Goddess originating with Anatolian religions, later becoming a very popular goddess in Roman religion.
Her history goes back to 1200 BCE or before, and she remains a very important deity until the 4th century CE. Other mother goddesses predates Cybele; although these may very well have been the model of her, one should be careful of tracing Cybele's history back to the earliest examples of Anatolian mother goddess cults.
She is known by several names or designations. In Rome she became known as nothing less than Great Mother of the Gods, Mater Deum Magna Idaea.
Cybele is a central goddess to Antolian religions, and the farthest it is possible to trace her origins is back to Phrygia, where she was associated with the most basic natural forces, the fertile earth and the mountains.
She would keep the qualities she had in her earliest cults, even when exported into other religious systems. She remained always the good parent of gods, human beings and beasts. There was always an orgiastic element to her cult. Yet, her priests, the galli, had to castrate themselves when entering her service, and dress up in women's clothes. Their ritual castration was in remembrance of her lover, Attis, who castrated himself in ecstasy, bled to death, but was resurrected by Cybele. The introduction of Attis came in the second half of the 1st millennium BCE.
The Phrygian Cybele wore a long, belted dress, a high cylindrical hat with a veil covering the whole body. In some contexts she had lions next to her, sometimes the lions drawed her chariot.
To Cybele, plants were sacred, the pine and the ivy, both evergreen.
In classical times, her cultic centres became Pessinus and Agdistis.
She was associated or identified to specific mountains, mountains there thereby was holy and had temples and organized rituals. Her Phrygian name may very well have meant "Mother of the Mountain".
Her incorporation into Greek religion began in the 6th or 5th century BCE, and happened with the association with the original Greek goddess Rhea. The Greeks called her Mother of Gods of Ida (the mountain), Mater Theon Idaia.
Her cult became asssociated with that of Dionysos, but she did not emerge with the popularity she would gain among the Romans.
She was introduced in Rome around 210 BCE following a prophecy saying that during the Punic War the Carthaginians could be defeated her religious symbols were incoporated in Roman cults. Being associated with several Roman goddesses, she quickly had her cult established there. Her cult would emerge as one of the most popular in the Roman world, known as Hilaria.
In Rome, her annual festival lasted for 13 days every March, beginning on the 15th. Pine trees were cut and brought to her shrines. March 24 was the Day of Blood, when her high-priest offered his own blood to her. On the last day, March 27, her silver statue, with her sacred stone in its head, was carried to the river and bathed.
She was represented as a beautiful woman with a mural crown and a veil, seated on a throne or in a chariot, accompanied by two lions.
From Roman religion into Christianity, the intriguing question is: Did her myths and cult have influence on the views on Virgin Mary? The answer is largely given by speculation. There was at least an apparent continuation from the mother cult into the cult of Virgin Mary and her relation to Jesus, yet many of the most vital parts of the Cybele cult was completely lost.
What seems likely is that there was a cultural predisposition for the venerance of a mother figure, that facilitated the popularity that Virgin Mary.