman culture also.  It is said that Vatican is built right on top of the old temple complex of Magna Mater, and some parts of it is believed to still exist  under the Vatican. Many early Christians Cybele became of symbol of Mary.

The Galli, the priests of Cybele castrated themselves and were considered to have high spiritual power. Even though Cybele was the symbol of fertility, the cult was a highly ascetic order which placed the women spiritually above the men and respected them as such.

Montanus is believed to have been a Galli used to orgiastic festivities.  He was converted to Christianity and became a leader of a Christian group. 

Early Christians condemned the cult as demonic. By the 4th century Emperor Valentinian II officially banned her worship and allowed cruel persecutions of any who continued the practice. During the reign of Justinian, property was seized, any items of worship were burned, temples were destroyed, and those who still followed the cult were tortured, forced to commit suicide, or buried alive. By the 6th century AD the cult was extinct.

I have included this short nature of the Cybele cult just to show how much of the culture from this cult was imported into Christianity.  But then we will see that this aspect of speaking in tongues and ecstatic feelings are common in all religion irrespective of the country or age.





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