There probably aren’t many of us that haven’t heard the story of the mythical Phoenix, an immortal creature that resurrects from fire. It is a popular choice for a tattoo, but apart from being familiar with the images of bird-like creatures rising from the fire we actually realised that we know very little about the origin of the magnificent Phoenix.
There are so many ancient legends of these magical birds, radiant in their beauty with their sapphire blue eyes, that live for hundreds of years before building its own funeral pyre or nest, which it then ignites with a single clap of its wings. After death it then rises gloriously from the ashes and flies away. The symbolism has remained so powerful that today the Phoenix remains top amongst popular society and mythology. The mystical Phoenix can be found not only throughout many cultures but its story is one that also spans time.
Symbolism for the Phoenix seems to be generally focused towards renewal, resurrections and virtue, but it has also been used to represent the sun, time, and religious connections for Christ, and eternal life in a heavenly Paradise.
With images for the Phoenix seemingly always depicted as a huge bird closely linked to an eagle or a peacock, it’s plumage in brilliant colours that are associated with the rising sun and fire; reds, purples and yellows. Sometimes with an aura/halo surrounding the creature illuminating the Heavenly Skies or the City of the Sun.
In Greece the phoenix was described as living for 500 years before building its funeral pyre from frankincense, cinnamon, and myrrh before setting it alight. The offspring of the bird, which was young and powerful would carry priests to the altar in Heliopolis the City of the Sun along with the embalmed ashes of its predecessor in a myrrh egg.
The Egyptians have stories of the Bennu, which lived on obelisks and was worshipped alongside Osiris and Ra. With images of the Bennu being shown as a symbol of rebirth and immortality, and it is also associated with the Nile flooding which would bring fertility to the land and wealth to the communities.
The phoenix rules over all the birds in Asia, symbolizing feminine grace and the Emperor along with other virtue’s such as goodness, duty, and reliability. If the phoenix was sighted it was a sign of not only a new era but also of a wise leader being seated on the throne.
Due to the legends all including life and death, Christianity, which is a correlation of Christ’s death and his resurrection, has also adopted the phoenix. Its symbol can be seen on early Christian graves.
The Milcham, from Jewish legend, is a faithful and immortal bird that could not be tempted by Eve in the Garden of Eden. Who because of their faith was granted a place where it could live in peace, resurrecting every thousand years, impervious to the Angle of Death.
A Phoenix has also been used as an alchemical symbol, for the steps of alchemy in the Great Work or Philosophers Stone. Which is said to representing changes and chemical reactions and progressions through colours and matter etc.
So whether the Phoenix is symbolic of a cosmic fire that is thought to have created the world, and which will eventually also devour it. Or whether you will be cured by its tears, or will be unable to lie in its presence. Its continual morphing and re-morphing the Phoenix seems throughout cultures and time to be about the end being the beginning, and like its legend with be told (reborn) over and over again. It does however remain a great choice for a tattoo.