Legend Of The Phoenix

CULTURE | October 2, 2019

Flaming Phoenix. Source: (YouTube.com)

The Phoenix is a legendary bird known for its ability to live hundreds of years before dying in a burst of flames only to be reborn from the ashes. Variations of the legend exist in folklore throughout the world and it is a common figure in popular culture today.

According to the most common myth, the Phoenix was a brightly-colored immortal bird-like creature, similar to an eagle or a peacock, that lived in Paradise. After about a thousand years, the Phoenix grew tired of immortality and desired to move on, so it left Paradise for the mortal world. However, even in the mortal world, the Phoenix could not truly die. It built a nest and waited for the sun to rise. As the son god dragged his chariot across the sky, the Phoenix sang a song so beautiful that the sun god stopped to listen. When he resumed his journey, a spark fell from the sky and ignited the nest, consuming the Phoenix. Three days later, the Phoenix was reborn from the ashes to live another thousand years.

Great Blue Heron. Source: (YouTube.com)

The earliest version of the Phoenix legend comes from ancient Egypt. A heron bird called the Bennu was linked to the sun god Ra and thought to be the living symbol of Osiris, the god of the underworld. Bennu was also connected to the flooding of the Nile which resulted in renewed fertility of the land. These connections made Bennu a symbol of rebirth and immortality. But it was the Greek historian Herodotus that wrote of an aged bird dying in flames and its offspring emerging from the ashes. In Greek mythology, the Phoenix represented the “transmigration of the soul” which is the belief that the soul lives on after death to be reincarnated and begin life anew.

Legendary Firebird. Source: (slavorum.org)

Meanwhile, in Asia, the Phoenix is a symbol of feminine grace and represents the Chinese Empress. Spotting the Phoenix was a sign of good luck. In Hindu mythology, the Garuda is a solar bird ridden by the god Vishnu and is described as the king of the birds. Slavic mythology has the Firebird, a version of the Phoenix depicted as a falcon. The Firebird’s life cycle was linked to the seasons with the bird dying in the fall and reviving in the spring. The Firebird is not to be confused with the Thunderbird of Native American mythology, which shares more characteristics with the Garuda.

Burning Phoenix. Source: (Wikimedia Commons)

Jewish tradition has a bird known as the Milcham which resided in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. According to the legend, Eve offered the forbidden fruit to many of the animals in the garden and the Milcham was one of the animals that resisted temptation. As a reward, it was granted immortality but had to be reborn every thousand years. In Christian tradition, the Phoenix is thought to symbolize the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. The Phoenix has also been thought to represent the creation and eventual destruction of Earth as a result of cosmic fire.

African flamingos. Source: (audleytravel.com)

In addition to immortality, the Phoenix was thought to have other powers. It was believed that Phoenix tears had healing properties and that it was impossible to tell a lie in the presence of a Phoenix. As to what inspired the early tellings of the Phoenix legend, it is unknown. Many believe it to have been a misidentification of East African flamingos while others speculate that it was some form of now-extinct megafauna which inspired the legend. For many others, the Phoenix legend was just a way to explain abstract concepts such as life, death, and transmigration.

Tags: birds | The Phoenix

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