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VMs: A Possible Interpretation of the Four Figures, one with an Egg
A Suggested Interpretation of the Four Figures and the
Greetings to the List
I have been looking at the circular illustration with
concentric written characters surrounding the four
figures in the center of the page, one holding an egg
or a similar round or spherical object, which I will
call an egg for simplicity?s sake and other reasons I
will soon explain. I have been looking at it to find
ways to relate this illustration to other themes I can
see in the VMs.
My initial instinct is to try to interpret the four
figures and the egg in the center of the concentric
circles of characters, hoping that might shed some
light on the possible content or intent of the written
text. First I will describe what I see, then I will
suggest what I think it might signify.
In the center of the illustration is a small circle
with a dot in the center, surrounded by an irregular
scalloped cloud or flower-like form with twelve lobes.
There are four figures arranged in a circle around
the central cloud or flower-shaped object. Written
labels extend from the central cloudlike object to the
figures. Three of the labels extend to the hand of
one of the back-facing figures; the label nearest the
figure with the egg, however, exists without reference
to any of the figures. Other written labels seem to
be deliberately placed near each of the figures; one
of the back-facing figures has two labels extending
from his hands, and one label extending from the
central cloud. The figure opposite the one with the
egg has two labels extending from one hand (I will
explain why I ascribe this one a feminine gender in a
moment); but it is not clear that both labels ?belong?
to her; one label floating over her head and other
extending from a back-facing figure may actually both
?belong? to the back-facing figures.. The figure
with the egg has only one label which extends from his
general vicinity to the central cloud-flower shape.
One human-like figure appears primary because of
several differences between himself and the other
figures. He is holding an egg, so he is the only
figure holding an object. He is also pointing to and
looking at the figure directly opposite him, who
returns his gaze, while receiving to her hand one of
the labels extending from the cloud-shaped central
object. The two figures to his sides have their
backs to the central figure and to us and look
outward. One of the back-facing figures has both
hands pointing at a different label which seem to
extend from her hands. The other back-facing figure
has two labels near each of its arms and is receiving
to his hand one of the labels extending from the
central cloud shape.
First I counted the labels associated with the
figures. I counted eight labels, total. Then I
looked back to my research on the number eight in the
Second Bool of Occult Philosophy by Cornelius Agrippa
and found a reference to Orpheus, who called on eight
gods: Sun, Moon, Fire, Water, Earth, Heaven, Night,
and Phanes. I wish to thank Jean for introducing me
to the significance of Phanes on another Voynich list,
although I did not go much further with my research at
that time. This time, I was even more curious about
Phanes, since I have rarely come across this name
before learning about the Voynich Manuscript and
researching the number eight. I wish to thank Jorge
for helping me think along this line; perhaps due to
his prompting, this association reminds me of the
2x2x2 sequence leading up to eight.
One ancient system of beliefs built upon the idea that
all that exists is created in diads; that for every
force that exists, there is a masculine and feminine
component, and that all existence holds together in
the tension that exists in the urge these diads
experience to be united. This is one of the beliefs
of a certain sect of Gnosticism which subscribes to
the teachings of Orpheus.
Phanes, as an Orphic god or demiurge, is a prominent
character in Gnostic theogony, the story of the
creation of the gods.. I?m most likely not the only
one who has come across this fact, and I would be
happy to read whatever anyone else has written on the
subject of Phanes references in the Voynich Ms to
date. Here is what I found about Phanes: He was said
to have created the three worlds, the intellectual,
celestial, and material out of Chaos, dividing Night
from himself while simultaneously forming many
generations of diads of gods from his emanation. Some
of his other names are: Demiurge, Protogonus, Metis,
Phanes initiated the creation of the worlds by
ordering chaos: this action is described as the
breaking open of an egg. There are some very mystical
descriptions of this event, but I am sure being the
earthbound Taurus that I am, that in attempting to
express it in my own words, I will manage to make the
mystery of the creation of the universe seem as
numinous as a recipe for cooking an omelette.
Therefore I apologize in advance if I make this
material sound trivial when, if it is approached with
the proper sense of awe, it is actually fraught with
deep cosmic, symbolic and spiritual significance.
In the instant of creation, ?Orpheus likened Chaos to
an egg? ?Clement, Homilies VIiv671.
So for a moment let us permit ourselves to imagine
that the central figure of the four-figure
illustration can be identified with Phanes and his
egg, and let us see whether this creation myth is able
to shed any more light on our illustration. I believe
it was Nick who observed that the egg actually looks
somewhat more spherical than ovoid.
Proclus says in Euclid, ii.42; Parm., vii.153, and in
his Commentary on the Timææus: iii. 160, 'The
spherical is most closely allied to the all.. . . This
shape, therefore, is the paternal type of the
universe, and reveals itself in the occult diacosm
Which is scholarese for ?The perfection of the sphere
has to do with this whole creation scenario.? Forgive
Phanes is gesturing toward the figure directly
opposite him in the circle; it is here his gaze is
directed. If we follow his gaze, we find our track
interrupted by the shape in the exact center of the
illustration: for a moment, let us call it a dot
inside a circle inside a cloud. Does this object have
any possible significance to the Orphic creation myth?
You know what I?m about to say. I have the feeling
it just might.
Having cracked the egg open, the eggshells were
divided in two, becoming the heavens and the earth: I
promise, we will get back to this. The contents of
the egg were likewise divided into two, separating
into a round inner, fertilized mass, surrounded by a
luminous, opalescent cloud-like mist.
Damascius, in Quææst., 380 quoted Orpheus as calling
the egg the 'Brilliant Vesture' or the 'Cloud'.
It seems possible to me that the flower-cloud object
in the center of the illustration is actually an
opened egg; and the echo of the creation myth sequence
suggested by the gaze and gesture of the Phanes figure
bears this out.
This is not quite clear to me, but it seems possible
that the twelve lobes on the cloud-like form represent
the fact that each of these beings (Phanes, Night) was
said to have three forms and given three names, or
perhaps that the creation itself was thought to occur
on three levels: The intellectual, the celestial, and
I now have to back up for a moment and explain that at
the precise moment of creation, the feminine
counterpart of masculine Phanes was formed; she was
his mate, not by marriage, but by instantaneous
creation, evidently because of the Orphic necessity
for dualism, expressed in this instance by
opposing-gender diads. Her name was Night. The other
two figures, with their backs to Phanes and Night,
would possibly be Heaven and Earth, formed by the
separation of the remaining halves of the eggshell.
Note that each of them are pointing to or flanked by
two labels, perhaps indicating names or descriptions
of their own progeny.
Hermias, in Phaedra, p 141, quotes Orpheus again:
?And none could gaze on Phanes with their eyes, save
only Night alone. The others all, amazed, beheld the
sudden Light in Space.?
And this may very well explain why the figure opposite
Phanes, Night, is the only one of the four who is
looking at him; the other two are looking away,
perhaps at the sudden light in space.
Proclus, in Cratylus p 79, says of this grouping of
diads at the creation of the gods, ?The boundless
unweariedly revolved in a circle.?
Which might explain the arrangement of the four
figures in a circle.
There are many variations of the creation story after
this point. They refer to creatures both as familiar
and terrible in myth as the cyclops, the Titans, the
many-eyed, and so on. Jupiter and Saturn come into
the picture, Venus and her shell, etc. But the simple
number of eight gods that Orpheus relies on, as quoted
by Agrippa, interest me most, because of the number
of labels in the Voynich illustration. So, Phanes
paired with Night; the two of them were parents to
eggshell-children Heaven (Uranus?but not the planet,
which was not discovered or named until the
seventeenth century) and Earth (Gaia). Although the
myths vary on the points of which gods were created by
whom in what order, the next four gods named by
Agrippa are Moon and Sun, Water and Fire.
It is my hope that this myth will help us get a better
grasp of the possible significance of this
illustration while perhaps providing additional
context clues to the encrypted text on this page.
I am still researching Orphic beliefs about the origin
of Sun and Moon; I welcome any of the outstanding
researchers on this list who would care to join me and
see what we can discover together. In the meantime, I
will be sure to keep you updated if I can find any
more material which seems to bear on this subject. I
would expect to find the labels for Sun and Moon, if
anywhere in this illustration, among the four labels
emanating from the hands of the figures of Earth and
Perhaps somewhat in contradiction to this creation
story: in ancient science, fire is thought to be a
partner of air (Heaven) and water is thought to be a
partner of Earth. This is because fire leaps and
reaches toward the sky, thus demonstrating the nature
of a diad; water likewise falls to earth,
demonstrating her desire for union with her partner.
I hope this is of interest.
"I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing, than to teach ten thousand stars how not to dance."
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