I. “Set the egg before you, the God in his beginning.
And behold it.
And incubate it with the magical warmth of your gaze.”
II. “And I am the egg that surrounds and nurtures the seed of the God in me.”
Carl Jung, “The Red Book”
In the Ancient Greek Orphic tradition, Protogonos (First-born, Primeval), also known as Phanes (Manifestor) or Eros, is the first god hatched from the Cosmic Egg, which had a serpent wrapped around it. That primordial egg was believed to have come from Chronos (Time) and Ananke (Necessity) or Nyx (Night). Like the sun, he was imagined to drive a chariot and be the source of light, but unlike the sun he was considered invisible, perhaps like the yolk inside an egg. In an Orphic hymn “To Protogonos,” he is called “ineffable, hidden and brilliant”, “forever in whirring motion.” In this tradition heaven and earth were believed to have been made of the two halves of the eggshell.
Similarly, as Cirlot notes in his Dictionary of Symbols, in Hinduism Brahma hatched from an egg; also in Chinese belief the first humans sprung from an egg dropped by Tien to float upon the waters. The Egyptians were fascinated by the idea of “a secret animals growth [coming] about inside the closed shell” (Cirlot). Therefore they equalled the egg with the hidden, occult phenomena. Earle de Motte summarizes the role of the egg in Hermopolitan cosmogenesis in this way in his Egyptian Religion and Mysteries:
“… life in potentiality was the Cosmic Egg, laid on the primeval mound (the Island) by the ‘Great Cackler’ (Ibis, as Thoth). Ra … is said to have emerged from this Egg and created all life.”
The great symbolist Rene Guenon also wrote on the World Egg that it contains in seed all that the Cosmos will contain in its fully manifested state, all that is essential to create life. Ancient rituals of initiation placed the would-initiates in caves so that they can incubate and wait for a vision, which would bring them rebirth in the upper world “in the same way as the chick crawls out of the egg.” (quoted after The Book of Symbols by ARAS).
Guenon adds that the World Egg is the navel of the world, occupying its very centre and radiating life outwards, like the Greek omphalos. In Mysterium Coniunctionis, Jung quotes from the alchemical treatise Turba Philosophorum: “The sun-point is the germ of the egg, which is in the yolk, and that germ is set in motion by the hen’s warmth.” “The Book of Symbols” summarizes the egg meaning in this way:
“The egg is the mysterious ‘center’ around which unconscious energies move in spiral-like evolution, gradually bringing the vital substance to light.”
Or, as it was put in theosophy, “within the egg, the universe is breathed out and breathed in.”
Juan Eduardo Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols
Rene Guenon, Fundamental Symbols: The Universal Language of Sacred Science
C.G. Jung, The Red Book
The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images, by Archive of Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS)
The Orphic Hymns, translation, introduction and notes by Apostolos N. Athanassakis and Benjamin M. Wolkow