Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hot Bird

Today is Thanksgiving for U.S. Americans, a day in which our merchants either to try to sell us stuff at ungodly hours or a day which they conspicuously ignore in order to promote the big holiday beyond.

We also roast turkeys on this day, unless we are members of certain anti-meat groups.

But my thoughts this morning are upon a different sort of hot bird.

I speak of the phoenix.



Like the dragon, the lore of this mythical monster seems to permeate almost every human culture.

For the longest time, I have had a brassy coin that I thought was from China, and upon whose obverse I assumed was a depiction of Tiananmen Square. I searched and searched and only this month have I discovered, ignorant American that I am, that it is no more Chinese in origin than a Looney is legal tender in Mazatlan.



This is actually a ten yen coin, depicting the Phoenix Hall of the Byodoin Temple in Kyoto, Japan, a building that dates to 998 A.D.

I don't know what Japanese word is translated as phoenix, or even how closely that approximates to the western concept of the beast, a bird reborn in fire and ash.

Not just the pagans but the Early Christian Church father Clement speaks of the phoenix, as a symbol of resurrection, in his letter to the Corinthians. (Don't confuse this with the canonical letter by Paul!)

"...from the neighborhood, that is, of Arabia. There is a bird which is called a phoenix. It is the only one of its kind and lives five hundred years. When the time for its departure and death draws near, it makes a burial nest for itself from frankincense, myrrh and other spices, and when the time is up, it gets into it and dies. From its decaying flesh a worm is produced, which is nourished by the secretions of the dead creature and grows wings ... [flying to the Egyptian city of] of Heliopolis, it lights at the altar of the sun."

The Christian "heretics," the Gnostics, also mention this flammable fowl. I found a reference today in the Nag Hammadi text, "On the Origin of the World."

"And the worm that has been born out of the phoenix is a human being as well. It is written concerning it concerning it, 'The just man will blossom like the phoenix.'"

The Gnostic writer cites the Septuagint (Greek) version of Psalms 91: 13 for this reference, but he seems to have taken some liberties. Our King James version reads:

"Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet."

The Septuagint has "basiliskou" from the Hebrew pethen, for adder. No flying phoenix, just a bad-tempered snake. Perhaps some later monk scrubbed out the mythological term -- although the dragon escaped his scrutiny.

5 comments:

Kat said...

Because of the fiery death and quick rebirth, Atlanta's symbol is the phoenix. A statue of a goddess holding a phoenix stands downtown, and the unique Center for Puppetry Arts boasts an animatronic phoenix who unfolds from a flaming, clanging trash can. The mythic bird suggests energy, transformation, and some of Atlanta's offspring express that spirit.



from http://www.divineshows.com/node/4510

Kat said...

Oh! and Happy Thanksgiving to you and Sweetie!

Eastcoastdweller said...

Kat:

Fascinating, isn't it, how mythic symbols persist and thrive in our supposedly modern, secular world.

I wonder what the kernel of truth is that lies behind this indefatigable legend.

Happy Thanksgiving to You, too. Sweetie and I spent it with Her family, eating way too much Southern food. Corn pudding, sweet potato pie, etc.

Janice Thomson said...

Happy Thanksgiving ECD.
Interesting info which some of it I didn't know. Symbols are just that - the true meaning lies in the power our thoughts give them.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Happy thanksgiving. Thank you for such an interesting and well researched post.