52 out of 410 Days: Syncretism

Kinda looks like a Christmas wreath, doesn’t it?  This occurred to me yesterday when I was in a local boutique buying bangles as Eidi for the young people who invited me to celebrate with their family today. [I’m really excited.]  The woman in the shop suggested an up-sell: gold cloth bags to hold each bangle set.  My first reaction was “ooo …nice! well-worth 2 bucks” and then she pulled them out of the cupboard and they had a holly leaf and berry design over them.  I quickly back pedalled.  I can’t exactly bring gifts looking like I used left over Christmas wrapping.  I was worried about being perceived as uncouth or insensitive.   At the same time it was Muslim woman in a muslim shop advising me on my purchase.   I took them home and wrapped them myself.   

And then when I got home I find myself reading about the reception of the cult of Cybele, a.k.a. the Magna Mater, in Rome.  This is the first coin at Rome to depict the goddess.  


Her cult object was originally an aniconic (non-figurative) black stone.  That got set inside a silver statue.  And, all the Roman representations follow the Greek model.  I’m not going to go on about this as there is an award winning book on the subject.  Most intriguingly in the earliest archaeological layers of her temple at Rome terracotta plaques representing Juno Sospita were found.  This is not one of those finds, but gives a visual point of reference as to what Juno Sospita’s iconography looked like in the early period.


What’s my take away?  I know that Eid isn’t Christmas, and I also know there is nothing inappropriate about borrowing one set of traditions to augment the celebrations of a different religion.  The elisions are more comfortably made by insiders, than outsiders.  I find the phenomenon bemusing, but not confusing.    After all the holly and the ivy and the presents and many other festive trappings all entered Christian celebrations from earlier pre-existing religious traditions.

I don’t want to stretch the parallels with ancient worship too far.  Monotheism and polytheism often work very differently, so too communally versus individually driven worship.   And, yet.  I think my understanding of Cybele is just a little more nuanced for having gone present shopping.

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