- The Feng Shui Handbook, feng shui Master Lam Kam Chuen
The ancient Egyptians linked the myth of the phoenix with the longings for immortality that were so strong in their civilization, and from there its symbolism spread around the Mediterranean world of late antiquity. The Bennu bird was usually depicted as a heron. Archaeologists have found the remains of a much larger heron that lived in the Persian Gulf area 5,000 years ago. The Egyptians may have seen this large bird only as an extremely rare visitor or possibly heard tales of it from travelers who had trading expeditions to the Arabian Seas.
It had a two long feathers on the crest of it's head and was often crowned with the Atef crown of Osiris (the White Crown with two ostrich plumes on either side) or with the disk of the sun.
The Bennu was the sacred bird of Heliopolis. Bennu probably derives from the word weben, meaning "rise" or "shine." The Bennu was associated with the sun and represented the ba or soul of the sun god, Re. In the Late Period, the hieroglyph of the bird was used to represent this deity directly. As a symbol of the rising and setting sun, the Benu was also the lord of the royal jubilee.
This Egyptian phoenix was also associated with the inundation of the Nile and of the creation. Standing alone on isolated rocks of islands of high ground during the floods the heron represented the first life to appear on the primeval mound which rose from the watery chaos at the first creation. This mound was called the ben-ben. It was the Bennu bird's cry at the creation of the world that marked the beginning of time. The bennu thus was the got of time and its divisions -- hours, day, night, weeks and years.
The Bennu was considered a manifestation of the resurrected Osiris and the bird was often shown perched in his sacred willow tree.
At the close of the first century Clement of Rome became the first Christian to interpret the myth of the phoenix as an allegory of the resurrection and of life after death. The phoenix was also compared to undying Rome, and it appears on the coinage of the late Roman Empire as a symbol of the Eternal City.
Classical Arabian Phoenix
Perhaps the most well known, the Arabian phoenix was a fabulous mythical bird, said to be as large as an eagle, with brilliant scarlet and gold plumage and a melodious cry. Making it's home near a cool well, the Phoenix would appear at dawn every morning to sing a song so enchanting that even the great sun god Apollo would stop to listen.
It was said that only one phoenix existed at any one time, and it is very long-lived with a life span of 500 years, 540 years, 1000 years, 1461 years or even 12,994 years (according to various accounts). As the end of its life approached, the phoenix would build a pyre nest of aromatic branches and spices such as myrrh, sets it on fire, and is consumed in the flames. After three days the birth -- or as some legends say a rebirth -- the phoenix arises from the ashes. According to some sources, the phoenix arose from the midst of the flames.
The young phoenix gathers the ashes of its predecessor into an egg of myrrh and takes it to Heliopolis, the city of the sun, to deposit it on the alter of the sun god.
A symbolic representation of the Death and rebirth of the sun. It is also described as being either eagle like or heron like. It lives on dew, killing nothing and crushing nothing that it touches. Generally considered the king of birds. It has alternatively been called the bird of the sun, of Assyria, of Arabia, of the Ganges, the long-lived bird and the Egyptian bird. The earliest reference to the Phoenix was made by Hesiod in the 8th century B.C., but the most detailed account is by Herodotus of Halicarnassus, the famous Greek historian in 5th century B.C.
Chinese Phoenix (Feng Huang)
In Chinese mythology, the phoenix is the symbol of high virtue and grace, of power and prosperity. It represents the union of yin and yang. It was thought to be a gentle creature, alighting so gently that it crushed nothing, and eating only dewdrops.
It symbolized the Empress usually in a pairing with a dragon (the dragon representing the Emperor), and only Empress could wear the phoenix symbol. The phoenix represented power sent from the heavens to the Empress.
If a phoenix was used to decorate a house it symbolized that loyalty and honesty was in the people that lived there. Jewelry with the phoenix design showed that the wearer was a person of high moral values, and so the phoenix could only be worn by people of great importance. The Chinese phoenix was thought to have the beak of a cock, the face of a swallow, the neck of a snake, the breast of a goose, the back of a tortoise, hindquarters of a stag and the tail of a fish.
A common depiction of the Feng Huang was of it attacking snakes with its talons and its wings spread. In fact images of the phoenix have appeared throughout China for well over 7000 years. Often in jade and originally on good-luck totems. Although during the Han period (2200 years ago) the phoenix was used as a symbol depicting the direction south shown as a male and female phoenix facing each other. It carried two scrolls in its bill, and its song included the five whole notes of the Chinese scale (I don't exactly know how it could sing with its mouth full). Its feathers were of the five fundamental colors: black, white, red, green, and yellow and was said to represent the Confucian virtues of loyalty, honesty, decorum and justice. Depictions of the phoenix were placed on tomes and graves.
Japanese Phoenix (Hou-Ou/Ho-Oo)
The Ho-Oo is the Japanese phoenix, the Ho being the male bird and the Oo being the female. Introduced to Japan in the Asuka period (mid 6th to mid 7th century AD) The Hou-Ou greatly resembles the Chinese Phoenix the Feng-Huang in looks.
The Ho-Oo is often depicted as nesting in a paulownia tree and was thought to only appear at the birth of a virtuous ruler and was said to mark a new era by decending from the heavens to do good deeds for people only to return to its celestial abode to await a new era. In other traditions, the Hou-ou apears only in peaceful and prosperous times -- which are rare indeed.
The Ho-Oo has been adopted as a symbol of the royal family, particularly the empress. It is supposed to represent the sun, justice, fidelity and obedience. It was used in a wide veriety of items including mirrors, lacquerware, textiles and chests.