Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Cybele and Attis of Phrygia

Staying on wood for the present and still in London, I was struck by the contrast of this rotting tree on Palewell Common - stark white against lush green. Palewell Common has managed to avoid the "green desert" syndrome beloved of local authorities, by preserving woods along its edge. And current thinking holds that rather than clearing, it is better to leave dead trees to rot and hence use the nutrients to replenish the woods. Now the symbolism of trees would alone fill a rather large book. Yet something - maybe the bleached and rotting tree - made me think of Cybele and Attis, a Phrygian myth, which I know through Jung's hermaphroditic account. Cybele was a symbol of maternal libido but because she was hermaphroditic, she burned with love for her son, Attis. But Attis was enamoured of a nymph and so the jealous Cybele drove him insane. In consequence, poor Attis emasculated himself under a pine tree, which Cybele then retrieves, takes into her cavern and there weeps over it. The cavern is of course the womb and the tree has an essentially phallic meaning. Jung says in Psychology of the Unconscious that attaching the image of Attis to the tree refers to the maternal meaning "To be attached to the mother".