The Phoenix

The phoenix bird symbolizes immortality, resurrection and life after death.

In ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology, it is associated with the sun god. According to the Greeks, the bird lived in Arabia, near a cool well.

Phoenix MemorialsEvery morning at dawn, the sun god stopped his chariot to listen to the bird sing a beautiful song while it bathed in the water spilled from the well. Unexplained why, only one phoenix existed at any one time.

When the bird feels its death is near, every 500 to 1,461 years, it builds a nest of aromatic wood and sets it on fire. The bird is consumed by the flames. A new phoenix springs forth from the fires ashes, somehow? It embalms the ashes of its predecessor in an egg of myrrh and flies with it to Heliopolis, “city of the sun,” where the egg is deposited on the altar of the sun god. In Egypt, it was usually depicted as a heron, but in the classic literature as a peacock or an eagle.

The legend of the Phoenix has been around for centuries. There are few variations, but another basic story is this:

The Phoenix is a supernatural creature, living for 1000 years. Once that time is over, it builds its own funeral pyre, and throws itself into the flames. As it dies, it is reborn anew, and rises from the ashes to live another 1000 years. Alternatively, it lays an egg in the burning coals of the fire which hatches into a new Phoenix, and the life cycle repeats.

One theory about the origins of the Phoenix legend is rather bizarre, but may be closer to the truth than some others: The original ‘Phoenix’ may have been a crow or raven dancing in a dying fire. It sounds strange, but truth is often stranger than fiction. Ravens and crows have been known to practice a peculiar form of behaviour called ‘Anting’. The bird will disturb an ant’s nest, or sit over something sweet (like spilled honey or an almost empty cola can), spread out its wings, and allow ants to run up and down its body.

It is thought that the ants give the bird a sort of ‘back massage’ this way, or that they feast on feather mites which live on the bird and cause irritation. For whatever reason, they seem to enjoy the sensation and have been known to do it repeatedly.

In a similar way, some of these birds will sit over a hot surface, such as the dying embers of a fire, and spread out their wings. Perhaps they do it for the same reason we sit in a sauna – they just enjoy the heat – or perhaps they use the intense heat to encourage feather mites to find a different home. Since they won’t talk, it’s hard to tell.

The Phoenix has also shot to fame recently due to the latest Harry Potter release. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. This will also no doubt get people even more interested in the myth of the Phoenix.