Phanes: archetypal image of the creative force


Phanes, Francesco de Rossi, Il Salviati–16th century. US public domain via wikimedia
Phanes is an ancient image of the creative force. In the image above we see Phanes: eagle’s wings, cloven feet, of both sexes. A serpent coils round him, crowning his head, encircling an egg engulfed in fire.   He stands on fire, hair of fire.  He holds fire in one hand and a staff in the other, encircled by the Zodiac.  On his chest we see the goat, the lion, and the ram.

Phanes is from the Ancient Greek φαίνω, phainō meaning ‘I bring to light.’ Phanes is called Protogonos “First-born.”  He is related to Eriepaios, Metis, Ge, Eros, Dionysos. Carl Jung calls him the ‘Father of Eros.’ Chambers Guthrie (1935) describes Phanes:

He “is imagined as marvelously beautiful, a figure of shining light, with golden wings on his shoulders, four eyes, and the heads of various animals. He is of both sexes, since he is to create the race of the gods unaided.”

What follows is the Orphic Genealogy as told by Liz Locke. In this passage you will see that Phanes emerges from a cosmic egg. He bears a daughter Nyx (Night), and from their union Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Sky) are born.

“First there was Chronos (Time). Out of Time came Aither (Ether), Chaos (Unorder), and Erebos (Darkness). Time fashioned an Egg inside Aither. The Egg split into two parts and from it emerged Phanes… Phanes bore a daughter, Nyx (Night), with whom S/he mated and to whom she gave the gift of prophecy. Nyx gave her oracles in a cave guarded by a goddess called Anankt (Necessity), the first law-giver for the gods. Phanes the gave his scepter to Nyx, making her the second ruler of the universe. Nyx bore Gaia (Earth) and Ouranos (Sky), who together produced the Titans– Kronos, Rhea, Okeanos (Ocean), Mnemosyne (Memory), Themis (Sovereignty), and the rest. Gaia bore the Morai (Fates), the Hechatoncheires (Hundred-Handers), and the Cyclops, who fashioned and bestowed the thunderbolts. Nyx passed Phanes’ scepter to Ouranos, who was castrated by Kronos (Nyx’s favorite grandchild), and from whose semen arose Aphrodite, the essence of sex. The matings of Kronos and Rhea produced the generation of gods known as the Olympians, among whom was Zeus…”

In the chapter titled ‘The Concept of Libido’ in Symbols of Transformation, Carl Jung speaks of Phanes, illustrating the archetypal nature of the creative force:

“Numerous mythological and philosophical attempts have been made to formulate and visualize the creative force which man knows only by subjective experience. To give but a few examples, I would remind the reader of the cosmogonic significance of Eros in Hesiod, and also of the Orphic figure of Phanes, the ‘Shining One,’ the first-born, the ‘Father of Eros.’  In Orphic terms, Phanes also denotes Priapos, a god of love, androgynous, and equal to the Theban Dionysus Lysios. The Orphic meaning of Phanes is the same as that of the Indian Kama, the God of love, which is also a cosmogonic principle” (para. 198, emphasis added).

Sonu Shamdasani speaks of Jung’s copy of Ancient Fragments by Isaac Cory. In this book Jung underlined a section containing a passage regarding Phanes: “they imagine as the god a conceiving and conceived egg, or a white garment, or a cloud, because Phanes springs forth from these” Phanes is an important image for Carl Jung. Sonu Shamdasani says Phanes is Jung’s God. In the Red Book Philemon describes Phanes as follows:

“Phanes is the God who rises agleam from the waters.

Phanes is the smile of dawn.

Phanes is the resplendent day

He is the immortal present.

He is the gushing streams.

He is the soughing wind.

He is hunger and satiation.

He is love and lust.

He is mourning and consolation.

He is promise and fulfillment,

He is the light that illuminates every darkness.

He is the eternal day.

He is the silver light of the moon.

He is the flickering stars.

He is the shooting star that flashes and falls and lapses.

He is the stream of shooting stars that returns every year.

He is the returning sun and moon.

He is the trailing star that brings wars and noble wine.

He is the good and fullness of the year,

He fulfills the hours with life-filled enchantment.

He is love’s embrace and whisper,

He is the warmth of friendship,

He is the hope that enlivens the void.

He is the magnificence of all renewed suns.

He is the joy at every birth.

He is the blooming flowers.

He is the velvety butterfly’s wing,

He is the scent of blooming gardens that fills the nights.

He is the song of joy.

He is the tree of light.

He is perfection, every-thing done better.

He is everything euphonious.

He is the well-measured.

He is the sacred number.

He is the promise of life…

(Black Book 7, pp. 16-9).


  1. Liz Greene, The Astrological Neptune and the Quest for Redemption- 2000
  2. William Keith Chambers Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion: A Study of the Orphic Movement- 1935, p. 80 cited in the Red Book (cited in the notes in the Red Book)
  3. Carl Jung, Cw 5, Symbols of Transformation (in US Pubic Domain, first published 1912)
  4. Liz Locke, Orpheus and Orphism: Cosmology and Sacrifice at the Boundary.
  5. Sonu Shamdasani, The Red Book: A Reader’s Edition  by C. G. Jung,
  6. Isaac Cory, Ancient Fragments of the Phoenician, Chaldean, Egyptian, Tryian, Carthaginian, Indian, Persian, and Other Writers- 1832