The Myth of the Phoenix  

June 23, 2023 3 By Lance Kelly


The myth of the phoenix resonates deeply with many people. This is because existence is often a struggle of survival that entails the whole edifice of worldly achievements being reduced to ashes in order to begin anew. Even at an unconscious level, the great myths of antiquity support the foundation of our way of life and higher aspirations of the human race. The power of true myth is its essence of original truth; it’s this which endures and retains its timeless quality for each new generation as the human spirit in adversity. Without the conflict of opposing forces in existence, the spirit in matter would be unable to be realised in the sensory world. 

In classical mythology the Phoenix is described as a magnificent creature, a bird that lived for several centuries. Shortly before its physical demise, the phoenix made its nest from perfumed wood, which was then consumed by fire. From the ashes, the phoenix was reborn. According to the myth, only one bird could exist at any time, which is symbolic of the one being behind the appearance of the many.  Each individual life, in truth, replicates the solitary phoenix created by the sun to radiate the splendour of life on earth. And then, when all has been expressed, to return to the source of the creation itself. 

The coastal region of the eastern Mediterranean, now Lebanon and Syria, was once the land of the Phoenicians. It was a maritime trading culture that specialised in a unique purple dye which was highly desirable as a colour symbolic of royalty and spirituality. The area was renowned for its magnificent sunrises which produced a spectrum of radiant purple light of infinite subtlety and beauty. Even further back in antiquity, the sun was venerated as the creator god, such was the reverence for the life-giving orb bathed in celestial light. As a token for their love and devotion, the sun god bestowed upon the people of the region the magnificent phoenix, from which the name Phoenicia arises. The mythical bird was renowned for its incandescent purple plumage, fashioned through the rays of the morning light. 

The phoenix became the living symbol of prosperity and rejuvenation for the people of Phoenicia for thousands of years. But in time, as a consequence of the fall of humanity into the matter of past, the divine connection with the sun god diminished. Where once the sacrifice of the phoenix in the purity of fire had ensured prosperity and peace, now human sacrifice was deemed necessary as an offering for the people to be favourably blessed. The die had been cast and, in time, the phoenix withdrew from existence. It is said that at sunrise the phoenix can be fleetingly seen in its mystical purple hue; and at sunset, in its fiery plumage, which gradually fades at the demise of the day. 

The phoenix is symbolic of renewal and immortal life; the themes of resurrection and regeneration are also associated with the meaning of the myth itself. Relative to the spiritual quest for completion, the death of the phoenix represents the shedding of the old accustomed form and the birth of a new phase of existence. We experience this process in different ways, such as when a relationship breaks up or a business collapses that may have provided a steady source of income. As a consequence of the intensity of experience, we are inwardly changed and must adapt and move on with a different perspective of life than before. The difference for the individual who has made the search for truth a conscious way of life is that the slate is wiped clean from the past. There is the knowledge that any personal suffering undergone was a necessary emotional purification, and is accepted to have been an essential part of the spiritual process.