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Collyridianism, the Virgin Mary and the Divine Feminine

January 6, 2018

 

Collyridianism, the Virgin Mary and the Divine Feminine

 

Collyridianism was an obscure Christian movement, considered heretical by the Catholic Church, its followers apparently worshiped the virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, like a goddess. The main source of information on this sect comes from Epiphanius of Salamis, who wrote about them in his work entitled Panarion, about 375 AD.  Most of the early heresies were Trinitarian and Christological in nature, but Collyridianism stood alone as a heresy that sought to deify the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 

Little is known about the movement's theology. Not even the names of the group's leaders are mentioned by writers of the time.

 

According to Epiphanius, some Saudi (largely pagan) women have syncretized their indigenous beliefs with the cult of Mary by offering her cakes and breads. Little is known about the origin of Collyridianism, but Epiphanius asserts that it was largely practiced in Thrace and Scythia.  He coined the expression Collyridians which has the meaning of "cake-eater-sect."  Leontius of Byzance had a different name for them. He called them "Philomarianites," meaning Mary-lovers (PG 87, 1364). 

 

The Collyridians settled in Arabia. Saint Epiphanius, who said that the Collyridians women taxed the Virgin a 'foolish cult', establishing a parallel with Ashtoreth, a Phoenician goddess denounced this feminine movement as heresy.

 

Astarte or Ashtoreth (Greek: Ἀστάρτη, Astártē) is the Hellenized form of the Middle Eastern goddess Ishtar, worshipped from the Bronze Age through classical antiquity. The name is particularly associated with her worship in the ancient Levant among the Canaanites and Phoenicians. She was also celebrated in Egypt following the importation of Levantine cults there. The name Astarte is sometimes also applied to her cults in Mesopotamian cultures like Assyria and Babylonia.

 

In his book The Virgin, the author Geoffrey Ashe puts the hypothesis that Collyridianism was a parallel religion to Christianity at its time, founded by the first generation of followers of the Virgin Mary, whose doctrines were later included by the Catholic Church at the Council of Ephesus in 432.

 

The scholar Averil Cameron was more skeptical about saying that worship did not even exist, relying on the fact that Epiphanius of Salamis is the only source and later authors simply refer back to his only text.

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