1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Taurobolium
TAUROBOLIUM, the sacrifice of a bull, usually in connexion with the worship of the Great Mother of the Gods, though not limited to it. Of oriental origin, its first known performance in Italy occurred in A.D. 134, at Puteoli, in honour of Venus Caelestis. Prudentius describes it in Peristephanon (x.,1066 ff.): the priest of the Mother, clad in a toga worn cinctu Gabino, with golden crown and fillets on his head, takes his place in a trench covered by a platform of planks pierced with fine holes, on which a bull, magnificent with flowers and gold, is slain. The blood rains through the platform on to the priest below, who receives it on his face, and even on his tongue and palate, and after the baptism presents himself before his fellow-worshippers purified and regenerated, and receives their salutations and reverence.
The taurobolium in the 2nd and 3rd centuries was usually performed as a measure for the welfare of the Emperor, Empire, or community, its date frequently being the 24th of March, the Dies Sanguinis of the annual festival of the Great Mother and Attis. In the late 3rd and the 4th centuries its usual motive was the purification or regeneration of an individual, who was spoken of as renatus in aeternum, reborn for eternity, in consequence of the ceremony (Corp. Insc. Lat. vi. 510-512). When its efficacy was not eternal, its effect was considered to endure for twenty years. It was also performed as the fulfilment of a vow, or by command of the goddess herself, and the privilege was limited to no sex nor class. The place of its performance at Rome was near the site of St Peter's, in the excavations of which several altars and inscriptions commemorative of taurobolia were discovered.
The taurobolium was probably a sacred drama symbolizing the relations of the Mother and Attis (q.v.). The descent of the priest into the sacrificial foss symbolized the death of Attis, the withering of the vegetation of Mother Earth; his bath of blood and emergence the restoration of Attis, the rebirth of vegetation. The ceremony' may be the spiritualized descent of the primitive oriental practice of drinking or being baptized in the blood of an animal, based upon a belief that the strength of brute creation could be acquired by consumption of its substance or contact with its blood. In spite of the phrase renatus in aeternum, there is no reason to suppose that the ceremony was in any way borrowed from Christianity.