I tell you all that to explain my new fascination with birds. In the past, all I ever knew or heard about them was that they were loud and messy. I can't deny that--it's true, for the most part. They're also entertaining, endearing, and good company--even my daughter's crotchety Nanday Conure.
Having experienced this great epiphany, I've turned my attention today to the phoenix. And just so you know, that may actually be the only time I've written that word (phoenix) without having spell-check or Microsoft Word correct it for me. (I can never spell the name Phoebe right either)
Well, I started checking into the myth of the phoenix and found that there are many, many of them going around. I did some research on the phoenix for my ongoing story: Sovereign of the Dragon. In the end, I found so many conflicting myths and descriptions that I ended up going with my own amalgamation.
Most Myths describe the phoenix as being linked to fire and therefore colored red and gold, or possibly yellow and orange. Another common theme in most myths is longevity and rebirth. Some myths say the bird is immortal, while others say the creature lives many millennia. Six of one and half a dozen of the other if you ask me.
The earliest recorded stories I could find are from Egypt. Originally, the phoenix was called the benu (purple heron), possibly bennu (from the word weben which means to rise brilliantly), and linked to their religion. The bennuwas thought to be the soul of their god Ra, or Osiris, and sometimes Atum.
The Egyptian Phoenix or Benu/Bennu
In one version of the Egyptian myth, the phoenix is said to burst from the heart of the god Osiris. Frankly, that sounds pretty painful. Good thing those birds are so rare and that doesn't happen randomly--at the grocery store, say.
Oddly enough, those early myths from Egypt have the bird as gray, blue, purple, and/or white, with two top crest-feathers. That's kind of the description I went with for my phoenix (phoenii?) in my story. Well, a little more color and a lot of similarities to the peacock. If I'm going to wing it (no pun intended), I'm going to at least make it look pretty.
No matter the color though, the bird ends up bursting into flames and leaving an egg behind, thus starting over again.
The Persians called it the Huma, or bird of paradise. There's no egg in their stories, but according to myth, it does burst into flame and rises from the ashes. It's said to be compassionate, forgiving, and an all around caring bird. If it ever touched someone, that person would be super lucky, and if it sits on a guy's head, he would end up a king.
There's no record of it flying, but I wonder if it hit someone with a gift from above, would that person be lucky, too?
The Greeks are the folks who used the word phoenix for the first time. The word phoenix means purple-red or crimson. I guess that makes sense. As it happens, they, along with the Romans, liken the bird with a peacock, too. The Greco/Roman myth is that the bird lives in Arabia and lives next to a well. Apparently, it sings in the morning with such a beautiful voice that the god Apollo (sun god) likes to stop his chariot for hours every day just to listen to its song.
The Greeks were pretty serious about the Phoenix. They even put it on their money.
Okay, it was pretty much their nickel, but it's money, right?
In parts of the Far East, the phoenix is known as Gaurda, and is mentioned in the Hindu epic, Ramayana, as the god Vishnu's chariot. In Tibet, it's referred to as the firebird, though also called Gaurda.
The Chinese people call the phoenix Feng-huang, and consider it a symbol of life and true mortality--no fire, and no ashes. The problem is that it only shows up in times of peace.
The myth of the phoenix, or the Chol, as it's referred to in Judaism, has a harper bite to it…or maybe it's me. It seems that when Eve got in trouble for being tempted by the apple, she offered it to all the other creatures in the garden. Our fiery feathered hero was the only being that refused to be enticed into taking a bite. As a reward, the phoenix was gifted with everlasting life, living in peace for a thousand years. Every millennium, it's reborn and starts its cycle over again. The lucky bird is even mentioned in the Book of Job--by name, no less.
"I shall multiply my days as the Chol, the phoenix" (Job 29:18)
As far as Christianity goes, I don’t think anyone needs a map to figure out what a phoenix represents. The birth and death of the Christ all but mirrors the story of the phoenix, minus the fire, of course. If you accept His sacrifice, you, too, will be granted everlasting life. Or so they say…
It's not all that hard to find phoenix references in books these days, is it? I guess everyone--almost everyone--knows about Fawkes the Phoenix from the Harry Potter series.
Sadly, in the Harry Potter movies, he's not as beautiful as he's rumored to be.
I say almost because my sister hasn't read the books and she can't be the only one who hasn't. I love the little goodies that J.K. Rowling has given him. Healing tears and flashing from place to place--wouldn't that be nice?
William Shakespeare mentions the phoenix in many of his plays and even wrote a poem about the bird: The Phoenix and the Turtle. Click here for the poem at Wikipedia.
Old favorites of mine that mention the colorful, magical bird would include the Edith Nesbit classic, The Phoenix and the Carpet--it's the second book in a trilogy, but you can find it by looking up the title. You can find our friend the phoenix in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and of course, in David and the Phoenix, by Edward Ormondroyd.
I'm sure you'll find a whole flock of 'em if you Google "phoenix books" or "phoenix games."
I'll leave you to it, since I have all sorts of other writing to do, including my next Myth column. If you have anything in mind, I'll be glad to check it out; otherwise, I'll be looking into the possibility of shapeshifters. Or would that be Shape Shifters? Well, we'll find out soon.
Until then, enjoy your time here at NovelSpot.