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 with sex."2 

The Corybantes 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.


(1) N. Keele, "Introduction to the Amygdala."
(2) V.S. Ramachandran and S. Blakeslee, Phantoms In The Brain. New York, 1998. p.186.