The Mythical Bird
Ancient legend paints the Phoenix as a magical bird, radiant and shimmering, which lives for several hundred years before it dies by bursting into flames. It is then reborn from the ashes, to start a new, long life. So powerful is the symbolism that it is a motif and image that is still used commonly today in popular culture and folklore.
The legendary phoenix is a large, grand bird, much like an eagle or peacock. It is brilliantly coloured in reds, purples, and yellows, as it is associated with the rising sun and fire. Sometimes a nimbus will surround it, illuminating it in the sky. Its eyes are blue and shine like sapphires. It builds its own funeral pyre or nest, and ignites it with a single clap of its wings. After death it rises gloriously from the ashes and flies away.
Cultural Myths & Legends
Almost every culture has a version of the phoenix. With each rendition, the themes are pretty consistent: Transformation, Longevity and Renewal.
According to the Greek historian Herodotus (b: 484 BC), the phoenix was a mythical bird from Ethiopia. It was spectacularly large, beautiful and adorned with mind-blowing plumage. The historian also reported that the phoenix made a nest cypress branches. But not in preparation to lay eggs; the phoenix was preparing to die. While sitting in the nest, the bird created a great deal of heat, and set itself on fire from its own heat with the cypress serving as kindling. After three days, the phoenix emerged from its own ashes - reborn and released from the sentence of death, able to live on forever.
In Rome, the phoenix was a symbol of the perpetual continuation of the Roman Empire, and the bird was featured on Roman coins as a reminder of the indomitable strength of the Empire. However - the Empire didn’t last forever, but the legend of the phoenix certainly did.
Because of its ability to die and come back to life, the meaning of the phoenix has a foundation of resurrection. To wit, the phoenix was a symbol of Christ in the Middle Ages - specifically, His resurrection - having died on the cross and returned from death in three days, just as the legend of the phoenix.
In Jewish legend the phoenix is known as the Milcham – a faithful and immortal bird. Going back to Eden, when Eve possessed the apple of knowledge, she tempted the animals with the forbidden fruit. The Milcham bird refused the offer, and was granted for its faith a town where it would live in peace almost eternally, rebirthing every thousand years, immune to the Angel of Death.
In Egypt, the meaning of the phoenix is connected with the sun and the Nile. Their version of the phoenix was a Bennu, which was part heron and part falcon. The Bennu was said to control the cycle of the sun each day. It flew with the sun in its beak, plucking it from its sleeping place at dawn, and putting it to rest at sunset. In this way, the Bennu is symbolic of the daily death and birth of the sun. This symbolic connection is far-reaching, it implies the Bennu affected life and death for the Egyptians, as there would be no food crops without the Bennu rising and setting the sun. In short, the Egyptian meaning of the phoenix deals primarily with themes of life and death associated with provision.
In Asia the phoenix reigns over all the birds, and is the symbol of the Chinese Empress and feminine grace, as well as the sun and the south. The sighting of the phoenix is a good sign that a wise leader has ascended to the throne and a new era has begun. It was representative of Chinese virtues: goodness, duty, propriety, kindness and reliability. Palaces and temples are guarded by ceramic protective beasts, all lead by the phoenix.
Adopting the Phoenix
The phoenix is the ultimate symbol of renewal and strength. In this sense, it never truly dies; rather, it is an immortal creature continually rising from the ashes and growing stronger after each resurrection. The phoenix is about overcoming darkness and rising to the challenge to succeed. These are attributes we wish to see in our scout members when it comes to facing difficulties and challenges in life. To never give up.