Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Phoenix as a mythological symbol

The phoenix is one of the oldest mythological symbols known to man and also the one most cloaked in reverence. The mention of this mystical bird dates back to the egyptian civilization over 3500 years ago when this was known as Bennu, the Ancient Greeks believed it to have its origins in phoenica and hence they called it the Phoenix, derived froom their word for the flame-red colour that this bird was generally believed to be. There are proofs that the Garuda of Vishnu in Indian mythology as well as the Senmurv in Persian and Feng Huang in Chinese mythology as well as the Zhar-Ptitsa of Russian folklore are all derived from the same general legend of an immortal bird that bursts into flame every 1000 years and returns to life and youth from its ashes. This bird is also said to possess healing powers as well as great knowledge and immense strength. Among contemporary authors, one is familiar with Fawkes; featured in J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series; who shares the common traits of all Phoenixes. Now let us examine the reason for humans, from the dawn of civilization to the modern day, being so intrigued by this particular legend more than any other.

One explaination springs to mind: that of Primal Fears and Desires, i.e, feelings that are part of our general RACE MEMORIES.The first fear is of course the fear of Darkness, which pre-fire cavemen would have experienced. For them, darkness meant certain death if they strayed into it, because of the numerous dangers that lurked namely: losing contact from the tribe, accidents due to lack of visual input, being preyed upon by nocturnal predators and the general human fear of having one sensory input disabled. Hence they would worship and revere anything that drove away the darkness. It has been noted that the Sun and Fire are one of the chief and primary elements worshipped as gods by the early religions. The Phoenix, is a bird of fire, it can transport itself by means of it and can burst into flame; when an attempt to harm it is made; and hence survive. Thus, it can be established that this is the first reason that the Phoenix myth arose.

The second Primal Fear that governs humans is the fear of DEATH and subsequently, the fear of aging. The Phoenix, according to legend, was a bird that did not age, nor die, only preparing a nest of perfume and spices (expensive ingredients in the Ancient World!) before the millenial ritual of burning and consequent resurrection. This trfle too, it can be safely deduced, was introduced as a consequence of the human knowledge that death cannot really be staved off, so they opted; in their mythology; to preserve it in a ceremonial, rather than absolute, form. This may be the second reason that the Phoenix was revered as a religious symbol.

The remaining reasons can be deduced by examining the basic human Secondary Desires, i.e, the fantasies every human being capable of will indulge in and according to his capacity, take steps to fulfill after his Primary Needs are satisfied. Foremost among those is the desire to FLY. Since time immemorial, man has desired to take wing and ascend to the skies in glorious freedom. Before the advent of modern technology, in fact even as late as the 20th century, flying was considered impossible and a foolish fancy. Therefore, it is easy to see how this mythical creature came to be a bird, for men envied the eagle's flight even more than they the lion's strength or the wolf's nose. Hence the Phoenix had to be a bird. It is interesting to note that later, to add strength and more 'humanity' a modification or development of this legend took place and the Sphinx and Gryphon (or Griffin)legends arose, these creatures being part eagle, part lion and part men and immortal and knowledgable to boot! The imaginative miinds of men had begun to take complete scope of their fantasy; with roots in the fear of power; and these later legends came to be regarded as mysterious and powerful creatures to be avoided rather than symbols of worship.

The Phoenix was revered also as the god Apollo's advisor and decorated the banners of many an ancient army. In modern times it has been used as a symbol for peace and by the captains of the armies of the Greek Revolution in modern times. However, despite all that has been uncovered about it, it remains one of the greatest symbols of humanity, for it embodies the one unquenchable, immortal quality we possess: the Human Spirit.