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
being—Dionysus and Demeter, and Cadmilus and Ceres. A
Greek writer of the second century B.C.E. states that they were
four in number—Axisros, 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 dwarfish
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
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 tribe—a 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
Cabiri Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
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 outward
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.
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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