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Cabiri (or Cabeiri)

Cabiri (or Cabeiri)

A group of minor deities of Greek origin. The name appears to be of Semitic origin, signifying the "great gods," and the Cabiri seem to have been connected in some manner with the sea, protecting sailors and vessels. The chief seats of their worship were Lemnos, Samothrace, Thessalia, and Boeotia. They were originally only two in number, the elder identified with Dionysus, and the younger with Hermes, who was also known as Cadmilus.

Their worship was later amalgamated with that of Demeter and Ceres, with the result that two sets of Cabiri came into beingDionysus and Demeter, and Cadmilus and Ceres. A Greek writer of the second century B.C.E. states that they were four in numberAxisros, Axiokersa, Axiokersos, and Casmilus, corresponding, he states, to Demeter, Persephone, Hades, and Hermes.

The Romans identified the Cabiri with the Penates, the Roman gods of the household. A festival of these deities was held annually in Lemnos and lasted nine days, during which all domestic and other fires were extinguished and sacred fire was brought from Delos. From this fact it has been judged that the Cabiri may have been volcanic demons, although this view has largely been abandoned.

It was in Samothrace that the cult of the Cabiri attained its widest significance, and in that island as early as the fifth century B.C.E., their mysteries, or religious rites, were held with great enthusiasm and attracted almost universal attention. Initiation into this cult was regarded as a safeguard against misfortune of all kinds, and persons of distinction exerted all their influence to become initiates. Interesting details as to the bacchanal cult of the Cabiri were obtained in 1888 by the excavation of their temple near Thebes. Statues of a deity called Cabeiros were found, attended by a boy cupbearer. His attributes appear to be bacchic.

The Cabiri were often mentioned as powerful magicians, and Herodotus and other writers speak of the Cabiri as sons of Vulcan. Cicero, however, regarded them as the children of Proserpine, and Jupiter was often named as their father. Strabo, on the other hand, regarded them as the ministers of Hecate, and Bochart recognized in them the three principal infernal deities, Pluto, Proserpine, and Mercury. Although it is assumed that they were originally of Semitic origin, a temple of Memphis was found consecrated to them in Egypt. It is not unlikely, as Herodotus supposed, that the cult was Pelasgian in origin, as it is known that the Pelasgians occupied the island of Samothrace and established there certain mysteries, which they afterward carried to Athens. There are also traditions that the worship of the Cabiri originally came from the Troad (territory surrounding the ancient city of Troy), a Semitic center. In his book The Egypt of Herodotus (1841), John Kenrick brings forward the following conclusions concerning the Cabiri:

"1. The existence of the worship of the Cabiri at Memphis under a pygmy form, and its connection with the worship of Vulcan. The coins of Thessalonica also establish this connection; those which bear the legend 'Kabeiros' having a figure with a hammer in his hand, the pileus and apron of Vulcan, and sometimes an anvil near the feet.

"2. The Cabiri belonged also to the Phoenician theology. The proofs are drawn from the statements of Herodotus. Also the coins of Cossyra, a Phoenician settlement, exhibit a dwarf-ish figure with the hammer and short apron, and sometimes a radiated head, apparently allusive to the element of fire, like the star of the Dioscuri.

"3. The isle of Lemnos was another remarkable seat of the worship of the Cabiri and of Vulcan, as representing the element of fire. Mystic rites were celebrated here over which they presided, and the coins of the island exhibit the head of Vulcan, or a Cabirus, with the pileus, hammer, and forceps. It was this connection with fire, metallurgy, and the most remarkable product of the act, weapons of war, which caused the Cabiri to be identified with the Cureks of Etolia, the Idaei Dactyli of Crete, the Corybantes of Phrygia, and the Telchines of Rhodes. They were the same probably in Phoenician origin, the same in mystical and orgiastic rites, but different in number, genealogy, and local circumstances, and by the mixture of other mythical traditions, according to the various countries in which their worship prevailed. The fable that one Cabirus had been killed by his brother or brothers was probably a moral mythus representing the result of the invention of armor and analogous to the story of the mutual destruction of the men in brazen armor, who sprang from the dragon's teeth sown by Cadmus and Jason. It is remarkable that the name of the first fratricide signifies a 'lance,' and in Arabic a 'smith.'

"4. The worship of the Cabiri prevailed also in Imbros, near the entrance of the Hellespont, which makes it probable that the great gods in the neighboring island of Samothrace were of the same origin. The Cabiri, Curetes, and Corybantes appear to have represented air as well as fire. This island was inhabited by Pelasgi, who may have derived from the neighboring country of Thrace and Phrygia, and with the old Pelasgic mysteries of Ceres. Hence the various explanations given of the Samothracian deities, and the number of them so differently stated, some making them two, some four, some eight, the latter agreeing with the number of early Egyptian gods mentioned by Herodotus. It is still probable that their original number was two, from their identification with the Dioscuri and Tyndaridae, and from the number of the Pataeci on Phoenician vessels. The addition of Vulcan as their father or brother made them three, and a fourth may have been their mother Cabira.

"5. The Samothracian divinities continued to be held in high veneration in late times, but are commonly spoken of in connection with navigation, as the twin Dioscuri or Tyndaridae; on the other hand the Dioscuri are spoken of as the Curetes or Corybantes. The coins of Tripolis exhibit the spears and star of the Dioscuri, with the legend 'Cabiri.'

"6. The Roman Penates have been identified with the Dioscuri, and Dionysius states that he had seen two figures of ancient workmanship, representing youths armed with spears, which, from an antique inscription on them, he knew to be meant for Penates. So, the 'Lares' of Etruria and Rome.

"7. The worship of the Cabiri furnishes the key to the wanderings of Aeneas, the foundation of Rome, and the War of Troy itself, as well as the Argonautic expedition. Samothrace and the Troad were so closely connected in this worship, that it is difficult to judge in which of the two it originated, and the gods of Lavinium, the supposed colony from Troy, were Samothracian. Also the Palladium, a pygmy image, was connected at once with Aeneas and the Troad, with Rome, Vesta, and the Penates, and the religious belief and traditions of several towns in the south of Italy."

Kenrick also recognizes a mythical personage in Aeneas, whose attributes were derived from those of the Cabiri, and continues with some interesting observations on the Homeric fables. He concludes that the essential part of the War of Troy originated in the desire to connect together and explain the traces of an ancient religion. He also notes one other remarkable circumstance, that the countries in which the Samothracian and Cabiriac worship prevailed were peopled either by the Pelasgi or by the Aeolians, who of all the tribes comprehended under the general name Hellenes, approach the most nearly in antiquity and language to the Pelasgi.

"We seem warranted, then," Kenrick observes, "in two conclusions; first that the Pelasgian tribes in Italy, Greece and Asia were united in times reaching high above the commencement of history, by community of religious ideas and rites, as well as letters, arts, and language. Secondly, large portions of what is called the heroic history of Greece, are nothing else than fictions devised to account for the traces of this affinity, when time and the ascendancy of other nations had destroyed the primitive connection, and rendered the cause of the similarity obscure. The original derivation of the Cabiriac system from Phoenicia and Egypt is a less certain, though still highly probable conclusion."

Kenrick also concluded that "the name Cabiri has been very generally deduced from the Phoenician 'mighty' and this etymology is in accordance with the fact that the gods of Samothrace were called 'Divi potes."'

Kenrick believed, however, that the Phoenicians used some other name, which the Greeks translated "Kabeiros," and that it denoted the two elements of fire and wind.

In his book India in Greece (1856), Edward Pococke claims the Cabiri were the "Khyberi," or people of the "Khyber," or a Buddhist tribea totally unlikely origin for them. In the Generations of Sanchoniathon, the Cabiri are claimed as Phoenicians, although in a mystical sense. According to the myth, the Wind and the Night gave birth to two moral men, Aeon and Protogonus. The immediate descendants of these two were "Genus" and "Genea," a man and woman. To Genus were born three mortal children, Phôs, Pur, and Phlox, who discovered fire, and these again fathered sons of vast bulk and height, whose names were given to the mountains in which they dwelt, Cassiul, Libanus, Antilibanus, and Brathu. The issue of these giant men by their own mothers were Meinrumus, Hypsuranius, and Usous. Hypsuranius inhabited Tyre; Usous becoming a huntsman, consecrated two pillars to fire and the wind with the blood of the wild beasts that he captured.

Much later, from the race of Hypsuranius issued Agreus and Halieus, inventors, it is said, of the arts of hunting and fishing. From these descended two brothers, one of whom was Chrysor (or Hephaestus), skilled in words, charms, and divinations; he also invented boats and was the first to sail. His brother first built walls with bricks, and their descendants in the second generation seem to have completed the invention of houses by the addition of courts, porticos, and crypts. They are called Aletae and Titans, and in their time began animal husbandry and hunting with dogs. From the Titans descended Amynus, a builder, and Magus, who taught men to construct villages and tend flocks, and of these two were begotten Misor (perhaps Mizraim), whose name signifies Well-freed, and Sydic, whose name denotes the Just; these discovered the use of salt.

From Misor descended Taautus (Thoth, Athothis, or Hermes Trismegistus), who invented letters; and from Sydic descended the Dioscuri, or Cabiri, or Corybantes, or Samothraces. According to Sanchoniathon, first built a complete ship and others descended from them who discovered medicine and charms. All this dates prior to Babylon and the gods of paganism, the elder of whom are next introduced in the Generations.

Finally, Sanchoniathon settles Poseidon (Neptune) and the Cabiri at Berytus, but not till circumcision, the sacrifice of human beings, and the portrayal of the gods had been introduced. He describes the Cabiri as husbandmen and fishermen, which leads to the presumption that the people who worshiped those ancient gods were at length called by their name. The method of initiation unto the cult was as follows:

"The candidate for initiation was crowned with a garland of olive, and wore a purple band round his loins. Thus attired, and prepared by secret ceremonies (probably mesmeric), he was seated on a throne brilliantly lighted, and the other initiates then danced round him in hieroglyphic measures. It may be imagined that solemnities of this nature would easily degenerate into orgies of the most immoral tendency, as the ancient faith and reverence for sacred things perished, and such was really the case. Still, the primitive institution was pure in form and beautiful in its mystic signification, which passed from one ritual to another, till its last glimmer expired in the freemasonry of a very recent period. The general idea represented was the passage through death to a higher life, and while the out-ward senses were held in the thrall of magnetism, it is probable that revelations, good or evil, were made to the high priests of these ceremonies." '

It is extremely difficult to arrive at any conclusion regarding the origin of the Cabiri, but they were probably of Semitic origin, arriving in Greece through Phoenician influence, and that they approximated in character the gods with whom the Greeks identified them is extremely likely.

Sources:

Bryant, Jacob. A New System; or an Analysis of Ancient Mythology. 3 vols. 1776. Reprint, New York: Garland, 1979.

Varro, Marcus Terrentius. De Lingua Latina. Translated as On the Latin Language. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1958.

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Cabiri

Cabiri (kəbī´rī), in ancient religion of the Middle East, nature deities of obscure origin, possibly Phoenician. They were connected with several fertility cults, particularly at Lemnos and at Samothrace, where important mysteries were celebrated. According to one legend they were also patrons of navigation. In Greek religion they were associated with Hephaestus, Hermes, and Demeter.

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"Cabiri." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Cabiri." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cabiri

"Cabiri." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved October 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cabiri

Cabiri

Cabiri

a group of deities of Samothrace.

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