The Symbolism of the Phoenix: Egyptian, Chinese, Other

Phoenix SymbolismThe Origin of the Phoenix Symbol

The story of the phoenix begins in ancient Egyptian mythology and was later developed in the Phoenician, Indian and Greek traditions. The phoenix is a sacred firebird with beautiful feathers of gold and red or purple and blue. A phoenix lives for 500-1,000 years and then builds itself a nest of myrrh twigs. The nest of myrrh and the phoenix burn fiercely until they are reduced to ashes. Myrrh is a resinous sap that releases heavy, bitter-smelling smoke when ignited. Myrrh was used by the ancient Egyptians to embalm the dead and was also burned as a religious sacrifice. Historically, myrrh has often been worth more than its weight in gold.

The Phoenix as a Symbol of Rebirth

After this purification, a phoenix egg or a young bird appears, renewing the life cycle of the bird and making the phoenix virtually immortal and invincible. The phoenix also has the ability to regenerate itself when wounded. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, the phoenix is a stork-like bird called the “benu”. In other Egyptian texts, the phoenix is associated with Heliopolis, the city of the sun, and the Egyptian sun-god Ra.

Phoenix SymbolismThe Phoenix as a National Symbol

The Phoenicians called themselves “sons of the Phoenix”. The Lebanese are descendents of the Phoenicians. The phoenix has now become symbolic of Lebanon and the city of Beirut since the city has been completely rebuilt seven times. The Greek author Flavius Philostratus considered the phoenix to be an emanation of sunlight. His views of the phoenix as a bird in size and appearance similar to eagle are believed to be inspired by Guruda, the bird of the Indian God Vishna.

Phoenix Symbolism and Christianity

The phoenix was also adopted by the early Catholic Church as a symbol of Christ, specifically relating to His resurrection. Christians claim the inclusion of the phoenix in the Old Testament based on translations of the word “chol”. The symbol of the phoenix has been further expanded to include the concept of life after death.

Chinese Phoenix Symbolism

The phoenix is the second of the most well-known and revered mythical beasts in Chinese cosmology. The phoenix was traditionally associated with the Chinese empress, but was available for use by all women. In the Chinese tradition, the phoenix is an enormous winged bird that dwells immortally in the highest regions of heaven. The phoenix comes to earth to presage great events for human beings.

Phoenix MeaningIn the more modern interpretations of Chinese symbolism, such as the practice of feng shui, the phoenix can be used as a symbol of one's greatest aspirations: the birth of a child, the accomplishment of a formidable task, the building of a lasting monument, and so forth. The phoenix can thus be depicted in areas of the home where the impetus to create or accumulate the greatest treasures in life occur. This might be social spaces, the master bedroom, music rooms, studios, libraries and home offices.

Phoenix Symbolism in Other Cultures

The phoenix appears in Persian, Iranian, Lebanese, Russian and Greek mythology. The phoenix is a central figure in Lebanese culture. The Lebanese are descendants of the Phoenicians and view themselves as the sons of the Phoenix, able to rise again no matter how many time their cities are destroyed by war or natural events.

Phoenix SymbolThe Modern Phoenix Symbol

The phoenix reappears in popular culture on a regular basis in the names of cities, businesses, books and movies. The phoenix has become a symbol recognized around the world as an emblem of fire, divinity and immortality.


More Information on Mythical Creatures

For more information on mythical creatures, see these recommended books on Amazon:
The Mythical Creatures Bible: The Definitive Guide to Legendary Beings
The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures

Field Guide to Fantastic Creatures
The Mythic Bestiary: The Illustrated Guide to the World's Most Fantastical Creatures

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