I have loved animals as far back as I can remember. I played with my "imaginary" animal friend as a child, not knowing at the time what a power animal was. I had vivid dreams and visions throughout my life. I also felt drawn to different animals at different times in my life and when I found out about power or spirit animals, I finally understood why. Reading up on those animals and then going on shamanic journeys and meditations afforded me the entry point into the world of animals on a spiritual level. The reason I prefer the term power animal to spirit animal is simply because it feels more grounded and manifested to me. You are, of course, welcome to use whatever term you like; power animal, spirit animal, animal guide...You choose. The important thing is to have a strong, loving connection and to trust and ask your animal to teach you and share its wisdom with you.
Just about everyone has heard and seen pictures of the Phoenix, a fire bird from Greek mythology. What most people don’t know, however, is that its origins root in the Egyptian Bennu bird, which is said to bring its parent to the temple of the Sun in Heliopolis, according to Herodotus, 5th century BC. It is described as coming every 500 years from Arabia to deposit the dead parent bird covered in myrrh.
The story of the Greek Phoenix is similar. Accounts vary of the bird dying and decomposing before being reborn and it soaring towards the sun, burning to ashes and rising again from those. This bird is also a very popular motif for tattoos.
There are similar kinds of fire birds in many different cultures, spanning Russia, India, Persia, Georgia, Arabia, Turkey, Tibet, Japan and China. There is even a similar creature in North American Native mythology. This firebird is said to have brought fire to the First Nation tribes to cook with and keep warm. However, the bird would only give it to a woman who had been doing good, whilst it rejected all others on the grounds of them having a bad character. It was said to come from a land far away and that it never showed again after it had brought the fire to the people.
Greek mythology is recorded from various sources and accounts vary. It is safe to assume that the bird was rather large, between the size of a large eagle and larger than an ostrich. Although the colouring could not be agreed upon, it was always said to have been vibrant. Some accounts mention plumage on its head, others say it looked similar to a peacock, and so forth.
What all these reiterations have in common is that the bird has to die for it to be reborn again, whole and vibrant with new life to live yet another 500 years before a new death of fire brings it back to life rejuvenated.
A Roman Poet's Words
The Roman poet Claudius Claudanius, in English known as Claudidan (4th century BCE) writes about the Phoenix:
“On this he takes his seat and as he grows weaker greets the Sun with his sweet voice; offering up prayers and supplications he begs that those fires will give him renewal of strength. Phoebus [Apollon or Helios the Sun], on seeing him afar, checks his reins and staying his course consoles his loving child with these words: ‘Thou who art about to leave thy years behind upon yon pyre, who, by this pretence of death, art destined to rediscover life; thou whose decease means but the renewal of existence and who by self-destruction regainest thy lost youth, receive back thy life, quit the body that must die, and by a change of form come forth more beauteous than ever.’
So speaks he, and shaking his head casts one of his golden hairs and smites willing Phoenix with its life-giving effulgence. Now, to ensure his rebirth, he suffers himself to be burned and in his eagerness to be born again meets death with joy. Stricken with the heavenly flame the fragrant pile catches fire and burns the aged body. The moon in amaze checks her milk-white heifers and heaven halts his revolving spheres, while the pyre conceives the new life; Nature takes care that the deathless bird perish not, and calls upon the sun, mindful of his promise, to restore its immortal glory to the world.
Straightway the life spirit surges through his scattered limbs; the renovated blood floods his veins. The ashes show signs of life; they begin to move though there is none to move them, and feathers clothe the mass of cinders. He who was but now the sire comes forth from the pyre the son and successor; between life and life lay but that brief space wherein the pyre burned.”
The symbolism of the Phoenix is all about renewal. It means to rise to a challenge, even to give part of yourself over to let go of it and re-emerge after the trial by fire as renewed and indeed, a new person. Death is symbolising the death of a part of us that is stale and has outgrown its usefulness. To charge ourselves with new life and to reach higher goals, a higher state of being, we must destroy the old by the process of purification by fire in order to reach the next level of ascension in our personal journey of self-development.
To make room for the new, the old must die. And fire has been a powerful element to work with in all spiritual and religious traditions across the world, purifying and renewing by burning away that which is old, sick, stale and lifeless. Thus the Phoenix brings new life after a period of self-purgatory.
In my romance novel Balcony Above the Sea, the female MC, Keturah, is faced with a life she no longer enjoys. However, unable to make the necessary changes in her life to find new joy and surround herself with people who add quality to her life, rather than being a constant source of strain and stress, she decides to run to a whole other country to get away from everything.
At first, this seems to work, but then she is faced with exactly the same negative constellation she had taken such pains to avoid, only with new people in a new location. This time, however, it is different, and rather than putting up with it and pretending all is well, she takes a stand and sets clear boundaries. Now that she is no longer running, but facing her challenges, the outcome is an entirely different one, and although she had some doubts, she stays her course and is rewarded for it in the end.
Flames of Cleansing
The Phoenix is certainly an intense energy to work with, but it does not have to be a painful process. Indeed, to the mythical bird, burning its old body is a time of joy, for it knows new life will spring from it. It completely surrenders to the process of transformation and without resistance, this process is much easier and quicker to bring about the desired results.
However, if we resist the spiritual flames of cleansing in ourselves, great suffering can be the result and it may cause a period of great challenges in our lives. But when we surrender with the trust and knowledge that we will come out the better for it, more liberated, stronger and wiser, surrendering to the fire will be a process of intensity, but with the great joy of anticipation that we emerge from this renewed and strengthened.