Thursday, February 7, 2013

THE PHOENIX: World of Symbols by Michelle Synder

World of Symbols
Michelle Snyder, M. Phil, Symbolist

The legend of the Russian Firebird is the ancestor of the Phoenix. The Firebird is a large bird in majestic plumage that glows with red, orange, and yellow light. The feathers do not cease glowing if removed; one feather can light a large room. In Faerie tales the Firebird is typically the object of a difficult quest, usually initiated by the finding of a lost feather. The hero sets out to find and capture the live bird. At first the hero is charmed by the wonder of such a creature, but eventually the hero blames the bird for his troubles. Like the Firebird, the Phoenix is a fabulous bird known for extreme longevity, capable of auto-combustion, and can self-regenerate from its own ashes. This peculiar bird is part of mythologies all over the world.

The Phoenix is related to the Roc and the Garuda of Hindu mythology. The fabulous creature was friend to Quetzalcoatl, bringing blessings and happiness to the Aztec, Toltec, and Maya. In Chinese lore the Phoenix is called Feng Hwang, one of the four sacred creatures of the directions, representing the solar Yang and lunar Yin powers. Japan calls it the Ho-O, a bird representing the sun, which comes to earth in successive ages to herald a new era. In Arabia, the Phoenix is associated with the sun; in their legends the bird sits in a nest that is ignited by solar rays. The Greek name for the palm-tree is Phoenix; in some folklore the Phoenix nest is on top of a palm tree; the branches of the palm tree have long been associated with the sun. In Christian iconography, the three-day rebirth of the Phoenix is considered a perfect figure to represent the resurrection of the Christ on the third day, and it was the only creature in the Garden of Eden to resist the temptation of Eve.

 Like many ancient symbols and myths the Phoenix has its roots in astronomical observations, and ancient cultures that recorded them. The myth of the Phoenix grew from observations of the spectacular disappearance and reappearance of the sun during a total eclipse. Venerated as the manifestation of the sun god of Heliopolis, the Phoenix appears only once every thousand or so years. Legends claim there is never more than one Phoenix at a time in the world; total solar eclipses are rare events; although they occur somewhere on earth every eighteen months, they have been estimated to recur at any given place only once every few centuries. As the eclipse progresses, the corona and sun flares become visible to the eye. They could be described as a great bird that catches fire, dies, and then is reborn. Our ancestors observed and recorded the phenomenon, and legends of the Firebird, and later the Phoenix, were born.