Named for its almond shape, the
amygdala is located just behind the ears, deep inside the
temporal lobe. Like the hub of a
wheel, it is circuited to every major portion of the brain, with
its primarily function the promotion of emotions, especially
those in the range of fear.
The 'Ma' goddess
of Asia Minor, later called Niobe, resembled Ishar in the Semitic
world. In Egypt she was Astarte. In Phrygia, part of Anatolia,
now Turkey, the cult of the Great Mother was called Kubila or Mater
Kubila, and Agdistis, 'she of the rock,' issuing from waterfalls
and caves. This is the goddess the Greeks called Cybele, a castrated
hermaphrodite from whose severed genitals an almond tree sprouted.
The amygdala commands many
responses to fright, such as facial expression, direction
of eye gaze, edginess, startle,
and freeze. In concert with the hypothalamus, it speeds up heart
rate, raises blood pressure, and slows
breathing--as in the case of holding one's breath when frightened.
Gut tightens, nausea rises, limbs are trembling.
From where the
Phrygians came remains a mystery, although it is believed that
they arrived in Anatolia around the time of the Trojan War (12th century
B.C.). We do know that they excelled in crafts. One of
the oldest examples of their script, derived from
the Phoenician alphabet, refers to their king, Midas, whom we
know from the fairy tale in which everything he touched turned
into gold, a talent that became a curse.
There is strong evidence that,
once programmed, the amygdala never forgets, setting up
the condition known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This phenomenon can not result only from combat fatigue, or manifest
as flashbacks from psychotropic drugs, but from any traumatic
experience, such as rape or incest.
At harvest time,
Nana, a river goddess, caught one of the almonds in her lap,
and gave birth to the vegetation god Attis. Cybele became sexually
attracted to her grandson. When he refused her, she drove him
insane, resulting in his self-castration beneath, and transformation
into a pine tree. Attis was one of the so-called "dying
gods," precursors of Christ Crucified.
The amygdala is also "a
common locus of temporal lobe epilepsy."1 While
there are many interesting reports of epileptic seizures triggering
religious experiences, when travelling an amgydalic route
seizures more often lead to personalities "obsessed with
writing, drawing, arguing philosophy, or, rarely, being preoccupied
were priests of Cybele, known for their wild celebrations. In
ancient Rome, Attis had a similar cult that used drugs and dancing
to reach states of fervor, in some cases castrating themselves,
in emulation of Attis.
Sensitive to visual stimuli,
the amygdala also directly accesses olfactory inputs, harking
back to a time when when the keen perception and taxonomy of
scents were crucial to survival. Whatever the reaction or display,
the amygdala plays an important role in how behavior is patterned.
Also known to
be Cybele's priests were the Dactyls, dwarfs who lived underground.
The Dactyls were masters of smelting precious metals, a process
in which cyanide may be used, with its odor of bitter almonds.