The Protogenoi were the first beings existent at the dawn of creation; they are in fact, the very fabric of existence, the forces that created the physical and spiritual worlds that we live in. Where Demeter is a goddess of the earth, Gaia is the earth itself; Poseidon the ruler of the oceans, Pontus is the ocean. The protogenoi were for the most part not dealt with in day-to-day Greek cult or worship, these are primal and primeval forces even further beyond the realm of man than the gods. They were however respected and in some instances did have rituals and celebrations in their honor.
Khaos is the first of all Protogenoi, emerging from nothing. Khaos means ‘gap’ and refers to the space between heaven and earth, which came into creation along with Khaos. Khaos was later mistakenly identified with the Primeval Mud ‘Thesis’ and came to be known as a mixture of all the elements. My personal interpretation of this is event that the universe started as a constant homogeneous mass, there were no-things because everything was one; but with the Big Bang there came space and differentiation….and the possibility of awareness – ‘this is me, that is not, what is it? What am I!?’
Gaia is the earth, she emerged with Khaos from nothingness at the dawn of time. I see Gaia as being Matter, the physical presence in the universe. In myth she was seen as an older woman who never fully separated from the earth. In art she was usually seen rising from the waist out of the soil. She is the mother of all living things; from her sprung the islands, the mountains, the sky, giants, and many strange creatures.
Tartaros is the dark, stormy pit that lay far beneath the earth, beneath even the underworld that lies within Gaia. I associate Tartaros with the black hole that lies in the center of the milky way. It was imagined in the ancient Greek world view to be the inverse of the great sky-dome Ouranos. It was in the Tartaurean pit that the defeated Titans were imprisoned as well, here were the handful of the worst offenders in Greek myth punished.
Okeanos is the great fresh water river that encircles and was born from Gaia. Okeanos is the father of the three thousand Okeanides who supply the world with fresh water. In my mind, Okeanos is the ‘empty’ space that surrounds the galaxies.
Ouranos is the great dome of heaven, born of Gaia and resting on top of her, he is space. Ouranos fathered the Titans with Gaia but would not release her or withdraw his phallus and allow the children to be born. They remained in Gaia’s womb, literally trapped within the earth. Ouranos was castrated by one of the trapped Titans and fled making room for life to exist on the earth. My interpretation of this is the creation of the atmosphere creating a safe space between earth and the vacuum of space.
Erebos emerged from Khaos at the dawn of creation and is the protogenos of the darkness, the thick dark mists beneath the earth and that enveloped the edges of the world and is the consort of Nyx, protogenos of night. To continue with the cosmological theories, Erebos is the dark matter of the universe.
Nyx is the night that emerged from Khaos. By Erebos she is the mother of Aither and Hemera and alone of many daemons including the Moiria, the fates. In the Orphic tradition Nyx was the second ruler of the universe after Phanes. She was depicted as a cloaked woman with long black hair and large wings and sometimes ridding a chariot. I see Nyx as the power that drives the constant expansion of the universe.
Aither is the protogenos of the bright glowing air of the heavens, as opposed to the aer of the earth. At night, Nyx would draw the mists of Erebos below the light of Aither brining night to earth. Aither to me represents the metaphorical ‘edge’ of the universe, a mist that doubles back on itself.
Hemera is the protogenos of day; born of Erebos and Nyx and wife of Aither. Hemera is simply light, the light of the day and of the cosmos.
In different versions of the creation myths there are additions or variations to the list of Protogenoi. These include:
Ananke the Protogenos of inevitability and necessity and fate. A serpentine being forever entwined with Khronos, she existed fully formed before creation. Within their coils sat the world egg, when it was crushed, the universe sprung forth from it.
Khronos (not to be confused with Kronos the titan) is the serpentine being coiled with his mate Ananke. He too existed fully formed before creation. He is time itself and as beyond the gods as they are humanity.
Eros (not to be confused with Eros the son of Aphrodite) is considered by some to have been the first being, existing before creation and some myths have him born of the cosmic egg, sometimes crushed by the serpentine couple Ananke and Khronos. A golden winged hermaphrodite or a being with two bodies, male and female, Eros is called the protogenos of desire and the force that causes life to procreate, and I also see Eros as the force of gravity. In Orphic lore, Eros (or Phanes) passed rulership to Nyx, an din some renditions of it’s myth was devoured by Zeus and reborn as Zagreus and eventually Dionusos.
The Nesoi are the protogenoi of islands, each island had it’s own.
The Ourea are the protogenoi of mountains; like islands, each mountain has one. They are often thought of as bearded old men.
Pontus is the protogenos of the sea and with Gaia father to many of the ancient sea gods.
Thalassa is the protogenos of the sea and sometimes narrowed down to the surface of the sea. With Pontus she birthed the creatures of the sea. She was pictured as a woman of water rising out of the sea as Gaia does the earth.
Tethys/Thesis is the protogenos of the elemental muck that was all creation unsorted and homogeneous.
Hydros is the protogenos of fresh water, he is practically identical to Okeanos. Hydros shows up as the mate of Thesis and is said to have come into existence at the beginning of creation.