Sunday, November 24, 2013

Phanes: Shedding Light to ‘New Life’

I hope I got it right Phanes Protogonus.
To Protogonos [i.e. Phanes]
Fumigation from Myrrh.

O mighty Protogonos (First-Begotten), hear my prayer,
twofold, egg-born, and wandering through the air;
bull-roarer, glorying in thy golden wings,
from whom the race of Gods and mortal springs.
Ericapaeus, celebrated power,
ineffable, occult, all-shining flower.
‘Tis thine from darksome mists to pure the sight,
all-spreading splendour, pure and holy light;
hence, Phanes, called the glory of the sky,
on waving pinions through the world you fly.
Priepos, dark-eyed splendour, thee I sing,
genial, all-prudent, ever blessed king.
With joyful aspect on these rites divine
and holy consecration (telete) propitious shine."

- Orphic Hymn to Phanes (Source)
This one is among my most favorite gods in underground Greek mythology. Like most of the other Protogenoi, Phanes did not quite reach the mainstream celebrity status of the much younger gods at these present times. Nevertheless, it did not stop him from being one of the most important deities. Just so you know, Phanes’ awesomeness was enough to create order in the early chaotic universe… from a broken egg shell, literally.

Before anything else: the Orphic ‘mystery’. The myths of Phanes came from a set of beliefs known to us as Orphic Mysteries. However, whether this was just a sect of the Hellenismos (the belief in the Olympian Gods) or a different religion entirely, I am not so sure. The mysteries were said to have been named after the mythical bard, Orpheus, who was said to have established them himself.

According to Timeless Myths:
Behind the myth, is the religion of salvation for the human soul.
(Beautiful! I am a Catholic, and I’ve always believed in salvation, too!)

Birth of the 'First-Born'

Phanes was a divinity representing the first principle of life. He was generally received by the people and the gods alike as Protogonus, meaning “the first-born.” However, since there are so many conflicting stories about creation, there also so many different stories of how Phanes was… well… born first (Seriously, being the obsessive compulsive person that I am, the thought of so many conflicts makes my head ache).

And so, I had to settle to that one version that I had read from a blog called The Mirror Palace (which is also an attempt to reconcile varying myths. Thank you for making my work so much easier!). It goes like this:
… In the beginning, and for unknowable eons, all that existed was Chaos; the deep mists of the void. Chaos existed, and nothing else: she did not breathe, she did not think, she did not live. And yet stirring in her misty womb—perhaps over hundreds of thousands of years; perhaps for even longer—were the Protogenos gods Ananke and Khronos-Aeon. Nature, of course, abhors a vacuum; and so it was the eternal pull of inevitability that pulsed together in the barely-there body of Chaos until, finally, the moment arose and Ananke and Khronos-Aeon were born, tangled together.

From Khronos-Aeon and Ananke’s violent, and yet utterly sexless, embrace, Phanes’ egg was produced; it grew in Ananke’s womb until the time came for it to emerge. And yet there was, truly, no way for the egg to emerge: there was yet no Phanes, no Protogenos pull to reproduce – and so they could not, did not, reproduce. It was only when Phanes hatched from his egg, deep in Ananke’s body, that they became truly, sexually formed: and at that moment, Ananke was torn apart by the immense pressure of generation, life, sex – the immense pressure that was Phanes. Thus, now, Ananke’s divinity rested with Khronos’ still, but she was utterly formless—more so, even, than Chaos.
I imagined Gundam Seed's Seed Mode just by reading this. Yay! 
Phanes’ arrival—his necessary arrival—into the cosmos kicked everything into action. The other Protogenos offspring that had been stirring within Chaos were instantly born – Erebus, Nyx, Tartarus and Gaea; darkness, night, the stormy pit beneath the earth and the earth itself, respectively. Phanes pulsed, everywhere: the Protogenos gods crashed together and life exploded in the far-reaching darkness of the cosmos.
Smooth and easy, eh?

A Fan's Guide to Phanes

It was not only the Orphics who venerated Phanes so much. The Romans also honored him as the FABRICATOR MUNDI (World’s Creator). Considering his importance in the mythological history, it was just natural for this guy to have quite a huge fan base.

I’m the king of the world! (The line stayed with me since the first time I watched Titanic. Teehee. Sorry.)

As the creator god, Phanes crowned himself as the first king of the universe (Well, without anyone else in the cosmos, who was there to disagree?). I have also read somewhere that he started the evolutionary progression of the dynasties of the Vasilei (“Kings”), which must have included Nyx, then Uranus, then Cronus and finally, Zeus.

He possessed cosmic powers that brought light into the darkness and order out of chaos. It is believed that by his centuries-old battle with Chaos, the creation of birds took place as the result.

The power of love. Phanes was virtually the same as Hesiod’s Elder Eros, and different from the Younger Eros that people are more aware of. Believe me, there are so many discussions whether they’re one and the same or altogether different. For the purpose of this article, let’s just consider them as different entities, okay (read: please)?

Whereas the Younger Eros presided over desire, Phanes (as Eros, oh I’m getting tired) was the primeval god of procreation and generation of new life. It was basically what his main role in mythology was – to be the driving force behind reproduction in the early cosmos. We might as well consider him the god of love, sex, and magic:

(It was a Justin Timberlake original but this version seemed more wholesome for me and my blog. Still a catchy song isn’t it?)

With his power, he ignited passion between the gods Erebus and Nyx; which led to the universe’s first sexual intercourse, and hence, to the universe’s first child. Although Phanes had no child directly from his own seed, he still considered Nyx his own daughter. Even more so, he deemed himself to be the father of all the gods, and the creator of men and animals.

Brighter than the sun. (I swear I would have put Colbie Caillat’s song here had I not been afraid I’m exploiting YouTube already.)

Aside from being the god of the lovey-dovey thingies, Phanes also appeared as the uroboric (whatever that means) male-female deity of light and goodness. Well, it makes real sense especially when your name literally means “bringer of light.”

He was the great force which both conceals and reveals all the forms that exist in the natural world. He sometimes manifests himself as a blaze of limitless light. Figuratively speaking, he:
makes visible, gives light to, the rest of creation.  He is sometimes called light itself.
(Thanks Hellenic Gods for that one!)

His light was so powerful and encompassing that it makes Aether’s light just a camera flash and Helios’ flicker of a firefly.

The dude Phanes must have been a very private god, too. As the most reliable ancient sources claim, he uses his light to make himself invisible even through the eyes of the other gods. And so the gods started to call him Antauge or “reflecting light.”

Debating the Deity?

Discussing Phanes’ disputable nature could be a pain in a**. Seriously, the dude could have also been the god of identity crisis.

A tale of two sexes. Phanes was always being described as a beautiful bi-gendered god; not as a gay man or a gay woman or a transgender (Don’t worry, I have nothing against you); but a being literally having two sexes: a male and a female. A more proper term would be hermaphroditic (See, Phanes was a hermaphrodite even before the term was coined. He was even older than Hermes and Aphrodite themselves. Remember, Phanes is ancient stuff, guys).

Stephanie Goodart, SRC mentioned in her article Shedding Light on Some Orphic Gods:
Phanes as a hermaphroditic being represents his role as the definitive creator god. He has within him “the seed of all the gods.”
As a male, he was also called Ericapaeus, meaning power, which makes so much sense in him. Also as a male, the Orphics equated Phanes with the Elder Eros (not to be confused with Younger Eros, Aphrodite’s minion) of Hesiod's Theogony, who emerged at the beginning of time alongside Chaos and Gaea.

On the other hand, Phanes also had quite a handful of aliases as a woman. First among these was Metis (“thought”). The Titans Oceanus and Tethys must have gotten the inspiration for the name of one of their daughters from her (or him?). Under the name Thesis, Phanes became known as the primordial GODDESS of creation (I’m quite thinking of the days when Phanes had to choose whether he/she wanted to be the Phanes, the god, or Thesis the goddess, when it comes to creation). As if that’s not enough, he as her mated with another Protogenos Hydros, the 100% pure god of fresh water.

Lastly, Phanes also manifested himself as Physis, the goddess who presided over the origin and the ordering of nature. She, among all the other deities, deserved to be called MOTHER NATURE. What’s more, Physis reached the much-coveted fame in Rome as Natura, the goddess of nature.

A Trip to Persia and Rome to the world. Recent studies show a relative connection between our god Phanes and the much more popular Persian idol, Mithras.

For the benefit of every one, Mithras was a god of a mystery religion (see?) known as the Mithraic Mysteries which a quite a fascination to everyone in ancient Rome (I’m dreading that Candy Crush will reach this status in the near future. Creepy).  He was another cosmic deity who rules over light and goodness. However, owing to the cult's secrecy, modern researches possess almost no literary evidence about the beliefs of Mithraism.

According to Tertullian, there is evidence that the cult of Mithras in Rome was influenced by the Orphics’ belief in the creator god. Modern people might understand this if I say that Mithras’s story could have been a remake of Phanes’ (oh, don’t get me started in movie remakes).

In the Mithraic cult, Mithras was believed to have been born inside a rock from which all the cosmos had sprung. Mysterium (a mystery website – not a specialty store; also not a theme park attraction) says:
… the rock from which Mithras is born does indeed represent the cosmos is proven by the snake that entwines it: for this image evokes unmistakably the famous Orphic myth of the snake-entwined "cosmic egg" out of which the universe was formed when the creator-god Phanes emerged from it at the beginning of time. Indeed, the Mithraists themselves explicitly identified Mithras with Phanes, as we know from an inscription found in Rome and from the iconography of a Mithraic monument located in England.
Now, look at the sculptures:
What do you think?

Just to end this part, let’s just say that Phanes, like most of the other gods’ (whose own aspect conflictions are a theme in Rick Riordan’s Heroes of Olympus series), can alter certain aspects of his persona depending on the culture of the people which worshipped him. Phanes was a supreme god after all; it shouldn’t be that hard for him. Right, eh?

And I guess that settles it.

Phanes in the Later Years: First 'Love' Never Dies

I know, I know, the title for this part’s already a cliché. But then it became very applicable for Phanes who remained an active, unseen power even after the Titanomachy.

One of the first things that Zeus did when he became boss was to secure his ultimate rule of the cosmos. He sought out Phanes to the edges of creation. This was, of course, no small feat since the creator god was invisible even through the eyes of the gods. Regardless, Zeus still found him, and devoured his Essence (really, how different is he from his father?) in order to assume his primal cosmic power and redistribute it amongst a new generation of gods--the Olympians which he sired.

I did a little extension to this story (Beware: no reliable sources, just me):
Sitting on Zeus’ belly, Phanes’ Essence as the Creator remained a sentient force. In retaliation, it put a curse on Zeus causing him the insatiable desire to create, create, and create. And hence, his multitude of children from multitude of women.
After that, it was said that Phanes’ Essence was reincarnated with Dionysus’ birth by Zeus (another looong story). In order to save the godling from getting killed by the furious Hera, Hermes snatched Dionysus from his nurse Ino. As if fate was playing a game with them, Hermes with Dionysus ran into Hera during their escape (Oh my god, this reminds me of an intense scene in a soap opera).

In a fleeting moment, Hermes disguised himself as Phanes. Not knowing about the fraudulence, Hera regarded him courteously and let him go on his way. It was also in this form that Hermes gave Dionysus in the care of Rhea in her palace on Mount Dindymene, until the boy was ready to become a full-on god.

No wonder, even the gods are Phanes aficionados.

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