The symbolic meaning of the phoenix is about renewal. The phoenix is about overcoming darkness and rising to the challenge to become powerful and succeed. But the phoenix has a legacy in many cultures. This article explores the phoenix meanings in China, Greece, Alchemy and more. Get on fire about phoenix meaning here.
This bird burns brightly in a myriad of cultures, with each one having their own spin on the meaning of the phoenix. Whichever cultural myth you’re consulting, there are some common symbolic themes of the phoenix. Here is a quick-list of meaningful highlights…
Almost every culture has a version of the phoenix. With each rendition, the themes are pretty consistent: Transformation, Longevity and Renewal – just to mention a few meanings.
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.
Herodotus may have borrowed some of his impressions about the meaning of the phoenix from the Greek poet, Hesiod, (b: 700 BC) who proclaims the phoenix as a brilliant bird who could outlive nine generations of ravens. That’s about 90,000 years!
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. That didn’t pan out too well – 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 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 establishing the rising and setting of the sun. The Egyptian phoenix continues its life-giving role with the Nile.
The Egyptians also felt the Bennu was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile. This flooding was relied upon to sustain agriculture in this region. In short, the Egyptian meaning of the phoenix deals primarily with themes of life and death associated with provision.