When nature and human were identified in the ancient time, they begin to regard the female body as sacred because it can produce just like nature. This sanctity formed the basis of the cult of the mother goddess. The belief was Anatolian despite controversial. She has been worshiped in different forms and rituals in Anatolia for many years. This article examines the cult of the mother goddess in Anatolia.

Keywords: Mother Goddess, Cult, Anatolia, Cybele. 


Human kids have existed on earth for a very long time. In this process, people made progress in every aspect and every field. At the same time, beliefs developed with people. people believed in several faiths and religions as long as they existed. One of them is the cult of the mother goddess. This cult, which was believed in various places, has great importance for Anatolia. For this reason, this article clarifies the cult of the mother goddess in Anatolia. The article consists of two parts. The first part explains what the cult of the mother goddess is and then, figures of the mother goddess in Anatolia are examined in the second part.


Cult lexically means glorification, adoration, and faith. The cult of the mother goddess is a belief in a female deity (Özmen, 2016). However, this is no ordinary female creature. These women who are worshiped have certain characteristics, which include fertility, plentifulness, and fruitfulness. More importantly, they represent mother and nature. Also, they have symbols used to represent them. Two of them are lion and leopard that indicate power, will, and justice. Additionally, sometimes the moon is used in the depictions of the main goddess. Moon infers the aspect of changing in life and death.

At this point, the question of why people started worshiping these goddesses arises. To answer this question, it is necessary to study the history of humanity. In the Stone Age, people continued to live by foraging and hunting. In this period, paleolithic society, in general, formed the foundations of a male-dominated society in the future due to the prominence of male power in hunting. At the same time, people were drawing animals they hunted as well as chubby female figures on the walls which eventually transformed into cults (Karaca, 2017). In the Neolithic period, the final division of the Stone Age, human life radically changed.  In this period, people began to farm. In other words, people transitioned from hunting and gathering society to an agricultural society. Thus, they settled down for farming. Also, the concept of plentifulness became important for people because people would starve if the yield from agriculture was low that year. In addition to this, the human being intertwined with nature realized that the cycle of nature and the human cycle are similar to each other. (Demirdağ, 2017). Thus, they started identifying man and nature. Later, the similarity of women and nature came to the fore. As the fertility of nature, a woman is a product being because she can prune another living thing in her own body. Actually, people realized the vitality of nature and women. As a consequence, societies in which agriculture was at the forefront worshiped women and the figures they held nature as their core in different forms.

It is a controversial issue that where exactly the cult of the mother goddess emerged. Many experts argue that the foundation of cult is based on Anatolia because of clay sculptures excavated at Çatalhöyük and Hacılar, and view that the belief in Anatolia spread. However, mother goddesses are common in Mediterranean civilizations, such as Isis and Nut in Egypt, and Rhea in Greece. Therefore, it is claimed that this belief originally belonged to the Mediterranean civilization. On the other side, it is possible to see the mother goddess cult in places that are not in the Mediterranean region like Inanna in Sumer and Eva in the monotheistic religions. Nevertheless, the accepted view is that the cult of the mother goddess spread from Anatolia to the world.


Although it is controversial, the belief of the mother goddess is based on Anatolia. The underlying idea of this view is that the mother goddesses were common in Anatolia before the monotheistic religion. While belief developed in Anatolia from the Neolithic period to Phrygia, civilizations created their mother goddesses, such as Kubaba in Hittite and Artemis in Ephesus. In addition to this, another element supporting this view is Cybele. Cybele, an Anatolian goddess, has spread to the Mediterranean civilizations as well as being compatible with the cult of the mother goddess. Thus, she influenced the goddesses of other civilizations, such as Isis in Egypt. This part of the article examines the main goddess figures in Anatolia, who are respectively clay statues from the excavations, Kubaba in Hittite, Cybele, and Artemis of Ephesus.

2.1. Female Figures from Archaeological Excavations

Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük. (Dilmen, 2012).

People realizing the similarity between nature and women started to make clay sculptures in accordance with their beliefs when they started worshiping women. These sculptures were found during excavations at archaeological sites such as Çatalhöyük, Horoztepe, and Hacılar (Oral, 2014). These statues are generally the same. A sitting female figure has a lion and a leopard figure on the sides, which are signs of her dominance over nature.  These female figures have large breasts and hips. The reason for this is that it is processed to draw attention to the woman’s power to give birth and feed (Demirdağ, 2017). In some figures, there is a head between the legs of the woman. These figures show the superiority of the woman who gave birth by placing her on the throne. These figurines of the mother goddess are accepted as the beginning of the cult of the mother goddess that developed in Anatolia (Oral, 2014).

2.2. Goddess Figures in Hittite Mythology

Hittites are one of the rights that established a state in Anatolia in the Bronze Age. They had a polytheistic religion inspired by the gods and goddesses of other societies. Hepat, the wife of Teshup who was chief god, was the chief goddess (Kuru, 2013). Özmen (2016) states that Hepat, who is of Hurrian origin, is identified with the mother figure. Moreover, it is written in the inscriptions that she was called “hba-eni”, which means “Hepa mother” (Sevinç, 2008). Her symbol was the leopard. 

Queen Kubaba relief portrait ancient - shutterstock
Kubaba (Evren Kalınbacak/Shutterstock)

On the other side, Hittites came under the influence of Arameans. These new Hittites, called Neo Hittites, worshiped a new goddess. Kubaba is also known as the queen of Carchemish because she is from Carchemish, she was the new mother goddess of the Neo Hittites. Although her name and origin come from Kubaba in Sumerian mythology, she has become the mother goddess of the Hittites over time.  While she was usually depicted with a mirror, which represents femininity and beauty, and a long dress in his hand, she was sometimes depicted with a pomegranate in her hand, which is still a symbol of fertility (Karaca, 2017). Kubaba is the original form of Cybele.  The Phrygians inspired by Kubaba created Cybele.

2.3. Cybele

One of the peoples who established a state in Anatolia is Phrygians. These people from the Balkans spread to the western part of Anatolia. Besides, the main livelihood of the Phrygians was agriculture and they gave great importance to agriculture. For example, the penalty for breaking the plow or killing an ox was death. Hence, a goddess identified with nature became even more important to them.  Although the creation of Cybele is based on other mother goddess cults, Cybele is superior to other mother goddesses. Cybele became identical with the cult.  Moreover, the belief in Cybele spread in different forms from the Aegean coast to the south of France.

Cybele (Jansoone, 2007)

Like other mother goddesses, Cybele, identified with nature, symbolized fertility, abundance and efficiency.  Besdies, moon and lion, symbols of mother goddesses, were often used in his sculptures (Bulut, 2018).  When the moon symbolizes the aspect of changing of life and death, Leo is believed to represent power, will and justice. On the other side, in the inscriptions from the Phrygians, Cybele was called “Matar”, which means mother. In some writings, she is referred to as “Matar Kubileya”, which means “mother of mountains”, so there were worship centers built for worshiping Cybele. on the peak of mountains (Demirdağ, 2017). She was also known as Mater Turriger, which means “great mother”. Bulut (2018) explains that the reason why she was called by this name is the crown that looks like a tower on her head. While the crown indicates that she was the sole sovereign of the cities and agricultural products, the towers showed the cities under its protection.

There are many myths and legends about Cybele. One of Cybele’s most interesting myths is about Attis. Öztürk (2018) describes that Cybele fell in love with Attis, originally changed according to myths, but he decides to marry the daughter of the king of Pessinus. Cybele, who feels a fit of great jealousy, appears in the middle of the wedding and drives Attis crazy, which causes Attis to castrate himself. To end his suffering, Cybele turns him into a pine tree which is a symbol of eternal life. This legend is a guide for the priests of Cybele. According to some resources, in festivals, men who wanted to become priests of Cybele were castrated and their sexual organs buried under the pine tree (Öztürk, 2018). Other views, however, claim that the high priest of Cybele emasculated himself with his hand in a bloody ceremony (Özmen, 2016). Consequently, the eunuch and dedication of the male genital organ to Cybele was an important ritual. Moreover, some experts argue that this ritual is the origin of circumcision in Judaism and Islam. In other words, according to the view, this ritual was passed on to Arabs and Jews as circumcision (Öztürk, 2018).

Although Cybele was unique to Anatolia, it soon spread to the Mediterranean region. The Cretans equated her with Rhea, known as the mother of the Greek gods. Moreover, Karaca (2017) claims that when Cybele came to the Greek world, she became a powerful presence in Greece and made a lasting impact on Greek society. Greeks called her “Meter Megale”, meaning great mother, and Manga Mater Deum İdea, which means Great mother of the gods of Mount Ida. In Rome, the Worship of foreign gods and goddesses was not common. However, Cybele was worshiped. Furthermore, she found a place in Rome as Magna Mater, which means “Mother of Gods and Goddess”. For her, The Romans built statues in lands they controlled like Plaza de Cibeles in Madrid.

2.4. Artemis of Ephesus 

Artemis (Nguyen, 2005)

Artemis of Ephesus who is a reflection of Cybele is a goddess of nature. However, in this point, she should not be confused with Artemis in Greek mythology. Artemis in Greek mythology is the goddess of nature, hunting, and archery. Furthermore, she represents virginity and is the protector of virgin young girls and women. In legends, it is told Artemis hunted with virgin women. On the other hand, Artemis of Ephesus represents fertility and plentifulness. It is possible to see these features in her sculptures. Her sculptures have between 17 and 40 breasts as a symbol of fertility and abundance (“Efes’teki çok memeli Artemis”, 2006). Like other mother goddesses, the figure of the lion is used in their depictions. In addition to this, Artemis of Ephesus has a multi-layered crown showing that she is the protector of cities. At the same time, Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı, a Turkish writer who is known as Halikarnas Balıkçısı, explains in his book that this crown symbolizes the three states in her and other women’s life. These states are virgin maiden, woman, and mother.

Artemis of Ephesus (Wikipedia)

Artemis was extremely significant for Ephesians. It is written that they expelled the people who came to promote and convince them of other religions. Moreover, for Artemis of Ephesus, they built the Temple of Artemis, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Ephesians worshiped Artemis until the Roman rule. Ephesians who were extremely devoted to their faith were pressured to become Christians while they were ruled by Rome accepting Christianity (Mert, 2016). However, at this point, they created a new icon. Even though they were seen as accepting the religion of Jesus, they identified Artemis with the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus (“Efes’teki Çok Memeli Artemis”, 2006).  Ephesians who continued to adore Artemis under the name of Mary attributed the features of Artemis to Mary, such as virginity, protector, mother, and woman.  Furthermore, Halikarnas Balıkçısı (2002) claims that rumors that Mary died in Ephesus has spread.  Hence, in order to come to the tomb of the Virgin Mary, they began to visit Mount Nightingale, which was actually considered the birthplace of Artemis. Nowadays, the House of Virgin Mary is important for Catholic Christianity. Christians come to this house every year to be pilgrims. On the other part, in this place, even if they do not know, they worship not only Mary, who gave birth to Jesus, but also Mary, who took her roots from Artemis of Ephesus. 


The cult of the mother goddess is belief goddesses symbolizing motherhood, reproduction, femininity, the continuation of life, and fertility. The cult emerged when people realized the similarity between the life cycle of nature and the life cycle of women and attributed holiness to the female body. Although it is a controversial issue where exactly this belief originated, the general opinion is that the belief is based on Anatolia. Excavations in Anatolia show that the cult dates back to the Neolithic period. Then, Kubaba in the Hittite comes to the fore. Cybele, who has the characteristics of Kubaba, is the queen of mother goddesses. In today’s understanding, Cybele and the mother goddess cult are in a condensed state. Besides, she influenced other cultures, and people worshiped their goddesses by adding her attributes. Artemis of Ephesus is a goddess who emerged under the influence of Cybele. In the present day, the cult of the mother goddess may seem to have disappeared but remnants of this belief continue to live in cultures. For instance, the vast majority of men who believe in monotheistic religions are circumcised. Additionally, in the House of Virgin Mary, one of the pilgrimage points of Christians, Christians visit the Virgin Mary, affected Artemis of Ephesus. In this aspect, these are an indication that not only the cult of the mother goddess but also the old beliefs live in societies.


Bulut, B. (2018, October 15). Anadolu’nun bolluk ve bereket tanrıçası: Kybele.

Demirdağ, M. F. (2017). Ana tanrıça ikonografisi ve anaerkillik. Bilge Uluslararası Sosyal Araştırmalar Dergisi, 1(1), 6-18.

Halikarnas Balıkçısı. (2002). Merhaba anadolu.  Bilgi Yayınevi.

Karaca, R. (2017, September 15). Ana tanrıça Kybele.

Kuru, B. (2013, November 24). Hitit dini, Teşhup ve Hepat.

Kybele veya Kibele: Ana tanrıça. (2018).

Mert, T. (2016, May 27). Efes haydutluğu (Kutsal Artemis ‘ten Meryem Ana’ya).

Oral, E. (2014). Anadolu’da ana tanrıça kültü. Akademik Sosyal Araştırmalar Dergisi, 2 (8), 154-164.

Özmen, S. S. (2016). Anadolu’da ana tanrıça Kybele kültü (The cult of mother goddess Kybele in Anatolia). HUMANITAS – Uluslararası Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, 4(7), 381-397.

Öztürk, Ö. (2018, March 30). Kibele, Kybele, Magna Mater, Rhea, Cybele (Anadolu mitolojisi).

Sevinç, F. (2008). Hitit dininde Arinna’nın güneş tanrıçası ve onunla özdeş tutulan diğer tanrıçalar. Kafkas Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitü Dergisi, 1(1), 175-195.

References for Photos

Artemis heykeli [Photograph]. (2018).

Dilmen, N. (2012). Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük [Photograph]. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

Jansoone, G. (2007). Limestone statue of the mother goddess Cybele from the Phrygian period (6th century BC) [Photograph]. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations.

Evren Kalınbacak/Shutterstock. A relief portrait housed at the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. [Photograph]. Discover.

Nguyen, M. L. (2005). Artemis with a hind, better known as “Diana of Versailles” [Photograph]. Wikipedia.


Middle East Technical University, Political Science and Public Administration

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