The mask symbolizes our double. Or Soul/Sulphur. Not only, we must know that by Romans this symbol was interpreted as a sign of human sacrifice, Dionysius of Halicarnassus says: “To Ade – son of Chronos – given heads, to the father given men”. Masks – and even candles – from Heracles onwards replaced human sacrifices.
While the phallus, as seen above, stands for the Spirit of Life. The example on the left, belonging to a greek vascular “oinochoe” painting, is one of the most clear example, not only of a ritual mask inside a vannus-liknon, but of the last mentioned object as a liturgical item. To an extent that we can affirm the megalographia in the pompeian villa we are examining is given an explicit status of representation of a mysteric rite for the very presence of the sacred vannus. I have just hinted at the topic in Chymica Vannus-Investigating a Title, but now we have to deep on that.
On the left a farmer is walking a bull beside a Dionysus Temple. We certainly know the divinity’s name not only because of the pine on the portal top, but also of the liknon-vannus on the roof, plenty of fruits, as a cornucopia, and with a phallus. The entire structure holding the sacred liknon, is an elaborate erection with a torch. This representation doesn’t seems mysteric at first sight, but an hymn to abundance and fertility.
Nevertheless it is a mysteric, and mysterious, profusion. Always tied to births and marriages, but never profanes, anyway. Since Dionysus shares much aspects with Demeter and Persephone, and in spite of all his explosion of Life carried in his sacred baskets, it seems that this life is more concerning the death world.
So we celebrate the child carried in the liknon in a different way than a new child entered our material world, because the Dionysian child cannot but being an “old” child, or a child not new at all, but recycled, in a way extracted. We can be happy for the little Dionysus in the first picture below in a vannus-cradle, but what about the second little Dionysus carved on a sarcophagus? Yet, they are representing the same Liknophoria ( carrying of the liknon), only the “funeral” child is much more clear in his intention.
In the light of that, it sounds a little credulous the ancient custom to carry the new born child in a winnowing fan used as a cradle. The superstitious parents, in the belief of granting the new born baby a good life, actually wished him/her a good “after life” through the ceremony of ‘awakening”. But that were only the reminiscences which arrived from esoteric secret rites to exoteric non-initiated common people. The scene in the left, as far as a mysteric moment could be openly represented on a vasculat painting, represents a secret rite during Eleusinian Mysteries with the birth of the divine child. Such a birth was proclaimed by the hierophant with the declaration: ” Brimo has borne a child Brimos”. The child rises out of a cornucopia, which may seem a symbol of fertility but, alchemically speaking is our Spirit of Life-Vase.
If a cradle is involved, it is a paradigm of the mysteric ” dying and reviving”. As a Septimius Severus age coin on the left. The baby is, of course, the result of a union. A sacred marriage in this case. Between the mask/Soul and the phallus/Spirit of Life. In Eros, Psyche & a New Alchemical Body, the mask can be associated with Psyche, while the Spirit of Life with Eros.
On a funerial urn, in monte Esquilino, we find another mysteric scene with a Mystica Vannus Iacchii. We are sure of the mysteric iconographic theme because of the presence of Persephone holding a big torch. In the other side there is a piglet sacrificial scene ( a sacrifice quite often present in Demeter’s special celebrations) and the Liknophoria (carrying of the Mystic Vannus). Just an abundance rite?
I have already mentioned in my article on Chymica Vannus, that Virgilius in his Georgics describes many agricultural tools used in mythological symbolism. I quote from the article: “A vannus is not a cribrum. A vannus – winnowing fan is not a filtering device, but a separating one through the action of air currents. A van is a broad basket, o oar, into which the corn, or rice, after being trashed, is thrown in the direction of the wind, to let deposit corn and chaff in different places. In archaic times it was also called bird’s wing”. Vannus-Liknon device was the forerunner a modern fans. In fact Chinese people developed, already back at that era, a rotating winnowing-fan. Things are getting more complicated by the Homeric age shape of the device. Like a oar. Not a basket.
I will let here Jane Ellen Harrison, a scholar who doesn’t need presentations, express all her learned, an highly investigating, perplexities. Her excerpt is well worth to be fully read. Harrison understands that the device’s shape does make its function. In the end of her observations we too might have some perplexities on our millenary certainties.