|The Orphic Egg|
Aristotle stated that “...all men naturally desire to know.” Knowing, however, means different things to different people, and knowing can be dangerous. There is also the thrill of knowing what you believe others do not know and cannot understand. Thus the Mysteries and the initiates of many ages and cultures came into being, along with their rituals, and the symbols which both concealed and revealed their secrets.
To understand the ancient mysteries one can turn to the symbolism which originally concealed them. One such symbol is the Orphic Egg, an egg with a snake wound around it from bottom to top. It is the ancient and foremost symbol of the Orphic Mysteries, which were named after Orpheus, a legendary singer in Greek myth (500 BC). He could charm animals, stones, and trees by his songs. With his music he passed Cerberus, the three headed dog that guards the entrance to Hades, and rescued his wife. The Greeks borrowed ancient rituals and named them after Orpheus, who became the figurehead for a mystery religion promising life after death and the inspiration of divine power. Little is known about the people who originated these rituals.
In the esoteric tradition the Orphic Egg represents the soul of the philosopher, with the serpent symbolizing the Mysteries. The Orphic Egg represents things both bound and infinite. It signifies the Cosmos as encircled by the fiery Creative Spirit. Like other ancient symbols, this one is, in part, also a reflection of the mysteries of existence as seen in nature. If we compare this mystic egg-and-serpent symbol with scientific information about the path of the moon, we find great similarities between the two: The egg, a symbol for the earth, around which the snake (a feminine symbol, as is the moon) winds itself. The spiraling snake resembles the path our moon takes - the head and the tip of the serpent’s tail representing the moon’s position at its apparent halt in orbit.
A similar symbol, the World Egg (not bound by a serpent), is regarded as holding the seed from which all things will manifest. The earliest known idea of "egg-shaped cosmos" comes directly from Hindu scriptures. The Sanskrit term for this symbol is Brahmanda, where Brahm = Cosmos and Anda = Egg. In Greek myths, Persephone, the great goddess of night and the underworld, brought forth the World Egg. As it cracked in half, half of the shell became Heaven; the other half fell to become Earth. In many cultures the egg is a symbol for the Earth, and snakes are associated with the moon. This supports the idea that astronomical patterns such as that which the moon makes around the earth were observed, understood, and symbolized.
The idea that Earth hatched from an egg is common in many traditions. To the ancient Ukrainians the golden yolk is the sun god, the white shell the White Goddess. Similar symbolism is found in Phoenician, Celtic, Greek, Tibetan, Hindu, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian, and Siberian iconography. Everywhere today the egg is a well-known symbol of life and fertility; the Easter egg symbolizes the renewal of life that comes with spring. And so I reflect on another egg mystery, as Parkes Cadman said “What is more supernatural than an egg yolk turning into a chicken?”
About Symbologist Michelle Snyder
Michelle earned her post-graduate degree at the University of Wales. She is an author, columnist, publisher, artist, and teacher. Her artwork, inspired by her love of symbolism and folklore, has appeared in galleries from Massachusetts to California. Michelle is co-owner of White Knight Studio with her husband Jay Robert.
Books by Michelle, available at Amazon:
Symbology ReVision: Unlocking Secret Knowledge
Symbology: Hidden in Plain Sight
Symbology: My Art and Symbols
Symbology: My Art and Symbols
Symbology: Fairy Tales Uncovered
Symbology: Decoding Classic Images
Symbology: World of Symbols