Milk, the Great Mother, and the Eucharist

By: Gaetano Spampinato  

In Ancient world, milk was considered a religious symbol by a lot of religious traditions. In the archaic Greek world milk was the symbol of the Great Mother, a divinity of a pre-Hellenic, matriarchal society that "survived" in the Goddess Cybele. In her cult, adherents were initiated with the symbolic drinking of milk and honey. At the same time, different mysteries in sanctuaries of Cybele in Phrygia and Galatia shown a large use of cheese during some rituals as a religious, symbolic food, the product of the skillful processing of milk. When Christianity arrived in those areas, Christian intellectuals tried to eliminate all forms of pagan cults with the condemnation and the demonetization of them. First elements to be attacked were, naturally, rituals in sanctuaries, described as the inhuman expressions of superstition. Some Christian popular groups, indeed, adopted the symbols of pagan culture. Milk was one of them. Biblical culture too used to give to milk a holy value (the grace of the Lord); but in a Christian “heresy” spread in Phrygia there was a group that used to celebrate the Eucharist with bread and cheese: the Artotyritians. An analysis of those popular groups, often forgotten by high-theological tradition, could give interesting information about the relationship between society, religion and symbols in antiquity. In this paper, I will investigate the symbolic value of milk and its function from the cult of Cybele to the Artotyritian group, trying to put in evidence the social context where it became an inter-religious symbol.

Eucharist, Bread, Cheese, Antiquity
2019 Special Focus—Universal Religious Symbols: Mutual Influences and Specific Relationships
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Gaetano Spampinato

MA Student, Humanities, Collegio Superiore, University of Bologna, Italy

Born in Giarre on 02/28/1995. He studied in Acireale at the Liceo Classico Gulli e Pennisi where he got it diploma with the final evaluation of 110 with merit. He studied in Jerusalem, Cypre, Greece and Paris.