The Temple of the Great Mother Goddess in Thrace

The Temple of the Great Mother Goddess in Thrace

In the spring of 2002, an expedition found a strange cave in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. At its very entrance, the visitor is shocked by the rocks, moulded by Nature in the form of a vulva. And further on the cave itself continues horizontally, 22 m long. Specialists have proved that the hollow is of karst and it had initially been just 16m deep. Human hands had dug further on inside, lending it the shape of a woman’s womb. Water flows along its twisted walls and lichen grows. And in the southern end of the cave, an altar has been excavated, symbolizing the uterus. Somewhere around the middle found a hemispherical niche dug out. When someone stands directly under it and the sound of a deep male voice is produced, an unnatural sound, resembling a thunder, resounds throughout the entire hollow. For that reason the local population has called the mysterious place Tangardak Kaya (Turkish for the Thundering Rock).

The real surprise, however, comes exactly at midday. Then a sunbeam shines in from a specially cut slit and is projected onto the uneven rock floor. The image has the outline of a gigantic phallus of light. It points to the interior, but during the different seasons of the year it has a different length, because of the height of the sun. The cave was selected as a place and later additionally shaped by people so as to have an ideal south-north orientation, whereby the entrance is from the south. The lower the sun moves across the sky, the longer the sun phallus. This means that it would be the largest during the short days in the first half of the winter.

No doubt: this is one of the caves-uteruses – the temples of the Great Mother Goddess in Thrace, mentioned by ancient authors. They had been located in the Sacred Thracian Mountains and had been inhabited by the oracles Orpheus, Rhesus and Zalmoxis. According to ancient Indo-European concepts, the kings died and were born periodically. So that this might happen it was necessary for them to climb high up into the mountains. There the ruler and high Priest had made an offering of a large animal or a man, thereby symbolizing his own death. Then there followed a symbolic marriage with the Great Mother Goddess; he fertilized her and became reborn with the surrounding world. In this way the idea came into being of the son-lover, born by the Great Mother Goddess and having an intercourse with her in her own tomb, i.e. in the cave. It is elementary to calculate that these sacred actions had to be performed in January-February. At that time the New Year came for the ancient Thracians, in celebration of which they held their famous Dionysian festivities. For them the revival of nature began at that time, materialised by spring. The Sun Phallus from Tangarduk Kaya reaches its maximum length precisely during the winter.

Some data about these ancient customs have been preserved in folklore. The Christian female Saint Marina inhabited the cave, along the walls of which there was running water, symbolizing the sperm entering into her. Marina herself, had been conceived when her infertile mother had prayed the Sun to help her. On this occasion, maidens and bachelors used to get together once a year to take part in the mystery of conception. And far back in the 5th century B.C. Herodotus had described the sexual profligacy of the Thracian girls, who had copulated randomly with the men on certain days. In his play “The Bacchanalians” Euripides tells about the orgies, devoted to Dionysus, held precisely in caves symbolizing the uterus of the Great Mother Goddess with flowing water-sperm on their walls. And we can again turn to the folk beliefs and to the rituals of the Koukeri masked dancers, more specifically. In the region of the Strandja Mountains, Marina had been associated with the so-called “masked dancer without any mask”, to whom a wooden phallus had been attached with which he “ploughed” the land and symbolically fertilized it. This was an echo of the ancient ideas about the king-high priest and the Great Mother Goddess. The culmination was on the day of the Masked Dancers in the first days of February, when spring began, according to belief.

All these data point to the idea of a cult for the Great Mother Goddess conceived in Thrace far back in Antiquity. As everything else in Thracian religion, it had come into being in the mountains and most of all in the Rhodope Mountains. Quite naturally, the Great Mother Goddess had been worshipped in a megalithic sanctuary, shaped in the depth of the rocks.

The Temple of the Great Mother Goddess in Thrace

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