Phoenix Bird – What it is, concept, symbols and characteristics

We explain what the Phoenix bird is in mythology, in which cultures it appeared and what its characteristics are. Also, the Chinese Phoenix.

Each culture imagined a different way in which the Phoenix manages to be reborn.

What is the phoenix?

The phoenix or simply phoenix It is a mythological creature to which a long life and the fantastic ability to rise from its own ashes were attributed. Its name comes from the Greek phoînix, “Phoenician”, due to the supposed purple color of its wings, and it is mentioned in ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman texts, where it is attributed a life of around 500 years.

The exact way in which its rebirth occurred can vary enormously in the Western tradition depending on which author is cited as both ancient religions and early Christianity considered it to be part of their symbols.

Characters as dissimilar as Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484-425 BC), Publius Ovidio Nasón (43 BC-17. AD), Gayo Plinio Secundo “The Elder” (20-79 AD). ), Marco Anneo Lucano (39-65 AD), Pope Clement I of Rome (? -97 AD) or Isidore of Seville (c. 556-636), were interested enough in this fantastic creature enough to dedicate many of his written pages to him.

According to some sources, the Phoenix died normally, after a long life, and after decomposing a new young specimen emerged from the remains of the previous one.

Other versions state that just before dying, the bird built a nest from spice branches and fragrant plants, such as cinnamon or myrrh, and there it died in a spectacular fire, of which only its ashes remained. Then a new specimen would sprout from them, placing the ashes of the old phoenix in an egg made of myrrh and bringing it as an offering to the altar of the Egyptian sun god, Ra, in the ancient city of Heliopolis.

One way or another, the Phoenix always appears linked to fire and sun. There are versions, such as that of Saint Ambrose, according to which the animal died consumed by the Sun and from its ashes a very white caterpillar was born that grows until it lodges in an egg, as if imitating the life cycle of butterflies.

Despite its pagan origins, the myth of the Phoenix was well accepted by the early Christians, who saw in it an allegory of the death and resurrection of Christ.

There is even an equivalent in the Chinese imaginary tradition, the Fenghuang or Chinese phoenix, a creature that supposedly reigns over other birds, and that it mated with the Chinese dragon. On its body the different celestial elements were symbolized: rooster’s beak, swallow’s face, snake‘s neck, goose’s chest, back of a turtle, hind legs of a deer and a fish’s tail: sky, sun, moon, wind, earth and the planets

In general, the Phoenix has been a symbol of immortality and renewal in general, of that which is capable of re-gestating itself. With that same meaning we can find it today in traditional buildings, statues, flags and illustrations, or as part of the fantastic imaginary of many video games.