September 17, 2021

The Ancient Symbolism of the Famous Mythical Bird Phoenix

Phoenix is perhaps the most famous mythical creature of all. Everyone has heard of it, most of us have seen it, either in movies, posters, logos or by other means.
The symbolism of this legendary bird, just like its legend, dies and takes birth again throughout time across cultures.

The traits of the phoenix:

The ancient legends tell us about phoenix that it is a magical creature, shimmering and radiant, which lives for hundreds (if not thousands) of years before dying by bursting into flames, only to reborn from its own ashes. The new life goes on for another several hundred years. The symbolism of the phoenix is so powerful that it is still popularly used throughout the world in pop culture and folklore. You may have heard the phrase “rise from the ashes” – it actually indicates to this mythical bird.
The legendary phoenix bird is a big, grand creature, quite similar to a peacock or eagle. The bird is wonderfully colored in yellows, reds, and purples, since it is colligated with fire and the rising sun. Sometimes, the phoenix is pictured with a nimbus surrounding it, illumining the sky. The bird’s eyes are blue and shiny like sapphires. It constructs its own funeral pyre by itself and starts the fire that burns the pyre by clapping its wings just once.
The Phoenix symbolizes resurrection and renewal, and represents a number of ideas, such as: life in paradise, immortality, virginity, sun, empire, time, rebirth, resurrection, consecration, Jesus, Mary – and more.
The writer of the book “The Phoenix in Egyptian, Arab, & Greek Mythology”, Tina Garnet writes, “When a phoenix feels that its end is near, it builds its death-nest with the best redolent woods, sets the nest on fire, and gets consumed by that flame. Once it completely turns into ashes, a new one arises from there; young, beautiful, and powerful. The new one preserves the remains of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh, and spread its wings to Heliopolis, the city of the sun, to lodge the egg on the Sun God’s alter.”
There are also some less popular versions of the myth; in some of them, the legendary bird simply decomposes after death, and reborn from the remains.

Different Names:

The name “Phoenix” came from the Greeks, however, it is associated with the Chinese “Fèng Huáng”, the Egyptian “Bennu”, the Japanese “Hō-ō”, the Russian “Firebird”, and the Native American “Thunderbird”. Experts believe that the Greeks referred to the Canaanites as Phoenicians or Phoenikes, which might have originated from the Greek word “phoenix”, meaning purple or crimson. Certainly, the Phoenix’s symbology is closely connected with the Phoenicians.

Different Legends:

The earliest version of the Phoenix legend was created by the Egyptians. Although it was not exactly named phoenix, but the “Bennu” was quite similar to the Phoenix.  Bennu is actually a heron bird, which participates in the ancient Egyptian story of creation. The Bennu was worshipped alongside the prime deities such as Ra and Osiris. Bennu was actually seen as the living symbol of Osiris, an avatar of the deity. Sometimes, the Egyptians called it the “Solar Bird”, and would put it on their amulets as a symbol of immortality and rebirth. They also associated Bennu with the Nile’s flood, which brings fertility to the lands and wealth to the people.
phoenix fabelwesen
Source:  Wikimedia Commons
According to the Greek historian Herodotus, the priests of Heliopolis described phoenix as a big and beautiful bird that lives for 5 centuries before building its own funeral pyre and ignite it. From the ashes, the offspring of the dead bird would fly. The ancient Greeks believed that phoenix doesn’t eat fruits; however, it eats aromatic gums and frankincense. It also collects myrrh and cinnamon, in order to make its pyre when death is near.
In Asian mythology, the phoenix is the bird that reigns over all other flying creatures. In China, it is the symbol of feminine grace and the Empress of China. It also represents the south and the sun. According to lore, spotting a phoenix is a positive sign, as it hints that a wise king has uprose to the throne and it’s the beginning of a new era of prosperity. The phoenix also symbolized the “Chinese Virtues”: reliability, propriety, goodness, duty, and kindness. Phoenix also leads the ceramic-made army earthly and unearthly creatures that guard the palaces and temples.
This graceful mythical creature has been integrated into several religions, signifying the creation, fresh beginning, and eternal life.
For its ability to born again after death, early Christianity adopted the phoenix as a symbol of Jesus’s death and resurrection after 3 days. The image of the mythical bird became a common symbol on tombstones in the early days of Christianity. Some considered the phoenix as the symbol of the cosmic fire that created the universe and also going to consume it in the end.
The phoenix is referred to as the “Milcham” in the Jewish legend. Milcham is an immortal and faithful magical bird. According to the Jewish legend, after being possessed by the “Apple of Knowledge” Eve tried to lure the animals in the Garden of Eden with the forbidden fruit, she succeeded with all but one. The Milcham refused Eve’s offer, and was granted a place where it would live peacefully almost forever with the power to be reborn every thousand years, and immunity from the Angel of Death. All of these were rewards for its faithfulness.
The phoenix also represents the Philosopher’s Stone, the essence of immortality. It is also a symbol of alchemy as it interprets the patterned advance through colors and other changes during chemical reactions.

Modern Days:

The myth of the Phoenix continues to grow in modern days. In J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter, the phoenix’s tears have great healing power and no one can tell a lie when a phoenix is near. It is also present in a number of modern-day movies and video games, apart from stories.
It seems like the phoenix’s legend is morphing through time, and it doesn’t seem to stop. Perhaps, it is the most known mythical symbol ever, and it’s getting more popular day by day. People love the phoenix because it symbolizes hope, that no matter how hard and deep you fall, you can always rise again.
Featured Image Source: Pixabay cc0 
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