Human beings have clung over time to symbols and stories that help them hope that everything will improve.
The Phoenix is a recurring theme, which shows through a myth that the idea of renewal and reinvention has always been present in the history of humanity.
In many cultures and religions, we find that creation, resurrection and new beginnings are also associated with a mythological creature called the Phoenix. In ancient times, these symbols were mostly associated with religious concepts, but today they have evolved to become emblems of self-improvement, reinvention, and new beginnings.
Origin of the Phoenix
Based purely on the definition of the Real Academia Española, the Phoenix is a
“Fabulous bird that the ancients believed to be unique and reborn from its ashes“
It is important to emphasize the word “ancient”, because over the centuries, multiple references to the Phoenix can be found.
In both Eastern and Western religions and cultures, there are allusions to birds associated with this myth. Many of them have different stories and characteristics. This makes it difficult to attribute a single origin to it.
Symbolic birds in other cultures
In some texts one can find associations with the Native American Thunderbird, the Firebird of the Slavic folklore, the Chinese Feng Huang, the Japanese Hō-ō, and many others.
However, the name and the bird as we know it today, was extended by the Greeks who called it “Phoenix“.
The Greek Phoenix
In the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus of the 5th century B.C., one of the most detailed references to the Phoenix can be found. He describes it as a bird that appears every five hundred years when the old Phoenix dies. The bird comes from Arabia with the body of its father -all covered with myrrh- to the temple of the Sun in Egypt and buries it there. Its plumage is red and golden, while in size and appearance it is similar to an eagle.
The Bennu bird of the Egyptians
It is said that the myth of the Phoenix was taken from the Egyptian tradition, from the mythological bird Bennu. This bird is associated with the solar cult of Heliopolis (the City of the Sun). It was depicted in Egyptian art as a heron. It was also associated with the flooding of the Nile and creation.
The Bird of the Sun in the Arab tradition
For the Arabs, the Phoenix was a mythical bird the size of an eagle with bright scarlet and golden plumage. Other times it was also a heron.
According to the belief, there was only one Phoenix at a time. It had a very long life that varied – depending on the version – from 500 to 12,994 years.
As the end of its life approached, it built a nest of aromatic branches and spices, set it on fire, and consumed itself in the flames. After three days, the Phoenix rose from the ashes.
The young Phoenix collected the ashes of its predecessor. Then, the bird took them to Heliopolis to deposit them on the altar of the sun god.
The Milcham or Chol of Judaism
In Jewish legend, the Phoenix is known as Milcham or Chol. It was a bird that lived in the Garden of Eden. According to tradition, once Eve ate the apple (the forbidden fruit) offered by the serpent, she tempted the other creatures in the garden to do so.
Only Chol resisted. Therefore, he was granted eternal life, living in peace for a thousand years. Then it reborn and repeat the cycle.
The Resurrection Symbol for Christians
Christianity also adopted the Phoenix as a symbol of death and resurrection. It was seen as a metaphor for the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The image could be found on the early Christian tombstones.
We all seek the same thing: transformation
Knowing the origins of legends and myths helps us understand the evolution of thought, but also the essence of the human being.
According to ancient beliefs, the Phoenix symbolized many things through its different names. The rebirth and a new period of wealth and fertility for the Egyptian culture. Immortality and resurrection for the Greco-Romans. Breaking with the limitations for the Persians. It is also a symbol of great virtue, grace, power and prosperity for Chinese culture.
Nowadays we can say that it means growing through adversity and re-emerging. It is a very powerful symbolism that humanity has used as a standard for overcoming and achieving goals, according to the beliefs of each era.
It is often said, metaphorically, that you have to die to be born again, or that you have to go through difficult situations to come out renewed and grow.
Following the Phoenix symbolism, being born again helps us to understand and trust in our potential and capabilities. It helps us to be more creative to become what we want to be. Finally, it forces us to find in difficulties an opportunity to grow, to learn more and to be more flexible.
In different cultures and beliefs, the myth of the Phoenix has a common element: the desire for transformation and overcoming the obstacles. The story of this mythical creature explains that we are all capable of rising from the ashes.
References and links:
- Real Academia Española
- Enciclopedia de Mitología Universal – Arthur Cotterell
- Heródoto, Los nueve libros de la Historia: Libro II, cap. LXXIII
- Rise of the Phoenix – mythicalrealm.com
- Phoenix (mythology) – newworldencyclopedia.org
- Ancient Symbolism of the Magical Phoenix – ancient-origins.net
- Fénix – Wikipedia
- Phoenix – The Medieval Bestiary
- Legends of the Phoenix A basis in Biblical History – countdowntothemessiah.com