Among the items of clothing that people choose to wear, the hat, or cap, seems to be far more than just functional – that is, to keep the head warm. Remember the game ‘Associations’? When hats and caps came to my attention I had no idea the many paths of discovery it would lead me down, just by associating one train of thought with the next. This is a wonder of the human mind!
The Phrygian cap is a felt, conical cap with a floppy tip, usually depicted as red, but found in the most obscure places. It is famous as a ‘liberty cap’ given to slaves freed by the Roman Empire to cover their shaved heads. So why did Attis wear it?
Attis was the god of fertility in the old country of Phrygia in Turkey. This connection at least identified why it is called a Phrygian cap. His myth is another parallel to the various myths regarding the old pagan rituals around the death of winter and re-birth of spring. You can find these stories in just about every country in the world, where the seasons move from the dead of winter to the new life of spring and the glorious abundance of life in summer. And Attis is also Mithras, Adonis, Tammuz and Jesus, in this symbolism.
So did Attis wear his cap just because his head was cold, like the freed slaves?
The Phrygian cap is commonly confused with the ‘pileus‘, a similar conical cap worn by Greek sailors, like Odysseus, and Albanian peasants, and can be seen on the statue of the Dioscuri twins in Rome.
I started to think about who wears hats, or caps, now. Our armed defenders all wear caps as part of their uniform. Royalty wear crowns. Judges passing the death sentence wear the black cloth. Mexicans wear huge ‘sombreros‘ to keep the sun off their heads. Women wear veils and scarves. Fashion brings hats in and then out again.
In the 30’s and 40’s hats were very much in vogue. And the customs of how to use your hat were quite strict. A man would ‘doff’ his hat to a woman, or another respected person, and was not allowed to wear it indoors. It was an item of status, the flat cap being the working man’s hat. But then I found that the original pileus may have been a cloth version of a metal helmet, like the copper and bronze helmets worn by warriors. I thought about the construction worker’s ‘hard hat’. The list of variations is endless but I then went down another curious path.
The Phrygian cap is depicted in many places as an emblem of liberty on national flags, coins, insignia’s, statues etc. (Wiki Gallery), one of which is on the point of the spear in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789. (the spear is the spear Destiny, of Longinus, who pierced the side of Jesus on the cross, the spear that ambitious leaders covet) The picture of this declaration (below) is interesting, not only for the vast number of symbols used in it, but for another association – the French National emblem – Liberty – a goddess and warrioress of liberty, equality and fraternity, otherwise known as ‘Marianne’ (A form of Mary, or Ma – the universal name for the Divine Mother). The Statue of Liberty in New York is the very same Liberty, so ‘freedom’ seems to be a key to this little red cap. It is interesting to note that in this Declaration the equality of women is included but not the freedom of slaves. In the 2nd Declaration, 1793, the rights are extended to slaves, and the symbolism of the picture has changed to remove Marianne and elevate the ‘bonnet-rouge’ – the Phrygian cap – because this was after the French Revolution. Some points of interest here – the original phrase ‘Liberte, Equalite, Fraternite…’ ended ‘a la Morte’ and so the spear and red cap takes on a ‘until death’ symbolism. Also, Marianne, or Liberty, originated as Isis, but this connection remained for only those who knew. One more thing – the sunburst around the pyramid and all-seeing eye clearly suggest where all this symbolism originated – Egypt.
But then, still following my nose, I discovered that Marianne had only been the emblem of France since it became a republic, after the French Revolution. Before that, the emblem was a Rooster, used, not by the French, but by the Romans, as a pun on words: ‘gallus‘ means both ‘rooster’ and ‘Gaul’, a Frenchman.
There is another use of this image for the French: it is described in the story of Jesus that Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crowed. Remembering Jesus’s words, Peter kept his faith and so the rooster became a symbol of overcoming the Darkness of Doubt, at the time of approaching Light.
One can go round and round in circles when observing the symbolic nature of our world, but the best solution is usually the simplest – like reducing a theory to its simplest equation. In solving a mystery, it is sometimes useful to look at the most natural form of it…
Did the Roman slave crow like a rooster the moment he was made free? Did the ancient farmers and seafaring heroes see themselves as cock-o’-the-roost? Did the rituals of the pagan gods announce the dawn of creation to the world every year, as the roosters did every morning? Do both the Phrygian cap and the Rooster proclaim Freedom, Resurrection or something much more sanguin? (*see comment below: The Phrygian cap is emblematic of *death*. It refers to the phase of Goddess Cybele when she travels through the underworld, i.e. winter. It is traditionally red in reference to the annual sacrifice of nearly all the male animals. The legend of Attis, her consort, is about castration, the gruesome practice that allowed more male herd animals to be kept for meat and slaughter since they no longer fought. Roosters were caponized, rendered asexual. Attis’s story is also about his rebirth, so the cap is emblematic of life in the sense of ‘resurrection’. T.M.)
And then I saw something else familiar – the common, or garden, Gnome. The gnome is a little being who works tirelessly in your garden – the natural world – while you are asleep. His home is the toadstool…
The toadstool Fly-Agaric and other magic mushrooms are famous for their psych- otropic properties traditionally used by shaman, medicine men and wizards to have an altered state of mind and an ‘out-of-body’ experience. (*see comments below: “Agaric” is from the Scythian word for amadou. The Agarikon were a tribe named specifically for it. The Phrygian cap was felt, but not from animal hair; it was, specifically – amadou felt. Amadou is a tinder fungus that was used to stop bleeding. Because it was so useful and necessary, the Phrygians considered the fungus sacred. The funny little flopped-over peak was a handy pocket for carrying items such as a tinder kit and extra amadou. T.M.)
But this red toadstool is also called the ‘Death Cap’ and that association is more sinister because if this pagan symbol means death, then why is it still used in all the other modern associations? I came across another red cap in reference to Mithra, a Roman god adopted from the Persian pantheon and, before that, the Vedic traditions from India. This god was the binder of contracts and oaths and so it makes more sense when seen on the Seal of the American Senate and the dollar coin. It is still interesting how we find these old pagan symbols and myths in today’s top ensignia. The binding of oaths though was also connected to harvests and rituals of antiquity regarding the Vegetation gods, which inevitably involved sacrifices. Mithra became, amongst others, Attis in Phrygia, Turkey.
Mithras was adopted by the Judaic Priesthood of Moses under Josephus in Rome after the Fall of Jerusalem in 70AD. Mithras Sol Invictus was the underground political power house for establishing the new Roman Christian Church and later became the secret Masonic lodges of Europe. (see The Moses Legacy by Flavio Baliero).
The gnome then reminded me of the Seven Dwarfs, who, as you remember, rescued Snow White, the virginal maiden, from her death-like slumber (winter). (This fable is an analogy for the renewal of life).
They all wear the Phrygian cap, which, when one goes back to Attis wearing this cap (with his consort Cebele), reminds me again of the purpose of the pagan god – to represent the death of the Spirits of Nature during winter and the re-awakening, re-birth, rejuvenation or resurrection of Life in Spring.
Lastly, the famous red-capped, magical, legendary figure is of course, Father Christmas – that old pagan bringer-of-gifts (offerings) in the dead of winter, riding his flying reindeers (that eat Fly-Agaric, apparently) to herald the new life of Spring by bringing in the evergreen tree.
And Santa wears a Phrygian cap!
Original writing by Wendy Salter, with references and links and thanks to Talzhemir Mrr for his comments.
**The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer