1.“When I comprehended my darkness, a truly magnificent night came over me and my dream plunged me into the depths of the millennia, and from it my phoenix ascended.”
C.G. Jung, “The Red Book”
2.”At the beginning there was only Khaos (Air), Nyx (Night), dark Erebos (Darkness), and deep Tartaros (Hell’s Pit). Ge (Earth), Aer (Air) and Ouranos (Heaven) had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Nyx (Night) laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebos (Darkness), and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings.”
3. “Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood…“
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 19 (bolding mine)
4. “The phoenix symbolizes the birth of life at a new level through the burning of all limitations into the fire. This fire is the real symbol of the energy which burns in the man who has reached the eighth phase of his journey along the Zodiac. It is the fire which destroys lesser forms and summons greater ones to be developed during the Sagittarius period of the cycle. This fire is the transcendent and occult aspect of sex…”
Dane Rudhyar, http://www.khaldea.com/rudhyar/pofl/pofl_p2s8p3.shtml
5. HUNTING THE PHOENIX
Leaf through discolored manuscripts,
make sure no words
lie thirsting, bleeding,
waiting for rescue. No:
old loves half-
articulated, moments forced
out of the stream of perception
to play “statue,”
and never released —
they had no blood to shed.
You must seek
the ashy nest itself
if you hope to find
charred feathers, smoldering flightbones,
and a twist of singing flame
~ Denise Levertov
The myth of the phoenix most probably has its roots in ancient Egypt, where the bird benu was worshiped, which had the power to regenerate itself and was associated with the sun. Benu was connected with the primeval act of creation:
“In the beginning, when Atum created the world and the primeval hill was the first thing to rise out of the waters of chaos, the benu perched on the hill, and its first flight across the sky marked the beginning of time. Because of its role in this creation myth, the benu, signifying the return to a new beginning, the start of a New Era, was a natural symbol for the Sothic period [a single year between heliacal risings of Sothis – i.e. Sirius, the dog star].“
Carol F. Heffeman, The Phoenix at the Fountain: Images of Woman and Eternity in Lactantius’s Carmen De Ave Phoenice and the Old English Phoenix
The benu, venerated at Heliopolis, the city of the sun, was believed to have been appearing in Egypt at intervals of 1,461 years heralding the beginning of a new cycle. The heliacal rising of Sothis (Sirius) coincided with the rising of the Nile and the renewal of life. The benu was also significant in Egyptian funerary rites, as Heffeman writes: “the Book of the Dead contains a spell for transforming a dead person into a benu, enabling him or her to fly to the eternal land beyond.“
Already in Neolithic times, as is evident from extensive research conducted by a Lithuanian archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, birds were believed to partake of the feminine nature. Gimbutas excavated numerous Bird Goddess figurines that contained the cosmic egg from which gods were believed to have arisen. A similar myth was told over and over again in ancient Egypt, Babylonia and Greece.
Heffeman puts forward an interesting suggestion regarding those ancient figurines. She quotes Mircea Eliade’s profound thought regarding creation of life. The celebrated Romanian historian of religion and philosopher said that life always springs from over-fullness, from a wholeness. Thus: “Bird Goddesses have both female egg-shaped buttocks and long phallic necks, suggesting a fusion of the sexes.“
It is in the phoenix that the fusion of the sexes -the myth of the Androgyne – is realized most beautifully. What a pity that most of us know only a tiny fragment of the beautiful story – its climax: the rising of the new phoenix from the ashes. Carol F. Heffeman in her extraordinary book brings us the full myth by analyzing a poem “Carmen de Ave Phoenice“ by Lanctantius, an early Christian author. Born in Northern Africa, he was an ideal candidate to marry the pagan myth with Christianity. The wonderful poem can be read here, and the following is the summary offered by Heffeman:
“Lanctantius’ Carmen de Ave Phoenice begins with a description of the phoenix’s grove on a high plateau in the East. Remote from man and blessed with temperate weather, the grove has at its center a fountain that overflows twelve months of the year. Here the phoenix follows a daily ritual of immersing itself in the fountain at dawn, flying up to a perch on a tall tree, and singing as the sun rises. This pattern of life continues for a thousand years until the old phoenix needs to renew itself. Then the phoenix takes flight to Syria where it seeks out a palm tree in which to die and recreate itself. After the old phoenix dies in flames ignited by the sun, the young phoenix evolves from the amassed ashes of its predecessor. [She elaborates later: “The new phoenix first appears as a worm that creeps out of the ashes, grows in due course to a bird, and flies away.“] When it becomes an adult, it shapes whatever remains of the dead phoenix into a ball and takes it to an altar in Heliopolis. A joyous host of birds gather around the fabulous bird and sculpt it in marble amidst singing and gift-giving.“
Heffeman believes strongly that the poem’s imagery draws on female initiation rites and says there is “a menstrual connection” to the fountain which overflows twelve times a year. She adds that the plumage of phoenix was believed to be partly golden, but mostly crimson red, as the natives of Phoenicia, the land which gave its origin to the name phoenix, were cloth dyers by trade.
It is a sublime image of the phoenix waiting eternally in sublime seclusion for the aurora, the new dawn. But it does not wait passively; instead it purifies itself regularly and ritualistically “in the very font of the origin of life.” When the cycle is ripe, and the sun rises, the conception sequence may start and the phoenix begins his wondrous and ecstatic song of conception.
The Roman poet Ovid wrote that both heat and moisture are required to create life: “For when moisture and heat become mingled they conceive and all things arise from these two.“ In the phoenix birth ritual, the heat of the sun produces fragrant steam, as Heffeman continues: “The imagery of steam, redolent with scent [amidst the herbs the phoenix has collected and placed around itself as a nest] suggests steamy fumigation, an external expedient that has been used to facilitate delivery by many peoples in many times.“
It is believed in Christian lore that the phoenix was last sighted after the Holy Spirit overshadowed Virgin Mary, and she gave birth to Jesus in a secluded cave. The symbol seems to have experienced a vast collective renewal at our moment in history. Does that mean that the phoenix has relived the whole cosmology and is ready to begin a new song of conception? I think the time is right to bring the full meaning of the symbol to our collective awareness. To me, the poem by Lactantius and its eye – opening interpretation by Heffeman reestablish the importance of the feminine principle in one of the most potent and most universal myths of humanity. In The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Manly P. Hall wrote: “The phœnix is the most celebrated of all the symbolic creatures fabricated by the ancient Mysteries for the purpose of concealing the great truths of esoteric philosophy. … Mediæval Hermetists regarded the phœnix as a symbol of the accomplishment of alchemical transmutation, a process equivalent to human regeneration.” The phoenix symbolizes being reborn into a new spiritual consciousness – the culmination of the Great Work.