30.11.10

Phoenix Myths and Legends

Article

A mythical creature of glorious colours and living flame, the Phoenix can live for 1000 years before submitting to its legacy of death and rebirth. The Phoenix is one of the most ancient mystical creatures, and the most beautiful and amazing of all birds. It has a crimson, gold and purple plumage, resembling the colours of the rising Sun, and its head and beak resembles that of the heron or eagle.

Only one Phoenix exists at any time. Each bird can live from five hundred to well over one thousand years before it is consumed in its own flame, in order for a new bird to be reborn from its ashes.  As a Firebird, it has been suggested that it has the ability to turn its body into flame and fly through outer space, causing an eclipse of the Sun.

Though the appearance of the Phoenix may differ in the legends of a number of ancient cultures, including its size which some describe as gigantic, the message contained in each is surprisingly familiar. Throughout history the Phoenix has been closely related to the worship of the Sun, and has become a symbol of resurrection, immortality and life after death.

  • The beginnings of the Phoenix legend can be traced to the Orient, where the Chinese Phoenix is one of the four sacred animals which ruled over all other birds.

  • The ancient Egyptians identified the Phoenix as a Benu, a heron-like bird that was one of the sacred symbols of worship at Heliopolis, the City of the Sun.

  • The Greeks later adapted the legend by introducing the Sun god, Apollo into it, who would stop his chariot so he could listen to the Phoenix singing at dawn.

  • The Greeks and Romans pictured the Phoenix as looking more like a peacock or an eagle, lacking the extraordinary appearance that it has come to be associated with.

  • Some believe the legend of the Phoenix was inspired by a type of bird that is native to East Africa, which nests on salt flats, to protect the birds’ eggs with rising hot air.

The Legend

The legend of how the Phoenix came into being, tells of a bird with magnificent plumage that laid no eggs, had no young, and was already in existence when the world begun. The Sun granted this glorious creature the gift of immortality, and in return, the phoenix promised only to sing to the Sun. The Phoenix then flew to a faraway desert in the east, and praised the Sun with its songs for 500 years.

However, after all this time the beautiful bird grew old, and eventually it wanted nothing more than to be young and strong again. So the phoenix returned to the home it had left so long ago, and having crafted itself a nest out of cinnamon bark and an egg out of myrrh, it sat down upon a tall palm tree and asked the Sun to bless it with the vitality of youth once more.

The Sun looked kindly upon its old friend, and responded to the Phoenix’s request by shining down with the full force of its power. While all the other animals quickly hid themselves from the Sun’s fierce rays, the Phoenix remained in the nest it had built and was swiftly consumed by the flames until nothing was left but ashes. From its remains rose a new, younger bird, and this cycle has continued ever since.
© Copyright Jan Reid-Lennox. All Rights Reserved.